05/10/2012, Bahia del Sol
All and all our visit to El Salvador has been very pleasant but hot and humid. The thunderstorm and rainy season is setting in. This heat and humidity along with our desire to spend time with family and friends has prompted us to go back to Canada for the summer. We plan to travel a bit while at home and will return to the boat in October or November.
Packing and readying the boat for our 6 month absence is quite a process. There are many ideas on what to do but the list is long and took us two weeks of steady work, other than Happy Hour of course. The exterior has to be cleaned and polished, all lines removed(replaced with leaders) cleaned and stored, anything that has plastic must be wrapped in tinfoil to protect from heat, sun cover installed if possible, all sails cleaned removed and stored, etc, etc. The inside we vacuum sealed all dry food being left, washed all walls and cupboards with bleach/water, vacuum sealed all bedding and cloths, etc. The engine oil is changed, the raw water intake is closed and fresh water is installed, all fuel filters changed, etc, etc.
We flew home to Vancouver on Tuesday May 1st. The weather in Vancouver is much cooler(low-mid teens Celsius) but totally doable; you can always dress for cold. We are getting settled into our son's house for now, that's a reverse, and will do lots of travelling to see family and friends. Hope everyone has a great summer.
05/05/2012, Bahia del Sol
While out for dinner at a friend's boat one night we could feel the weather was getting a little unsettled and the wind was starting to build. Our boat was at the marina about a mile down the estuary. We had left all the hatches open to keep the boat as cool as possible but with possible rain coming we decided it would be prudent to return to the boat and close it up. The wind was about 10-15knots with the current, the waves were about 1 foot high but sheet lightening was starting in the distance, very doable for a quick trip back to the boat. It was about 8:00 and it was dark but we could see by the lights of the marina and shore lights. Carole and I hopped into the dinghy and sped off towards the dock. The weather changed significantly as we sped home with the lightening getting more intense and the wind picking up. The darkness would change into what seems to be daylight with each lightening flash but we were on a fast track home which should only take about 15 minutes. As our boat was bow into the dock and the stern was facing we planned to quickly place the dinghy on the davits, which I had reinforced and are very strong. We could see people on the dock beside our boat with high-powered lights watching for us. They quickly boarded our boat to help us as the wind was increasing quickly and the rain was starting. Since the wind was behind us we pulled up to the stern of the boat, Carole jumped onto the boat and she tied the dinghy to the back of the boat. While she quickly closed the hatches the others dropped the davit harnesses down, I secured them to the dinghy and we quickly lifted the dinghy onto the davits. By this time the waves were about 4 feet on our stern and the wind was about 40-50 knots but we were all ok and secure. Within seconds the stern cleat on the dock holding our boat came out and the stern veered towards the boat beside us. Our boat also went forward and our bow was hitting the dock. Since I always keep fenders on both sides of the boat while at dock there was no damage as we bumped against the boat beside us but we needed to move fast and pull the bow off the dock. We quickly threw the crew on the dock another line and they secure us to a large boat on the other side of our dock and pulled us back into position. We were now secure but the winds were now at 73 knots (82 mph or 132kph) and the waves were splashing into the cockpit and washing up against the companionway hatch doors. No problem, everything was closed and we did not get a drop of water inside. Carole and I joined everyone on the dock to help other boats. The barrels that supported the docks were now breaking loose and coming out between the boats. Since they were covered in barnacles and scratching the hulls we had to quickly get them out of the water and onto the dock and secure them. The two large powerboats on the same side as us fired up their engines and put them in gear to keep the docks intact. The winds started to die down and although everyone was soaked we were all ok. Within 30 minutes from the time it started it was over. One of the boats at anchor had broken free and slammed sideways into a concrete piling. This put a large hole in its' side, about 3' by 4', just above the waterline, but the owner was ok. Once the waves died down the cruisers carefully moved the boat around to a slip on the other side of the dock and covered the hole to ensure it would not sink. We did not get a lot of sleep that night. Our boat sustained a small hole in the gelcoat where the cleat struck the side, scratches to the side where the barnacle covered barrels rubbed the side and a crushed stainless anchor locker drain cover where we went into the dock. Everyone was amazed that we did not sustain further damage to the bow as we destroyed the wooden deck and put large gouges into the logs that formed the dock structure. I feel this is a testimony to how well built the bow on our Hunter is with its' Kevlar reinforced 3/4" fibreglass bow. They now call us Dock Eater. The next 3 days, two workmen fixed the scratches and hole in the fibreglass, which turned out great, and only cost us $70.00 (seventy dollars). The only thing they could not repair were the scratches in the blue stripe just above the waterline. Unfortunately the one boat was a write-off but that is another story. Everyone on the dock, El Salvadorians and cruisers banded together to help each other out. Some boats in the mooring fields moved and a few had some damage but it is just fibreglass and wood which can be repaired.
