Golfo de Tehuantapec to El Salvador
Once past, Golfo De Tehuantapec. our cruise to El Salvador was leisurely and calm. The ocean was overflowing with sea turtles, big ones, little ones - all sizes. Some had another turtle hitching a ride on top (or maybe a little mating?) and still others had a bird riding along on top in triple-decker fashion. It was comical the combination. Sometimes as we’d pass it was as if they were sleeping and they’d wake up in a surprise. They’d fumble around clumsily.
It was a constant challenge all day trying to get a photo of one with this dam digital camera. By the time it focuses the world has gone by. Same goes for all the dolphins that greet us along the way. Ziggy goes wild at the sight and “smell” of any of them. I swear he sniffs them through the doors. He pre notifies us if there is a pod nearby. He really enjoys chasing them from one end of the boat to the other, especially when they play at our bow as it cuts through the water. He can also sense the presence of whales. His nickname is going to be “Pequot”.
As the day and night went on we amazingly passed the whole country of Guatemala. We weren’t expecting the continuous volcanic landscape for miles and miles along its shore. We passed one volcano after another like as if we were passing gas stations along Interstate 5 in the Central Valley. We passed Honduras without a comment, as it was the small tip end of the country that went swiftly by.
THE PONGA WATCH!
We have to be very alert to avoid our new and latest obstacle. It’s the Ponga watch! They are small skiffs with usually a singular fisherman riding in it. Much like you envision in The Old Man in the Sea by Hemingway. The biggest risk is at night because they have little or no lights and no radar reflectors. John said they sleep in their boats and sometimes aren’t aware of an approaching boat. We can’t believe these little boats out in these seas seemly with no concern. We’ve seen them as far as 12 miles off the coast. They aren’t in clusters, as you would imagine but just alone. They must be catching more than we. We’ve come over 2000 miles, with a line out and haven’t caught a fish we could eat. We’ve caught three Bonita, one in each country I think. I hope they aren’t catching the sea turtles.
BARILLAS MARINA, EL SALVADOR
Our late start from Huatulco put us into our El Salvador destination after dark. The Barillas Yacht Club is not an easy place to approach in daylight and dangerous at night. It was another 36 hours to our next port and we were anxious to rest for a while so kept with our plan to stop over.
We crossed the border into El Salvador and as it would be the wind and seas began to swell up. We called ahead to Barillas Marina Yacht Club and requested a pilot to lead us in. John had been talking about not looking forward to coming in here at night and was getting anxious. The entrance is uncharted. It is a narrow entrance through two sand bars with breaking waves and then another ¾ of an hour through a meandering maze like course through narrow mangrove lined channels.
ENTERING THE HEART OF DARKNESS
The yacht club gave a waypoint destination. This is where we would meet the pilot on his ponga (a local name for a long skiff with one out board motor and a wide sweeping bow) in the dark. It was about a half-mile or more off shore. It was black out and the seas were fetching over the bow. We all had our binoculars searching the dark sea for a signal light from our pilot. Finally, after a tense 30 minutes, and after discounting several other weak lights on other pongas that were night fishing, we got a strong blinking light flashed at us. Not knowing for sure but assuming this was the guy, we flashed our flood back at him. With that simple communication we began our trek through the nasty sandbars. Just as we entered what we assumed was the entry we had another brilliant flash from another ponga. It was several moments of panic as we all questioned whether we were following the pilot sent to us or some trick to lead us into an unsafe area. It was too late to turn around now, as we were right in the midst of the entry so we decided to trust our “pilot” and continue on. As I followed the chart to the entrance I noticed a symbol of a submerged shipwreck nearby. I guess that poor soul did not make the narrow opening. I didn’t bother to bring that information up to anyone. As we entered the wind increased to a sudden burst of 20 knots. I stood on the Portuguese bridge with my binoculars trying to keep track of the weak guiding light from our ponga pilot as he got farther and farther ahead of us. At times, he would flash his light at us as if to say we’re not turning at the right place or come more this way. It was tense and confusing. John very quietly kept turning the steering dial on the radar to follow him. The boat was swerving or being drawn left and right from the strong winds and the currents as they rushed out of the channel we were entering. It was a long tense hour following the ponga’s winding trail. As we got further and further into the estuary, the winds quieted down and the heated steamy jungle air took over. We passed a few grass huts with singular bright electric lights that were almost blinding to us as we tried to keep and eye on our pilot. We heard the sounds of exotic birds or monkeys screeching. It was like going up the Mekong Delta in the movie The Apocalypse or participating in a secret Navy Seal Operation. All we needed were some machine guns mounted on the bow an it would have been complete. We were entering the Heart of Darkness. As we approached are dark destination, three of us were on the bow with flashlights trying to light any obstacles in our way. As were approached the Club we lit the mooring balls on each side of the narrow channel so John could see his way. Our pilot lead us all the way in to the mooring nearest to the yacht club. We thread a line through the eye of the mooring ball and were finally secure and safe after this long and tense journey. Well, except for the fact that we were immediately boarded by 4 armed border guards in full army attire including guns and black dirty boots. We were exhausted and it was after midnight but the paperwork cha cha must go on. The marina manager was there and made things goes smoothly. After searching the whole boat they gave us our entry papers and left. We would have to go through the same thing upon leaving.
