Yet another Nordhavn has embarked on an exciting adventure. This time it’s Ken and Roberta Williams who are heading out to explore the great unknown – well, unknown to them, anyway. The duo will be cruising about 2,000 miles from Mexico to Costa Rica.
The Williamses are no strangers to traveling via Nordhavn. They purchased their Nordhavn 62, Sans Souci, in 1998 and traveled up and down the West Coast as well as crossed the Atlantic on her as part of the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally.
They sold her shortly after the NAR’s conclusion, opting to play in the Bahamas on a 27’ Glacier Bay while waiting for their new Nordhavn 68 to finish construction. They took delivery of their new Sans Souci last August, brought her up to Seattle and then back down to San Diego to participate in the FUBAR rally. It was a nice warm-up to their current journey, although Ken admits to being nervous. “The rally was much easier because there were other boats around. Doing this alone will be a whole new experience.”
Thankfully for all of us, Ken is letting us in on the experience with him through his excellent blog. We’ll be updating this site with each new entry Ken submits, but if you’d rather have a copy or the report sent directly to your inbox, click here. Greetings all.
March 30, 2008
At the end of my last update we were anchored off Isla Caballo, surrounded by fishing nets. Once we pulled anchor, we weren’t sure what to do, so we pointed the boat at the nearest panga, and slowly worked our way his direction. We were thinking we could get close and shout to him to ask which way to go. Roberta was driving, and I was up on the bow. This was a little backwards, in that Roberta speaks Spanish, and I don’t, but Roberta is shy about speaking with strangers. I asked her what I should say, and she said “Just look confused.” That would be easy. As we approached, the panga started retreating. The closer we came the faster he hauled in net and backed up. I signaled for Roberta to stop. This wasn’t working. We weren’t really close enough for him to hear me, but I shouted anyhow “BUENO?” and pointed the direction we wanted to go. He gave me a thumbs up, and a smile. Back underway, we convinced ourselves that we had deciphered the pattern. All we needed to do was to look for a black flag, and it would be at one end of a line (or, a net) that stretches about a quarter mile away to a panga. Recognizing this pattern it was easy to work our way out of the fishing zone. We used one other strategy: I used the binoculars to watch the face of the guy in the nearest panga. If he looked worried then we were on track to run over his net. If he looked bored, we were probably safe.
Our goal the previous day had been Playa Naranajo, an anchorage on the south side of the bay. We thought about heading there, but we were in a north wind, and we didn’t think the anchorage would be comfortable. With all the current the prior evening, we hadn’t been able to sleep. Our #1 goal for the day was to find a nice calm secure anchorage. I suggested just heading south (20 miles) to Islas Tortugas, and Roberta agreed.
Isla Tortugas has been described as one of the prettiest beaches in the area, and as a popular anchorage. On our arrival, we discovered that the anchoring was far more challenging than expected.
Charlie’s Charts (one of the only two good cruising guides we’ve found for Costa Rica), says “Anchorage is in 4 to 5 fathoms, sand, and may be taken off the beach on the northern side of [the island]” The guide goes on to describe two rock pillars which mark the best place to anchor.
As we approached, we quickly spotted the two rock pillars. However, at about 500 feet off the beach, we were still in 90 feet of water. We decided to back the boat towards the pillars until we reached the “4 to 5 fathoms” promised (24-30 foot depth). Roberta backed up the boat as I stood on the stern to monitor the distance to shore. By the time she said “30 feet”, I was afraid we were going to beach the boat! We had the stern no more than 50 feet from shore. At most, we had three feet of water under the stern. This wasn’t going to work. We pulled forward to a safe distance, and the depth was 75 feet, and falling fast. I decided that we must be looking at the wrong rock pillars, but we weren’t. My theory is that Charlie’s Charts was written for sail boats, mostly around 30 foot length, and that their anchoring requirements are quite different than mine. There are places they can go that I can’t. Argh.
We decided to compromise. By dropping at 45 foot depth, with 150 foot of chain out, my stern could potentially be within 100 feet of shore. This should put us where the boat would still have 10 to 15 foot depth in the worst possible case (a wind blowing us straight at shore). My first preference would have been for an alternate anchoring location. However, to our west, there was a shoal of only 13’ depth, and it was littered with mooring buoys. There were a few places we could have anchored, but small commercial fishing boats were taking up all the space. To our east, there wasn’t room. It was here, or find an alternate anchorage. Deep down, I assumed it was a non-issue. The tides here run eight to ten feet. I figured there would be non-stop current running east or west, which would easily keep me away from shore (to our south).
Murphy’s Law must have been written by a boater. No sooner had the sun set than the wind switched around to the north. To my surprise, the tidal flow wasn’t moving the boat. The wind pushed the back of the boat towards the beach, and suddenly that 100 foot gap between the boat and shore was looking tighter than I liked. The primary thing bugging me was that we had dropped anchor on a fairly steep incline. I have confidence in our Rocna anchor on a flat bottom, but had no experience with anchoring on an incline. This was clearly going to be a night of “anchor watch”. Exactly what I didn’t want.
At low tide I was regularly measuring the depth, at the stern, by dipping the boat hook in the water. We always had 10’ of water under us, which did make me feel a bit better.
Aside from the anchoring situation, it was a wonderful anchorage! The water was suddenly clean and clear, and we were on a very pretty white sand beach. The cruising guides discuss it as being a half-mile long beach, which I doubt, but it is definitely beautiful
Have I ever mentioned that we have stern lights on Sans Souci? These were something I hadn’t really planned on, and was even a little embarrassed to have ordered. They seemed totally useless. I was wrong. Now, I would strongly recommend them to anyone building a boat. They have been fantastic, and make dinners fun. Our primary dining location is the table behind the pilot house on the upper aft deck. It’s like having a ring-side seat at one of the world’s greatest aquariums. Every anchorage has a different personality. At some anchorages, we see only a few fish, but at others it can be amazing. Isla Tortugas ranks in the top five. We’ve never seen such a wide variety of fish. We even saw a Barracuda, and had a large shark (>5’) that hung out the entire evening at the stern of the boat. The only downside is that in cases like this, it can tend to ruin any swimming you may have thought you were going to do.
Roberta and I wanted to monitor the anchor through a complete tide cycle, which meant staying up until 3am. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds, in that we’re watching the final season of Sopranos, and it meant watching four episodes in a row, sitting in the pilot house. At 3am we shifted to once an hour monitoring. The anchor never shifted, and we never moved an inch closer to shore.
As daylight came, so did the tourists. Boat load, after boat load, after boat load, after boat load.
Roberta thought it ruined the experience, and twisted my arm to move on to another anchorage. I wanted to go to shore, but we were both worn out, and it made sense to move to the next anchorage early in the day. I wanted somewhere “restful” with lots of depth and room to swing.
When we dined with the Coonan’s (Paloma, Nordhavn 43) last week they mentioned anchoring overnight at Curu, which was a wildlife refuge only a few miles away. Neither of our guidebooks listed it as an anchorage. Charlie’s charts “sort of” mentioned it, but the text ends, in their guide, half-way through describing Curu. The last four words on page 46 of the guide are: “Day anchorage may be” and then the sentence never finishes. Roberta and I debated what the rest of the sentence might be. On the chart it looked a nice wide anchorage, so we decided “Let’s get there early, and if we like it we’ll stay, and if not we have time to go elsewhere.”
The bay in front of the Curu wildlife refuge is awesome. I can see why it isn’t listed as an anchorage, because it is open to the south and east. With the wrong wind there can be a lot of swell. But, compared to some of the swell we’ve seen in other anchorages, it was acceptable. And besides, I was happy to trade a little swell for a nice wide bay with plenty of depth and nothing to bump into.
In 40 minutes Roberta and I put the flopper stoppers out, and had an entire bay, with a mile long beach, all to ourselves. Depths throughout most the bay seemed to be a steady 13 feet at low tide. This meant 22 feet at high tide. We always like to enter new bays at low tide, as it gives us a sense of what the “worst” looks like.
This gave me a chance to experiment with the Sonar. I wouldn’t say it was of zero value, but it hasn’t been as useful as I had hoped for in these situations. What I really want is something that will look for a 500 foot radius in all directions, and tell me if anything comes under about 15 feet of depth. This sounds simple, but isn’t. The Sonar seemed useless in water so shallow, if trying to look over about 50 feet from the boat. I have a phone number for one of the Sonar trainers at Furuno and called him on the sat phone. No luck. I then called David Sidbury, owner of the second N68, and discussed what I was trying to accomplish. David really hasn’t had time to experiment with his unit yet, but felt that in such shallow water, I wasn’t going to be able to do what I wanted. Thus, I did it the old fashioned way. I jumped in the tender, and circled the boat many times looking for shallow spots or rocks. As I had already been 99.9% certain, we were fine.
We wanted to go to shore to explore the wildlife refuge. We had now been in Costa Rica for nearly two weeks and not seen a monkey! This had to change.
Getting to shore was easy. Here you can see that we anchored the tender with Sans Souci in the background. One thing worth noting about this picture is how much beach is revealed. Although the tide is only down by 10’, the shoreline is showing 150’ of sand. As we were wading to shore, I was reminding myself that I might have a 150 foot swim back to the tender. I wasn’t as worried about Roberta or I, as I was about Shelby (our dog). She doesn’t like water, and thinks she looks dumb in her dog lifejacket.
Once on shore, it was a quick hike to the entrance to the wildlife refuge. The girl at the gate took one look at Shelby and shook her head “no.” She said Shelby was fine with her, but that there are monkeys and Coyotes who would want to eat Shelby. We would need to return the next day Shelby-less.
||We wanted to go to shore to explore the wildlife refuge. We had now been in Costa Rica for nearly two weeks and not seen a monkey! This had to change.
