Bahia del Sol to Costa Rica
10 June 2011
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Sunday, May 29 we left Bahia del Sol around noon at high tide. The pilots for guiding you across the bar ride on a ski jet ahead of you. The one sitting on the back takes pictures and talks you through it on the VHF radio, giving instructions such as "slow down, we're gonna let a few of these pass under you" or "Ok full speed ahead now" or the favorite "anybody get wet on that one?" Of course everyone in the anchorage knows you are leaving as there has been several "good byes" and "good lucks" leading up to the departure and they are all listening to their radios being thoroughly entertained. Our trip out was certainly more exciting than our entrance had been, but it wasn't bad, judging from other stories. Bill of Metakulu (the pilot in the rear seat) sent us some good pictures which we'll post. But our adventure had only begun.
Just an hour or two out of port we caught a mackerel. We had purchased a long handled net and it worked great; it was so easy to bring the fish aboard (and keep it aboard). We had a wonderful fresh fish dinner. After sunset we realized something that will undoubtedly get us an "award" in our boating squadron - we hadn't taken on fuel as planned in Bahia del Sol. Whether it was the distraction of all the land travel - who knows, but we messed up. We checked our charts for the nearest fuel - Barillas in El Salvador. We were only a few miles away, but it also has a bar and you can't go over it after 3:00pm. We weren't sure if we had enough fuel to putter around all night waiting for the opportunity to cross the bar so we headed a few more miles off shore to get away from nighttime encounters with fishing pangas and turned off the engine (where's the wind when you need it!). Then the typical evening rain storm came. We bobbed around in the storm throughout the night, closely watching our position which didn't change much as the storm didn't bring any wind with it. Neither of us got much sleep that night.
Monday, May 30 we turned on the engine in the early morning and headed toward the anchorage, calling the Barillas port authority to make arrangements for a pilot. At that point our friends Rose and Jani on Lovely Lady radioed us that they were waiting to cross the bar as well and had arranged for their pilot to take us across together, given we are about the same size. We had been told that a swell was coming into this area which would certainly close the entrance (which is one reason we had left Bahia del Sol when we did). Well it had already arrived and the pilot was now advising us to go east to La Union (no bar there) which is in the Gulf of Fonseca. Lovely Lady had just come from there and wasn't looking forward to a return trip and we notified Barillas that we did not have enough fuel. No problem - they would send a panga out with 15 gallons for us. Lovely Lady decided to wait for us so we could buddy boat to La union (great friends - as it was going to be a wait of about 2 hours to get the panga to us with the fuel). We loaded the diesel without any hitch other than fuel all over us and the deck as the boat pitched in the swell. The panga reported conditions back to the port and now they were telling us that they might be able to take us across the bar. Neither boat liked the sound of the 'might', so we decided to go to La Union. We arrived after dark, but Lovely Lady took the lead and took us to their previous anchorage spot just off the navy base. It was so easy for us with their local knowledge. Lights out - sleep!
Tuesday, May 31 we had to clear back into El Salvador (as we had cleared out and gotten our international Zarpe when we left Bahia del Sol). Rose had made friends with the local authorities on her previous visit and they made it so easy for us. We met them at a restaurant (Resturante Amanecer Marino) on the beach near our anchorage. We learned that morning that Lovely Lady had their share of dramas (traumas) recently including the pilot grounding them on the bar upon their first entry to Barillas (they had planned to haul out there and store for the winter). After the grounding they needed to haul out to check for damage but the lift in Barillas was occupied so they had come to La Union only to find the lift at the navy yard had broken when trying to haul a large navy boat (that was somewhat good fortune as that could have been them). That navy boat was still sitting askew in the hoist. So they were heading back to Barillas to wait for the lift there (the night we were bobbing out there) when they hit a panga boat in the pitch blackness of the storm. We were even more amazed at their generosity to wait to buddy boat with us - great friends. Things began to look up for them when we departed as they had had an inspection which revealed no critical damage. Two other boats that had been with us in Bahia del Sol were in a nearby anchorage and radioed that they would come into town and join us for lunch. There is no fuel dock in La Union (which we found amazing given they have a fishing fleet) so we had to jerry jug the fuel from the gas station in town. It took us awhile to get the arrangements set up (find a spot where we could land the dinghy and load fuel cans in and out, where it would be safe, and where it was close to a street with taxis, and then move Libertad closer to that spot) but we found a great spot where the staff at the small tienda located there was very nice and one even spoke some English. Dennis really cranked and made each run in about 30 minutes. We figured we needed about 4 runs to have plenty of fuel to get us to Costa Rica. Virginia stayed aboard and watched the tides and anchor. On his way back to Libertad on the last run, the daily rainstorm hit and this one had some wind with it. We were both soaked by the time he was aboard. We learned our lesson - don't think we'll forget about fuel again.
Wednesday, June 1 - Thursday June 2. Wednesday morning we cleared out of El Salvador for Costa Rica (again). We used the Resturante Amanecer Marino again. The proprietor is so nice to allow this. He even asked us if we wanted to go into a private air conditioned room. We headed for Isla Meanguera - a nearby island at the mouth of the Gulf. Our friends on Jeorgia (Chris and Paul) and Rapscullion (Henry and Pam) were going to be there that night. It was a beautiful spot - so peaceful. From there you could see the three countries that bound the Gulf of Fonseca (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua). There is a hotel in the anchorage run by a family. The father is American (raised in Los Angeles) and the mother is El Salvadorean (but also spent time part of her childhood in LA). They have a daughter, about 10 yr old, that is so sweet. We pampered ourselves, staying in that anchorage 2 nights and having dinner at the hotel out on their veranda overlooking the Gulf both nights. We were the only people there. We would highly recommend that any boats passing this way, visit this island and the patio of Hotel la Joya del Golfo (www.hotellajoyadelgolfo.com), the father is very sociable, tending to every need and the wife is a marvelous cook.
