Leaving Mexico: 6 Countries, 10 Days.

Leaving Mexico: 6 Countries, 10 Days.

Chiapas to Fonseca

DATE:9 Feb – 11 Feb, 2022
DEPARTURE:Marina Chiapas, Mexico
DESTINATION:Punta Amapala, El Salvador
DESTINATION LAT/LONG:13°10.852N 87°54.231W
TRIP:312nm (2 days, 9 hours)
ENGINE HOURS (at Destination):832.8

We were extremely excited to be finally leaving Chiapas and heading off to countries south.  The previous day Tom (BOHEMIA) and I had gone with Memo, the Chiapas marina manager/Mr. fixit to the four stops required to get our exit papers: Customs, Immigration, the cruise ship terminal – to make a payment, and lastly the Port Captain.  After paying the Marina bill, Memo then provided us with our exit zarpe, and we fixed the time of departure for 8:AM. 

The following morning, we were visited by a selection of officials together with a sniffer dog, and then we were required to immediately set off.  With quite the farewell group on the dock (Torben & Judy, TULUM, KYRIE) and Carole and Dominique from HIPPOS CAMP waving from their boat, we felt like we were embarking on an epic trip.  We negotiated the channel that looked so different that when we had entered at night and headed out into the ocean swell. 

It was a calm start to the trip, and not long before we were taking down the Mexican flag and raising the Guatemalan.  A mixed feeling after over two years with the boat in Mexico.

We sailed, but it was frustrating to feel that the boat seemed a bit sluggish compared to normal, especially as we were sailing with BOHEMIA, and, based on our experience sailing with them across the Tuantepec, either they had improved substantially, or we were doing something wrong.  I began to suspect that the bottom of the boat has suffered through two weeks in murky Chiapas, following another couple of weeks in the marina in Chahue.

All day we were visited by small birds circling the boat and apparently trying to land on the deck, and after some hours, succeeding.  They formed quite a colony on the bow, and later were planting themselves wherever they pleased, including the solar panels. 

The evening brought a beautiful sunset for our first night at sea. It was interesting to see how much more comfortable we are on night passages, and that we have developed quite a good routine together.  This is something like our 18th or so night passage since we left San Francisco and given the frequent over-nighters we experienced in just the last few months; they are feeling much less of an ordeal, even perhaps, enjoyable?. 

The next day saw us fairly quickly take down the Guatemalan flag and replace it with the flag for El Salvador.  We regret not visiting Guatemala by sea, but the Pacific coast here is not very well suited to cruising boats and even the long stretch of the El Salvador coast only offers one practical stop prior to the Golfo de Fonseca.  This particular stop, Bahía del Sol, requires entrance over a bar crossing, and our friends on RED ROVER, an impressive Nordhavn 55 with a gargantuan displacement, had recently posted ominous photos of their experience with a ‘freak wave’ while leaving.  We were in two minds whether to make a stop at Bahía del Sol as, despite the bar crossing challenge, the experience is reported to be great with the hosts, Bill and Jean being very hospitable to visiting boats. Our decision had been sealed however, when we received a message from Bill and Jean that the conditions were unfavorable and we should not cross the bar on the date of our anticipated arrival.   As it happens, when we were passing by the entrance to Bahía del Sol at 6 am on our second night, about five miles off the intended entrance, the substantial swell was clearly evident.

The last day along the coast of El Salvador saw us playing ‘Panga Ping-Pong’ … avoiding pangas and long lines, had us visited by dolphins in very clear water and later, saw us go through our first section of ‘red tide’, which had been reported to be a problem all the way down the Pacific coast to Panama.

Closing in on Fonseca, the light was fading, and we motored to get anchored before dark, and a good thing it was, as the entrance to the Golfo was littered with fishing paraphernalia which would have been a challenge after dusk.  Anchoring turned out to be quite a performance.  Unlike the sandy bottom were had become used to in Mexico, the holding at Punta Amapala is soft mud and a few attempts at setting the anchor by backing down were futile and frustrating, until we resigned ourselves to the ‘more chain’ philosophy. One anchored however, it was clear how beautiful this area is; a spectacular body of water surrounded by majestic volcanos. 

The following day were visited by a friendly El Salvador fisherman looking to give us coconuts.  We gladly took some and offered money, which he refused.  After throwing $5 into the boats, he committed to returning later with fish.  Sure enough a few hours passed, and he returned with a number of fish in a bucket.  We accepted some, but they were so small we were challenged as to what to do with them.  Fortunately, it was dinner night of Bohemia, and Peter managed to cook some of them whole (less head and tail).  Despite Peter’s valiant effort, all agreed they were not really worth the effort of preparing and then eating them. Nevertheless, the friendly gesture was indeed a warm welcome to El Salvador.