Getting to shore was easy. Here you can see that we anchored the tender with Sans Souci in the background. One thing worth noting about this picture is how much beach is revealed. Although the tide is only down by 10’, the shoreline is showing 150’ of sand. As we were wading to shore, I was reminding myself that I might have a 150 foot swim back to the tender. I wasn’t as worried about Roberta or I, as I was about Shelby (our dog). She doesn’t like water, and thinks she looks dumb in her dog lifejacket.
Once on shore, it was a quick hike to the entrance to the wildlife refuge. The girl at the gate took one look at Shelby and shook her head “no.” She said Shelby was fine with her, but that there are monkeys and Coyotes who would want to eat Shelby. We would need to return the next day Shelby-less.
Back on Sans Souci, the swell had gotten worse. I remembered seeing a large boat in Ixtapa that had used a stern anchor to keep their nose pointed into the swell. I had time to kill, so I decided I’d experiment. I’ve never put out a stern anchor. In this situation I was fairly certain it wouldn’t work. The tide swing was going to want to rotate me 180 degrees at some point. If I put the stern anchor out, I would have my stern to the incoming tide at some point, and I didn’t think that would work. But, with time to kill, why not give it a try? Step 1 was to find the stern anchor and figure how to deploy it. My stern anchor is hidden at the back of a locker in the portugese bridge. Getting it out meant removing all the junk stored in front of it, and then putting it together. I have a disassembled Fortress which I carry as a backup to our primary anchor. Once I found it, I realized that it was a 110 pound anchor, and not something I could drop, or retrieve, by hand. My vision had been to use the tender to drop the stern anchor. Even if I got the anchor down, I’d never pull it back up by hand. Obviously I need to buy a much smaller anchor to use as a stern anchor…. Maybe 50 pounds? Oh well, the swell would be annoying, but we’ve seen much worse.
The next morning, Roberta and I tendered back to the beach, this time without Shelby, and paid our $10 each to visit the wildlife refuge. Within seconds of paying, we saw a little girl playing with a monkey.
Being naturally cynical, I assumed it was a pet monkey, but after people started gathering around to watch, the monkey wandered off into the woods.
We then came to a sign offering us a selection of walks through the jungle, ranging from a gentle 45 minute stroll to an “all day” strenuous climb. Easy decision: 45 minutes….
On our entire stroll with saw exactly zero wildlife. It was very scenic, and a nice walk, but the closest we came to a monkey was seeing a moving shadow in a tree that we thought might be a monkey. We did hear howler monkeys, as we were promised we would. The howling, plus the constant “Beware of crocodile” signs gave the walk a spooky feel.
Keeping with the theme of recycling, the trash cans, along the path, were coded for recycling.
|| As our walk ended, we were trying to decide if we hadn’t seen any wildlife because we picked the “wimpy-walk” or if the one monkey was all there was. We walked back to the little store where we’d bought our tickets, and while in front of it, I sighted a monkey in a tree!
Monkeys are smart little critters. I should have known that they would want to stick close to where they are most likely to get fed. After seeing this one monkey, we were suddenly surrounded by dozens of the little critters! I could have saved $20, and 45 minutes, just by hanging out in front of the entry gate!
The last picture above is a very happy Roberta shaking hands with a real-live Costa Rica monkey. She said its’ paw was much softer than expected, and it didn’t want to let go…
Meanwhile, a Windstar cruiseship had dropped anchor next to Sans Souci, and a sail boat. We weren’t alone anymore! – Time to move on.
Our next destination: Punta Leona, a well-protected anchorage, 25 miles back across the bay. The beach there is called “Playa Manta” because of all the sting rays. There is a fancy beach club that dominates the beach, and some lack of clarity as to whether or not we’d be welcomed ashore. Our two reference books are the Rain’s Guide to Central America, and Charlie’s Charts of Central America. One book says “Don’t try to go ashore. They will not serve you, and will charge you $20 to land.” The other book says “Yatistas are welcome as long as they spend lots of money at the restaurant and pay $20 (each) to land.” This to me meant we should give it a try, but Roberta didn’t feel like trying. She blamed the confusion over whether or not we were welcome, but I know the truth: Wading through sting rays didn’t sound fun to her. We stayed at anchor for the night and enjoyed the view, which was beautiful! As always, we dined on the upper aft deck of Sans Souci, with the underwater lights going, hundreds of fish dropping by to visit, the barbecue grilling steaks, and a nice bottle of wine. Life, as always, is good on Sans Souci.
Whenever we move from one anchorage to another, we keep the flopper stoppers out, but bring in the metal plates that do the actual stabilization.
In the picture above you see that we had a surprise when lifting the plates aboard – THE LINE WAS COVERED WITH HUNDREDS OF LITTLE CRABS!!! I was worried that if they got aboard ship they’d multiply and we’d have a total mess. Roberta said they’d die immediately when out of the water. I still didn’t want them on the boat, and we hosed the lines off as they were brought aboard.
Our last night at anchor was spent anchored in front of Los Suenos. We arrived late, and weren’t quite ready to go back to the slip yet. We don’t know if we’ll take the boat out again here in Costa Rica. Therefore, we were in no hurry.
The bay in front of Los Suenos is a little funny in that it is used by the ships that are too large to get into the marina. My guess is that no boats over 150 feet can fit in the marina, and yet this is THE PLACE to be in Central America. Therefore, it becomes a megayacht parking lot in front of the marina entrance. Roberta and I proudly wedged our little (by comparison) boat between two giant yachts (Ice Bear and Arctic Eagle), and dropped anchor.
This morning we came into the marina, at slack tide, with no wind - my favorite conditions. We’re now tied up at the dock, and a local guy is already washing the boat.
Barring unexpected events, this concludes my blog updates from this trip. We have discussed taking the boat out again, but probably won’t. Roberta and I will spend the next couple of weeks touring, and exploring Costa Rica, by car. If anything interesting happens, I’ll send out a blog, but there are 100s of writers who write about land tours. I can’t imagine I could add anything interesting to the mix.
That said, I am working on one last update that I’ll send out tomorrow (or, the next day), summarizing the high and low points of the voyage. I’ve been thinking about it all morning, and can’t wait to start writing. It’s a trip worth remembering… I’ll resume normal updates around May 15th when we start preparing for Alaska. In the meantime, I’ll be updating my website (http://www.nordhavn68.com) , so watch the “What’s New” page for my random postings.
Thank you, and I hope you are somewhere great doing your own cruising!
March 26, 2008
My apologies for taking so long between updates. I’ve been somewhat lazy here in Costa Rica.
The day after our arrival at Los Suenos our crew flew home to Seattle. During the prior two weeks we had run from Ixtapa Mexico to Los Suenos in Costa Rica, a distance of nearly 1,500 miles. The last few days, along the coast of Nicaragua, had been particularly stressful.
As soon as the crew was off the boat, Roberta and I went into total-relaxation mode. For almost a week, we did nothing except play with our computers, and try out the different restaurants in the area. We had lots of plans to drive around and explore, and we did rent a car, but the farthest we reached was the little town of Jaco, about 4 miles away.
Jaco, and its’ beach, Play Herradura, have long been a popular surfing destination, appealing to a very young crowd. On our way to Jaco we noted several surf schools, and as we drove through Jaco we saw a number of bars. Were I twenty years younger (and single) this could be a great little town.
My goal for the day was to find a water-front restaurant that would accept both us, and Shelby. We’ve grown accustomed to Mexico, where Shelby is welcome at most restaurants. We stopped at several outdoor restaurants, and were rejected. Apparently, part of being eco-aware means not sharing your outdoor restaurant with a dog. Finally we found a fancy lobster-restaurant, on the beach, where we could sit at a table bordering the beach, with Shelby across the wall, on the sand, technically not inside the restaurant, but next to us. To our disappointment, the beach was quite littered, and kind of a dark mud-sand, not the pretty white sand beach I had been seeking. Also disappointingly, there aren’t really many restaurants on the beach. The town itself sits a block back from the beach, and the beach doesn’t really have anything on it. Although, signs were everywhere of condos being built on the beach. The next time I see Jaco, it is likely to be wall to wall condos. Whether or not that is progress, I’ll leave up to you to decide…
Just as we were finally getting over being lazy, I suddenly started feeling ill. For three days I felt too sick to move. High fever, achy joints, and more (which I shall not describe).
As much as I like Los Suenos, I must admit that there is a lot of surge in the marina. Perhaps it is smoother deeper in the marina, but at our slip, on the “big boat” dock, the surge is never-ending. Inside Sans Souci you hardly feel it, but outside, you can watch the boats, even the giant Feadships, in constant motion. After about three days a local, who we had hired to wash the boat, called my attention to our lines. He pointed at one that was worn almost through! I have always heard about checking your dock lines, and using anti-chafing gear, but until now, I’ve never experienced a problem I was looking at a line that had been fine just days before, and was now ruined. Macho, the boat washer said he had a friend who could repair the line for $20. We retied the lines, with the assistance of Macho, and a bit of backseat driving from crew on surrounding boats, only to discover that every day or two, another line would be worn through. Macho’s friend is now $60 richer, and I’m much smarter on the whole topic of anti chafing gear (see the “email” section after my update).
There was a bright spot in the midst of this. Patrick and Susan Coonan, with their seven year old son Jonathon, and their Nordhavn 43, came into the Los Suenos Marina for a few days. It was Patrick and Susan’s anniversary and they wanted to be at Los Suenos to celebrate. We were able to enjoy their company for a dinner. They are headed to Golfito Costa Rica to load their boat on the same north bound freighter as we are.
As good as this dinner was, I probably shouldn’t (but, will) mention another that was remarkable for a completely different reason. Roberta and I wanted to celebrate our arrival in Costa Rica and made dinner reservations at a fancy hotel, outside Los Suenos. When seated, we were disappointed that the dining room had no view, but decided “we see the water every day,” and ordered a nice bottle of wine. We then were brought stale bread, and tiny, unappetizing appetizers. Each of us had ordered a shrimp dish as our main course. It arrived before we could finish our appetizers, and the shrimp had the rubbery raw, translucent, appearance that neither of us likes. We started to send back the main courses, but the dinner was just not going well, and I had doubts that the shrimp would taste good raw or cooked. In a complete first for us, Roberta went to the car, while I explained that my wife wasn’t feeling well, and we had to leave. $160 dolllars later I joined her in the car, where we drove to an ice cream parlor, and had a very delicious, but cold, dinner.
