Archive for the 'El Salvador' Category

Escape from Bahia del Sol!

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Starting Friday before our planned departure (Monday or Tuesday), we began making the trek across to the ocean side every morning at high tide to observe the bar. Joshua’s dad had arrived the day before and we had only to do a few hundred small things before we were ready to leave—and we were ready to leave. Like yesterday. Last month!

Friday’s bar was ugly. We sort of gazed at it without saying anything trying to pick out the so-called ‘channel’ and exit point. Breakers were all the way across and coming from two different directions, causing some gnarly looking turbulence. Every so often though, there would be a bit of a lull where you could imagine maybe jetting across before the next set came in. Our boat, under power, is unfortunately incapable of achieving anything close to ‘jetting’ and so we were dismayed. Jeff said, “You have to go through THAT? Well, we can always just stay here if the swell is too big.”

The bar at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

[Saturday’s bar. You have to sail between those sets of breakers for a mile or so.]

Saturday we wandered over after a tasty pupusa breakfast to check it again. And it looked great! As good as we have every seen it, in fact. We had to restrain ourselves from running back to the boat to take off that moment because it may never be so calm again. Sunday also was good, although the swell was a little bigger. “The waves were more defined,” was Jeff’s tactful way of putting it. We still needed to provision vegetables and were not feeling optimistic about getting the necessary navy and immigration paperwork completed on a Sunday. We decided upon a Tuesday departure, conditions holding.

Monday was spent running around doing all the last minute stuff. The navy guy filled out our ‘zarpe’ (clearance) in such a slow unsteady hand that I wondered whether he had been maybe accidentally shot in the head at one point. But he was very nice and he would pronounce each major term carefully in English for us while we congratulated him on his fluency. “Last. Name.” “Clear. Rance.” (Beaming.) It took him about an hour to fill out the nine or so blanks required on the form and we finally staggered back out into the sun with our Clear Rance. I tracked down the Immigration Guy, a man who processes maybe two or three forms every month or two and is supposedly available “twenty-four hours in the day,” but he was very busy in the bar drinking coke and watching Chuck Norris putting some right back into the world (i.e., kicking ass and quipping bad puns in his gruff, all-business voice); he told me to come find him again in an hour or two. We then spent an excruciating number of hours gathering vegetables for the trip, for which we had to take a bus all the way to Zacatecoluca. Finally, by the end of the day we had our food and the Immigration guy managed to fit us into his tight schedule (Maria Querida, a soap opera, came on sometime in the early evening and there was no way work could be done during the show.)

Tuesday we ate our last El Salvador pupusas and walked over to check the bar at three hours before high tide; it looked okay—a little rough but we were hoping that was due to the tide and not the swell. We went back to the boat to take the dinghy apart and hook the motor back up to the boat. Jim and Susie from Sparta dinghied over to say goodbye and then headed out ahead of us to watch our departure. There was actually some wind and we pulled anchor under power and full sail and headed for the bocana (mouth) of the estuary.

As we made the first turn into mouth before the channel, we took the main down because the turbulence was knocking the wind out of the sails. Jim and Susie were motoring along beside us with their dinghy and Peter from Sereia also was following us out with his inflatable. Going was slow but the deeper section was clearly defined, if rather confused and choppy. We had stacked all our extra jugs of water as far back as we could inside the boat and Jeff sat on the stern to add additional weight and babysit the motor. We could hear it pulling out of the water and cavitating and Jeff reported that it had been dunked completely under water twice, a thing that little motors generally do not like, but it kept running with only a few alarming lulls in power. Once outside the bocana, we turned to the right and ran in between breaking sets of waves. The breakers coming in from the outside would rear up and either fall off or break and flatten out before they got to us, then they would again break on the other side of us. This part was the creepiest—it was stressful and just took forever; however, the sea in the channel was much smoother with no confusion. Jim and Susie and Peter couldn’t go any further than the first turn out the bocana and they already looked like tiny specs. We got to the end of the channel after a largish set passed and turned out, passing over the bar in around 14 feet of water. FREE!