Friday, June 3 - Saturday June 4. Friday morning we headed out with Jeorgia at about 0530 bound for Santa Elena, Costa Rica. We saw lots of floating sea turtles and two dolphins were swimming around the boat at night leaving a phosphorescent trail. Two boobies perched on our masts overnight. We motor sailed all except a couple hours and had another rainstorm with lightning. It was nice to have company. We set up a check-in schedule at 2000, 2400, 0400 and when the storm was nearby we checked in more frequently to share information and ideas on where to run and how to avoid it. We saw a few pangas as we left the Gulf of Fonseca and one large container ship near a Nicaraguan commercial port - otherwise we appeared to be the only two boats out there. They left a bit earlier than us, but once we caught up we stayed within sight and VHF range of each other the entire passage. We had selected an SSB channel to use for our check-ins in case we got out of VHF range. If we had each been able to sail more, we might have diverged. We arrived at the Santa Elena anchorage on Saturday at about 1830 just as the sun was setting. It was gorgeous and calm. We got the daily rainstorm, but it was light.
Sunday, June 5 - Monday, June 6. We noted some irregularity with the condition of our batteries. With the help of Paul from Jeorgia we got a better understanding of the state of our batteries and got ourselves fully charged and the monitor reset. While recharging the batteries Dennis & Paul diagnosed and fixed our GPS-to-laptop connection and now we have GPS data on our laptop plotting software. Dennis also had to do some maintenance on the propane system as the solenoid switch failed. Five months of wear and tear and some of the systems are now asking for attention. But we also had some play time, kayaking the estuary and snorkeling in the bay. There is coral near the islands at the mouth of the bay and we saw a variety of beautiful fish there. This was our first snorkeling of the trip. Virginia still needs to get more comfortable with it and so she floated around using the boogie board as an aid. We saw some beautiful birds - bright green with long tail feathers (motmots). We saw pairs of parrots fly overhead numerous times (you can hear them chattering away). In the early mornings and evenings it sounded like the animals were having a party ashore. We would have liked to do a hike at those times to get some good pictures, but rain and boat projects got in the way. It was a beautiful and very calm anchorage.
Tuesday, June 7 we left Santa Elena at first light, 0500, and headed to Playas del Coco. We needed to check into the country and get prepared for meeting Dennis' brother Greg who would be joining us for 10 days. We arrived around 1230. We had lunch aboard and Dennis headed to shore to start the check-in process, which we were told would be lengthy and take a full day. We had also heard that the swell here made it hard to land the dinghy so he took one of the kayaks. But there was very little swell that day and he had an easy landing. He met with the port captain and immigration and made an appointment for the agricultural inspection for 0830 the next morning. Immigration wanted to see Virginia in person but gave Dennis what he needed for the port captain and trusted him to bring Virginia back the next day. That night the anchorage became very rolly and so we experienced interrupted sleep even with the flopper-stoppers deployed.
Wednesday, June 8 we both went ashore in the dinghy to finish the check-in process. In keeping with the rolly night we had, there was a bit more swell, but Dennis carefully eased us in. We locked the dinghy to a metal stand. Virginia stayed at the port captain's office while Dennis took the agricultural inspector in the dinghy out to the boat. This is the first country where we had such an inspection. Because we had heard about the rolly anchorage, difficult dinghy landing, and petty thievery in Playas del Coco we had originally planned on anchoring around the corner in Playas Panama and bussing here to clear-in. But some other boats that had been in El Salvador with us and had recently cleared in here warned that the port captain was not happy with folks that did that, and we can now see why given the agricultural inspection requirement. Virginia made her visit to Immigration. Our last step was to go to customs, near the airport in Liberia. We took a bus. It cost us 500 colones apiece ($1US). It was an easy trip out there and we had all our paperwork in order so the process was quick. But....then we tried to get a bus back. There was no official busstop at the Aduano (customs) but we were told the buses would stop there if you waved them down. This was a busy highway so it was hard to see the signs on the buses as they approached, so we had to try to flag down all of them and then wave them off if not our bus. Few of them would slow down or stop. We decided to walk down the road to an official bus stop. Finally we saw the Coco bus, but despite both of us waving to flag him down, he just kept on going. That had been about an hour wait. We decided to take the next bus headed in that direction and then transfer to a Coco bus. 45 minutes later and we had seen nothing but local route buses. We walked back to the Aduano office to ask them to call us a taxi. Just as we got to the Aduano driveway another Coco bus passed and again ignored our waving. So we took a $50 taxi ride back to Coco. Clearing in here does take time as reported, but only that final leg of the trip was frustrating - the rest went smoothly and the officials were patient with our very limited Spanish. This is the first port where the officials didn't speak English. We moved the boat around the corner to Playas Panama. It is much more scenic and calm here. We contacted the nearby Marina Papagayo and they have room for us. We plan to take a slip for one night to charge our batteries, take on water (which is potable everywhere in Costa Rica), and pick up Dennis' brother.