We finally decided it was time to head inland and see the country, or go to anchor, and anchoring won. We decided on a week at anchor, after which we’d get serious about inland touring.
We left the marina at 6am. Our goal was Isla Tortugas, a small island a short 25 or so miles across the bay from Los Suenos. Inside the marina conditions had been dead calm, but once in open water, things were a bit rougher. We had 15 knots of wind from the north, hitting us on the starboard side. The seas were 3-4 foot white-capped chop. The boat didn’t seem to notice the chop, so, no problem. What did seem to be a problem was a large freighter which would be crossing in front of us, arriving from the north. I wanted to work my way west, and slightly north. The AIS system was telling me I would easily cross a half mile in front of the freighter. More if I sped up. However, I have a healthy respect for freighters, and decided slowing down to pass behind was the wiser answer. Actually, I would need to slow down too much, so I decided to turn north, to pass behind the freighter. To my north was a large fishing boat, moving west, at about 4 knots. I would need to pass behind him, but how far behind him? From the binoculars it looked like he might be pulling a net. I wish there were a course to take in understanding commercial fishing. My guess is that he did indeed have a net, and that it was being dragged 100-200 feet behind his boat, but guessing is not good. To remove all doubt, I gave him a healthy mile of clearance before passing behind him.
The anchorage at Isla Tortugas is described in the cruising guides as a “stunning” half-mile wide white sand beach. I was looking forward to it! However, as we approached the beach, it was becoming obvious that the north wind was not going to subside, and the anchorage faces north. Anchoring would not be comfortable. Thus, we started studying the guidebooks for an alternate better protected anchorage.
This was easily found, just 10 miles further north, at Islas Muertos. There, we found a large, shallow (mostly around 9’ at low tide) bay which was well protected on almost all sides. The cruising guides refer to a “yatista-friendly Sportfishing resort” that is in the bay, but we couldn’t find it. In fact, we didn’t see much of anything. We had the whole bay to ourselves!
When you find a great anchorage, problems evaporate and life is good. We dropped the tender and the swim ladder. It would have been nice to have clearer water and a white sand beach, but we weren’t complaining. The water was 84 degrees, and the swimming good. We explored various beaches on the tender, barbecued steaks on the back deck, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
We have been told that we should keep an eye on our tender around here; that there have been reports of tenders being stolen. The right answer, if in doubt, is to put the tender back on the deck of the boat at night. This isn’t difficult, but it also isn’t easy. I decided we would be fine to leave the tender in the water, but tie it tightly to the boat. I moved the tender to the side of Sans Souci, and tied it using some line that came with our sea anchor. The line is nearly 1.5 inches thick, and meant to hold Sans Souci in place in gale force wind and waves. I supplemented this with our electronic dog alarm. For those of you who might never have used one of these, it’s kind of cool. It’s slightly bigger than an ipod, and is a motion detector. When it senses movement, it emits a LOUD, very realistic sounding, mean dog barking sound. I figured anyone approaching the tender might be scared away by the dog, and if not, perhaps the giant rope holding the tender would make it more of a challenge than would be worth their while.
The tidal swing here is ten feet. This can make it interesting if you try to land your tender on the beach. Here we see my first experiment with anchoring the tender using a giant bungie cord (the “anchor buddy”). We knew we were on a rising tide, so I dropped anchor, and then motored the tender to shore. Roberta, Shelby and I stepped off, and we watched the bungee cord immediately suck the tender back to deeper water. After a half hour of exploring the beach the tender had moved 50 feet or so further out from shore, but it was just a matter of reeling it in via a long rope.
One thing that was a bit disappointing: The beach was covered with litter.
We had planned only a single night, but when you are having fun, why be in a hurry? And, for our second night, we were finally able to anchor alongside a Nordhavn 40, Alanui, with Scott and Marian Bulger. Both Paloma and Alanui were participants in the Fubar (San Diego to La Paz Rally). We left San Diego together on Nov 7th, but haven’t seen each other since Cabo. Scott will be traveling through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean, and then up the east coast of the US. I was looking forward to hanging out and hearing about Scott and Marion’s adventures, but this was not to be. Marion apparently had the same crud as I had just gotten over, so Scott and I swapped quick visits to each other’s boat, but that was it. He left the next morning to go into Los Suenos for a couple nights and then to head for the canal.
Whatever it was that I had, and that Marion had, it suddenly decided to attack Roberta. On the morning we were to leave our anchorage, Roberta was suddenly too sick to get out of bed. I spent the day playing with my computer and had far more fun than her. I used the little laptop-sized satellite internet bgan unit that gives me decent speed internet, at a cost that is a tenth of what I’d pay on my Fleet 77. I’m not looking forward to seeing the bill, but the bgan unit has definitely earned its keep on this trip. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have satellite coverage in Alaska, so I’ll be back to running slow and expensive. Oh well… The good news is that although Roberta’s crud was worse than mine, it ended much faster. After a day resting, she was ready to move on.
The Coonans (Paloma) had said that one of their favorite anchorages was at Naranjo, just 10 miles north of us. The whole weeks forecast is for winds from the north. This was yesterday, and the forecast called for 18 knot winds. The anchorage at Naranjo is open to the north, but 5 miles away there is another anchorage which is shielded from north winds, on the southern side of the island of Caballo. It was so calm at Muertos that we decided “Let’s just try for Naranjo, and if we don’t like the wind when we get there, we’ll hide out at Caballo.”
This is exactly how it played out, with a couple of added surprises. Between Muertos and Naranjo there was an endless stream of nets in the water. Or, at least we think they were nets. All we ever saw were floating bleach bottles, some black, and some white, black flags, and red flags. Sometimes, the patterns were obvious, and it was possible to guess at which markers were linked, but not always. We did our best zigzagging, and went miles out of the way. We successfully traversed the mine field with no ropes on our props.
As we reached the main east-west channel just south of Puntarenas (the big town around here), the wind did indeed pickup. It was only 15 to 18 knots from the north, and the “fetch” was only a mile or two, so one wouldn’t think there would be much in the way of waves. Maybe it is just the shallow water, but we were suddenly in four foot white-capped waves, once again on our starboard side. The stabilizers handled it just fine. I’ve been watching the stabilizers closely. My hydraulic system normally runs 125 degrees. All seems fine, but the temperature lately has been running 142 degrees. There are no leaks, and the fluid level is fine. Perhaps it is just the high water temperature (85 degrees), or perhaps something more sinister? I don’t know. I’d like to blame the water temperature, but we’ve been in warm water for weeks. Without the stabilizers this particular run would be a lot less fun.
As we approached Naranjo, it did look like a good anchorage, but not in a north wind. We were going to need our backup anchorage. To reach it we just needed to go 5 miles north across a shallow 25 foot deep shoal. It felt a little strange to run so far, in such shallow water, with such rough water. As we arrived, the water flattened completely. Yay! We had to tuck in a little tighter to the island than I liked, anchoring just 500 feet off shore. Also, we were dropping anchor in a very fast current. I have no way of guessing the speed but would guess it as 3-5 knots.
The water was 20 feet deep, at low tide, and with the current and wind, I decided to drop 150 feet of chain. The current was strong enough that the chain, which normally hangs straight down, was taut and stretched. The wind was still registering as 10-15 knots, so I was curious to see which would have more “pull” – the current or the wind. This was no competition. Current trumps wind. The boat would generally turn to face the wind, but our physical location was determined by the current. I mention this only because it put me to thinking. In terms of pounds of pressure on an anchor: Which is more? Three knots of current, or 15 knots of wind? Here, I was watching it play out, and clearly, the current wins, and it isn’t close. At times, the wind was directly counter to the current, and it still wasn’t a contest. I’m not sure what the math is, but my guess is that the strain on the anchor was more what one might see in a 30-40 knot wind.
Prior to this trip, I swapped my anchor to an unusual choice; the Rocna anchor. It was a bit of a controversial decision, in that I gave away my Nordhavn-recommended CQR anchor to swap to a funny-looking anchor that few have heard of. People are always asking me how it is working out, and I’ve always said the same thing: “I don’t know.” You really don’t know what you have, or I least I don’t know what I have, with an anchor until it has been tested in tough conditions a few times. We have a fair amount of experience with anchoring in ugly conditions. During our three summers in the Med, we often anchored in 30+ knot winds, and even had a night with sustained winds over 55, and gusts to 75 knots. I’m proud to say that we never dragged once our anchor was properly set. There were times it took us a few tries to get the anchor properly good and stuck, but once stuck, it stayed stuck.
I selected the Rocna based on its reputation for easy setting, and its ability to reset itself quickly if it drags. My initial interest came from reading an article about the Dashews (popular boating authors) using it on their boat, and then another Nordhavn owner, Scott Strickland, mentioned that the “roll bar” anchors had suddenly become quite popular in the Med. After a bit of research, I decided to give it a try.