El Salvador Volcanoes from Sea

[View from OUTSIDE the bar.]

We kept the motor running until we had cleared 50 feet of depth and then turned towards Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Wind was light—maybe less than ten knots—and we sailed quietly for the rest of the day. Towards evening the wind died and we started the outboard and arranged watches; I ended up with the 2-6am watch and when I got up, there was an ominous black smudge blocking the horizon right where we were supposed to go. Joshua went to bed with the words, “yeah, you might get wet.” Crap. I fretted about the storm for a while and then decided to take action and dodge it. I altered course 30 degrees and strained my eyes see if I was making any headway. Dodging a storm is not as exciting as it seems when you are bouncing around at 3 knots. I kept thinking that the black smudge was moving away from my spreader mark-point only to discover that I had drifted off course and it really had not moved perceptibly at all. Two hours later though, progress had been made and I had passed it halfway. Now, I could see all the lightning on the other side and got stressed out all over again. Finally everything disappeared when it got light at 5:30am. Neither Joshua nor Jeff had any significant sign of weather during their watches at all.

The next morning we woke almost to the eastern edge of the Gulf of Fonseca. I crashed out for a while and suddenly this wind hit. We were several miles offshore and with the wind blowing off land, we were in some ugly steep chop. I bounced around in the bunk while trying to nap until I couldn’t stand it anymore and got up to assess the situation. The sails were double reefed and Joshua and Jeff were chatting nonchalantly while trying to keep themselves in their seats. Bleah. The wind lasted several hours with us pointed as high as possible into it to keep from getting too far off land. By night we finally were closer to land (as the wind finally slacked off) and passing Corinto, Nicaragua’s major shipping port. I took first watch this time in hopes of avoiding those early morning squalls and proceeded to keep Jeff awake all night putting the sails up and down as the wind shifted annoyingly around. I think both the main and the jib went up three times and down three times by the time I was finished and finally Joshua took over as the wind kicked up. Again, we got pummeled by the gnarly off-shore wind while I tried to sleep. Jeff was in danger of being tossed from his bunk on the high side so he got up to ‘sleep’ in the cockpit. Two reefs went in and finally they took the mainsail down entirely, running on jib alone, to keep the boat from bouncing all over hell and gone. The wind lasted four or five hours and then mostly died.

The next day we had strong but steady wind. This time we were comfortably close to land and were able to sail smoothly and quickly. I had been totally irritated by the periods of either no wind or very strong wind and choppy seas of the previous days but after a day of regular wind and not having to think about starting the motor, I pretty much forgot about the un-fun bits. The strong wind was also tiring; we double-reefed and reduced sail to the storm jib (like the size of a napkin) after we busted our cheek block (holds the jib sheet) and had to jury-rig a substitution. We decided to take a break and arrived to a small anchorage listed in the Forgotten Middle as “No-Name Bay.” Actually, it did have a name—as did the small village (El Astillero)—and it was an awesome anchorage. We ate cooked food and slept and Joshua and Jeff went ashore under the pretext of needing fuel to check things out (we did not want to hassle with checking into Nicaragua and this anchorage wasn’t supposed to have the facilities to do this). There was in fact a navy guy in this village and he was interested in why we were there, but after they explained, he was happy to let us just hang out for the night and buy fuel (and ice!).

broken cheek block off Nicaragua

[Broken cheek block is that wanged-out thing up around 1 o’clock.]

El Astillero aka No Name Anchorage, Nicaragua

Rowing the Porta-bote San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

The next hop down the coast was to San Juan Del Sur, which sounded like it might be a kind of cool spot to check out. The town is the big beach “tourist” town in Nicaragua, but we found it to be rather sleepy, really. We spoke with the navy there and discovered that we would be able to stay the night (even a couple nights if we wanted) and go to shore and get a new zarpe and we would not have to take a bus to the border to do the whole immigration/customs bit. The guy assured us that all we had to do was give the port captain a call Sunday morning—“6am no hay problemo”—and they would actually come out to us (!) to give us our new zarpe. Well, okay! The next morning we called and called with no answer until finally we rowed ashore to get the zarpe. The captain and all the navy guys were watching some action movie at top volume and by the time we got the clearance to leave, it was pushing eleven o’clock.

