El Salvador south to Playa Panama, Costa Rica
June 14 - 27, 2000
After having decided when would be the best time to depart from El Salvador to Costa Rica on hopefully our two night/2
day run from studying the weather faxes we said our very, very sad goodbyes to Juan & Carolina and the staff at the
marina. Incredible people. We shall never ever forget these people or our time spent here.
Juan had set it up that upon arrival the customs and immigrations people are panga'd from the next town over (20
minutes) to process your paperwork on your boat the minute you arrive. The marina panga'd us over to El Triunfo to
check out of the country the day before. They have a little odd requirement of wanting to view you unclip from the
mooring buoy and depart the marina. So the marina pangas over the officals for "the event" (unclipping). This, and the
fact that you need to be guided down the river and through the boca does restrict your choice of departure times, but
it's not that big of a deal. Juan just sent us e-mail saying that he's setting up a spot for the customs and immigrations
people right at his marina to make it even easier for his guests next season!
I was very apprehensive about going through the boca after our arrival adventure. Luis was to guide us out this time
and boy, what a difference. He has worked for Juan since the marina opened. He's 18 and his little brother Julio (16)
now works there too. Julio has probably the most beautiful smile you'll ever see in your life. They both were fishermen
before working for Juan, so they know every inch of Bahia Jiquilisco. Chuck and Jeanette had decided to spend a few
more days at the marina before heading out, so Chuck asked Luis if it would be OK to ride with him in the panga as Luis
led us out. "Sure, no problem." Luis lead us nice and slowly down the river towards the boca. As we got closer my
nerves started getting tenser, although this time we'd talked with Luis and asked him when the best time to cross the
boca was. He said a high ebb was the best and so we departed accordingly -- passing through the boca at 1:30pm.
About 40 minutes before reaching the boca Joe did an engine check and discovered "liquid" in the catch pan under the
engine. Not wanting to proceed through the boca if there were a severe mechanical problem, we signaled to Luis &
Chuck to drift for a few minutes while Joe tried to locate the leak and its source. He pumped out about a gallon of water
but couldn't find where it was coming from. He made the decision to continue on but that also added a bit of uneasiness
to the start of the passage. Luis lead us beautifully through the boca. It was incredible the difference from our arrival.
The surf was breaking on either side of us but where he led us through was calm and no problem. Waving goodbye to
Luis & Chuck we headed south. We didn't want to stop in Nicaragua as all we'd read indicated the check in and check out
process was complicated and costly.
What a wonderful start to our trip. We were able to sail. We sailed for about 3 hours until the wind died. Ahhh. Our
route would take us south along the coast of El Salvador for about 35 miles until we would cross the Gulf of Fonseca
which is a large bay that borders El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. We would then hug the Nicaraguan coast all the
way south until Costa Rica. We'd been told by people ahead of us to stay very close to the shore as the wind does pick
up and the closer you are to shore the less fetch you'll experience. During the first night we just had one lightning storm
which combined with a couple others that we were watching on the radar; but not too bad. We'd been told to keep our
eye out for fishing nets that fishermen string close to shore and are marked by one black flag as they could mess up
your prop if you were motoring. During that time we were both on watch and I saw something off to our right thinking it
was a fishing flag I took a closer look to see a panga full of 5 Nicaraguan fishermen asleep with NO light on. We could
have passed the grey poupon we were so close. Their eyes were as big a lightbulbs when we passed them. All the next
day the wind was on our nose at 20-25kts but the seas weren't too bad as we stuck close to shore. At around 4:30p we
saw a squall coming towards us. Joe wondered if we should put another reef in the main as we watched this white color
on the water come closer to us and over us. Sheesh what idiots! In a matter of a few minutes the winds were 57 kts
and the rail was in the water as we heeled over in the gusting, torrential rain. The main HAD to come down and we HAD
to ride this out. It took all my strength to keep the boat into the wind as Joe went forward to take the main down. Thank
heavens for our EZ-jacks as I didn't want him up there at the mast a second more than he had to be! I mean water was
rushing like rivers everywhere--from the folds in the sail to the gunnels, everywhere. Our foul weather gear was
useless. We could have used goggles to see. In 45 minutes it had passed, and we were able to ever so tentatively,
proceed being a little more gun shy of impressions on the radar. That night was uneventful, no more storms and just
wind on our nose at 20-25 kts. At dawn we were at the very southern part of Nicaragua and marveled at the change of
vegetation. Everything was green and lush.
The very northern part of Costa Rica has a point that sticks out to the west and has a few bays that line the northern
coast. We sailed (flukey 18-25kts) into Bahia Santa Elena which was supposed to be the most beautiful of all of them.
We'd made it to Costa Rica! What an accomplishment! Bahia Santa Elena is about 5 miles wide and during this time of
year the rainy or "green" season as the Ticos call it, it's incredibly green and peaceful. We were the only boat there.
Most of the time the water was like glass and the only sound we heard were the squawks of green parrots on shore. We
spent 4 days there resting, cleaning the bottom and just doing chores before heading further south. It was there that we
noticed that our VHF antenna was gone. Guess it was blown off the top of the mast in the blow we got caught in. The
blow must have also effected our masthead anchor light as the solder had come apart. Our Davis anchor light had
gotten saturated in one of the downpours we had while in the bay and we're now down to the old fashioned oil anchor
lantern as our anchor light. Talk about having spares. Sheesh! Joe scrounged in the yard of the restaurant at Playa
Panama and found a floppy piece of aluminum to stick up on the mast in the meantime as obviously marine stores are
not on any corner. Looks hokey and like a string bean up there but 'll work until we get a proper replacement from
home or it gets blown off.
