02/10/2013, Marina Papagayos
For those of you from the Front Range of Colorado, you know what it is like to watch a wildfire coming over the hilltop as it heads towards you. Well, that is virtually what we are watching tonight as a wildfire, apparently started when the burning of a sugarcane field got out of hand, is cresting the hillside just outside the bay where we are located. The marina is not in the direct path of the flames, so far, but we can clearly see the fires raging within a mile or two of us at this point. For the last several days, the boat has been deluged with ash from the fire, so today was "clean the boat" day. Tomorrow, we will see just how much new ash is on the boat as the winds continue to blow in our direction from the wildfires.
Marina Papagayos is in a fairly secluded portion of Bahia Culebra. We are limited to what is available here. Fortunately, there is a very nice restaurant/bar on site, and they have daily happy hours with drink and dinner specials. Last night it was delicious fish and chips (using Dorado) and tonight was tenderloin served with grilled onions. The Pina Coladas and Margaritas are also quite good, and the waiter is extremely friendly and helpful. We sit down on the outdoor patio at about 5PM and watch the sun set while we sip our cocktails (the lead picture is the view from the restaurant), and the meal follows shortly thereafter. We have sent out our propane bottles for re-filling for the upcoming journey, so we are happy that the restaurant is both convenient and good. Entertainment over the past few days has been a daily/nightly game of three-person hearts. Rich taught Debra the game, and she has proven quite adept. Rich has paid a high price as he has come up on the short end more times than not. Now for the big news:
Andy has to fly back to Colorado for the last case in which he is counsel before complete retirement. An oral argument has been set in the Colorado Court of Appeals for the first Wednesday in March, so he will be flying to Colorado from the Galapagos via an itinerary that only a masochist would enjoy: two 12 hour layovers each way, one in Ecuador and one in Miami. In addition, he will have to ferry to and from the Galapagos airport since it is on an island other than where the boat will be based (the Galapagos is very picky about where cruisers can visit). The upside is that he will be able to stock up on some additional things for the long Pacific crossing, so he has been busy ordering parts over the internet for delivery to Boulder and then flying them back to the boat when he returns. Debra is excited because Andy will be able to re-stock her supply of gluten-free bread-something that is difficult or impossible to find outside the U.S.
That's all for now. More before we cast off from CR for the Galapagos within the next few days.
02/09/2013, Marina Papagayos
We are now docked at Marina Papagayo, and the name surely fits. The winds started howling about an hour after we arrived, and they have been blowing all day. The downside is the ash which is blowing into the boat from the burning of the sugarcane fields upwind, and it has been a real hassle not staining the upholstery on the couches. We have shut down the windows and cranked up the A/C to survive. Now to bring you up-to-date since our last blog.
We left Santa Elena under clear skies in strong enough winds to sail virtually the entire way to our next destination-Playa del Coco. This is a nice anchorage with many amenities including numerous restaurants with wi-fi, nice grocery stores, and other benefits for what appears to be a Gringo hangout. We were helped with locating an anchoring spot and the check in process by another cruiser, Jerry from Northern Skies, a fellow Beneteau owner. He has proven to be a wealth of information on assorted cruising facts and has shared many of his ideas and practices with us. The process of checking in is somewhat tedious. First you go to the Port Captain where you get a piece of paper which, in turn, you take to immigration about 2 blocks away. All three crew members need to go to immigration where they check passports and issue another piece of paper which we return to the Port Captain who issues a new piece of paper. That paper needs to go to customs which is located at the Liberia airport quite a few kilometers away. Since the first three steps took quite awhile, it was too late to go to customs, to that had to wait for the following morning. Andy took the public bus and specifically asked the driver to stop at "aduana" (the Spanish word for customs). However, the driver managed to forget to stop so Andy went all the way into the bus terminal in Liberia where he was then put on the return bus which did stop and drop him off. It is a good thing that the bus driver knows where aduana is because it is hidden in a small office complex outside the actual airport site. There, Andy got the next piece of paper which will ultimately get us the final piece of paper to get out of Costa Rica and let us enter the Galapagos which is part of Ecuador. That means a second trip to aduana for that magic piece of paper-an international zarpe. While Andy was off on his bus trip of about 3 hours, Debra and Rich explored the town and found a very nice grocery store with many items that we will need and want for final provisioning to the Galapagos. However, it was not time to make those acquisitions, as we have decided to further explore this region of CR first.