We sailed off our anchor and headed for Bahia Santa Elena, of which we have heard excellent things. The sail was fast and smooth and we caught the biggest Sierra we have ever seen right at the border of Nicaragua. That way if the Costa Rican Navy came, we could say—OH, that fish we caught in Nicaragua. They never came, of course, and we made it to Santa Elena right before it started to rain. Yay!

Bahia Santa Elena

[Storm clouds over Bahia Santa Elena.]


Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Cheyenne up the mast. Searunner 31

Cheyenne went up the mast to check things out, tighten and lubricate the main track.

Jeff Coxwell

Jeff was manning the safety line.

She cried out at one point and said she poked herself with the screwdriver. There was a pause but she carried on so we didn’t think it was a big deal. When she got to the bottom we were startled to see she had poked herself IN THE EYE with the screwdriver. Trying to become a real pirate she was. We almost needed one of those patches from the pirate store on Valencia.

Cheyenne eye injury

Also, notice the paint in her eyelashes, todavia.

Studying for an Escape Attempt

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

We’ve been preparing to exit the bar at Bahia Del Sol (Estero de Jaltepeque). Wave heights permitting, we’ll escape on Tuesday. Every day we go over the hotel on the beach at high tide to observe the wave heights. Friday looked pretty gnarly, but yesterday and today look totally doable. In fact I ran it in the porta-bote with life jacket and gps. It was pretty scary because not only is the porta-bote down right dangerous in a chop it can be hard to tell if a wave is going to break when it starts to build. I cannot take a breaking wave in the dingy. It would swamp and I’d ruin our outboard (our only motor). It’s hard to describe but it is necessary to run parallel to the beach with waves breaking on both sides. In the right spot the waves on the outside start to build like they will break but then fall off again at the last minute. This is where we need to go (yellow track on chart). I plan to do it again tomorrow before the real thing on Tuesday. We will judge it visually but it’s nice to have a gps track of a known good course as an extra check. Interestingly, I saved the track from our original entry for comparison (white track on chart). As you can see, the “pilots” missed it by 3/4 of a mile! Directly over a shallow breaking bar.

GPS tracks Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

The Last of the Painting, I Mean It.

Friday, September 29th, 2006

We are done painting. Well, not actually DONE done, but done enough. During this time, the whole boat has been in an uproar: a minefield of scattered painting equipment, gaping holes where the trampolines are untied, various logs scattered about waiting to be triped over, and freshly painted ‘wet’ spots, which we can’t touch until we feel the paint has completely set. The dinghy has been migrating all over the boat as we have been covering the hulls with fresh paint. Last week I chucked the coffee grounds right into it, since it was not in its customary location. Freakin’ mess, that was. If we could have hauled the boat out or something, all the work could have been completed at once and the pain in the ass, although acute, would have been short lived. As it was, we had to beach the boat upon the sandbar every day where we had maybe three hours of work time without water underfoot. Basically we would push the Time Machine over with the dinghy (the outboard is currently on the dinghy), snag the mooring ball over the shallow bar, kick up the rudder, and wait. Once the center hull touched bottom, we would spring into action and begin tying our support sticks (7-foot long sturdy drift-logs we scavenged off the beach) to the A-frames. This would keep the boat upright as the water receded, leaving the amas floating in air. As soon as the boat settled and the amas were out of the water, we hop into the knee-deep water and run around the boat scraping crap off the bottom and getting ready to do what we had to do for the day. Once the water was almost gone, we sand or paint as fast as we could until the water started to come back in. We’d generally be still sloshing around until it was knee-deep again before climbing back onto the boat to wait for the amas to float. Then we’d untie the support sticks and wait some more while the boat bumped around until it was finally free. Then we’d push it back over to deeper water to anchor as usual. We had to do this seven times to get the bloody thing painted.

