Greetings from Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador! After six weeks in the great white north, it’s been quite a shock to be back in 95 degrees with high humidity. I’m happy to say that Shannon and her crew are well and resting at a marina one mile up a river that’s surrounded by dense jungle.
Good-byes are hard…so just bring ‘em with ya!
We started this leg of the voyage from Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo on March 19th with four great crew: Sarah, Adam, Reuben and Ron. Several of the crew spent six weeks here and made lots of friends while exploring the area. I could tell they were a bit torn saying good-bye to their friends. To ease the pain, I told them we could take a few of them with us for an overnight cruise to Acapulco. Well, one friend became two and before we knew it we had five castaways: Daniela, Mason, Checko, Matt and Laura. We had a beautiful run down to Acapulco under clear skies. One of the more memorable moments was the impromptu concert that Checko, a professional guitarist, and Reuben provided for the crew. While scudding along with dusk settling upon the ocean, Checko serenaded the crew with Mexican and Cuban songs while Reuben accompanied on mandolin – not bad!
MTV Spring Break Acapulco Mutiny
As we made our way toward Acapulco, one of the young crew mentioned that the MTV Spring Break was taking place in Acapulco. As a result, the primping began twenty miles out and by the time we entered the Acapulco harbor at 2:30am, I had a mutiny on my hands. Seven of my ten crew were ready to swim ashore to join the party. Fortunately, I found a marina with a sympathetic security guard who allowed us to do a “touch and go” to allow the revelers a chance to jump onto a dock without getting wet. As for me and the remaining crew, we went and found a mooring ball for the night. As we tied off in perfectly flat water (great sleeping conditions), it occurred to me that I was looking forward to a solid night’s sleep about as much as my young crew was looking forward to their party ashore – funny how things change with age! About mid-morning the next day, my bedraggled beach bashers made their way back to Shannon by water taxi. We bid adieu to Acapulco and waved to our five wonderful castaways on shore and by noon we were off to our date with destiny – the dreaded Tehuantepec Bay.
An Old Salt
A few years ago I met an old timer, Harold, who told me how he sold everything and sailed around the world for ten years starting at age 60. I sat mesmerized by his tales of storms, interesting characters and exotic ports. Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are two types of cruisers: those who do (Salts) and those who tinker in the marina, read all the books, and can quote verbatim the USCG rules of the road (Marina Sailors). The Marina Sailors can compare and contrast storm strategies, hull to deck joint methods, and displacement ratios like a crazed professor. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that the Salts have all of that expertise plus a quality that is quite ineffable. It’s a look in their eye and tone in their voice that reveals that they have indeed faced their greatest fears and inner demons and lived to tell about it.
At the time that I knew Harold, I would have categorized myself as a Marina Sailor. At one point during our conversation, I asked Harold about his storm strategies. Having just read quite a few books on the subject, I was looking forward to good discussion on the matter. Harold looked me in the eye and said, “Do you want to know the difference between a fairy tale and sea story?” I nodded and he continued, “A fairy tale starts off with, ‘Once upon a time’ and a sea story starts with, ‘This is no bullshit’.” He gave a snort as he laughed heartily.
Not willing to let it go, I asked him once again how he handled rough weather. He snapped, “To hell with the storms, I’d just put up the trisail, pour myself a double scotch, put the young crew behind the wheel and retire to my cabin. If I awoke, I figured we made it through.” I mentioned that I had just read of that strategy in one of my books. Harold paused for a second and let out another loud snort that shook his frail frame
Sea Story #1
Let me preface this by saying, this is no bs: Late in the day as we were roughly half way between Acapulco to Huatulco, we passed what looked like an oil slick about 80 yards off our port beam. Having seen quite a few whales in my time, I’ve noticed that when they are just below the surface, the water takes on an oily appearance. I mentioned to the crew that they might want to keep an eye on that spot. Within seconds out of the corner of my eye I saw a huge splash and heard the crew squeal in amazement.
A very large humpback whale had just breached – something I’ve never seen before. As we continued to move away from the spot where the whale breached, we noticed that it was actually two whales, a mother and calve. Within seconds, the mother breached again and then again, but this time a bit closer to us. Hmmm?? By the time she breached for a third time she had reduced the distance down to 50 yards – she was clearly agitated and trying to chase us away from her offspring.
