01/29/2009, El Salvador
Our pilot to Barillas Marina met us at the waypoint approximately at 8 am on Tuesday morning. Our flotilla of 4 sailboats followed the pilot through and over the bar of heavy seas into entrance of Bahia de Jiquilisco and up the river for approximately 10 miles back to the marina. Four Points pulled up the rear of the flotilla. We had a current that was against us initially but once inside the bar the current was approximately 1.5nm with us. As we motor towards Barillas it was a beautiful site seeing one of the volcanoes from all angles (should see it in the photos) and seeing the various fishing villages along the mangroves. One had an ox that was being used to tow the pangas to the water.
Once we got to the marina, each boat was lead to their mooring buoy. Barillas Marina is very well organized, within an hour they had the officials brought out to our boat in a panga to check us in, then once all 4 boats were checked in then, they came back and escorted us to Immigration and Customs (all onsite of Barillas Marina). The whole procedure only took a couple of hours and not painful at all! After we all completed the paper work cha-cha, we all decided that time it was time to celebrate our successful crossing the dreaded Tehauntepec! We were all graduates of the Tehauntepec and can now officially call ourselves T-peckers! We decided that we would call ourselves the T-peckers Pack since there were 9 of us, well 11 if you include Andante's 2 pups!
We did not waste anytime catching up on sleep; we started right in on exploring our new country that we landed. When we checked in the Marina Manager told us that there is an area that you can hike to from the marina to visit the monkeys (los monos). Early the next morning (try to beat the heat, yeah right), we met Marcos and he took us out of the Marina area and hiked along a jungle path along the sugar cane fields. After about a 20-minute walk we came to a small village, which housed several families together with small children and dogs running around. Marcos introduced us to the head of the village and they both started calling up in the trees for "Poncho", then for "Maria". We were dazed and confused for a few seconds, until we noticed that Poncho was coming along the tree branches down to us, shortly thereafter Maria with her baby (~ 1 month old) attached to her side, and about 12-15 other monkeys climbing around the tree above our heads, then coming down to the ground to greet us! We were given bananas to hand to them and the monkeys would just reached out for them as they climbed around the branches, so gracefully using their tails as a fifth arm or leg. Poncho is the alpha male monkey and he lives amongst his many female monkeys. He was very curious of all of us. He would come down to the ground and stand up, walked around us then just stand right beside us as if he was part of our group and look us over. So cute! I would have loved to have Poncho come join us as crew on Four Points! I figure I could have him take my night shift watch (12 midnight to 5am)! Captain Brian said, "No". Brian was able to get some really great mini-videos but do not think that we are able to download it to the website. We also got some pictures of the monkey interactions. It was incredible to be so close to the monkeys; this definitely beats the monkey trail on the island of Nevis!
The next day we rented the van Barillas has to offer to their marina guests (driver included) and did some site seeing of the San Salvador, the Capital of El Salvador. San Salvador was about a 2-hour drive from the marina. We were all surprised when we approached a gate after about a 40-minute ride on a bumpy dirt rode, which was heavily guarded with security guards with guns.....big guns! We stopped by the airport first to drop off one of Arctic Vixen's crew then continued on our journey to explore the big city. Well, just as you would imagine, the city was pretty busy and congested. We were able to tour a few of the churches. We walked along streets with markets that over flowed into the streets of traffic. Some El Salvadorians actually thanked us for coming to visit their country. Almost every corner had an armed guard. This is an area that has not been tainted with tourism and we pretty much stood out as sore thumbs! As some of you may remember that El Salvador's civil war did not end that long ago, in the early 1992. Apparently some areas still have trouble with gangs. We actually felt very safe but were very glad to leave the "big" city and get back to our boat.
Four Points vs. Gulf of Tehauntepec
After hearing/reading all possible weather forecasts, including Commander's weather service, it was decided that we would start our arduous journey across the Gulf of Tehauntepec. Since we were still 60 miles from the opening of the gulf, we decided to leave Thursday night, mainly to give us the full 4 days of the low winds to get through the worst of the crossing (latitude 93 to 96), to make this crossing during the day light hours, and so we would not leave on a Friday! As some of you may know this is a long time sailor's superstition...to not ever start a passage on a Friday. Not that we are all that superstitious but why test it on the most challenging crossing that we should have during our sailing trip! It was like a mass exit from Marina Chahue, 6 boats leaving (Arctic Vixen, Anna, Mahboula, Andante, Four Points, and a m/v that I can not remember the name) just before dark, within 30 minutes from each other to start their journey towards the T-peck. We calculated that the entire passage to El Salvador would be approximately 520 nm and hopefully we would arrive within 4 days.
