Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chiapas to Acapulco

10:30, Thursday, February 20, 2014. Enroute to Acapulco

We are almost halfway across the dreaded Tehuantepec, renowned for its 40-60 kt winds spilling over from the Caribbean. We have chosen well. It is absolutely flat calm and this weather window will last for the next 36 hours before piping up again. Before departing from Chiapas we checked every source we could find and they all agreed so we opted for a direct crossing, some 240 miles to the mainland coast just west of Huatulco. From there we will be another 36+ hours to Acapulco and our next fueling stop. Yes, under these conditions we are motoring, however, we did get about an hour of decent sailing in just after we left Chiapas yesterday afternoon. 
There are many large turtles resting on the surface all round us. Under these conditions they are easy to spot. They appear as lumps floating on the surface, sometimes with a bird perched on them. We can get quite close to them before they notice us and dive, in fact, we almost hit one a few minutes ago. 

Mexican aircraft carrier.

One of the advantages of being in Mexico is the cheaper cost of everything. Our fuel purchase yesterday was $3.67/gal (US) or 97 cents/li. We took on 278 li, not bad for a trip of 471.5 miles, 66 hours on the engine. 

Yesterday evening we met a couple of large power boats heading for Costa Rica. Anna Mae was surprised that a sailboat would actually call him and chat. I guess they have been shunned by many sailboats but we like big cruisers. Motor yachts have ice, an essential for sundowners, but we can’t complain; our new fridge always has 2 trays ready to go now. Anna Mae seemed quite appreciative of our suggestions for their trip down the coast.  

06:45, Saturday, 22 February 2014, At sea, enroute to Acapulco 

Another dawn at sea. The eastern horizon is brightening and, before I finish this entry the sun will have risen. We have another 24 hours to go till we reach Acapulco. We have made good time and have had to slow down so as not to arrive during darkness. We are under sail in a 10 kt offshore wind and doing just over 3 kts. We will not have this wind for long so we might as well take advantage of it while we can. Once the sun begins to heat up the surface it will die and eventually reverse to an onshore breeze and we will, inevitably have to crank up the iron spinnaker again. It is nice to have silence for a change with only the whistling of the wind in the rigging, the tune played by the shaft as it free-wheels in our wake and the other varied noises a sailboat makes.  

Otto (the autopilot) is still temperamental but is holding us on a steady course. He likes the overnight passages but is very cranky during the day. We think that the problem we have with him may be heat related and that a fan will provide a temporary solution. We have asked Ken and Carole to bring one.

The last 24 hours have been uneventful. There is lots of sea life, turtles galore, the odd manta ray flipping out of the water and the occasional pod of dolphins playing at the bow.

Flying fish casualty found on deck

Our crossing of the Tehuantepec was mostly a non-event, however, by 2200 last night the wind picked up, unexpectedly, from the west, on the nose, and blew up to 20 kts for about 8 hours. It was a rough ending to the crossing with the waves breaking over the bow and spray reaching the cockpit. In the morning we noticed tiny shrimp everywhere.

Flat Tehuantepec.
Inhibitions are thrown away when you are all by your lonesomes at sea. Like most cruising couples (and the common practice on most European boats) we tend to shed our clothing while at sea.  Haven’t told Ken and Carole that yet…. Just kidding, we’ll have our nauti bits covered while they are with us. 

Au naturelle - notice the white butt. We don't get out in the sun much...

Sunrise has just happened and navigation lights - switched off. The log will be annotated accordingly. Some old naval habits persist…

20:45, Sunday, 23 February 2014, At anchor Acapulco

What an incredible skyline at night! Acapulco has got to be the most beautiful night profile we have ever seen. The bay is surrounded by hills, most of which are inhabited with their house and street lights twinkling so the bay looks like a horizontal Christmas tree. This afternoon the bay was alive with high end sailboats with their colourful spinnakers and kevlar sails racing each other in the highly competitive Acapulco Yacht Club Sunday race series.

 Acapulco racers

Now it is Sunday night in Mexico and we can hear the sounds of people enjoying the last day of the weekend. There are live bands on the boardwalk, party boats returning from their sunset cruises and later there will, invariably, be fireworks at some of the shoreline resorts; it is nice to be back to Mexico.

 We arrived early this morning after a tiring night of battling the autopilot in a nasty 15-20 kt headwind. We anchored and slept till noon, then, it was time to launch the dinghy, refuel using the deck jugs (3 times back and forth), a quick walk to the nearest grocery store for a few essentials and then back to the boat. Our life has become very predictable!! 