A Microburst is an unusual phenomena and El Salvador has never experienced it before and may never again. It usually lasts for only about 20 - 30 minutes of intense winds.
Picture is courtesy of Bella Star as I was busy securing the boat back to the dock.
04/27/2012, Bahi del Sol
While here we took the opportunity to take a tour to Antigua and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Antigua is a very beautiful old city in the hills with several volcanoes around. It has, or had, over 50 churches which have been destroyed by earthquakes and volcanoes and sometimes rebuilt. This is a very ancient city with narrow cobble stone streets bordered by old homes and shops. As in most of Central America there are lots of street venders selling many traditional tapestries, clothing and pottery; some I suspect made in China as they are all the same. They love to barter therefore the first price is only the starting point.
Lake Atitlan is a very picturesque lake formed when a very large volcanic crater collapsed. The lake is surrounded with four to five volcanoes; some still somewhat active. There are also about five towns dotted around the lake which are mainly accessible by water taxi. The main industries seem to be Spanish schools and selling the usual tapestries, clothing, pottery, etc to tourists. The towns are very picturesque as they are set on the steep slopes of the volcanoes at the water's edge.
Carole really enjoyed the market in Chichicastanaga, they had a wonderful selection of local handmade items for sale.
04/26/2012, Bahia del Sol, El Salvador
In Mazatlan we met Bill and Jean on Mita Kuuluu, who are the organizers of the El Salvador Rally. This is a destination rally held at Bahia del Sol Marina from March 17 to April 29 with many land based activities. The rally is sponsored in large by the El Salvadorian government which made it very easy to check into the country. There was over 50 boats that made the trek from Mexico this year. We enjoyed the rally immensely as it was a great opportunity to meet other cruisers and do some land travel to see this beautiful country. The government is trying to promote tourism and at our opening dinner we had the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Tourism and the head of the Ports present.
You have to remember though that this is a third world country thus the amenities are as such. The docks are made with long logs with 2x4 decking supported by barrels. The cleats are lag bolted through the deck and into the logs. The average population does not have all the luxuries we have either living usually in tin or thatched roofed huts with walls made from whatever is available. As we drove past the poor areas in San Salvador I could not avoid noticing all the satellite dishes on the roofs of the tin shacks. I am sure they are accompanied by a big screen TV where I imagine the locals would watch Dancing With the Stars, lol! It is normal to see true dugout canoes crossing the estuary laden with people, water jugs, food and other wares. There is no fresh water on the island in the estuary thus all water and supplies have to be transported in by water. When you drive through the villages you see long eared cows, pigs, dogs and chickens running free. The cows and horses are their system of keeping the roadside grass short. You have to get used to the smell of burning garbage and plastic in the night as this is their way of disposing of garbage. Since it is a poor country there is no recycling or garbage pickup programs, except maybe in San Salvador. The first time I smelt this off the coast of Mexico I was checking the boat to see what was burning. They also burn the sugar cane fields prior to harvesting which smells very much like marijuana burning. The people are very friendly and we never have felt unsafe. They are very proud and always want to know how we like El Salvador.