We spent the night at anchorage in Coco and departed the following morning for our next anchorage, Bahia Virador which is a beautiful cove just off the beach from the Four Seasons resort. After anchoring, we donned our snorkeling gear and checked out the rocky shore only to be disappointed by the cloudy water (probably remnants of the Papagayos which have been blowing here for weeks) and lack of corals/fish, so we swam to the resort beach and explored the facilities. It is quite beautiful, and we managed to find some nice lounge chairs on the beach where we sat in the shade (the heat had already settled in for the day) for an hour or so before swimming back to Murar's Dream. After dinner onboard which included an appetizer of some boat-made spicy tuna rolls using some of the wasabi powder that Marsha had brought to us last year in Mexico.
This morning we motored our way the five of so miles to Marina Papagayo. This is our last marina for several months (Tahiti is next), so it is time to do a thorough cleaning (inside and out), change oil and filters in the engine, and oil the teak. It is a very nice facility with all of the usual comforts-water, electricity, wi-fi, pool, etc. We will stay here for one or two nights before returning to Coco and final provisioning. It is time to start watching the weather windows for our trip to the Galapagos which should begin shortly. Once we leave CR, there will be no internet until the Galapagos, but we should be able to blog via SSB radio while underway, so you can keep checking even if you do not get our prompting emails.
02/05/2013, Bahia Santa Elena
Immigration, customs and the Port Captain did, indeed, dictate our day to depart from Puesta del Sol but not before we enjoyed a walk on the beautiful beach along the Pacific with fellow cruisers, Richard and Karen of Snowaway, where we had the chance to watch a couple of surfers checking out the swell. We also enjoyed some cooling dips in the swimming pool where we watched swallows and other birds swooping down and scooping up water to drink.
We set out for Costa Rica at 11AM the next day since, had the Nicaraguan officials shown up, it meant checking in and out of country again-something we definitely wanted to avoid. That process took almost two hours and nine separate pieces of paper, let alone the $100+ fees. The seas were calm, and we quickly discovered the variability of the winds in this area before we would be confronted with the infamous Papagayos. We would set the sails for an onshore breeze only to have the winds shift 180 degrees, or worse, yet, come on our nose, so it was quickly time to motor. Later in the afternoon during Andy's shift the Papagayos finally set in, and it was time to confront the wind-driven waves once again. At one point, we turned towards shore and came within 3/4 of a mile before the waves were tolerable. We remained in that orientation into the darkness of night when we reached one of the ports of Nicaragua where they appear to have an oil refinery. We were forced to again go offshore in order to avoid a series of mooring floats for the large tankers that apparently unload but were unoccupied at the time.
As we passed the mooring site, we began to observe what appeared to be some city lights, but they were off of our starboard bow which was out to sea. It was so dark that we feared that the charts might be wrong and that we were heading towards shore. However, as we drew closer, we realized that this was a long line of ponga fishing boats heading in our direction. At one point, we were approached by what was a lead ponga which quickly signaled us to turn hard to starboard, apparently to avoid a fishing net stretched across our intended path. They escorted us to the point that it was safe to go back on course, but we definitely made sure to clear the line of pongas. Later that night, Rich was on duty and encountered two additional lines of pongas which he had to avoid.
Being forced farther from shore meant a return of the unpleasant waves and swell, so Rich once again brought us close to shore where we remained for the rest of the Nicaraguan coast in light chop despite the high winds which continued to blow through the night. We finally reached the Costa Rican border and Bahia Salinas which we had to cross. This time, the winds and waves were substantial, but it was time to turn slightly downwind, so it was a relatively pleasant sail to our next stop-Bahia Santa Elena.
We entered the mouth of the bay to a very pleasant surprise-We were the only boat there, but we could see another boat a couple of miles behind us heading into the bay as well. We found an anchoring spot and set anchor, and we were joined shortly thereafter by the other sailboat which was Tarpan, a boat that we had met in the Huatulco marina. They had left actually one day behind us, but, due to their slower speed, they arrived at nearly the identical time despite the fact that we had spent 2 night in Puesta del Sol. We anchored in a spot which we hoped was protected from the Papagayos, but that was not to be the case. The winds would come through in gusts- very light then very strong, sometimes in the 30s, and this continued until sundown when we did have a brief reprieve before the gusts returned but fortunately not as strong through the night. By dawn, we once again experienced a reprieve, so we decided to launch the dinghy and hoped to go ashore for a day hike. Unfortunately, the winds quickly returned, so we had to abandon that plan. On the way back to the boat, we did manage to briefly spot a small cocodrilo. After returning to the boat, Debra and Andy were able to briefly take the dinghy into the estuary looking for more wildlife-birds but no crocs. They then visited Tarpan where they were treated to some freshly baked bread. We are all back onboard Murar's Dream for the afternoon where the wind gusts have returned. Hopefully they will again ease for the evening and a good night's sleep.
We have decided to spend a second night here before heading at first light (hopefully with light winds) around Cabo Santa Elena where winds can, at times, blow twice as strong as the prevailing Papagayo winds. We should make it to Playa de Cocos sometime Wednesday morning where we will undertake the process of officially checking into the country.