The two-part epoxy paint still sucks balls but we are stubborn enough that we decided to deal with it until the entire hull was painted. In addition to the hellish paint situation, we have been having all sorts of issues with our generator. We got gas at the hotel a while back and something was up with it because as soon as we filled the tanks of our outboard and generator, they stopped running. This caused considerable consternation on our parts. We didn’t know what the problem was for some time but suspected the gas after we had the oil changed by a local dude and he took an alarming amount of water and grit out of the fuel tank. We mentioned this in passing once to Murray, who has a small haul-out facility here and works closely with the hotel to make it ‘cruiser-friendly’ and he was very defensive. “I buy more gas here than ANYBODY on the ENTIRE estuary and have been for four years and I have never, NEVER, gotten any bad gas.” He went on in this vein for some time and we were sorry we had mentioned it but we still weren’t convinced it wasn’t the gas. We got some other gas from the Texaco up the way and it was fine. So to make a long and wholly infuriating story short, both generator and outboard are running more or less okay in the end. We made one trip to San Salvador for spark plugs and another to Zacatecaluca for more; Joshua took the generator apart no less than five times and the outboard, three. Much swearing occurred. Both seem to be going through the spark plugs with the suspect gas but seem to run okay and normally with the other gas. Joshua thought maybe it had diesel mixed in with it. We noticed yesterday that there is a “sale” on regular at the hotel gas station: $2.85/gallon. We’re not falling for that shit.

In the meantime, we applied the nonskid finally to the topsides of the amas. The paint was Petit ‘Pearl Gray,’ which we had leftover from the States. It is a one-part standard boat paint and it went on beautifully. Amazingly. I was in raptures applying it, seriously. I put on one coat plain and then mixed the nonskid (a kind of pointy plastic sand) in to the paint for the second coat. Usually, with an aggressive nonskid like the one we were applying, it is generally sprinkled onto wet paint, then the remaining unstuck sand is vacuumed up, then a final coat is applied over the top to hold it down. Because, as I may have mentioned once or twice, it is typically no less than two billion degrees during the day, paint dries practically the moment it is applied. Which is why I mixed the sand with the paint to apply with a roller. It required irritating fanaticism to lay down evenly but it worked out in the end. Once applied, it looked awesome and in our zeal to behold the miracle, we happily ripped off the masking tape and headed triumphantly to the hotel to drink a cold beverage and brag to the Internet about how awesome we were.

We gave it a day or two to really set before we dared to dip a toe upon the decks. I decided to test a spot under where the cleat would go to see if I could rub off the nonskid (to see if it was stuck down well enough—a test that may have been more prudent to do, say, the same day we painted) and, it just came right off. Oh Crap. There was no way in hell that I was going to do any more sanding on the nonskid and so fuckit, I just dusted it off and painted another coat right over the top. Joshua re-taped for me. Now, it looks exactly right and the non-skid is completely stuck down. So…cough… I just hope that it doesn’t peel up or whatever horrible thing is supposed to happen if you don’t sand before painting.

We got the generator running just in time to go back up on the bar again. This time we were going to sand the main hull and paint it; it would take us two days on the bar. Day 1 went basically fine, except I didn’t lash my support sticks as well as Joshua did and mine settled too far into the sand, setting the boat at an alarming tilt. The ama wasn’t exactly touching the sand on one side, but close. Oops. Sanding sucked as it always does and we floated off the bar six hours later a dusty, muddy mess.