Bahia del Sol is a bit isolated thus provisioning is usually done at the local market, a 20 minute dinghy ride up the estuary, or in San Salvador. The market is very rustic with limited selection. San Salvador is a hour and a half taxi ride away ($80.00US) or several hours on a chicken bus. We would usually get several boats together and take a van/taxi. San Salvador is very Americanized and has everything available at good prices. Booze, food and textiles are relatively cheap; we even found Sunbrella for $9.95US per yard. One of our cruisers purchase a new Yamaha 15HP 2 stroke for about $2500.00US.
At 4:00pm each day is cruisers Happy Hour. This is when the cruisers migrate to the pool at the marina to cool off, social time and enjoy $1.00 beers, etc. Many of us are on mooring ball in the estuary while others are at the docks and a few at anchor. Since the moorings balls are only $100.00 per month we find it is not worth it to be at anchor as you should reset weekly or you anchor will be way down in the mud. As with any area near the jungle the bugs come out at happy hour to greet us; although we do not get them on the boat in the estuary.
We found the rally was well worth it but also realise that crossing the bar can be a filter to cruisers wanting to join. You should remember that each boat is guided in and as long as you follow the pilots instructions you should have no problems.
03/23/2012, Bahia del Sol, El Salvador
Our trip from Chiapas to Bahia del Sol in El Salvador was great. We were able to sail quite a bit and the night passage was under star filled skies. The moon rose about 11:00pm with what looked like a red light of a vessel and morphed into a beautiful red sky resembling a sunset then into a brilliant full moon.
Our next challenge was to cross the bar into our destination, Bahia del Sol. In the early morning hours us and five other boats gathered at a meeting point just outside the bar waiting for slack flood tide. When we look towards shore all we see is 8-12' rollers which then develop into breaking waves. It looks quite daunting ashore but it is what we have to do or carry on to Costa Rica. We all are reading the literature about crossing the bar: keep the boat perpendicular to the surf, use FULL power once you start crossing the bar and don't hold back unless instructed, have a crew member looking backwards at the wave telling you to steer port or starboard to ensure you are perpendicular to the wave, don't worry about the jet ski ahead of you as he will get out of your way as you charge down the wave, etc. We all prepped our boats by ensuring everything is secure on deck, all windows and hatches are closed including the companionway, engine will maintain FULL power for 5 minutes without overheating, etc. We then tethered ourselves to the boat so if we broached or a wave hit us we would not be swept overboard. This is all precautionary but we believe in being prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.
Everyone is escorted across the bar one at a time by two people on a jet ski. We all line up to wait our turn; we are to be the fourth boat to cross. The first boats are Warren Peace, Gosling and Kwan yin 1. Everyone keeps it perpendicular to the waves and surf down 3 - 4 large waves. Only Kwan yin 1 had a wave break into the cockpit but other than a wet crew, no harm was done. We see the jet ski jump over the surf to guide us in; it's our turn. We advance to the edge of the surf and hold. Then our guides say full power and we surge forward going as fast as we can. About an eight foot wave picked us up and we bulleted down at about 12 knots. Then the next one came then the third and the same thing, but the wave height was way less for us than the other boats had experienced. The next thing our guides said was "welcome to El Salvador, they really opened the gates for you", follow the boat ahead into the estuary. We ended up having the easy ride that day but no-one had any issues. Later at the bar we all said how easy and thrilling it was.
We are now moored in the estuary along with 30-40 other cruisers. It is beautiful and calm and you hear the surf breaking just the other side of the peninsula.
On our way back through we went to see Agua Azul which is one of the most beautiful waterfalls we have seen. You feel you are in the middle with waterfalls all around you. Each way you looked was a different falls.
San Cristobol was a vibrant Mexican town with lots of walking streets, music, good food and drink. Unfortunately due to the latter I did not get many pictures. We stayed there overnight at a great little place. Our road trip home was much better as we took the toll roads which were many more miles but due to the quality took us less time.
We cleaned, refuelled and prepped the boat ready for our next leg to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. So long Mexico and hello Central America.