As the weather forecast predicted, right out of the Marina, we were faced with fairly strong winds (25 knots) right on our nose and steep seas (5-8ft)! We knew it was going to be a long night! We were able to motor sail with the main sail to help balance the boat a bit but still had the motion of steep seas to ride out. Four Points was amazing and was able to cut through the waves without problems and we were able to stay dry for the most part. We stayed close to the beach (approximately 3 miles) our first night of cruising so we could stay out of the range of the last bit of the T-peck winds as they were dying. Early Friday morning as we reached the opening of the gulf we had one last blast of strong winds (35-40 knots) but shortly died just after sunrise to 20-25 knots. This wind allowed us to sail across the Gulf of Tehauntepec most of the way until the wind died completely. The seas were also calm, almost like a lake! We then noticed that we had a current (~ 1.5 nm) that was against us too. By the end of our second full day of sailing we were out of the worst of the Tehauntepec region. Another T-peck winds were not scheduled to blow until Monday sometime. We still had approximately another 280 nm to go until we came to the meeting place for entrance to Barillas Marina. Unfortunately, just as we past the Tehauntepec area and before we got to the Guatemela border, s/v Anna was having engine problems and needed to go into Pto. Madero, MX. It was also about this time that the motor vessel that was cruising with us went ahead (they could travel much faster then us) towards Costa Rico.
Then there were 4 of the original sailors left to sail the remaining distance to Barillas Marina, El Salvador. As we continued on with our passage, we recalculated that we would not arrive at the meeting place (way point) as planned on Monday AM and that it would not be until Tuesday morning. At this point we have already been at sea for 4 days and 4 nights, what's one more night? Brian and I actually were getting into the routine of 4-5 hour watches around the clock and of course I am still doing the 12 midnight to 4-5am shift! Our challenge at this point of our passage was to stay away from the fishing pangas and their drift nets and long lines, especially at night. The fishermen rarely have navigational lights on their boats or if they do the lights are barely seeable or they flick them on at the last possible moment. What we could tell is that the fishing nets would have very dim lights or sometimes a flashing light to mark the ends of the net or lines. Well, we had been doing very well at staying away from the fishermen and their gear, until one night, shortly after I got on watch, I noticed pangas and lights marking the nets/lines (?) 10-12 miles offshore. Reluctantly I decided to wake Brian to get a second pair of eyes to confirm what I was seeing. We decided to move inside to the coast a bit because the line of very dim lights that went in both directions and it appeared that there were less lights inside than there were moving out. We were still off the Guatemala coast. Just as we moved inside about 2-3 miles we got hung up on a very long drift net. We were able to cut the motor just about the time we noticed that we were hung up and the net was dragging along with us, we knew at this point we were doomed! We radioed to the other boats to let them know we were dead in the water and Brain needed to dive on the prop to free up the tangled line. Scary! Brian was able to access the prop with his dive light and mask and was able to cut away the majority of the net. However, in order to get the remaining pieces of the net out of the prop he came back up and donned his diving gear and went back under the water under the boat to cut away the tangled line. Yikes! While Brian was doing all this, my job was to keep the boat straight and away from floating back over the net, oh yeah, stay calm and not freak out by all the possible things that could go wrong in this scenario! The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is altitude!
Once everything was freed and Brian back on the boat, we were able to get back on course. We headed about 12-15 miles offshore to continue our sailing and to be clear of any other fishing nets and Brian went back to sleep. Just about the same time the wind kicked up to about 25-30 knots. I discovered that we had too much sail up; I attempted to pull them in myself. But quickly realizing that I could not do it myself at the same time noticing that the wind was building. Poor Brian, I had to wake him up again to help me pull in the sails. Needless to say neither of us got much sleep that night!