My first thought was to push the boat full throttle to get away from this 40 ton sea monster that seemed bent on doing me and my crew harm. My second thought was denial, “This just can’t happen, whales are docile creatures.” My third thought was irrational righteous indignation, “Hey, I contribute to Greenpeace and National Geographic. I even recycle, what gives ya stupid fish?”
In the end, it made for a lot of discussion that evening and will go down as one of the most awesome displays of beauty and power that I have ever seen in nature. Lastly, note to self: don’t mess with mommas.
Sea Story #2
You know that dream where you wake up in a cold sweat because you’ve had a nightmare that a snake, rodent or some other slimy creepy crawler has gotten into your bed or sleeping bag? It’s worse in real life. I have the forward cabin on Shannon. It’s a wonderful birth at anchor or in a marina. However, underway, the cabin goes up and down with the swell more so than the rest of the boat. This cabin also has forward opening hatches which means waves and spray will make it in if the hatches are open. In 90 plus degrees, I don’t mind the occasional soaking, so I leave the hatches open. After all, what could go wrong?
On this particular night, after many nights of minimal sleep, I was finally dozing soundly. Around 2am I felt a few drops of spray make it through the hatch onto my shoulder. I thought nothing of it and dozed off again. A few minutes later the droplets on my shoulder felt like they were moving so I reached over to feel what was going on and touched something very slimy that was indeed moving – aagghh! Springing out of bed, I flicked on the light and, to my astonishment, a squid about three inches in length was staring back at me and still alive!
I immediately grabbed my slimy guest and dashed through the cabin to toss him out the hatchway. The next morning we found six more squid on the deck. We weren’t taking waves over the bow, so I have no idea how they could have landed that far up on the deck. We theorized that they were either attracted to our steaming lights or were be chased by something. After recounting my horror of finding one in my bed. My crew took this as an opportunity to share their horror of seeing me run through the cabin in my tighty whities at 2am murmuring something about a damn fish in my bed. I don’t get a break!
I have a problem and it’s starting to affect my relationships and work: I stare at charts. I admit it. I do it for hours. I spent the six weeks in Minnesota looking at charts and reviewing various theories as to how to cross the infamous Tehuantepec Bay without getting blown 200 miles out to sea. From what I can gather, the nature of the topography in this area of Mexico creates what is called a venturi effect. As pressure builds up in the Gulf of Mexico it funnels through a narrow gap to the Pacific side. As a result, this funnel effect creates very strong winds and dangerously high waves which results in mariner getting blown out to sea – how nice! So, to stay within the category of “prudent mariner,” I decided to talk to as many old salts as possible while making our way toward our date with destiny. In the end, I took the advice of an old salt who goes by the name Crazy George. I know that doesn’t sound very prudent. However, George has crossed the Tehuantepec many times and the weather forecast gave us a five day window before the wind piped up again.
Thankfully, our three day crossing was completely uneventful. The only challenge was the stifling heat. Once we were well beyond the danger zone of the Tehuantepec wind, I allowed the crew to take a break and go swimming in the middle of the ocean – 18,000 feet deep and crystal clear.
Kayak Refugees and Big Surf
We arrived at Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador around 6am on the morning of March 28th. We were instructed to wait until high tide at noon before attempting to cross the bar to the river that leads to the marina. Having traveled 905 miles, Adam and Reuben just couldn’t wait and asked to use the kayaks to go ashore. After surfing huge waves, the two of them sent back word via VHF that they were at the marina cantina and safe and sound. The only problem was they had no ID and had just entered the country illegally. Fortunately, some of the other cruisers were able to take care of them and keep them out of sight of immigration until we arrived and cleared all the necessary paperwork. At noon, we and three other sailboats were escorted by wave runners through BREAKING WAVES in NINE feet of water up to the mouth of the river. Approaching a beach in breaking waves is not what you normally do on a sailboat. Thankfully, our guides were excellent. As I cleared the last big wave, the owner of the marina was in one of the guide boats and gave us a hearty, “Welcome to El Salvador!” Indeed!!
The happy crew celebrates their arrival in El Salvador. Viva El Salvador!