Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crossing the Gulf

of Tehuantepec. We ended up doing  rhumb line crossing of the gulf- straight across rather than the ‘one foot on the beach’ approach recommended by many. We had 2 days of good sailing with winds out of the SW, mostly 5-15kts.
Dropping the Mexican courtesy flag after clearing out of Mexico.
Crossing the gulf was really empty of any shipping. We didn’t see any pangas or ships until the second evening.
I looked on the chart plotter and saw a big AIS target heading our way. It was pointed to go right up our ass at 14kts. We watched it for awhile and it kept on the same course. The AIS has its CPA(closest point of approach) as 10 yards. Way, way too close for a 350 foot ship to come. When they were 5 miles behind us,I called the the cruise ship Silver Cloud on the VHF radio to make sure they knew we were taking up a speck of the ocean in front of them.  The watch officer said that they saw us on their radar and would be changing course in 20 minutes. The pic above is them passing out port side.
After 2 days we were off of the Guatemalan coast early in the morning. The seas were oily glass smooth and the haze was too much to see the coast. There were so many sea turtles floating around it looked like you could use them as stepping stones to walk to the beach.
A big guy waiting to be woken up by Jeorgia.
Full panic scramble to get away.

Latter that morning one of the boats that was transiting the gulf, Sound Effect, had engine problems. We tried to help them troubleshoot the fuel issues over the SSB radio. They had been traveling from Tacoma with friends on the sailboat Kokomo. Kokomo volunteered to turn around and motor back 25 miles to pick them up and tow them for the next 125 miles to the entrance of Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. Apparently Denny on Kokomo had a lot of kharmic energy to make up after a career in insurance – this tow was beyond the call of duty.
Kokomo turning back north to pickup Sound Effect.
They ended up towing them all the way to Bahia where Robin, a Canadian diesel mechanic and fellow yatista, got a ride out on one of the jet skis to meet them offshore of the breakers in front of the bar entrance. He got the end going with some bailing wire and they made it in safely.
Moon rise over Central America
The next adventure along the coast was the continuous runs with the drift lines. These are floating lines around 100 yards long. At one end they have a small black flag. Then they might have 2 or 3 small white milk bottles along the line to help it float. Every 10 feet or so there is a mono-filament line attached that has a big baited fish hook.  The local panga fisherman just leave these to float miles offshore. They come back in a day or so and hunt them down and pull in the harvest. We ended up getting really good at cutting these things free from our keel. In the end we picked up 5 drift lines. Most of these were around 14 miles offshore.
Letting a drift line go after we cut the two parts that were around the keel and tied them back together.  You can see one of the milk bottle floats.
Pangeros leaving after directing us around yet another barely marked drift line.

A spotted dolphin greeter. The Central American porpoise speak Spanish with an interesting accent that is slower and easier to understand than the Mexican ones.

The last 12 hours of the 4 day trip we slowed the boat way down to time our arrival at Bahia del Sol. This is an estuary entrance with a shallow bar just offshore and ripping tidal currents. The last 4 hours or so we ended up sailing with a reefed main up just to kill time, waiting on the high tide when it’s safest to cross the bar.
While still 3 miles offshore we got invaded by bees. Here’s group learning how to work the man-overboard lifesling.
The ships resident naturalist and beekeeper doing battle with the invading foreign bees.
Raising the yellow quarantine flag before entering the El Salvador. This indicates to the officials that you need to check in to the country.
High tide was getting close and it was near our time to cross the bar into the estuary. We were the only boat crossing today. Sitting offshore all you can see breaking waves and white water. It is a little intimidating.
elsalIMG_7309_thumb The view looking in, the waves were probably about 6-8 foot.
At the appointed time Rojelio, the bar pilot, and Bill the rally organizer, met us. Rojelio carefully watch the sets. He got us lined up to go in, but instead of calling for us to go in and called for us to quickly backup, as an unexpected big set showed up. Eventually we changed our entry position slightly, lined Jeorgia up for the start and he called for us to as fast as we could motor and hold it straight.
elsalIMG_7323_thumb1 Serious concentration by the esteemed skipper with a big wave building behind us, getting ready for a ‘push’.
Jeorgia making an 11 knot run across the bar.
The beach crowd watching Jeorgia go over the bar. I think this is a little like watching a NASCAR race and anticipating the wrecks.
We were met at the dock by the Bahia del Sol dock crew and the port officials. Really friendly and efficient check in. $30 for 30 days in the country plus $10 a person for visas. Fast and easy.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