02/01/2013, Puesta del Sol
We have found a hidden gem-Marina Puesto del Sol. About 50 nm southeast of the Bay of Fonseco where El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua come together lies an isolated lagoon amongst the mangroves where there is a hotel/marina nicely tucked in. Because it was after hours when we arrived at 5:30, we were greeted by the security guard, Mario, along with Richard from the neighboring sailboat out of Canada, who arrived with his wife from Panama following a long stay in the Caribbean. While we are heading south, they are working their way north to Mexico for an extended stay.
After last night and today when we were confronted with large, wind-driven waves on the nose for hours on end, we found this marina through one of the various cruiser books aboard Murar's Dream. We all agreed that, based upon the fact that the wind and waves had impeded our progress enough to deprive us of a daylight entrance into the first stopping point in Costa Rica, we needed a well-deserved break from the weather, as the high winds and big seas continue to be in the immediate weather forecast. Getting into the marina which is set back into the lagoon involves several twists and turns, as there are numerous shallows that need to be avoided. However, there were also numerous channel buoys which made the trip into the lagoon fairy safe. Rich stood at the bow looking for the shallows while we navigated our way in from the open ocean. As we rounded the final bend, we saw the small marina (with less than 40 slips) before our eyes and were amazed to see the quality of the facility even from afar, and Richard was quick to fill us in on all the details. Therefore, our first stop was at the palapa which houses a bar and restaurant, and it was time for Rich and Andy to taste Nicaraguan beer which was quite pleasant to the palate. We decided that it was time to have dinner, and we were not disappointed. We all agreed that this was one of the best meals that any of us has had since leaving the U.S. Debra's whole Red Snapper was outstanding, Andy had a snapper filet covered in a tropical salsa, and Rich enjoyed a chicken breast covered in another tasty sauce. It was then time to hit the showers to wash off all of the salt which had coated our bodies (and Murar's Dream which will have a bath tomorrow, as well) since we were constantly pummeled with large amounts of ocean water as we bashed our way from El Salvador to Nicaragua.
As a bit of a sidelight, the trip from Chiapas through Guatemala was quite pleasant. Before encountering the bad weather, we continued to troll for eating fish and to hook those not-so-pleasant Skipjacks, so Rich would reel them in and Andy would use pliers to remove the hooks and release the fish. The one exception was a fairly good-sized Jack Crevalle (also not good eating)just about the time that we snagged one of those fishing long lines used by the ponga fishermen. After freeing ourselves with a few jibes, we attempted to get around the outside of this series of soda bottles, only to get caught once again. At this point, we were so frustrated that Rich simply took a knife out and cut the line to free us. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by several sea birds which enjoyed landing on our mast and spreaders. Andy would go forward and use the spinnaker halyard to knock them off, and they finally gave up but not before one left a large present on our foredeck, so it was time to get out the scrub brush and wash off the deck. Later that day, we were again confronted with one of these sea birds, but this time it was trying to eat one of the fishing lures. After several tries, it managed to catch the lure in its wing such that Rich had to reel him in, and Andy was able to eventually free the bird but not until it managed to bite his hand several times. So much for a stupid bird. Could this have been the same bird which left us that present?
Our original plan was to simply spend the night here in Puesta del Sol and push on first thing in the morning, but the facilities and atmosphere here are potentially affecting that decision. We will make that call tomorrow, the biggest factor being a need to check in and out of Nicaragua as a result of this one stop. It will take us about a day to reach our first destination in Costa Rica-Bahia Santa Elena which everyone says is a wonderful bay with nice snorkeling in this Costa Rican national park. We are still working against our time line for getting to and departing from the Galapagos, so both time and the weather will continue to affect out decision-making. Nevertheless, for now we intend to enjoy this true gem of a spot as we sit aboard Murar's Dream in a secure dock with a nice tropical breeze blowing through.
01/29/2013, Puerto Chiapas
Well, we survived the Tehuantepec! We left Hautulco at noon and enjoyed a pleasant sail along the coast, staying near the shoreline-a longer but safer route if the winds began to blow. The forecast was for winds in the high teens with reasonable seas (not the 10-12 foot swells during the blow). As the sun set, however, the winds died down as well, so it was time to motor. As soon as we passed the point at the western edge of the bay for the port of Salinas Cruz, the winds began to build. Soon, we were pleasantly sailing along at 7+ knots when we began to study the AIS images of no less than 6 large ships in the anchorage. Four were anchored and two were under way. We were forced with a decision-Turn east and go outside the anchored ships or squeeze between the shore and the ship closest to shore. Rich and Andy made the choice to head east. It did not take long for the winds to build into the high teens and lows twenties, so it was definitely time to reef (make smaller) the sails. The seas built slightly so that, on occasion, we were taking some spray over the bow, so when we cleared the ships, we turned northeast, furled the jib and headed back to shore to continue our journey to Chiapas, our final stop in Mexico. Once close to shore, the seas calmed, and we were able to turn enough downwind to really take advantage of the strong breeze which lasted pretty much through the night.