Until now, we’ve been lucky at anchor, and none of the conditions we’ve been in have “tested” the anchor. Last night, I would consider as the first night where we were able to give the Rocna a bit of a work out, and the results are far from conclusive. The confusing looking diagram above is a picture taken from our Nobeltec navigation screen. The red lines show the path traversed by our boat. The current is flowing left and right in this diagram, and you can see here several tide cycles, as the boat was pushed to the left by the current, and then to the right. Land is 500 feet to the north, and the circular mark shows where I dropped the anchor. At first, the boat was sitting to the far left on this diagram, weaving back and forth normally, 110 feet from where I dropped anchor. As the tide reversed, and started running left to right (in this diagram), you can see where we started weaving back and forth on the far right. The bad news is that the far right tracks are 190 feet from where I dropped anchor. I doubt my 150 foot of chain stretched. My interpretation is that the Rocna broke anchor, dragged about 30 feet, and reset itself. It is possible that I had more chain out than I thought, but I don’t think so. The good news in this is that the Rocna did what it was supposed to do. It dragged, and reset. I’ve watched boats drag anchor, and watched them dragged onto the beach. This is only one incident, and it is inconclusive, but it is encouraging. Assuming I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, I’m disappointed it didn’t stick (this is a mud bottom, so it has a good excuse), but very happy that it reset itself so neatly.
One more story from our night here at Caballo. Yesterday when we arrived, this was a deserted island. We saw no one, and couldn’t imagine boats other than us crazy enough to be running around in the wind and chop. Thus, I was a little sloppy with the tender. I tied it alongside, but with a normal-sized line, and I didn’t turn on the electric dog. Because of the strong current, Roberta and I decided that we should check the anchor every couple of hours all night. At midnight, Roberta was looking out the window, and noticed a panga, with only a flashlight for light, circling our boat. They were clearly checking us out. Roberta woke me, and we watched together as the panga made another circle. Through the binoculars I could see that the panga had only a single man. Roberta wanted to send a message that we were onboard and awake, so she lit the cockpit, and took Shelby out for a minute to “use the restroom.” A few minutes after she re-entered the boat, the panga went around behind us, backed off about 200 feet, shut off all lights, and just sat there. Was it anchored? Was he waiting for us to fall asleep? If it was indeed a tender thief, did I really want to try to stop him? After discussing these questions, we decided it was just a curious fisherman, who like us, wanted protection from the wind.
After watching (on the radar, and with night vision) for a while, it became obvious that the fisherman had dropped anchor and gone to sleep. According to my math he was outside my swing circle, but given the uncertain holding of my anchor, I wasn’t absolutely positive. At 1am, the tide was changing, and I knew we were going to be shifting his way, and would be establishing a much closer relationship. Exactly how close was yet to be determined, and he clearly wasn’t worried about it. He was happily asleep, in a completely dark tender. For the next hour, as the current started moving, I watched as we drifted his direction, but the anchor held, and he was fine.
It is now morning, and our friend has been joined by MANY more pangas. And, all the pangas have NETS! I’ve been watching panga after panga set their nets around me. From where I’m sitting it appears we are boxed in. I can count 12 pangas within the square mile around me. One panga guy was close enough I could say “Buenos Dias”, to which he pointed at his net, and said “Camarones”, the Spanish word for shrimp. This confused me as I always thought shrimp crawled along the bottom. Perhaps the net is dragging the bottom, and moving with the current? Does this mean I can drive over it? So many questions….
Time to start thinking about pulling anchor. That said, the wind is back to 14 knots. It looks calm here, but I doubt Naranjo would be good for anchoring. It’s time for Roberta and I to talk about “Where next?”
Sans Souci, www.nordavn68.com
March 18, 2008
[Playa Herradura, Los Suenos, Costa Rica 9 38.981N, 84 39.857W]
Our #1 problem this trip has been “how do we get to the beach?”. Coco Beach (10°33'26.09"N, 85°42'0.24"W) was another exercise in frustration. We were anchored in front of a cool-seeming small town, with a wide variety of restaurants, shopping, and things to do, but, our only way to get to the beach was to wade in from the tender. We’ve had crew on the boat the past two weeks, and they had to run me into the beach so that I could clear customs. It isn’t an easy process. We tried beach landing the tender, but the waves turned the tender sideways. With a couple of us we quickly had the tender turned the right direction and pushed out to sea, but it meant getting my shorts wet. Tracking water through the port captain’s office was unlikely to make me very popular. The lighter of our two tenders weighs over 700 pounds. Dragging it onto the beach might be possible. However, with the 10 foot tides the tender would either have floated away or be an impossible drag-distance away from the beach before we returned. The crew would have been happy to deliver Roberta and I to the beach, but we decided the effort outweighed the gain, and just had dinner on the boat (which was very good!). After this trip, I will definitely be dumping the smaller of my two tenders. My current thinking is to replace our current tender with an eight foot inflatable, with “wheels” on it, and a small motor.
Customs clearance was a two day process. On day one, Roberta and I went to immigration, who said that they needed to see everyone on the boat, and set up an appointment for the next day at 8am. We then went to the Port Captain’s office, who took copies of all our papers and said to come back the next day at 10am. Overall, our visits to immigration, and to the port captain went smoothly, but were time consuming.
I mention this only to explain why we were late getting underway on our second day. Our goal had been to catch up with a couple of other Nordhavns cruising in the area. We had spoken by VHF radio in the (very) early morning, and they said they were headed south to go to anchor. They were already underway when I spoke to Scott Bulger on Alanui (Nordhavn 40), and I couldn’t understand what he was saying about where they were going. I decided we’d just head to sea, and call to find them as we worked our way south along the coast.
We pulled anchor about 1pm, with only a loose idea of where we were going. This is a little unusual, but I figured we’d quickly be able to contact Scott and ask where he was, or if he didn’t respond, we’d just pick any good-looking anchorage.
As we headed south, I kept calling for Scott, and he didn’t respond. After an hour of this, I decided “OK. Let’s do Plan B. What’s ahead of us as far as anchorages?” Oops. As we looked at the cruising guides I discovered there wasn’t another good anchorage for another 80 miles! We had just passed “Bahia Brasalito” which was only about five miles behind us. I didn’t like the idea of backtracking, but I like it beats the heck out of arriving at a new anchorage in the dark. And, actually, it was looking like a great anchorage. So, back we went.
There are two side by side bays, each with good anchorage. The northern bay is called “Bahia Potrero” and the southern bay “Bahia Brasilito”. We dropped anchor at (10°24'11.82"N 85°49'0.25"W), on Playa Conchal, in the southern bay.
Sometimes you get lucky. Playa Conchal turned out to be a long pretty white-sand beach, and the water was calm enough that we could even beach the tender. We couldn’t begin our next run until the next morning, so, it was play time! We dropped both tenders. Roberta and I used one to explore an old abandoned marina a few miles north at Flamingo Beach. Meanwhile, Jeff, Kirt and Karl swam and explored the beach via the other tender. The afternoon wound up being a highlight of the trip.
The crew needed to fly out on March 16th, so we were running out of time. We decided to do one more night at anchor, but to choose an anchorage close to Los Suenos, which was 110 miles south. I wanted to arrive well before dark (no later than 5pm), and the guys wanted to run slow enough to fish. We set our plan to run at an average of 8 knots, meaning we had a run of over 13 hours ahead of us. To get to the anchorage at a reasonable hour, we would need to leave by 4am!
To leave the anchorage in the dark, we used the Nobeltec tracking feature (the red trail that is left on the chart showing where we’ve been) to EXACTLY retrace our steps. The run was long, but everyone was excited, as they knew this was our last long run of the trip. Once we reached the anchorage, we would have a short hop across the bay the next morning (to Los Suenos) and that would be it.
We dropped anchor, at Bahia Ballena (9°42'57.84"N, 85° 0'38.07"W), at approximately 4pm. Roberta and I wanted to go ashore and find a restaurant, but the little town at the back of the bay turned out to be a “fishing town.” We had hoped to find a tender dock, but the dock would have required climbing five feet up a very rough looking wall, and the town didn’t look, or smell, like it saw many tourists. The “anchorage” consisted of several commercial fishing boats, and us. Later in the evening one other sport fisher dropped anchor near us, but that was it. I am starting to understand that I won’t be seeing other cruisers here.
Even though we only had a couple hours before dark, we decided to drop both tenders. The charts showed a couple of rivers emptying into the bay, and we wanted to go exploring. This would be the crew’s last chance to have fun.
We used every last minute of daylight exploring, and had a blast. Roberta and I discovered one river that we did enter, but we had just barely gotten started when we ran out of light. The crew guys discovered another, but had breaking waves across the entrance and didn’t want to take a chance. Running fast across the bay, I was surprised by a log. In the northwest we have an endless stream of logs to watch out for, but I didn’t expect to see them here. We missed the log and made a mental note to be more careful.
Dinner was on the upper aft deck on Sans Souci. We had the underwater lights on, and enjoyed watching the fish entertain us while dining….
Waking up the next morning, we got underway at 6am sharp. We wanted to get to Los Suenos early, so that the crew could do any last minute maintenance items before leaving for home.
For those not familiar with Los Suenos it has a tremendous reputation. Prior to Los Suenos there were no nice marinas between Panama and Mexico. Recognizing this need, Los Suenos opened a little over seven years ago. The marina is only a small piece of the story at Los Suenos. They built an entire development, with a marina, homes, condos, a hotel (with casino), restaurants, golf course, etc.
Some of the places at the Los Suenos marina:
· National Car Rental
· Costa Brava Flowers and Gifts
· Law Firm
· Resort Wear
· Galeria Valanti Latin American Art
· Bambu Sushi & Asian Cuisine
· Scotiabank (Bank)
· La Casa Del Habenero
· Mega Bytes Internet café & DVD Rentals
· Dolce Vita Coffee & Sweets
· Lanterna Ristorante Italiano
· Terrace Lounge
· Arco Azul Salon
· Galeon Restaurant
· The Hook Up (restaurant)
And more !
I’ve heard several people refer to Los Suenos as the best marina in Central America.
In my last update, I mentioned that Kirt, one of our crew, had said of Los Suenos, that it was “a long way to go to wind up in San Diego.” Having just traversed El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, his comment sounded very positive to me! A little luxury isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In this picture you see me bringing the boat into Los Suenos. Behind me is Jeff. I am getting better at driving the boat, but still wanted Jeff backseat driving me as I brought Sans Souci into the marina for the first time. The turn at the entrance is tight, and I didn’t know what to expect from current or surge.