The next two days and nights of sailing were pretty much uneventful and we were happy to be able to relax. We arrived at the meeting waypoint early Tues morning with the other boats. We were able to heave to while we waited for the pilot to escort us to Barillas Marina. Barillas Marina is pretty much in an isolated area. Bahia de Jiquilisco is a well-protected lagoon and the entrance to the Barillas Marina is through a 10-mile channel over a barra of surf with fairly large swell that runs beam to for several miles. We took several pictures of the area as our flotilla of 4 boats follow the pilot back to the marina. (Pictures should be in the photo gallery) We were all glad to be heading to the marina so we could celebrate our successful crossing of the Gulf of Tehauntepec and catch up on sleep!
The final score was Four Points et al. 1: Tehauntepec 0!
01/21/2009, La Crucecita, Oaxaca
While we are waiting for our weather window for the Tehauntepec crossing, we have been busy exploring the small towns near Marina Chahue (La Crucecita and Santa Cruz). We are able to walk a short distance to the main road to hail down a taxi. A taxi ride is only 20 pesos one way ($1.60) no matter where you want them to take you in the area (3 blocks or 5-6km to the town of La Crucecita). Town is within walking distance but with in the heat of the day it is recommended to just pay for the taxi! The town of La Crucecita is a quaint Mexican town with movie theater, restaurants, small tiendas that carry pretty much anything you need as well as things that you do not need (trinkets). The street is lined with shop after shop each carrying the same items of souvenirs, where each of the shop owners calling you in to their shop to buy from them. One of the specialty items here is silver. Santa Cruz is that is a Marina that is set up for the cruise ships and is intended for the tourist trade. We were glad to find out that there are several markets in La Crucecita that carry fresh vegetables (some fresher than others J) and we found out from other cruisers that Wednesdays and Fridays the market gets a fresh delivery of produce.
During our stay at Marina Chahue we have met some really great people! (Louis/Laura on s/v Cirque, Tom/Joanne on m/v Misty Sea, George/Karen on s/v Mahboula, Ron/Penny/Doug on s/v Arctic Vixen, Igor/Anna on s/v Anna, John on s/v Pelican, Chris/Gerry on m/v Misty Michael, Chuck/Merry on s/v Quiet Priority and Dave/Kathy on s/v Andante) We have enjoyed socializing with the other cruisers, chatting about current and past sailing/cruising experiences. The Harbormaster (Enrique) is very knowledgeable about the Gulf of Tehauntepec and is very helpful with all of our inquiries about the area (even recommended a good dentist for Brian). Marina Chahue is a marina that is a stopping ground where many of the cruisers stop before or after crossing the Tehauntepec. Some have enjoyed the area and have made Marina Chahue their home. It is here that we came across several sailors that are heading our way; all waiting for the same weather window. The crossing of the Gulf of Tehauntepec is a challenging task for both cruisers heading north and south. It is very interesting to hear and read about the best way to tackle this crossing. Most cruising guides give 3 options on ways to cross the Tehauntepec: 1) 16° latitude Short Cut, 2) Rhumb line, or 3) One foot on the beach. However, this is an interesting subject because you can talk to others that have done the crossing or know someone that did and there are 3 or 4 other possible versions of the 3 options. The main thing is that you have to see what the weather forecast is the day you leave and make the decision accordingly to the winds and seas that are present at that time.
As we are coming to the end of our 3rd week at Marina Chahue, we are keeping a close eye on the weather as it is predicted that the T-peck winds are suppose to be at a lull (starting with winds at 20 knots then tapering off to 10 knots) for a possible 3-4 day weather window. If this forecast continues then we plan to leave at the end of the week. We have a group of 6 boats planning to leave with us for this weather window.
01/18/2009, Huatulco, Mex
We are still here in Huatulco (pronounced wah-tool-koh) waiting for a weather window. The next passage is about 400 miles through the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The 125-mile wide Isthmus of Tehuantepec and a 75-mile wide gap in the Sierra Madres create a funnel where the trade winds "blow" through. This blow can be very strong (60 MPH wind). These winds are predictable but we have to patiently wait for a 3 to 5 day weather window when we hope the winds will be light.
