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.


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