One interesting thing about Los Suenos – it’s all sport fishers. There is not one sail boat here. As we were approaching the marina, I jokingly mentioned to Jeff that I had a sport fisher dealership in site, but couldn’t find the marina. Later I asked about the demographics of who is here, and it is primarily an east coast fishing crowd. They fish their way south to the Panama Canal, go through, fish here in Costa Rica, then go back through the canal. Here’s the view from my boat:
As I type this, we haven’t yet ventured very far beyond the gates of Los Suenos. Our plan for the next month is to spend about half the time at anchor, and half the time exploring the interior of Costa Rica. It is too early to say how I will like the cruising in Costa Rica. My first reaction is to be a bit disappointed. Los Suenos is certainly as good as its reputation, or better. However, most of the beaches are black sand, or mud, and the water isn’t the crystal clear blue I had expected. I’ll know more once we do some serious anchoring, and very much hope that my first impression is wrong. My guess is that people come to Costa Rica for the waterfalls, monkeys, rain forests and inland touring, none of which we have done yet.
On a completely different topic, I’ve been worrying about our trip to Alaska. For some reason the Panama Canal has a serious backlog of boats. The freighter which will pick up our boat needs to come through the canal, and I’m hearing all ships are being held up for four weeks or more. I had planned a couple of weeks for the boat in Seattle to do minor maintenance prior to going to Alaska. I’m now assuming that we will need to turn the boat around in three or four days. I’m also thinking about a “drop dead date” by which the boat ships from Costa Rica to the northwest, or we have to reconsider the Alaska trip. The official word from Yachtpath (the shipping company) is that all is well, and that we will depart as scheduled. I hope they are right. One nice thing:: Sans Souci doesn’t really need any maintenance! If we had to leave for Alaska today, there’s nothing that would slow us down.
My next update may not be for a week or two. I want to wait until after we’ve done some anchoring to report further.
As always, thank you!
kenw @ seanet.com
March 18, 2008
[Costa Rica 10 33.648N 85 41.649W]
I just knew our last run was going to be a wild one….
We left Barillas at 6:30am yesterday morning, to start the 225 mile run from El Salvador to Costa Rica. To leave the marina we had to be guided 10 miles out of the river by a panga.
The pilot boat service is free, but tips are warmly received. Coming into the marina, it was easy to tip the panga driver, but leaving the marina I wasn’t sure how I could physically give him his tip. I meant to give it to him before we untied from the mooring buoys, but in all the excitement of getting underway, I forgot. Once we exited the river and were in open ocean, I realized I now had a challenge. The ocean was too rough to try bring the panga alongside. Jeff said “Just put the money in a zip lock bag and toss it in the water. He’ll figure it out.” Thus, I put $20 into a baggie (possibly too high a tip), and blew it up like a balloon, and tossed it in the water. It worked! Within seconds he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up.
We then made the big left turn to the south, and started our journey to Costa Rica.
I have a weather router who has guided us for thousands of miles perfectly (Bob Jones, OMNI). Bob’s recommendation for our run was optimistic, but not without caution. There are two major weather systems one must be aware of as you venture south along central America. The first is the T-peckers in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and the second is the Papagayo winds. The Papagayo winds, as I understand it, are not quite as violent, but are more frequent.
Bob had warned me that we would be likely to see north-east winds in the 10-15 knot range, with gusts to 25 knots. This sounded pretty good.
The first few hours of our trip were smooth. The wind was from the west, at only 5-10 knots, and behind us. The only major annoyance was that we were bucking a 2-3 knot current. We had predicted that we would have to make the run at 8 knots, but now realized it was going to be a long night running at 6.5 to 7.5 knots.
The first sign of trouble showed itself as giant stripes on the radar. It looked like huge squalls that stretched for miles. As we approached these squalls, the wind started switching around from the west, to the south, and then to the north east. As it moved, it also increased in speed. At first we convinced ourselves it wasn’t a big deal. After all, we have a large Nordhavn, and 25 knots doesn’t seem like a big deal. I’ve been in higher winds a few times without incident. My understanding of wind strength is that it is not a straight line progression. In other words, the force generated by a 20 knot wind is far more than double what a 10 knot wind might generate. I’ve been in 40 knot winds a few times, and was miserable, but never felt unsafe.
As the wind came around to the north east, it’s appearance on the radar switched to a normal squall (storm) pattern, that seemed to surround us for about six miles in every direction. The wind speed was only 15 knots, and about 30 degrees off our port bow (meaning the wind was coming from slightly in front and to the left of us). I wouldn’t think we would feel anything at 15 knots, but we were getting beaten up! The waves were only 4-6 feet tall, but close together and cresting. It seemed to be an awkward wave height and period. As I said, I’ve been in much higher wind, and much higher swells, but for some reason, this particular pattern was not feeling good. The boat was taking significant water over the bow every few minutes, and we were pitching quite a bit. I have a pitch meter on my Airmar weather station, and we were pitching plus and minus 11 degrees. This doesn’t sound like much, but when it is relentless, it really isn’t much fun.
To reach Costa Rica from El Salvador you need to run past Nicaragua. I have heard everything from “Beware the drug runners” to “Beware the military!” to even “You’ll love it!” I didn’t know what to expect, but my gut was telling me that it was a country best bypassed. Our plan had been to run 15-25 miles off the shore of Nicaragua.
For the first twelve hours of our voyage we ran 17 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, inside the “squall” that didn’t really seem to be anything more than a wind storm. We kept expecting heavy rain, but it never came. The wind was rising steadily, and we were pitching non-stop. I’m getting a little sea sick typing this paragraph and remembering!
I had been advised by Bob the weather router that if the swell seemed too rough I should run closer to shore. The Papagayo winds come from the Caribbean, cross the land and then go into the Pacific. By getting closer to shore, the winds are still there, but the “fetch” is lessened. Wind, as it passes over the water creates waves. Closer to shore these waves are tiny, and as you move farther offshore they become increasingly larger. If you are far enough out to sea they become giant “rollers” far enough apart to smoothly ride up and down. We needed to get into shore where the waves would be smaller.
We really didn’t want to do this, as the high winds had whipped the sea into a state where the radar was mostly useless, and I had a deep-rooted fear of being too close to the beach off Nicaragua.
As the winds increased, from 15 to 20 to 25 to 30, my reluctance to run the beach dissolved. I know that 30 knots isn’t really an enormous amount of wind – but, this goes to show that not all 30 knot winds are born equally. This was a 30 knot wind that felt worse than 50 knot winds I’ve experienced (in this same boat!). It only took a few moments at 30 knots before I said “OK … let’s hug the beach.” I think the problem was that we had a strong (2-3 knot) current coming from the east, with a north east wind, and a swell from the south west.
As Bob had predicted, the closer we were to the beach, the smoother our run was. We settled on 5 miles offshore. This gave a good compromise of a much better ride while still maintaining a reasonable distance offshore. My fears of run-ins with fisherman, military, pangas, nets, etc were all unfounded. The Papagayo winds had frightened everyone but us away. For nearly 200 miles we never saw another boat.
The winds close to the shore diminished a bit, but still seemed much higher than my weather station indicated. We ran most of the night at 20-25 knots of wind. Although the pitching had subsided, the seas were still confused enough to throw a never-ending stream of sheets of water over the bow sideways. Usually, when standing watch at night, I like to step outside every half hour or so, to visually look for lights of boats that might not be showing on the radar. We still tried to do this, but now, this ritual was a bit more complicated. We had to open the downwind door, very carefully, as it would slam from the pitching motion, then hang onto the door jam, and the rail, and scan the horizon as best we could.
Roberta and I took turns with Jeff and Kirt, every four hours, throughout the run. It was a VERY long night. Maybe it was that we knew this was our last major passage, or maybe it was the wind – but, the night seemed as though it would never end.
As daylight came, our moods also brightened.
As we entered Costa Rica, the surrounding hills provided a barrier to the wind. We were still seeing 15 knots, but the seas were calm. Here you see our first view of Costa Rica. We dropped anchor in the north of Costa Rica, in Bahia de Calebra, at Coco Beach.
Roberta and I spent the day in town trying to get us cleared into the country, which is a long boring story. That said, there is one thing I should comment on. I have been asked virtually everywhere by the customs and immigration people for a free t-shirt. Today’s guy was a little more creative, in that he said he wanted a t-shirt but would rather have a captain’s hat. Roberta and I goofed and did not load on t-shirts. My advice: If you are travelling internationally, in this part of the word – BRING LOTS OF SHIP’S-LOGO T-SHIRTS! You will use them. To leave El Salvador I had to give the immigration guy my Fubar rally shirt (only slightly worn) and a Magadalena Bay t-shirt. I’m not sure what I will give to the immigration officer tomorrow. I need to think of something.
I’ll close this email with this picture from dinner tonight. Roberta and I dined on the upper aft deck, celebrating our arrival in Costa Rica, and the weather was perfect! As you can tell in this photo, I’m still a bit trashed from running all night. Roberta, on the other hand, seems to recover much faster.
Tomorrow, we start a new phase of the trip: gunk holing. We’re going to slow down, and start working our way slowly down the coast of Costa Rica, from anchorage to anchorage. On Monday we’ll arrive at Los Suenos, where we’ll drop off the crew to fly home, and start a month of cruising alone.
One fun thing for tomorrow: I believe we’ll catch up with another group of Nordhavn’s! There is a group that we’ve been following down the coast; Alanui (Nordhavn 40), Paloma (Nordhavn 43) and some other boats (I’m not sure who). I’m hoping we all have dinner together tomorrow night, and can compare notes. I expect I’ll have some interesting stories to report.
March 10, 2008
[El Salvador – 13 15.763N, 88 29.348W]
The Marina Club Las Barillas, in El Salvador, is not a standard marina, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
To arrive at the marina, you are given a “meeting point,” which is two miles off shore, at 13 07N, 88 25W. The actual “marina” is 10 miles away, back a river.