The following morning, the winds decided to go away, and we understood that we were basically past the gap in the mountains through which the winds blow. It was motoring and motor sailing for the remainder of the trip. By nightfall, it was like a lake, and the seas continued to be flat all the way to Chiapas where we arrived after daybreak. After obtaining permission to enter the port from the Port Captain (a requirement for this port), we were directed to Marina Chiapas where some of the cruisers already docked there helped us dock Murar's Dream for the day. The process here is threefold: (1) The navy and Port Captain come to the boat to inspect it (with a drug sniffing dog) and do a lot of paperwork; (2) We all go to immigration andthe Port Captain to process the Zarpe (exit paper which we will need to go into Costa Rica); and (3) The navy and Port Captain return for a final inspection (why we don't really know.-taking drugs south OUT of Mexico????). The navy and port captain were very friendly and appreciated the Pepsis that we offered them as they sat aboard handling their responsibilities. They spoke no English to us, but Rich was convinced that at least one of them spoke fluent English so that he could tell the others what we might be saying about them in English. The marina here is extremely helpful with check-in and out. They drove us around to the three locations necessary for accomplishing this, and even they are having some trouble now that the new government has been replacing personnel in these key locations with their own people. We are now officially ready for the final boat inspection which is now scheduled for tomorrow AM.
After handling all the paperwork, the marina drove us to a nearby hotel (if you can call it that-very minimalistic) on the beach for a nice lunch. We are back onboard and trying to cool off as the heat has not eased off since we left Cabo. After showers and a light dinner of fish tacos (with the Sierra that we caught yesterday while underway), it is off to a good night's sleep. What we thought would be a four day trip to Costa Rica will only be 3 days if the winds cooperate, so we are happy about that. We hope to be in Costa Rica for about a week before the jump to the Galapagos where we plan to arrive in the third or fourth week of February.
That's all for now.
Unfortunately, the latest weather report shows the Tehuantepec window not opening until Monday, so here we remain in Marina Chahue as we continue to check daily for the latest updates. Due to this additional delay, we have taken the opportunity to explore some of the bays adjacent to Bahia de Hualtulco. Yesterday, we motored to Jicamal, a small cove about 7 nm from the marina where we anchored next to a large coral reef marked off by buoys. We arrived at mid-morning and donned our snorkeling gear for our exploration. It did not take long for us to realize that this was the best snorkeling that we have experienced anywhere in Mexico. The water was clear, and there was live coral which attracted a large number and variety of reef fishes. The water ranged from only a few feet deep to about 10, so it was as easy snorkeling as one could ask for. We only got out because we began to feel a bit of a chill due to the length of our stay in the water. In fact, Andy managed to clean the hull and change one of the zincs before we all headed over to the reef. We spent the afternoon just enjoying the breeze, awaiting the sunset and a night with almost a full moon. We had been told that any tourists that came to visit this cove would be gone by 4PM but, lo and behold, a group arrived just before sunset and set up tents for an overnight camping. In addition to the lack of total solitude in this small cove, the campers were a minor nuisance. A swell began to enter the cove, so we decided to set a stern anchor to keep the boat pointed into the swell. One should expect the winds to shift from onshore to offshore during the night which could push Murar's Dream into a position where it could be very uncomfortable as the boat would rock from side-to side. The decision proved to be well-reasoned, as the wind did shift and the swell grew throughout the night. By mid-morning, we knew that it was time to move on, either returning to the marina or checking out another, more protected bay. We decided to check out one of the daytime bays and then return to the calm of the marina before nightfall. This time, we anchored on the lee side of an island which sat at the entrance to the bay and checked out the reef at that site. We were out of the swell and it was an easy swim over to the reef where we enjoyed seeing more corals and reef fishes. If nothing else, it was a break from the continued daily heat to which we have been exposed here in Hualtulco. After returning to the boat, it was an afternoon of just enjoying the breeze as Andy taught Rich the game of Cribbage. The winds actually built for the afternoon, so we were able to sail most of the way back to the marina where we proceeded to give Murar's Dream a thorough bath. It has cooled off a bit here for now, so we are sitting in the cockpit after sunset as we watch the full moon rising.
We will spend the next two days getting the boat ready for our journey south. If all goes as planned, we will cross the Tehuantepec and check out of Mexico at Puerto Chiapas on the Mexican border. It will then be a 4 day journey to Costa Rica.