Punta Amapala to Puerto Amapala

DATE:13 February, 2022
DEPARTURE:Punta Amapala, El Salvador
DESTINATION:Puerto Amapala, Isla Tigre, Honduras
ENGINE HOURS (at Destination):835.4hrs

We really enjoyed a peaceful day at Punta Amapala but given the slow performance of the boat on the passage from Chiapas, I needed to get in the water to investigate.  The water was murky, and visibility was 18 inches at best, but it was evident that a healthy growth of barnacles had flourished in the stagnant water in Marina Chiapas.  Checking the prop, it was fairly fouled and trying to move it from open position to the feathered position and back, it looked likely that it was not actually opening fully.  The barnacled bottom accounting for the slow sailing, and the prop condition accounted for the poor performance under power, the engine running at 175 degrees (4/5 degrees above normal), the slight smoke from the exhaust, and our burning three quarters of a tank of diesel from Chiapas alone. 

All cleaned, we set off for Puerto Amapala, and could immediately see a difference in light air, going upwind and were actually gaining on Bohemia.  We’re back! 

The sail was easy and enjoyable after passing through the gap between Islas Conchaguita and Meanguera, we took some video of Bohemia for their YouTube channel.  We negotiated the channel around Isla Tigre around to the norther side where we could see the brightly painted pier and almost Caribbean-looking Puerto Amapala.  We arrived just around 4:30 as intended, just late enough to not have to check in that evening, and to wait for the morning.  Anchoring was again a like anchoring in flan, but, we think we’re getting the hang of it!

Puerto Amapala to Playa Grande

DATE:14 February, 2022
DEPARTURE:Puerto Amapala, Isla Tigre
DESTINATION:Playa Grande, Isla Tigre
DESTINATION LAT/LONG:13°16.328N 87°39.881W
ENGINE HOURS (at Destination):

After a relatively quiet night at anchor off the Pier at Puerto Amapala, we spent a pleasant morning checking in to Honduras and walking the small town.  The check-in was easy and the two immigration official extremely friendly and welcoming. We ate lunch at the only apparent restaurant on this part of the Island, and while doing so, noted the increasing wind in the anchorage.  Returning to the boats, we hoped that the wind would subside but by 4pm the significant fetch from the north was taking its toll with BOUNDLESS bucking away, sailing from side to side on anchor.  A quick call with Bohemia and it was evident we were both starting to think the same thing … Time to go!

We raised the anchor and motored, dinghy still hanging on the side of the boat, around to Playa Grande, the boat healing in the wind as we went beam-on.  Anchoring at Playa Grande was again anchoring in soft mud, but now refining our technique, it took only two tries (and a bunch of scope) to make us happy.  The following morning however, a fishing boat threw a net out close to us, and by the look of all the pulling on the net by the two guys, then a second boat, it was clear they had snagged our anchor, and we suspect at that point, we were really just sitting on the chain. 

I took the dinghy to shore and had a pleasant welcome from three small boys covered in muddy sand.  The oldest, Christopher, was extremely chatty and was asking to take a ride in the dinghy.  Not taking ‘no’ for an answer, we went to find his parents, and met his very young mother, sitting in a boat with maybe ten young guys under a shade.  Permission granted, two of the boys got in the dinghy, but only yards from the beach they changed their minds and we headed back to the beach where they threw themselves in the water to swim the last few yards.  Arriving back at the beach a few of the young guys approached.  The vibe here was very interesting.  Clearly different from our experience in Mexico, these folks were both curious and slightly suspicious, but ultimately friendly.  We had been told that the previous year had only 5 or six boats check into Honduras at Pto. Amapala, so likely only two or three had anchored in this bay in the last year.  Yes, we are something of a curiosity!

Playa Grande to Amapala to Meanguera

DATE:16 February, 2022
DEPARTURE:Playa Grande
DESTINATION:Isla Meanguera
DESTINATION LAT/LONG:13°10.054N 87°42.661W
ENGINE HOURS (at Destination):837.55

Looking to get set for our trip south to Costa Rica with moved from Playa Grande around to Puerto Amapala and anchored in a stiff breeze, dropped the dinghy and made the wet trip over to collect Peter and Tom and head to the Pier to check out.  We were met at the pier steps by a few kids and a friendly man who eagerly helped us get out and tied the boat up.  Seeing our now good friends from immigration, they were pleased to check us out and call again for the Port Captain.  The Port Captain charged us a total of 35 Lempira for our Zarpe (approx. $1.50) which was the total of all of the cost of checking in and out of Honduras.  A quick trip to the town to get some eggs and use up our spare lempira on some Nicaraguan Rum, we headed back to the boats to set off for the southern anchorage on Isla Meanguera, giving us the optimum departure point, and some good northerly protection for the night.  We enjoyed a very pleasant downwind sail with just the jib, with the beautiful scenery of the Golfo around us, to arrive in the very protected calm conditions in this picturesque bay at Isla Manguera.

Bahia Fonseca to Bahía Santa Elena, Costa Rica

DATE:17 Feb – 18 February, 2022
DEPARTURE:Isla Meanguera, El Salvador
DESTINATION:Bahía Santa Elena, Costa Rica
DESTINATION LAT/LONG:10°55.362N 085°47.526W
TRIP:190.2nm (36 Hours)
ENGINE HOURS (at Destination):863.8 (26.3 hours motoring)

It was a beautiful daybreak at Isla Manguera when we raised the anchor and headed off for what we anticipate would be a challenging trip.  It was extremely picturesque sailing out towards Punta Cosiguina, the eastern point of the entrance to the Golfo de Fonseca, with the Honduran coastline and impressive Volcan Cosiguina as a backdrop. 

About 9:30 am, after passing the point and feeling like we were making good progress with very pleasant wind and great conditions, Bohemia’s foresail head failed, and they were forced to pull it to the deck.  While they sorted out the mess, we hove-to to wait for them.  They had changed out the headsail from their usual genoa to the rarely used smaller jib in anticipation of the Papagayo winds and once it was on deck, they could see that the webbing loop that attaches the sail to the furler head had failed, and there was also a 9-inch rip down the luff tape.  This left the halyard attached to the furler head at the top of the mast and resulted in a good hour for Tom trying to retrieve it.  Finally, based on a photo of the setup at their masthead taken with our zoom camera, and a suggestion of using their fishing gaff, they managed to snag the halyard and retrieve the furler head.  With the larger genoa back on the furler, they were back on their way. 

Just after passing Corinto in the afternoon, the wind increased and we had our first blast of Papagayos, pretty much on the nose, and in very short steep chop that sent much water over the deck.  The Passport 42 is poorly set up for such conditions as draining water from the decks relies on just two deck scuppers and is so slow to drain, especially if the boat is not healing, that the cockpit turns into an inverted bathtub, with water swilling around the coaming (Noted: we need to add another scupper, at least). This initial blast led us to head in closer to land and take more account of the track provided by Dietmar (Panama Posse) that we had downloaded and entered as an inshore route to follow.

Conditions improved after a couple of hours, but the wind continued to be too far forward to be able to sail, so motoring, then motor-sailing seemed to be the way this passage was going.  The night was relatively calm in terms of wind, but there was a surprising number of fishing hazards to avoid.  At one particularly fishing intense area around Puerto Sandino, we had a close quarter encounter with a fisherman who passed between Bohemia and ourselves, and then had to guide us around the net they were trailing.  Fortunately, the fishing boats were well lit and even the long-lines had lights on them.  Added to that the full moon, and visibility was surprisingly good under the night conditions.

With the morning came the wind again, and with Bohemia following the Dietmar track, we elected to go straight across a slight ‘bay’ as the boat seemed to be comfortably taking on the 25 – 30 knot conditions with two reefs in the main and the staysail, but with an increase in the chop the progress was getting slower.  Looking for more power, we traded the staysail for the jib, but as conditions got more challenging with winds in the 30’s, and as the option of bearing away would have taken us further offshore, we tacked, taking a sharp left-hand turn for a mile and a half to find less fetch and a better sea state.  Lesson learned!

In the afternoon, the wind continued strong but after passing the enticing bay of San Juan del Sur, the wind angle improved and the sailing from there down to Bahía Santa Elena was very enjoyable, even exhilarating!  The wind howled across the Bahía de Salinas as we left Nicaragua and entered Costa Rican waters, but the boat was charging ahead, well balanced, and the mood on both boats improved substantially as Elena came into view. 

The entrance to Bahía Santa Elena was fairly ‘epic’ with the scenery more fjord-like that we would have expected.  Arriving at sunset was magical.  Expecting substantial gusts throughout the night, we anchored with a long scope in what is referred to as the ‘north’ anchorage, in calm conditions.  It was a wonderful feeling to have the trip behind us, to have experienced more challenging conditions that we had in a long while, and of course, to be in Costa Rica at last.

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