I contacted the marina via sat phone, to schedule a pilot boat to meet us at 1:45pm. As we approached the meeting point, we were greeted by an oncoming panga; our “pilot boat.”
We could see breaking waves all along the coast. The purpose of the pilot boat was to guide us safely through the waves and into the river. Jeff suggested I drive from “up top” on the fly bridge, as I would better be able to see what was coming.
I’ve only run the boat from the fly bridge for a brief period off the coast of Cabo. When choosing equipment for the boat, I did not put a steering wheel on the fly bridge, figuring I’d drive so little from up on top , that a little jog lever would suffice.
I also have the jog lever on the three outside drive stations (port, starboard and in the cockpit). I’ve tried driving with it, with mixed success. I over-steered once when anchoring the boat in a crowded anchorage, so I’ve been avoiding the jog-wheel rudder control. For those not familiar with these, instead of having a giant steering wheel, I have a little knob which is labeled in degrees. I can turn it to the precise number of degrees of rudder I’d like. For instance, I could turn it slightly to the left to turn the rudder 5 degrees to port. I haven’t missed the rudder control during mooring the boat, because I always center the rudder, and just use the twin engines and the thrusters to maneuver the boat.
My first few minutes were a bit of a fiasco, as I adjusted to the jog lever steering, and made an accidental 90 degree turn. The guy in the panga wondered if he was in deep trouble. Within a few minutes I got the hang of it, and now will look forward to using it in the future. The major difference was that on the fly bridge I put a rudder angle indicator, but did not do so on the other drive stations. It made a huge difference. After this trip I’ll explore whether or not it is possible to add a rudder angle indicator at each of the drive stations.
I assumed we would be crossing the waves, which never really happened. Instead, we found an opening in the waves, and then turned to port, running for over a mile between the breaking waves to my left side, and the shore on my right side.
We entered the mouth of the river, which turned out to be very wide. After about five miles or so, I decided to put the boat back on auto pilot, which turned out to be a mistake. Almost immediately, we encountered a very tight turn. We were running at 9 knots, and the auto pilot just couldn’t turn us fast enough. I quickly realized this and flipped back to manual steering. Lesson learned.
After about 90 minutes we arrived at the Marina Club, which as I said, really isn’t a marina at all. It’s like a beach club, with mooring buoys.
Tying off to a mooring buoy was made much easier by our pilot boat. He positioned his panga at the mooring buoy, and we threw him down a line, which he fastened to the buoy. He then went around to the back of the boat, to take a second line, which he tied to another buoy behind us.
I hadn’t realized how strong the current was. When I tried to align the boat so that the stern was pointed at the buoy behind us, it removed to budge. I had been moving at 9 knots for the past 10 miles, so I hadn’t noticed the effect of the current, but suddenly, it was a major problem. I asked Jeff for assistance, and he struggled at first, but then got the stern to swing around by using rudder, thrusters, and the twin engines, all at maximum power. I later asked Herbierto, the marina manager, how fast the current was. His response – 3 to 5 knots! We were very lucky to have arrived near a slack tide. If you are reading this, and considering going into Marina Barillas – you may want to consider timing your arrival to high slack.
Within seconds of tying up we were boarded by customs and immigration. They were very polite, but very serious, and there were a lot of them! There were seven men standing in my cockpit, some with guns. They asked for a tour of the boat. Roberta took half the group downstairs, and I took the balance up to the pilot house. I relaxed a little when the immigration guy studied Sans Souci’s helm for a bit, and gave me a big thumbs up.
The group asked that I accompany them to shore with all of our paperwork to check into the country and the marina. Here you see a picture of me (in the red shirt) feeling very outnumbered on the immigration panga.
$50 and 30 minutes later, I was back on the boat, all checked in.
Marina Barillas Club is a very cool place! They have good wireless internet, a nice pool, a nice store, a decent restaurant, and a tremendous staff.
They also have an air field. Roberta and I had wanted to visit the Guatemalan city of Antigua while in Guatemala, but we had bypassed Guatemala. Roberta asked the marina office whether or not they could fly us to Antigua and they said “Yes!” It took a bit of money (a bus tour is also available, but it is two days each way) and we were on our way.
Antigua is a 500+ year old Spanish colonial town. It sits in a high valley (5,000 feet), and is surrounded by three volcanoes.
We were quite surprised by the town, and by Guatemala. Guatemala City where we landed was quite modern. Leaving the airport I saw several American chains, including Dominos, Burger King, Taco Bell, and even a Hooters! Although it seemed like a very modern city, I also noted that all windows were barred, and all fences were topped by barbed wire.
Antigua itself was very charming, and we had a great hotel “El Palacio de Dona Leonor” right in the center of town.
We were “lucky” in that it was holy week, and the town was packed. We literally had to push our way through the crowds at times.
The center square
A volcano behind the town
A little market
One of the many churches
Roberta, exploring an old church
Antigua is a very international town. We saw tourists from many countries, although not so many from the US. The city seems to specialize in educational institutions. I was told that there are over 50 Spanish language schools in town. We also saw a university, cooking schools, dance schools, and technical schools. Roberta and I seriously discussed coming back later this year, for a month, so that she could work on her Spanish, and me on my French (we also discovered there is an Alliance Française). There is a wide selection of restaurants. We had dinner at a French restaurant the first night and at an Italian restaurant the second. We also saw Thai, Japanese, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Argentinean, Chinese and of course Guatemalan restaurants.
Speaking of “Spanish,” Roberta speaks very good Spanish, and has been a tremendous help on this trip. This brings up the question: “How would it be traveling south without a Spanish speaker on board?” My guess is that it happens several times a day. Roberta has certainly added value, but I would bet that very few boats have Spanish speaking crew aboard. As we’ve traveled further south, we’ve encountered fewer and fewer English speakers, and Roberta has had more translation work to do. But, as I said, I am positive that a boat with no one on board who speaks Spanish would get by with only minor discomfort.
While we were visiting Guatemala, the “crew” was back on the boat hard at work. They changed the oil in the main engines and the 25kw generator, washed and fueled the boat, shopped for provisions, and more. Did we feel guilty? Well… yes….
One interesting side story from their shopping expedition: They went to a nearby town, where they said only one store was open. It identified itself as being affiliated with Walmart. They said it was a reasonably decent store, but noted that there was an armed guard on every aisle (even a female armed guard in the makeup section), and that they received some strange looks from the locals. We’re pretty far off the normal tourist track here at Barillas.
That’s it for this update! I’m off to the office to check out. Tomorrow morning we will run off shore from Nicaragua, headed for Costa Rica!
March 5, 2008
[Huatulco 15 45.813N, 96 07.283W]
Due to a lack of good internet my last two updates had no pictures. Thus, here are a couple of pictures of our leaving the Ixtapa marina.
During my last update I mentioned that we left the marina in Ixtapa, even though it was closed due to breaking waves in the entrance to the marina. Normally I hold the answers to all questions until the end of my update, but following is an email I received as a result of my last update:
“… hi Ken been reading your blogs long time you are so very very lucky leaving that marina. i would sack your crew straight away. no kidding. they put you at so much risk and your fabulous boat . keep safe joe k ….”
My response to Joe: As the captain, the ultimate “go” or “no go” decision rests entirely on my shoulders. Elsa, the harbormaster, who closed the marina closed it based on high wave activity the prior evening. At 7am, the waves had dropped to a level where I believe that, had she been standing at the marina entrance, she would have authorized our departure. We were confident that we had a window when departure was possible, and safe, but also knew that the “window” could close at any minute. We didn’t want to lose the opportunity just because the harbormaster hadn’t arrived at work yet.
Here we are preparing to leave the marina. Because of the waves at the entrance we are sending one of the crew, Kirt, ahead with the tender to measure depths in the passage and help us time when we hit the waves. Kirt is a surfer and felt he could call correctly when it would be safe to go.
Here’s Kirt on the outside of the entrance counting waves, so that he can tell us when to go.
After all the preparation, our actual departure was anti-climactic. We timed our departure between two waves, and cruised out on relatively calm seas.
Thirty minutes after leaving Ixtapa, we dropped anchor in the bay of Zihautanejo. I needed to go back to Ixtapa to clear out with the port captain. In Mexico, it is a bit of a pain in the tail to move from one port to another. Each port has a captain, and the captain is a bit of a King within their territory. You must check in with them when you arrive, and out when you leave. In some places, this isn’t a big deal, and you can even do the clearing with the harbormaster, and in others, it is very difficult and means taxi-ing across town to find the port captain’s office. In this case I could clear out with Elsa, the harbormaster at the Ixtapa marina. When I told her that we had made it out, she said she was very happy for us. As I departed, she mentioned that the swell had come back up, and she was projecting several more days before the marina would open again.
Our run south from Zihuatanejo to Huatulco was 400 miles, and required two days. Along the way we would be following the coast, running about 15 miles offshore.
While traveling, the crew wanted to fish. I’m not at all a fisherman, and truth be told, I don’t really like fishing on the boat. In fact, when leaving the port in San Jose Del Cabo, I asked the port captain if he would like to have all the fishing gear on the boat. He thought I wanted him to store it for me, but I just wanted it off the boat. Roberta was standing next to me, and punched me in the side, and said “Ken – the guys might want to fish on the way south.” I realized she was right and changed the subject before the port captain realized how close he came to a couple thousand dollars worth of free fishing gear.
Sans Souci seems to be very good at catching fish, and the steadily warming water hasn’t hurt. We’ve watched the water warm from 72 degrees when we left Barra, to 83 degrees here in Hualtuco. During the Fubar rally, off of Magdalena Bay (Baja) the guys fished for an hour or two, resulting in a Dorado and a Marlin. While cruising south from Zihuatanejo the guys put the poles out, and almost immediately I heard the shout go out “FISH ON!!!!” We stopped and reeled in a 200 pound marlin which we released. An hour later, the cry went out again “FISH ON!!!” This was a much bigger marlin 250 pounds plus. Karl and Kirt worked for over half an hour to reel him in.