We opened the liquor cabinet and saluted ourselves!
The next morning, I arose before dawn to get some pictures of the sun rising over the nearby volcano. John said it was a spectacular sight. No one was up. The air was still and the water like glass. The bow rail had become a new resting platform for the local swallows. There must have been about twenty. They were almost tame as you approached them for a photo. It was a peaceful site. The air was steamy and pink. It was a spectacular sight with the boats anchored in this channel with a volcano as a backdrop and the sky becoming more and more brilliant pink as the sun made it’s morning approach.
The exotic birds would fly over the water and down the channel in formation over and over, searching for insects and fish. The shore was covered in Mangroves and egrets and different types of herons. It was hypnotic watching their graceful way of lifting each leg high out of the water and gracefully taking the next step without a ripple sneaking upon their prey.
We spent the day at this unique yacht club swallowed up within the jungle. It is said to be the club of the elite of El Salvador. It was rustic but beautiful. We had a beautiful swimming pool to ourselves surrounded by tropical fruit trees and birds and monkeys nearby. The open air restaurant over looked the channel and was shaded by tall palm and tamarind trees, abundant bougainvillea and hibiscus bushes of multi colors. It was a tropical paradise and no one to bother us. There was a nearby park with monkeys and rare butterflies. And you may be wondering, the place was bug free as it was the dry season. Ziggy was welcomed just as any guest and enjoyed free run of the place including the restaurant and pool.
In the afternoon we took a small plane ride over the nearby volcanoes. The pilot came so close to one I thought he might be contemplating a landing. The whole time I was watching the EMPTY gages on both the fuel tanks. We flew over the coastline to see where we made our entrance late last night. We swooped over the yacht club and could see our boat moored in the narrow twisting channel. We saw nearby villages and sugarcane fields. It was a spectacular ride. In case you’re wondering Ziggy didn’t go.
The only glitch to this pleasant experience was that our water maker stopped working. Larry had been trying to fix it for two days now. We have less than 200 gallons. We are considering taking on water from the marina but we would then have to treat it and don’t want to contaminate our tanks. We decided we would hold out until we reach Cost Rica and fill there if we have to. The water is said to be more potable. Larry thinks he needs a new controller for it and has ordered one through our email on board. It’s being Fed Ex’d to our friends the Scarvies in Santa Barbara. Hopefully it will reach them in time so they can bring it on their flight to meet us in Costa Rica. The yacht club did all the laundry we needed so that helped with the water supply and gave us another shower each.
LEAVING IN DAYLIGHT for COSTA RICA
We left the same way we came in, but in daylight this time. Again, we had the ponga pilot lead us out. It was dramatic sight to see the sand bars in daylight this time and confirmed in our minds that it’s not a safe place to enter at night.
GOLFO DE PAPAGALLO
As we headed down the coast for our 36-hour journey to Costa Rica we hit the worst weather of the trip. I spent 14 hours in the belly of the boat on my bed with Ziggy while the guys fought the head on seas trading watches to relieve each other from the strain of it all. It was impossible to sleep as the boat was crashing into each wave. Each wave was about 2 seconds apart, I counted them. The bulbulous bow was pounding into the sea making a huge sound and shaking the whole boat. I can only compare it to riding a wild bull all night or clutching to an unlatched storm window that is banging against the house in a hurricane. Fortunately in the morning the seas calmed for a short while and I could surface from the belly of the boat. I don’t know how the guys managed, they must have been exhausted. I thought the Golfo de Tehuantepec was supposed to be the worst but this has been an eye opening experience and we haven’t even reached the Golfo de Papagallo its Papa. We had opposing seas and 30-knot winds and at times gusts to 40. John says the weather report is not good and it will be rough all the way to Costa Rica – that’s another 24 hours. Our weather information from our weather service said the seas and winds will be strong and may experience a Force 5 or 6. Fortunately, both predictions were wrong. The winds turned directions and the sea was with us. It was not smooth sailing but more comfortable than the night before. Overall the boat can take it and is doing well.
The scenery along the coast is spectacular. As we’ve come in close to the shore as much as possible to get shore protection from the winds it allows us to see the fantastic landscape. This is truly a paradise.
We are approaching Costa Rica, land of paradise and time for much needed rest and friends to join us. This is where Captain Rains leaves us and we are on our own. We are crossing 10 degrees latitude which for some phenomenon of nature makes this area safe from hurricanes and boating is a year round affair.
Now on to Costa Rica