Chuck & Jeanette had left the Saturday after the Wednesday we did, and got hammered. Now they're in a 50 ft.
powerboat, so it must have been pretty bad. They pulled into Corinto, Nicaragua late at night to get rest and lick their
wounds. Turned out they left on the tail end of a tropical wave that turned into a hurricane off the Gulf of Tehuanepec.
We're sure they saw it coming but didn't realize that it was packing so much convection. They ended up pulling into
Bahia Santa Eleana at 6:15am the Tuesday morning we were leaving and heading down to Playa de Coco. We chatted
with them for a short while and then headed out ourselves. We pulled into Bahia Culebra, Playa Panama -- what was
this season's cruisers hangout -- at about 3p. We saw Jeff & Ann on "High Drama" anchored there. Once we'd settled in,
we went over to gather the "scoop" from them. Playa Panama is a really calm protected bay and much more
comfortable than the exposed Playa de Coco around the corner. There was a restaurant that catered to cruisers:
Restaurant Costa Congrejo run by Hiram and his wife Gina. They said they had laundry facilities and showers but I'm
always a bit tentative until I've scooped it out myself. The "showers" were a cinder block square with water tanks on the
top of the roof with spigot you turn on and off. Slimy but good for washing your feet ...and filling the 5 gallon buckets
provided to "help" the washing machine in filling. Now THE washing machine is housed in another cinderblock structure
with a shop light for lighting. To fill the washer, you put your token in to start the dripping of water from that source,
run a hose from another tank on the roof into the washer and then top it off with the 5 gallon buckets you've schlepped
across from the "showers". ...and remember there's a rinse cycle that needs to fill the tub also so you have to do this
process twice. God, what we do to have our clothes washed in a real washing machine and dried in a real dryer. Our
poor clothes look like they're 15 years old because of the effects of hand washing and drying on the lifelines. Now, when
you want to go into Coco to check in with the port captain or get groceries you have to call a taxi (about $6 each way)
or hitch hike. We were given a ride in by Jeff & Ann who'd gotten a rental car to pick up their friends that were arriving
from the states for a visit. Did immigration, the port captain and customs that day and went out to lunch at a yummy
cafe and had a "tico" specialty rice with chicken and wonderful yummy vegetables. There's a great internet cafe in Coco.
The town itself is pretty small but the whole feeling of Costa Rica is sooooo different than what we've had for the past
months we were shocked. It's green, lush, developed, so much cleaner than where we'd been and the facilities are so
We met some cruisers that had been out for 2 years from Oregon (Islander 34) who had rented an apartment ($250/
month!) and bought a car and are kinda taking a break for a while. She was having some medical problems and they
decided it would be a good idea to get off the boat, do some major engine repairs, and seek good medical help.
Certainly can understand that as after a while you just want to go home and take a break. Particularly as we traveled
further away from Mexico with its profusion of marinas and facilities we felt more "in the boonies". You know, it doesn't
really sink in how far away we are until we think about "Gee, it would be nice to pull into a marina and plug in and wash
the boat down, and go out to dinner at night without having to do a dinghy landing on the beach". We had done a lot of
research on finding a good, safe place to leave the boat to come home once we left Mexico and thought that there was
only one marina in the very south of Costa Rica that would work. But all the ramifications of this information didn't
really sink in until we started talking about it more. In Mexico it was always "which" marina did we want to pull into for
a couple of days, now it's how many countries and months before there's one that we MIGHT be able to get into. Didn't
realize how nice it was to have the marinas available even if you didn't use them but incase you broke down or wanted
to do some big provisioning or work on the boat a couple of days it was soooo much more convenient. We were curious
about the one in the northern part (Marina Flamingo) that had never gotten good reports except from Capt. J. Rains,
author of many cruising guides. Chuck & Jeanette and the people on High Drama visited the marina. Their reports
confirmed that it was NOT a place you'd want to leave your boat! (For those who want more details please write me and
I'll fill you in.) So, this left Banana Bay Marina in Gulfo Dulce, Golfito Costa Rica, the one we thought was the only place
to leave the boat. It was now the middle of June and we'd pretty much decided we wanted to go home from my next
contract work at the end of July. It would be a good opportunity for us to spend a little more time at home as it's rainy
season down here and there's no reason to hurry on south to Panama and the Perlas Islands as it's rainy season there
also. We were feeling like we were starting to grow moss on ourselves as well as having the scent of mildew
permiateing from us instead of perspiration. Everything was damp and starting to smell boatey-musty.
I telephoned the marina and the owner apologized profusely but said that the marina was full and he couldn't
accommodate us for the next few months! We chatted for a while as I requested our name to be put on a waiting list.
When he heard how small we were he said, "Oh, I think I know somewhere where we can put you as long as you don't
want to come and go as it's tricky to get you in and out". He asked that I call him the next day as he wanted to check
the depth of the spot at low tide as they have 12+ foot tides here in Costa Rica. I called the next day and he said we
would fit just fine in the spot and it was ours from whenever we wanted it for however long a period of time as only
small boats could fit there. Ahhh, finally a benefit of having a small boat and the relief of knowing that there was some
place safe to leave it! Chuck & Jeanette and "High Drama" are both on waiting lists for there through the month of
September. We don't feel as trapped now and that's a real comfort. Options, that's what's nice. We're thinking we'll
leave the boat for a month, maybe two and come down every 3-4 weeks spend a week working on the boat, a week on
an inland tour and then head home again. This way we'd wait out the rainy season and perhaps have better sailing
conditions. So that's our plan as of now.
Part VIII from Playa de Coco south ...almost caught up.