It looks like our weather window will start on Wednesday night of this coming week. We will be more confident in the prediction by Tuesday. I have repaired our transmission but tomorrow morning we will motor a couple of miles to the nearest fuel dock to give it a test run. We will load up with fuel and will bring extra cans filled with diesel for the long passage to El Salvador in case we have to motor most of the way. The Tehuantepec either blows hard or has very little wind. During this passage we want very little wind. We have filled our propane tank ($8.00), which lasted us almost four months. We will provision the boat with food and water on Tuesday and be ready to go on Wednesday night.
We have had a lot of fun here in Hautulco. The locals have been helpful and the other cruisers have been great. We have made lasting friendships here each comparing boats and sailing stories.
I have required dental work down here. When we arrived I started getting a toothache, which scared me to one of the local dentists. I needed two cavities filled and one root canal. Each filling cost $40.00 and the root canal cost $120.00 and there was very little pain and it seems like a good job was performed.
We did go to a small traveling Circus that was a very interesting cultural experience. We have explored some of the local coves by dinghy with some great friends we have met on "Misty Sea". We hiked to a secluded beach which we now have named "Nancy's Beach". It's a great swimming & diving beach. We have not been in a hurry to leave here (we have been here 15 days so far) but we are now ready to move on to our next landfall.
01/03/2009, Hautulco, Oaxaca, Mex
We left Puerto Escondido at 7:00 am with a nice breeze heading in our direction. We hoisted the sails turned off the engine and sailed pass a string of fishing pangas. Everyone waved as we quietly sailed by. This is a one-day passage (60 miles) so we should get there by dark. During the passage hundreds of Loggerhead turtles were spotted. We sailed and motored throughout the day. We arrived at the outside of Marina Chahue in Hautulco Mexico at 6:00 pm just as the sunset. This made for an exciting harbor entrance as the light was fading. We quickly found an open slip to moor Four Points and we're happy to make another landfall. I noticed a transmission fluid leak in the rear seal (which I replaced two years ago). I then inspected the transmission fluid in the V-Drive hydraulic transmission and realized I had an oil cooler leak into the transmission (salt-water in the transmission fluid). I quickly flushed the transmission with multiply applications of new fluid & WD-40. I have since ordered & re-installed the new part (oil cooler). Everything seems to be working at this point, but later in the week we will motor out and anchor offshore and I will clean the bottom to get ready to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec. This is where the big sailing starts. The Gulf of Tehuantepec is famous for huge gales that blow through a point in Central America where the no mountains. This venturi effect on the winds crossing the next 400 miles makes it critical to watch for a "weather window". So we are waiting in Marina Chahue to get everything ready for a three-day passage where we are calculating a good weather window (5-day), hopefully next week.
Nancy & I are having a great time. We are learning something new everyday. Hautulco is a fun place with many good restaurants, swimming, and diving. We will keep you posted as we get ready to leave.
01/01/2009, Puerto Escondido, Mex
Feliz Ano Neuvo! I know it's been a few days since we last posted. We have been sailing the last couple of days so we could arrive at Puerto Escondido in the daylight. We celebrated New Years Eve making the approximately 180 nm passage from Acapulco to Puerto Escondido. It was a beautiful evening traveling across the ocean (almost like lake) with a very bright half moon, several shooting stars and visits from small pods of dolphin! I must have picked the short straw or lost in "rock, paper, scissors" to get the midnight to early morning watch when we make the longer passages! No not really, this is just how it has been working out. Some reason I have been able to rest during the early evening that makes it easier for me to stay up in the late hours while Brian can rest. I have been enjoying doing watch in the middle of the night, its amazing how peaceful and beautiful it is out on the ocean.
We were excited about our new landfall because we have read that this is a well-known surf spot from way back.....discovered in the 1940's. We arrived in the early evening the next day but found that the anchorage described in the cruising guides was taken over by all the pangas. We searched around for shallower water and found we could anchor just outside the panga area in 45 ft of water, just off a beautiful beach that was set up for the locals for swimming. We could see from the beach off at short distance from were dropped anchor was the surf beach. We would go ashore the next day to explore our new landfall.
We want to wish everyone a very happy, healthy New Year!!