 This has been another long passage for us but, incredibly, it was only ½ mile shorter than the last leg from Costa Rica to Chiapas at 471 miles but 20 hours more engine. We arrived with only 9.5 gallons in the tank and that was after we had used up our deck reserves. From here on the legs will be shorter.

 Tomorrow we leave for Zihuananejo, a 104 mile run. We expect to be in by Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fast tracking up the coast of Central America

07:00, Wednesday, 12 February 2014, At Sea

What a beautiful morning! We are about 28 miles off the coast of Costa Rica with only ocean visible all round. Apart from a slight swell from the southwest it is perfectly calm. There has been no wind the entire night and we have been powering since we left Golfito mid-day yesterday. Will we ever get a chance to sail before we get to Guaymas??? There have been no contacts except for a distant ship to the south and a few fishing vessels inshore during the night and I have seen a few turtles already this morning. We are heading for Playa de Cocos where we will check out of the country, refuel, water up and depart as soon as we can for Chiapas, a 400+ mile run. We will have to keep an eye on the weather forecasts for the Papagayo winds and wait for a window before we cross the bay between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, then keep close to the coast to avoid the seas that can be generated by these winds. The chart plotter indicates we’ll arrive about this time tomorrow morning.

Our stay in Golfito was short but longer than we had hoped. Arriving on a weekend has its disadvantages but we were able to check in yesterday without any problem. While I was doing that, Fran stocked up on fresh fruit and vegetables from the local shops. After paying our bill to Tim of Land & Sea, filling a last jug of water we were off.

We met a few boats that were heading our way but are taking it slower than we are. Encore, Sea Biscuit and On Delay are all headed north. Galivant is just ahead of us having left just before we arrive in Golfito.

 We are keeping friends and family informed of our whereabouts daily through SPOT reports and Facebook when we have an internet signal. It will be nice to rejoin the friends waiting for us up the coast. We have missed the Sailfest in Zihuatenejo but Kirk (Freedom Kirkland) says that he will be in Acapulco as we pass by. We are looking forward to his sundowners!!!
05:45, Saturday, 15 February 2014, 10 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, northbound

 It is dawn at sea, my favourite part of the day. The eastern sky is lightening up rapidly and the full moon is setting in the west. We have a following sea and wind and we are motor-sailing in a 10-12 kt and a pod of dolphins is playing in our bow wave. It has been a good 24 hours. We have gone over 150 miles, traversed the dreaded Papagayo winds and, although we are still being pushed by their remnants it is a far cry from what we encountered as we rounded Cabo Santa Elena.

Our trip up the Costa Rican coast was uneventful. Surprisingly, the winds were light and the seas calm. We arrived at Marina Papagayo, just a few miles from Playa de Cocos, early and took on fuel before sailing back to Playa de Cocos where we anchored and went ashore to do our check-out. What should have taken a few hours turned into a 4 hour ordeal with one of the officials at customs, clearly new to the job, mistakenly taking one of the documents we needed for a later stage. Fortunately the office requiring that document was able to track it down and make arrangements to have it sent to them by post so we were sent on our way, clearance documents in hand. Playa de Cocos is an awkward location to process through. Aduana (customs) is located at the airport at Liberia, a $50 cab ride out of town.
The ugliest boat I have ever seen - Venus, Marina Papagayo

Opposite dock, some of the nicest boats I have ever seen.... 

We finally departed at 15:00 but as we crossed the bay the Papagayo winds came up quite suddenly to 20-25 kts. By this time it was late afternoon and the prospect of negotiating the area of strongest winds after dark was not appealing so we decided to play it safe and anchor for the night and set out, well-rested in daylight. Morning dawned bright with light winds but it wasn’t long before the wind picked up but we had prepared with a double reefed main, reefed mizzen and half genoa. We passed through the Murcielegos channel with winds reaching 25 kts. Our next challenge was Cabo Santa Elena where actual conditions are often double the predicted wind speeds. We only experience about 30-35 kts for about 20-25 mins and the settled in for a bumpy but comfortable beam reach with 20-25 kts for the next 4-5 hours. Although Fran was a bit nervous at times, it turned out to be a great day of actually sailing, yes, no motor for the better part of 12 hours until the wind died near sunset.

So here we are motor-sailing again in 10 kts of wind trying to make an ETA at Chiapas for Monday morning. The sun is up now and I can see the entrance to the Gulf of Fonseca and the mountains of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua to the north. We have pods of dolphins racing through our bow wave, turtles lounging on the surface and the odd manta ray and bonita mackerel broaching the surface after smaller fish.