tehuanapec crossing

we had a good two day sail across the gulf of tehuanepec. mostly sw winds in the four to eighteen knot range. nice sailing. we decided to cut straight across and not do the one foot on the beach route as the forecast looked good, the route is shorter and we didn't want the stress of being that close to shore. worked out this time. we are now about ten miles offshore of Guatemala. it is a hot, steamy night with no wind as we motor down the coast. next stop will be bahia del sol, el salvador. we need to be there at high tide to be able to cross the bar. we should be there early Monday morning. we'll anchor and wait for the afternoon high tide and the pilot to run us through the surf.
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

leaving las Mexico

still no caps on my keyboard
after two weeks of swimming and snorkeling in the bays of huatulco we decided to start our migration to el Salvador. we had two choices, check out of mexico here and head straight to bahia del sol, el salvador, or stop in puerto chiaps and check out there. the stop would break up the 450 mile passage. checking out requires a lot of office visits, most of them multiple times. first and main stop is the capanitia de puerto, port captain.
huatulcoIMG_7236 here’s the port captains office. in huatulco the setup for checking out is pretty professional and all the players are located within walking distance. puerto chiapas would take a couple of days to check out, due to the distances, multiple cab rides, etc.
1. first stop, port captain. fill out forms to obtain the vital official exit form, the zarpe. sweat in waiting room heat for what seems like forever…
2. next walk around the port to the other side to find the api office. sweat on walk in midday sun. pay a few bucks for anchoring in the bay for three days. sweat on walk back to port captain’s.
3. show port captain the receipt from api. sweat in waiting room. catch some air conditioning from open service window. add a few more pieces of paper and everything receives the first stamp.
4. go to immigration. immigration is the only office where the door is locked and controlled by a friendly armed guard with an automatic rifle. once inside it is obvious why. this office is fully air conditioned. we show off our passports and visas. i need to produce the original receipt for the visa payment when we entered the country six months away. without it, they wanted me to pay again. i whipped out my great filing system in my manbag and low and behold found the receipt. another stamp was obtained and we setup for an appointment for the immigration officer to come out to our boat to do the final inspection before we got our visas taken away.
5. back to the boat. call customs at the airport and fumble through trying to explain in spanglish that we need a customs inspection for checking out of the country. at the end, we think we have a four pm appointment and are to go in to the dock to pick the customs officials up in in the dinghy and bring them out to the boat.
6. take the dinghy into the public dock. sweat at the top of the dock for thirty minutes. feel faint, decide to go buy a 600ml bottle of coke for ten pesos from the taco stand near by. revived by cold fluid and caffeine. walk over to near the port captians office and have a marginally misunderstood conversation in Spanish. the net was, no, he isn’t there. i should go to the immigration office and look. back to immigration. the office is still has the armed guard and the air conditioning is still on. sitting on the couch is the young customs agent. he wants to do as much of this process as possible in the immigration office, as ‘it is too hot outside’. a quick view through the paperwork, a test stamp on an old piece of paper, and then bang, we have our customs stamp on our exit paper, the zarpe. take the customs dude out to our boat for a quick introduction to chris and quick look around the boat; ‘do we have ten thousand dollars onboard, do we have any weapons or drugs, where is the engine room’… then i shuttle him around to the two other boats that are also checking out.
seven. denny on kokomo then brings immigration out. they are really enjoying the dinghy ride. a quick look at our passports again , some paperwork filled out, and bang, we have the final immigration stamps on the zarpe.
immigration officials leaving the boat, denny in the blue shirt driving
and the fruits of all this labor produced a work of art that will surely be greatly appreciated when we had it to the el Salvadorian officials on entry
it looks like we have a good weather window for crossing the dreaded gulf of tehuantepec. should have at least two days of light winds and no tehuantepecker gales. we are leaving here in an hour or so for the four day crossing. next landfall will be crossing the bar at the river mouth entrance to bahia del sol and settling into the anchorage there.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Huatulco, Oaxaca