I confess: It was extremely exciting catching the marlin, and I do see why people come from all over the world to fish. My only objection is that it seems a dangerous sport. I watched as Kirt stood on the swim step and literally stuck his hand into the mouth of a truly unhappy marlin trying to retrieve the fish hook. It seemed obvious from my vantage point that the marlin was at least as interested in skewering Kirt as Kirt was in retrieving his fish hook.
My primary obligation, as captain, is to deliver the boat, and the crew, safely from point A to point B. If we can have fun along the way, that’s great. I am not anti-fun. However, I don’t think people always realize what it means to be seriously injured at sea, especially offshore outside the US, a hundred miles or more from assistance. If someone were seriously injured, I cannot call the US Coast Guard, and wait patiently on the swim step for them to send in a helicopter. In some cities, such as Cabo, there is access to good medical care. However, this is not Cabo. If someone gets hurt on Sans Souci, it can easily be 24 hours or more before we get ANY assistance, of ANY quality. A friend of mine, Buddy Bethea, has a Nordhavn 55. Recently a guest on his boat, while cruising in this same part of Mexico, managed to put a large fish hook through his arm. Buddy is a doctor and was able to stitch his guest back together. I’m a computer programmer, and Buddy and I have different skill sets. Had this happened on my boat, the outcome would have been quite different.
Oh well… enough of that….
Cruising here to Huatulco from Ixtapa, it was clear that we were moving off the beaten path. With each city farther south, in Mexico, we have seen fewer and fewer other non-commercial boats (cruisers like us). The harbor master here in Huatulco had an interesting number for me today. I asked him how many boats he sees per year, and he guessed at 500 boats. Huatulco is the end of the line for most boats in Mexico. When southbound boats leave Huatulco, they are headed for Guatemala. Northbound boats are just entering Mexico. My guess would be that easily half of the non-commercial boats headed north or south stop at the marina in Huatulco. If this is true, then the count of boats who travel this far south is probably only around a thousand boats a year. That’s only an average of about three a day. Actually, my honest feeling is that the number is well south of this. A large percentage of the Huatulco Harbor masters 500 boats must be locally based, because I can say this: In our two day trip south from Ixtapa, I do not believe we passed ONE non-commercial boat. We saw a lot of commercial traffic. In fact, we saw so many freighters that we frequently felt like a bug trying to crawl across a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour. We didn’t see a lot of fishing boats until Huatulco, and we never saw another non-commercial boat, not even a sailboat, until entering the marina in Huatulco. It was a very unusual feeling, and a constant reminder that “we weren’t in Kansas anymore.”
Looking back at our two day trip, there are only a few other things worth noting:
- I use satellite for Internet while at sea. About halfway through the trip my satellite internet connection stopped working. At first I thought that I had a major problem, but then after a bit of research I discovered that I needed to swap the satellite I was using from the “Pacific region” to the “Atlantic region” satellite. We had come so far east that we were now considered, at least by those satellites living in space, as an Atlantic boat, not a Pacific boat.
- At one point we were running next to a freighter which had a blinking red light on top. There are international standards that define how boats are lit. For example, there are clearly defined ways to light a boat to identify it as involved in commercial fishing, and even what kind of fishing it is doing. I’ve been through the coast guard classes, and thought I knew most the light configurations, however I had never heard of a blinking red light. Thus, I called the captain of the freighter on the VHF to ask the significance of the blinking red light. In a thick Russian accent he responded “It means we are carrying explosives.” Oh…..
- Later, at night, we were approached by an almost unlit boat. We were near nothing, and the boat was clearly coming for us. As it approached, we felt relieved when we decided it was military, but then we were confused (and happy) when it came close but did not engage us in any way. I do not know, but it looked too nice to be Mexican military. Were I a betting man, my money would be that it was US coast guard, and that they were looking for drug runners. That said, I have no way of knowing. After checking us out, we must have passed whatever the test was, and the boat left us alone.
- We were between two freighters at one point, and overheard them chatting with each other – in what sounded to us like German. Nothing strange in this, however, what did seem a little weird to me is that both of the people talking had Japanese accents.
- We had a little adventure in the middle of the night when we accidentally overloaded the boat’s electrical system, and blew some fuses. I had to do some quick fuse replacement while at sea.
- The approach to the Huatulco marina is simple once you’ve been through it, but approaching it for the first time can be a bit intimidating. I have the best charts I could buy for the boat, including Nobletec’s passport charts, and Furuno’s charts, AND paper charts. However, as usual all electronic charts were off by over a half mile. My nav system (both Nobeltec and Navnet) showed me cruising across the land long before I reached shore, and didn’t show the marina at all. I have both Charilie’s Charts and the Rain’s cruising guide also, and the GPS coordinates for the entrance to the bay were inconsistent between the two cruising guides. Neither mentioned range markers for entering the marina, or I missed the discussion, yet they were there. To enter the marina you must navigate around an underwater reef, with breaking waves across it. As I said, this is all very easy once you’ve seen it, and know what to do – but, the first time arrival can be a bit intimidating.
Here’s Shelby helping Roberta run the boat:
Approaching Huatulco (Kirt on the bow):
Karl fixing dinner:
About to tie up at the dock, at Marina Chahue, in Huatulco:
Prior to our arrival at Marina Chahue we had heard rumors that the marina had one of the best Harbor Masters in Mexico (perhaps the best!). I was curious to meet the guy who had earned such a great reputation. His name is Enrique, and his reputation is well earned.
Before I rave about how great Enrique is, and how great Huatulco is, I’ll whine for a bit about a few things I didn’t like.
- Marina Chahue in Huatulco does not have wireless internet. As you may have guessed, I look forward to arriving at a marina, because I’ll have access to the internet. In fact, I offered to buy Enrique the equipment needed to add wireless internet, and he said he couldn’t add Internet without permission from Fonatur, the owners of the marina. In Mexico, there is a government agency, Fonatur, which is responsible for “promoting tourism”, or more accurately stated “creating jobs via the tourist industry.” Fonatur does things which are good for the tourist industry, such as building Marina Chahue, but then sells them to private business to operate. Hopefully no one will be offended by this comment, but whereas Fonatur does a lot of great things, it cannot be said that they don’t make a mistake once in a while. I’d put the lack of internet, in a marina that is six years old, into this category.
- Power in the marina is best described as “flawed.” There was no power on the slip I was on, and the power at all the nearby pedestals didn’t work.
- The marina receives incredible surge when there is a west wind. Enrique said that this only occurs about 30 days a year, and that it is rarely a problem. Well, today was one of those 30 days, and it was a big problem. We put at least 10 lines onto the boat trying to stabilize it. Even with this, the lines would stretch as fast as we could tighten them, and the boat was being tossed about like a rag doll in a dog’s mouth. Adding to the “fun”, the cleats on the dock were designed for much smaller boats, and I kept imagining them being ripped off the dock by my boat, as I heard happened to another Nordhavn a few months back.
I didn’t trust the cleats, so we also ran multiple lines to the large posts supporting the docks, on both sides of the walkway.
So, with that introduction, why do I recommend Hautulco and Marina Chahue? The answer is that this is a very cool place. Standing in line this afternoon at the port captain’s office, Roberta and I met another couple – sail boaters. We were talking about our favorite cruising destinations in Mexico, and all four of us agreed that Barra and Huatulco were the top two. This is not a lot of data points to plot on a graph, but I suspect that we are not alone. At dinner we were chatting with some gringos at the next table, who live here in Huatulco, and they said that they loved it because it is “very non-touristy for a tourist town.” That’s probably a good way to put it. It reminds me of Cabo when we moved there 10 years ago. Huatulco is charming, and as of yet, unspoiled. It may some day become the next Cabo, but for now, it is just a really charming town, with very pretty beaches, good diving, clear water, delightful people, cute tour buses, a nice golf course (which I played this morning), and a good marina. Even the taxi drivers are nice! And, you can’t beat the fares. $1.60 takes you in to town from the marina, and the cab drivers do not expect tips. I also have to mention the restaurants! We had dinner last night at a Austrian restaurant (Café Vienna), that was exceptional, and the chef became my golf partner this morning. Tonight, we dined at L’Eschalote, a French-asian restaurant, which was also amazing. Lastly (with respect to the town), I need to thank Monte, a gringo who lives in Huatulco, and reads my blog, for dropping by the boat, to introduce himself, and the town. He wound up inviting Sans Souci’s crew to his home and taking everyone out to dinner.
And, as to Enrique, the harbor master: He went beyond the call of duty to help me out today.
Mexico can be difficult at times. Clearing into Mexico, and clearing out of Mexico, can be a lot of work. It is a mild annoyance to clear in and out of the ports. And, it is much worse to clear in or out of the country. That said, it may just have been poor timing on my part. Mexico has just had a round of elections, and the incoming authorities are “refining” and “improving” the procedures. Certainly the system as I observed it today needs improved.
To leave Mexico, you need to have a document called a “Zarpe”. Getting my Zarpe was a full-day project.
Here’s the process I went through:
- I taxi’d into town to the Port Captain’s office, where I stood in line. Once at the window I filled out lots of paperwork, and gave them my credit card. I’m not sure what they charged on my card. It was either $421 dollars or $421 pesos. I don’t know which. After an hour with the Port Captain’s office I was sent to the Immigration office.
- At the Immigration office I filled out more paperwork, and was sent back to the boat to meet with customs. We ran into Enrique at immigration. He was there assisting a non-spanish-speaking couple through the process.
- At the boat, I waited for customs. At 1:45pm I sought Enrique to ask if he could help. He called them and discovered they wouldn’t be coming until 5pm. I asked Enrique if this would give me the time required to return to the Port Captain’s office for the final step in my Zarpe-quest. Enrique said “No – the port captain stops processing paperwork at 2:30pm.”