07:00, Monday, 17 February 2014, Of the northern coast of Guatemala
Another beautiful sunrise at sea,this time with the volcanoes and mountains of Guatemala in the foreground. It has been a quiet night with only a few panga fishermen to dodge and a recalcitrant autopilot to deal with. At one point another sailboat passed us going south. She was identified as Wind Flower by her AIS but did not respond to repeated calls on VHF. We are still in light winds and a gentle rolling South Pacific swell. By noon we should be in Chiapas.


Yesterday we got a decent wind and managed to sail for a few hours, otherwise it has been a motorboat ride. This has been the longest non-stop cruising we have done to date with the longest leg of 266 miles from Costa Rica to offshore El Salvador. Since then we have been following the shoreline, maintaining 6-8 miles offshore. I will figure out the statistics when we get in and post them below. Yesterday afternoon we had our first engine problem, a broken alternator belt. It took just over an hour to wrestle 2 new belts into place so now we should be good for another few thousand hours.

Fishing hasn’t been our strong suit this trip. So far the new rod and reel has caught several Mexican bonitas and one large jack crevalle, both barely-edible species. The other day we did get a glimpse of something very large that chased the lure for a while. It actually took the lure but spit it out. We were in an area with several sports fishermen about so I suspect it was a curious sailfish or marlin. I’ll wait for a Dorado or Yellow Fin tuna, thanks very much!!

12:30, Wednesday, February 19, 2014 Alongside Marina Chiapas

Marina Chiapas

We are fuelled, watered and Walmarted up and waiting for our final clearance, which is an actual visit by the Port Captain or his representative. If we can get away today we will have a good weather window to cross the Tehuantepec before the next scheduled blow on Saturday. It will take us about 48 hours to cross and another 48 to get to Acapulco for another short stop for fuel and then onto Zihuatenejo where we will pick up Ken and Carol (Nauti Moments) for the next 10 days.

This has been a rushed stopover but the check-in process has been greatly simplified through the efforts of the management. Enrique and Guillermo bend over backwards to assist their clients, more than any other marina we have experienced. From rides into town for shopping, rides to the airport to clear customs and a ride and jerry jugs to the local fuelling station. They have done wonders to this marina since we were last here 2 years ago and Enrique has plans to vastly improve the location if the owners come on board. We highly recommend a stopover here whether going north or south or to store your boat for any length of time. The storage yard is large, secure and the travel lift is brand new. The restaurant is new and the food and service are excellent. We’ll have to write this one up on Trip Advisor.
Bat ray swimming beside the boat, Marina Chiapas

Enrique is also overseeing the lengthening of the breakwater at the mouth of the harbour, more than doubling its original length to 600 metres. Because it is not a natural harbour it is prone to silting and there is always a dredge working the channel.

Extended breakwater - Enrique supervising 

Liebling is here but the owners are away as are Jatimo. Paesano is on the hard and their owners are house-sitting in Comox we are told. There are a few other boats here, mostly on their way south.

A few stats about our last few days at sea: We did 471 miles in 76 hours. So far we have travelled almost 1100 miles with as many left to go before we get to Guyamas.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Finally, Panama astern!!

21:30, Monday, 27 January 2014. Anchored at La Playita, Panama

It is hard to believe that we are back in the Pacific Ocean and back in the anchorage where we were almost a year ago. We know some of the boats here. Some have been here all along while others, like Sundancer, have returned from voyages far afield, Ecuador in their case. There are also a few that crossed the canal before us or since we did who are getting ready to begin their Pacific adventure. The ARC rally boats (around the world in 15 months) are also coming through, some 45 in all. The rally actually started in the Caribbean so some are not tuned in with the rigors of cruising yet, like the boats on the Baja Ha Ha. Several have been causing havoc by dragging at anchor, taking up most of the dinghy spaces at the dock and a few almost losing theirs as the tides left them high and dry. They are entertaining….