You can't direct the wind,
but you can adjust the sails
Chris, doing her best Corona beer Ad in the La Crucecita town square.
No numbers in this write up, and no dashes between sentences for dramatic emphasis. The top row of my keyboard died, so all the numbers, dashes, plus sign, and parens are out of commission. It’s hard to write stream of consciousness without a few dashes. looks like the upper case is flaky too, so excuse the missing caps.
We had a good sail after we escaped Acapulco to head to Bahias de Huatulco. Nice winds for about thirty hours dash I guess it’s OK to spell out a number every once in awhile. On the second day the wind died in the early evening and we had to motor through the last night. We got in a morning spinnaker run in some good breezes. We spent most of it trying to catch the only other boat out there. here’s Lovely Lady out of Seattle, a Halberg Rassey forty six, with her spinnaker up, jeorgia still trailing behind but getting closer.
A couple of Huatulco greeters playing in front of  Jeorgia’s anchor; dolphins accompanied us along much of this run…. showing up as phosphorescing streaks in the black water around the hull at night
The main town next to the beaches and bays of Huatulco is La Crucecita. It’s a really clean town laid out nicely for walking and for touristas. The sidewalks are all at the same level, something novel for a Mexican city. Lots of expat and visiting Canadians down here, apparently they haven’t heard about how unsafe it is.
HualtulcoIMG_7132We headed into town using a  twenty peso paren two bucks close paren taxi to get my glasses fixed. Somehow they got sat on while I was doing an oil change on the engine. The cabbie knew just where to take us for a raparicion. The glasses shop worked on them for about a half an hour, returned them better than new for fifty pesos. 
There are a half a dozen bays with decent anchorage and some good diving near Huatulco.
ha4t43c6IMG_7172Jicaral bay, one of the Mexican national beach parks here and a beautiful little anchorage.
 HualtulcoP4010443Here’s Henry off the cat Rapsucllion telling us how big a lobster he’s going to catch.
And here’s his quarry. Too bad it is an empty shell from a large lobster that had molted.
Henry and Chris practicing their synchronized snorkeling routine. 
A small eel a little disturbed by the photography
A sea snake hanging on the bottom
And slug hanging near the sea snake
protecting his turf
Jeorgia hanging in Jicaral bay paren click to biggerate close paren
a ghost crab on the beach
a spot on spot ray
check the size of this manta ray who cruised through the anchorage one morning. it is just passing the bow, you can see a part of the bow pulpit for sizing. it had to have a wing span of nine or ten feet, awesome
yet another lurking ray
yet another beautiful beach, chachacual
swimming with chris’ turtle in chachacual
turtle tracks heading up the beach so momma can lay her eggs in the bowl at the top
the navy armada with their four, two hundred and fifty horse, yamaha outboards on an oversized panga. they came through the anchorage in the morning just to take a peek. i took the photo from below out of a port, as the military is not big on getting their faces shown in mug shots. apparently this is an area where they have intercepted a few of the mini submarines. these run mostly below the surface to bring drugs north from central America. must be a lucrative trade if you can afford to engineer and build mini subs.
huatulcoIMG_7189 the beach at san augustin, a bigger bay around the point where we were anchored we went over for a beach walk and lunch
larry and vicki from rocinante and henri off rapsucillion  headed into the bay next to us to check out the pallapa restaurants. when the waiter found out it was my birthday he immediately brought out a can of fresca and a shot of tequilla. it actually went down pretty smooth. feliz cumpleanos