- Enrique made some calls, and convinced the customs people that I would come to them, at the airport, if they would give me the “stamp of approval” that I needed to make the port captain happy.
- Enrique and I got in his truck and FLEW to the airport. I have no idea how fast we were going, but I’m sure that we broke many traffic laws.
- At the airport we met with customs, who should my hand, and declared me to be someone they wanted out of the country. With no inspection, my papers were stamped.
- At 2:26pm, after another crazy drive back from the airport we entered the port captain’s office with all the necessary approvals for my Zarpe.
- At 2:30pm, after a lot of begging by Enrique, the port captain’s assistant said “The port captain has said that if you will return at 6pm he may sign your paper.”
- At 6pm I returned to a closed port captain’s office. It seemed closed, but after a bit of rapping on the window, a gentleman appeared, who worked in the port captain’s office, with my signed Zarpe in his hand! That was it – we are cleared out of Mexico!!!
Enrique then drove me back to the marina, where I paid my whopping $94 dollar bill for two nights. I don’t see a lot of marina bills for Sans Souci that give change for a hundred dollar bill. I was quite happy!
While I was gone from the marina, Jeff (the professional captain leading our crew) had moved the boat to the fuel dock. Actually, there is no fuel dock – Enrique had arranged for fuel to be delivered to us by truck. I was nervous about this, envisioning fuel being poured from rusty barrels, which is not completely inaccurate. Enrique assured me that this would be fine and that I should not worry. [A side note: Jeff drove the boat to the fuel dock while I was at immigration. He mentioned that there was so much surge in the marina that he had a very rough time moving the boat.]
Here’s a picture of me proudly posing with my Zarpe! It’s a slick looking diploma-ish document. I may frame it as it does represent having traveled the entire western coast of Mexico. Ignore the stains on my shirt. They attest to the excellent breakfast we had….
By the time you read this, we will have left Mexico, headed into the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The Gulf is famous for its high-wind 200+ days a year. We have a prediction for two days good weather, and I sincerely hope this is an accurate prediction.
As usual I am getting conflicting information. Here’s the weather summary board from in front of the port captain’s:
It says in a way that is as clear as mud, “Winds Calm” and “Port Closed due to Bad Weather.”
We only arrived yesterday, and we are leaving at 4am tomorrow morning. This wasn’t the plan, but the window to cross the Tehuantepec isn’t always open. When the weather router says you can go – you go. Huatulco is clearly a place we’ll come back to, with or without the boat..
Our plan is to bypass Guatemala completely and make our next stop Bahia Barrilles in El Salvador. I don’t want to say much about what’s up next because I have to be ready for departure by 4am, and it is getting late. Actually .. I hadn’t realized how late it is. I normally end my updates by responding to all your email. My apologies, but this will have to wait for El Salvador. I want to be rested for the three days at sea that begins in just a few hours!
If you have any questions, I can be emailed at: email@example.com. I’ll try to answer you with my next update.
As always - thank you! More when I can….
March 1, 2008
Well… In my last update I did say that I was leaving Ixtapa for Huatulco today, but that was before the BIG SURPRISE this afternoon.
As planned, my three crew-guys showed up last night, and we had a delightful dinner.
Today, we began work with a work list that was amazing in its shortness. In fact, we were chatting this morning about whether or not we could “knock out the list” and be on the golf course this afternoon.
But then nothing on the list turned out to be quite as easy as planned.
- Changing the oil on the generator turned into changing the oil, AND changing the fan belt
- Figuring out why the 25kw generator was refusing to pass power to the boat somehow morphed from being a simple breaker reset to replacing parts in the electrical panel
- Cleaning the sea strainers became a quest for a new sea strainer to replace the one that was destroyed by “crud”. It is amazing how fast crud grows in warm water, and how destructive it can be!
- Replacing a hose under the master stateroom shower became a quest for a fitting to match two different sized hoses
- Putting away provisions became a trip back to the store for all the items that we forgot
- Getting fuel went smoothly, but involved moving the boat twice, because gas for the tenders was at one dock, and diesel for the mains was at another dock.
All of this represented a fairly typical day getting ready for a long passage.
The real surprise came when we were standing on the docks around noon, and started talking to some gentleman on a tender who happened to be tying off next to us. They recognized Jeff (my “rent-a-captain”) and dropped by to chat with him. They had taken the tender out to watch a boat enter the marina, and said it was wild. The boat, a 90 footer, had just barely made it in. They had stopped to chat with the captain and said he was still shaking when they spoke with him. Apparently, there were breaking waves barring the entrance to the marina!
From where we were standing on the dock, it was a perfectly clear, calm, virtually windless day. Their comments caught us completely by surprise. I had just read the report from my weather router, and his prediction was for a smooth trip, with not much more than a 2-3 foot swell.
Jeff and I jumped in the tender to have a look for ourselves.
The entry to the marina had surfable waves coming in! The waves weren’t breaking, but were easily six or more feet tall, and were directly blocking the entrance to the marina. When I entered the marina, there was a high swell, perhaps three to four feet, and it meant a tricky entry to the marina, but it was nothing like this. To be fair, I’ve never had to cross any of the “bars” at the entrance to marinas on the Pacific, such as the Columbia River, so I can’t say how this compared, but it definitely shocked me. This was outside anything I had ever experienced. Jeff wanted to see if we could get the tender through it, so we watched the waves, picked our time, and headed out. We breezed through, and Jeff said confidently: “Ken, we can do this.” We returned to the boat, and Jeff took his crew out to look at the entrance. The consensus was: “We can do this.”
At about 5pm today, I went to the Harbormaster’s office to check out of the marina. Elsa, the Harbormaster said “Why was I checking out?” I said we were leaving, and she said “No. The marina is closed.” I explained we weren’t leaving until tomorrow, and she said “No. The entrance to the marina is closed until probably Tuesday.” That was four days from now! This took a bit to sink in. “Closed?” I asked. “Closed” she responded. “Why?” I asked. “The swell” she responded. I asked about the dredging, and she said “No dredging. Too much swell.” This was not sounding good. We were boxed in! I asked if this was typical and she said “No. It is very rare, but it happens.”
Back at the boat I told Jeff we had a problem, and he looked at me like I was crazy. There was no wind, clear skies, and the water was flat. Jeff and the crew jumped in the tender, and went to look at the entrance. When they returned, Jeff had become a believer. “Ken. We’re not going anywhere. It’s really ugly out there.” If Jeff thought the entrance looked impossible to get through, I was 100% convinced I didn’t even want to see it. Jeff stopped to talk to his captain-friend who he had spoken with earlier, and said that the other boat had a full load of passengers (the owner and friends), who had just flown in today, only to discover they weren’t going anywhere any time soon. We are not alone in our predicament.
I hope that my comments do not discourage anyone coming to this marina. It’s a wonderful marina, and a wonderful place to be trapped. When everyone was looking depressed this afternoon I proclaimed “Hey – don’t worry about it! There are people who PAY to be here!”. I’m a little disappointed to be stuck, but it’s not that big a deal in the great scheme of things. It will be safe to leave here sometime in the next week, and when it is, we will go. In the mean-time, there is the beach, the golf, the restaurants, the sun, and all the “local culture” one could want. Life isn’t bad here, and Sans Souci is as comfortable as most five-star hotels.
We’re going to get up early tomorrow, and go look at the entrance again. The forecasts aren’t always right. If we can make it past the waves at the entrance, we’ll be in fine shape. The waves are only a problem right at the entrance. Once we’re out in open water, we’ll head south and be on to our next adventure. The others are more optimistic than I am. My worry is that the high swell, and breaking waves, have brought in several feet of sand. We only had a foot of clearance coming in. Who knows what clearance we’d have now?
More when I know more!
Sans Souci, Nordhavn68.com
PS Thank you to everyone who sent sympathies regarding my dad. I was overwhelmed by the tremendous response. All of the messages were heart-warming, and I’d include them here, but it doesn’t feel appropriate. That said, there is one message I’d like to pass along. Even though it’s quite short and simple, I like what it says: “I’m going to call my dad and invite him to lunch.” If your parents are still around, I think that is a great idea!
March 1, 2008
This is a very brief update just to let everyone know we successfully exited the Ixtapa marina this morning at 7am.
We were up early to look at the entrance, and convinced ourselves we could make it through the waves. One of our crew, Kirt , is a surfer, and believed he could count the waves and spot the pattern. We sent him through the entrance on the tender and used the vhf radio to communicate. After a bit of waiting Kirt said “go now!”. We put the pedal to the metal, and three minutes later we were in open water.
We are now sitting in the bay at Zihuantenejo where we are doing some last minute preparation for our voyage south. On our way here we passed a Nordhavn 43, Wayward Wind, that had been in the Ixtapa marina with us. I spoke by radio with Bill her captain/owner. I mentioned that I had noticed he had snuck out of the marina early yesterday morning, and he said that he had watched the waves growing and wanted out before he was shut in. Bill said that he had done the same as us, watching for a window, and then punching it. Unlike us, he didn’t get lucky. He said that as he was nearing the outer buoys of the entrance there was suddenly a eight foot cresting wave in front of him. He had no choice but to hit it head on, and says it was quite an impact. I asked him if anyone got pictures, and he responded: “I wish.”
It was a very tough decision to exit the marina. The marina was officially locked down, and we had been advised that it was unsafe to leave. It is not my style to ignore this kind of advice, and had we not been 100% certain that our departure was safe, we would not have exited. We studied the entrance including using the tender to measure depths, and had a very experienced crew, and an extremely seaworthy boat.
It’s time to pull anchor and start moving!
Sans Souci, Nordhavn68.com
PS A few people have written to say that they missed prior blog entries. You can always go to: http://www.nordhavn68.com and click on the word “BLOG” in the menu. You can also go to http://www.nordhavn.com (Nordhavn’s site). They’ve been reposting my blog.