We departed Shelter Bay as planned last Wednesday, with the Jacksons and their grand-daughter Ashlyn as our Canal crew and crossed the first set of locks in the late afternoon.
The Motley Crue: Bill, Ashlyn, J-G and Janet

We were one of 3 sailboats tied together for the locking up. By the time we arrived at the mooring buoy in Lake Gatun it was dark. It was a pleasant night but an early morning with the advisor scheduled to arrive 06:30. He (Harold) arrived an hour late but we were the first of the 3 boats to leave for the crossing. Harold’s real job is as a security guard but he moonlights as a small boat advisor as often as he can. He proved to be quite the character and kept a running commentary for almost the entire crossing pointing out highlights and giving us a Canal history lesson. Among the many sights he pointed out were the prison where Noriega has been incarcerated since he was returned to Panama and the giant “Hercules” cranes that had originated in wartime Germany for lifting submarines in dockyards. 
Harold: Advisor, tour guide wannabe
Hercules crane
Noriega's home sweet home
We arrived at the Pedro Miguel locks by 13:00 but had to wait till 16:00 for the ship we were supposed to be locking down with, and it was late. The other 2 sailboats had already gone through so we were left all by our lonesome in front of our accompanying freighter. While we were waiting a Canal tug did some alongside practices on a buoy close-by. It is a daunting feeling to see a Panamax ship sliding into the same lock astern and we couldn’t help but pray that the small line handling locomotives, assisting the ship would keep positive control. Being alone in the lock we were secured by 4 lines, two each side, handled by our crew so that we maintained that position while they drained the lock. We had no incidents, unlike many boats we heard about where lines parted or the vessels slewed into the walls due to crew error or just plain bad luck.

Canal tug: buoy bashing practice

Janet tending a line with freighter astern

By 19:00 we were out of the last of the Miraflores locks and back in the waters of the Pacific, on our way to this anchorage. We arrived after dark found a spot and settled in for another celebration of a successful Canal crossing. While in the Miraflores locks our advisor had the canal crew re-aim the webcam so that it pointed directly at us and a flurry of phone calls, e-mails and Facebook postings went out to notify as many people as we could to tune us in.
Pacific in sight!!!
Canal geek, with GOPRO camera 

It has been 4 days now since that memorable event and we are getting ready to press on to Mexico. The Jacksons left a few days ago and are now home in Canada. We are getting used to the better weather conditions here. It is sunnier, less chop, still windy during the day but we are now experiencing more of an on-shore, off-shore wind pattern.  

3 days ago we discovered that our refrigeration system had a major problem. The seawater cooling had finally corroded through the Freon tubes and contaminated the entire system. We have been trying to source out a replacement but we will definitely be delayed until it arrives. Hopes to meet my brother and sister-in-law in Playa Del Coco, Costa Rica in 10 days will most likely be dashed.

 Meanwhile we are getting back into the routine of this anchorage with its morning nets, the various cruiser services, Pizza night Thursdays and better access to shopping. Tomorrow Fran completes the exit papers and I get the propane, gasoline and diesel tanks filled. Then we wait for the fridge parts.

We had a great evening with Ron and Heather (Sundancer) last night catching up on all of their adventures in Ecuador. They almost talked us into accompanying them on another trek there later this season. We were sobered up the following morning and nixed that idea but, I must agree, it was tempting. 

21:00, Thursday, 30 January 2014, La Playita Anchorage

Great news! The new refrigeration system has arrived. We should have it installed and working by tomorrow afternoon and, with luck, we should be on our way the following day. We had problems getting the initial order sourced out and had decided that we were going to leave anyway using ice to get us up the coast but Tuesday afternoon, Marine Warehouse, a local facilitator for marine orders came through with the promise of a 2-4 day delivery. They did it in 2, fabulous!! We are $2000 poorer (lost 10% on the exchange rate) but we can now be assured that we will have ice for the rum and cold beer. Creature comforts, I know. We can now do our last big shop before we leave, knowing that the perishables will keep.

It has been interesting to see our batteries charge up without the refrigerator drain; by 10am we were fully charged. The amount of sunshine also helps, quite the difference from the Caribbean.

Yesterday was 25% off day at Abernathy’s, the local boat supply store so I got a few early birthday presents; an air propelled spear-gun and a decent trolling rod and reel. Hope to give both a baptism by fire soon!

22:00, Saturday, 1 February 2014, La Playita Anchorage
The fridge took a bit longer than planned to install due to a lack of proper sized hoses but after a run into town today it is almost completed. We have refrigeration on the air-cooled circuit and, hopefully, will have the water-cooling installed tomorrow. We now realize that we will not be able to make it to Playa de Coco in time to meet my brother so we’ll be leaving Monday. 

Yesterday an old friend arrived from Tobago Island where he had stored his boat for the last 7 months. Michael Bell and his Argentinean friend Alejandro sailed Epiphany the entire way but needed a bit of assistance to anchor on arrival. Epiphany’s Atomic 4 engine is not working and will need some TLC before they can leave for Golfito. If the repairs can be done we may have them as sailing buddies for the way up.