Day 2: Joshua had the brilliant plan to lay the boat on the bar ass-end to the outgoing current (normally we are nose into the current). The reasoning here is so that the outer ama we wanted to touch up (remember the gashes the port-a-bote made?) would be in the shade and maybe some other reasons. This was very awkward because with the current, we fishtailed around and finally settled at a rakish 45-degree angle to the current. The stern then proceeded to kick up all sorts of funky eddy things and dig itself way down into the sand so that the boat finally settled pointing up. Looked flat-out ridiculous but whatever. We could still reach the tip of the nose to paint so we didn’t fuss too much over it. Then this gnarly wind kicked up. This made painting nearly unbearable and once again, I burst into tears at the evilness of this paint. With the wind though, paint was flying everywhere. Pouring it from the canister into the tray was a major feat and we had to hunker down under the wing of the ama to find a less-windy spot so that the paint stream wouldn’t atomize and spray all over us. Not that we escaped being covered head to toe with bits of paint cobweb and splatters. I even got it in my eye at one point, causing Joshua to freak out and dump a bunch of funky estuary water up my nose in an attempt to “flush” out my eye. Gack. It’s still all over my face in hopes that it will be easier to rub off after a few days.

We got about two and a half coats on the mainhull and decided to call it done. We were out of paint and didn’t have time to mix more before the tide came back in anyway. From a distance it looks pretty good.

Searunner 31 Time Machine at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

(Way Out-of-Date) Update: (Sept. 16)

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Now we have both sides of both amas painted (those are the outer hulls). We had to stop at that because tidal situations are unfavorable for beaching the boat on the bar; we should be able to pick up again around the 24th.

Unfortunately, the blasted porta-bote has already gashed huge scratches into the new glistening paint job. This weekend was a holiday and so two billion rich careless San Salvadorians descended upon the hotel and surrounds and transformed the normally tranquil estuary into a maelstrom of jet-ski and power boat wakes. It sucked utterly; you would think we were back in La Paz during a Norther we were bouncing around so badly. In the mayhem, one of our fenders got flipped and the bote rubbed up against the hull, causing grievous damage. All you “used porta-bote” googlers will be no-doubt on the edges of your seat to read this but alas, we still have no plans to sell the thing.

Did I mention that I managed to be totally sick during this whole weekend deal? A nasty and very painful fever/jolty chills and killer headache that lasted only a few hours at a time but struck a few times during the course of three days. We have decided it is not any of the obvious biggies (Typhus, Malaria, Dengue), just some weird little Central American flu. Joshua got it a day after me but a different variation. We both seem to be fine now four days later. I have to say I never previously had any deep feelings for acetaminophen, but NOW, my god it’s about my favorite thing. The ibuprofin is totally jealous.

Anyway, before we got sick and stuff, we had one day of what, in hindsight, was extraordinary fun for us mostly because it included neither sanding nor vomiting. We went with Santos and a group of the other cruisers in a panga up the estuary for an Outing.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Santos at the helm. He has a panga big enough to fit us all, plus he is a local dude so knows the area and mangrove estuary very well.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Jan’s dog, Smoky, casual barker at mangroves.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

A five-star restaurant projecting out from amongst the mangroves; ahhh, lunchtime!

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

The food preparation area appears to contain everything but a kitchen sink. The place is run by a lovely woman and her three gorgeous daughters. The baby, Reina, has managed to hypnotize Jan with her smile and soon she will use these powers to draw forth treats.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

This pathway leads to the, um, facilities, which consist of a modestly shielded log platform. There is a curious tripod of stumps sticking up in one corner with a quasi-hole/largish gap in the log platform; presumably the idea is to plant oneself atop the tripod or else perch over the edge of the platform aiming for the murky depths below. This is extra fun because there is a waterway through the mangroves alongside the platform that leads to a small village. Anyone headed your direction would be provided with an excellent view of your ass, timed just right.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

The oldest daughter.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

The medium daughter. She took off every five minutes or so in the dugout to check their critter traps. There were about six or so scattered around the platform buoyed with empty engine oil containers.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Reina, Queen of Cuteness.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Checking the traps; they were catching shrimp and crab.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

After lunch we headed up to the Rio Lempa to another river joint for additional beers. The place we stopped was a small hotel/restaurant run by a really nice guy who actually spoke English quite well. He served small bowls of crab soup with each beer. Unfortunately we had stuffed ourselves a little too recently on fried fish and shrimp to enjoy it fully.

On the way back we passed these guys who were casting a fishing net in a strong current.

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell