Friday, January 1, 2016

El Salvador to Nicaragua

We crossed the bar heading out of Bahia del Sol at 4pm on Sunday 12/27.  The bar was pretty flat although, there were quite a few long rolling swells coming our way.  It definitely feels different going nose into the waves rather than riding them in.  It seemed to take a lot longer crossing the bar and going out versus coming in.  As we continued on our way to Costa Rica, the seas continued to be pretty lumpy and there was no wind.  We had quite a rolly ride for a while that night.  I actually got a bit seasick, which hasn't happened since heading down the coast of Washington in 2013. 

This journey to Costa Rica would involve sailing along the coastline of Nicaragua which is notorious for what is called "papagayo" winds.  Papagayo means parrot in Spanish.  The term papagayo winds came from the parrots being blown out to sea in strong winds.  The papagayos are gap winds.  When the trade winds in the Caribbean are strong, they funnel and accelerate over the flat lands and lakes in Nicaragua and hit the Pacific coastline anywhere from El Salvador down to Costa Rica.  The papagayos are strongest in January and February.  Perfect timing!  Jake had been studying the wind patterns for this region all summer while sitting in Arizona.  According to the current forecast, this was the time to book it down the coast because there was a brief lull in the winds. 

We continued on that first night under a sliver shy of a full moon.  We call this God's flashlight and it makes a night passage so much more bearable when you can actually see what is out there.  We were eventually able to put the sails up that night and have a nice, calm sail with about 10 knots of wind.  We passed the Gulf of Fonseca that night and were within reach of Puesta del Sol by morning.  The wind died off and we motored on throughout the day.  The wind eventually returned and again we had a wonderful sail heading into our 2nd night.  We had a reef in and our storm jib ready to deploy anticipating a papagayo event that night.  Nothing, but 10-15 knots and sometimes less.  We actually dropped down to 2.5 knots at some point in the middle of the night and didn't care.  We were so tired, we took the opportunity to get some sleep.  We pretty much sacrificed any distance that we should have been covering that night.  Oh well.  The third morning, the winds started to kick up a bit.  We were starting to angle a bit more east with the curvature of the coastline of Nicaragua.  Which just happened to be directly into the now 20 knots of wind that we were getting.  Ugh.  We were on a tack heading further and further off shore, beating into a 5 foot swell, and only making 2.5-3 knots.  Not fun.  It was clear that we were not going to make Costa Rica by nightfall.  We made a collective decision to pull into the nearest anchorage and get some rest.  We tacked towards shore and were headed straight to the anchorage at Masachapa, Nicaragua.  Well ok then, I guess that's were we are going.  The anchorage was an open roadstead with not much protection.  It was noon when we dropped the hook in 20 ft of water and laid down for some much needed sleep.  After a couple of hours of sleep we felt much more capable of making logical decisions.  Jake pulled the GRIB files again and the conditions were not going to improve any time soon.  So question was, do we want to be stuck in this open anchorage with nothing going on for 5 or so days or push through to San Juan del Sur - 50 some miles away?  I did the dishes and some cleaning and we pushed on.  We left the anchorage at 4pm with an anticipated arrival at dawn into San Juan del Sur.  I wanted to stop there anyways, so this was a good thing. 

So, we did what any sane sailor would do.  We fired up the engine and pushed through the 20+ gusting to 30 knots of wind on our nose and pretended that we were a motor vessel, not a sailboat.  It was a long night of bashing and making only 3 knots under power, just waiting for the engine to die for some random reason... But it didn't.  We pulled into San Juan del Sur at sunrise.  It was challenging finding a good spot to anchor amongst the mooring balls, pangas, and tour boats.  We were the only cruisers there, however, we were excited to see civilization and knew that it would be a cool town to explore while waiting for another window to get to Costa Rica. 

We wanted nothing more than to eat some breakfast and hit the hay before checking in to a new country.  Just as I fired up the burner for our eggs, there was a knock on the hull.  I went into the cockpit to find a guy in a panga dressed in navy blue gear with no patches on asking about our arrival.  I had no idea if he was the port captain or immigration or the water taxi driver, but he seemed pretty insistent that we needed to go to shore and get checked in.  So much for sleep, we ate our breakfast and headed to shore.  The nice thing about this anchorage is that there is a water taxi that will take you to and from shore for about $5 round trip so that you don't have to launch a dinghy. 

Just as we landed on shore, our man in blue was there to greet us.  He proceeded to lead us to some agency that wanted $25 for bringing our boat into the country, then to make copies of our zarpe from El Salvador, then the bank, then to the port captain and immigration.  We finally concluded that the guy was from the Nicaraguan Navy. 

Here is the breakdown of fees in Nicaragua:

check in fees -
$25 for the boat to some unknown agency
$25 for the boat to immigration
$12/person to immigration

check out fees-
$25 to immigration again for the boat
$2/per person to immigration
$40 to the port captain for our international zarpe

Considering we were only in Nicaragua for 5 days, this was a very expensive stop.  We did love the town though.  It had a great vibe with many different young, international, surfer dude/dudette type travelers.  We encountered people from Canada (of course), Germany, Australia, Italy, and the US.  I think Nicaragua would be an awesome place to backpack around and stay in hostels while exploring the many, many beautiful beaches.  Unfortunately, we did not do much exploring because the anchorage is not protected at all from the papagayos.  We were getting strong, gusty winds the entire time - we clocked wind up to 45 knots in the anchorage.  It made it pretty uncomfortable to go too far from the boat. 

This is Luna after 4 days at sea.  She was ready for a calm anchorage.

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