Sad to say we will also have to say good-bye to Heather and Ron (Sun Dancer). They will be heading to the Galapagos and Ecuador in another month. We will miss them and Heather’s great pub food.

 14:00, Tuesday, February 04, 2014, Moored at Chuey’s moorings, Taboga, Is

 I had hoped to post this before leaving Panama but our internet stick continued to give us problems so it will have to be sent from our next stop, Golfito, Costa Rica. 

More delays and issues caused us to lag on in Playita for another few days. The salt water cooling function for the refrigeration system was a bit trickier to install, then we had to clean out the water-maker system and then, to top it all off, I came down with another case of prostatitis, the second in 3 months. That gland has its days numbered!!! We had to let that run its 3-4 day course but decided to leave Playita for Taboga, a 5-mile trip, this morning when I didn’t feel to bad. It sure feels nice to finally be away from Panama.
Fresh bananas for the ride up. 

Royal Exchange is still here, after 2-3 years looking forlorn but in good shape. Her owners, Lin and Lee will, most likely never be back after Lee's tragic accident just over a year ago. Royal Ex was the first boat we really cruised in and where we got our desire to do it ourselves. She is for sale and will be a bargain for whoever takes her on. We took a number of photos for Lin and Lee but were not able to get inside as Chuey is away on holidays.
Royal Exchange

The water quality in the entire Gulf has changed again to the conditions that met us as we arrived last year. The water is much colder than usual, in the low 70s F and it is carrying a lot of plankton and other crap from the deep. The other day, in Playita, a surface layer of red tide drifted into the anchorage. The smell alone was bad enough but it also left a “bathtub ring” along our waterline. 

07:30, Friday, February 07, 2014, Anchored at Isla Brincano, Islas Contreras.

We stayed for the afternoon at Tabago and sailed away with the freshening late afternoon breeze. Our intention was to sail the night and get around Punta Mala by morning but I started to feel crappy again in the late afternoon so we anchored for the night at Isla Bano. We left early the next morning with a nice NW wind that lasted all morning but by the afternoon we were powering again and rounded Punta Mala in calm seas. By nightfall we were sailing along the southern cape in a brisk NW breeze that lasted into the following day. 

And here we are in another magical anchorage!! This island is part of the Coiba Marine Park system, patrolled by a private organization, the Mar Viva Foundation, which has its roots in Switzerland. The main island of Coiba is reputed to have the best scuba diving conditions in all of Panama. 

We arrived here late afternoon yesterday after an overnight passage from the Gulf of Panama. This is one of those anchorages that you rarely experience. We were the only occupants of this lovely bay and it is absolutely quiet. The water is crystal clear with fish and rays jumping so we decided to join them, al fresco. What a difference from the Gulf of Panama!! Here the water a pleasant 81F. It is sad to realize that we will not experience conditions like this again in our travels this season. 

16:00, Saturday, February 08, 2014. Anchored off Land and Sea Marina, Golfito, CR 

Another overnighter and we have arrived at Golfito. It was an early arrival and we managed to fuel up before anchoring in front of Tim and Katie’s little marina. We were here almost a year ago and little has changed. It is Saturday so we will have to wait out the weekend to check in to Costa Rica, actually we can’t do it till Tuesday as aduana (Customs) is closed Monday, another delay! We will have to make our next stop in Playa de Cocos to clear out of the country and that is a chore because of the aduana stop which is a taxi ride to the airport at Liberia, some 20 miles away.
Grackel inspection on arrival at Golfito..... 

On our way yesterday we decided to stop in at Isla Ladrones, a small island about 20 miles offshore but only a few miles off our track. We had time to spare so the diversion was welcomed. There was already a fishing boat at anchor, the crew resting before a night of grueling work so we quietly slipped in and anchored close by. We both went snorkeling (with suits on) and were amazed at the tame fish life. I think the fish were attracted by Fran’s bright yellow bathing suit. I went back for my spear gun and everything changed! Many fewer fish but one big parrot fish teased me for a while but slipped under a coral head when I went after it. Not to be outdone I followed and stopped dead when I saw a large moray eel stick its head out of the same coral head. Talk about a sneaky fish but this symbiotic relationship is probably the reason the Parrot fish was so big. We left at sunset and powered directly into a light westerly breeze, and a half moon that kept the ocean bright most of the night. Had we known that there was no possibility of checking into the country over the weekend we would have stayed but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

Since Panama we have gone 342 miles and have motored almost 60 hours. Hopefully we will, actually, sail more from here on in.