Bad Things Always Happen in Threes.
April 22, 2016
After trips to 4 different offices to complete our exit paperwork, our day had finally arrived to depart Chiapas, as well as the country of Mexico! We had scheduled our customs and immigration inspection at 4:00 PM. The general rule is that you must depart the docks no later than 30 minutes after this inspection…or else! We had heard of one boat that was required to clear back into Mexico and then go through all the hoops again because he delayed his departure beyond the 30 minutes. We didn’t want to be “that” guy.
An hour before our inspection, I was doing our pre-flight checks. I took a quick peek in the engine room and bilge area. Hmmmm….a little more water than usual in the bilge. I looked at the panel and the bilge pump breaker was popped. I reset the breaker and it popped out right away. I felt the pump motor. HOT! So obviously we had a problem. No prudent skipper would ever go to sea without a working bilge pump. I jumped into action by McGyvering our forward head’s shower sump pump into a bilge pump. Mind you, it is 103 degrees, 87% humidity. I was sweating like Richard Simmons. The customs guys shows up to go over some paperwork in the cockpit. I am literally dripping sweat onto his 10 carbon copy forms. He quickly checks some boxes for me and reminds me of our departure time and then leaves. Back to the engine room I go. Inside of an hour, we had a working bilge pump. The install would not win any ABYC awards but at least is was functioning correctly. We left about an hour late. No guns were drawn.
Day two of our passage left us 15 miles off the coast of Guatemala. I noticed two boobies in formation. No…not Coco’s. The blue-footed boobies were really trying to figure out how to land on YOLO for a pit stop. After multiple flybys, they were finally able to set down on the upper spreaders of the mast. I was yelling at them to fly away but Court silenced me and told me “they just need to rest a little bit.” Then they shit bombed the boat. I’m talking a fecal explosion one wouldn’t think possible out of such a modest sized bird. Even worse, our aft cabin’s hatch was open for ventilation. Guess where the bulk of the excrement landed? Yeah, they just need to rest.
I get my sling shot and black beans and start firing away. I’m hitting them one out of every 20 beans. They don’t even react. Finally, I get the spare halyard and whip them like a lion tamer. That worked.
But these f*&%ers are persistent. The ring leader decides to try a different approach and sets down on the mast-head. He quickly departs. I look up and see our VHF ANTENNA broken off and dangling by the antenna cable. It parted at some point during the night, never to be found. As if the shit bomb wasn’t enough.
The next morning we anchor in front of Bahia Del Sol and wait for high tide to meet our pilot. The timing of the bar crossing is pretty critical, high slack, which was 12:51 PM. The wind started to kick up around 10 am and we were seeing gusts to 28 by 12:30. It was now time to leave the anchorage and meet the pilot at the rendezvous spot for the bar crossing, about a mile away. I took position at the helm and Court was up on the bow to start bringing up anchor. The boat is bucking around like a wounded wildebeest. Court then tells me the *windlass is dead. Oh shit! We try a few things to get it working, but we’ve never had it fail, so we had no idea what to look for. At this point it is 1:00 PM, already past slack high tide. The bar pilot can’t hear us on the handheld radio because of the wind. The marina can’t hear us because of the broken antenna from the damn boobie. They have no idea why we’re not at the rendezvous point or what’s taking place.
*(Non-boaters – a windlass is an extremely powerful electric motor that winches the chain and anchor back onto the boat)
I put Court at the helm and I go up to the bow to start pulling up 125 feet of chain with a 65lb Mantus anchor. I get about 25 feet pulled up and then the boat rolls over a big ass wind wave and I lose it all back into the water. We then try to rig a line (rope) onto the chain and run it to the mast winch. Did not work. Finally, Court and I tag team the chain, and get it all back on deck in about 15 minutes of hernia inducing labor. Amazing what one can accomplish with an adrenaline boost.
We figured our tidal window to cross the bar was gone but motored over to the spot anyways. The waves were large, in the 10-12 foot range. We were taking water over the decks the entire mile of the trip to the meeting point. Finally, we are able to make contact with Bill and the pilot on the handheld radio and though a tad perturbed, they were still going to bring us in.
Due to the intensity of the windlass debacle, my senses had already been numbed to the excitement that is crossing a bar. Bars form at the entrance to rivers and inshore waterways because of sand drifting along the coasts. Bahia del Sol’s Estero Jaltepeque is the only way a boat can access, or reach shelter from, the open waters of the Pacific. The conditions of the bar can change quickly and without warning, even on a good day. This is why a pilot is required to guide boats in and out. Without local knowledge and experience in reading swell and wave sets, the outcome can be disastrous. In fact, a boat was lost here just a few weeks ago because of the vessel’s under-powered motor. In preparation of these challenging conditions, we were all up in the cockpit with our PFD’s (lifejackets) on and every port and hatch closed up securely on the boat, should we take on water.
Anyway, the pilot got us in position just outside the breakers and within a few minutes, gave us the go to turn in. I went full throttle on the old 85 horsepower Perkins and spun the wheel to port. A sailboat doesn’t accelerate like a wake-board boat. In fact you can count to 20 before you are even approaching a brisk top speed 7 or 8 miles per hour. Luckily, the pilot understands this and factors it into his instructions. We were rolled pretty good by the first wave of the set, as the pilot needed us to come further to the left to align correctly with the channel. After that correction, we threaded the needle just perfectly. We stayed in the trough of the wave sets and never even surfed! All the credit must go to Bill and the pilot, as it was a textbook bar crossing.
*I should note that, typically, the pilot-boat is able to get a great picture of the boat crossing the bar. However, on this particular day, conditions were just too sporty for the boat to get into a position to take the shot.
Upon pulling into the slip we were greeted by the port captain, Bill, and a hotel server with 4 cold beverages, two with much need alcohol for the grownups.
We had arrived in El Salvador!
New post with more pics to come VERY soon!
Chiapas & San Cristobal- Where Souls Cost $1.75
April 11, 2016
Let’s begin by saying Marina Chiapas was not our favorite stop. We’ve been spoiled up until Chiapas. We’re used to marinas that are located right in, or next to town. We’re used to clean air, being able to run our air conditioner (when needed at a marina), and having other kid boats around to keep our heathens entertained. Chiapas had none of the above.
I digress, I’ll start at the beginning. As we were nearing Chiapas (at least that’s what our charts said), we were stunned that we could not see the shore, land, trees, beaches…nothing. Never have we been within a mile of land, and not been able to see something…anything. At the time we didn’t realize it, but it was because Chiapas was covered in a thick blanket of smoke…but more on that later. We entered the Chiapas marina at 1 AM…that’s right 1:00 in the morning. After more than nearly two days at sea, we were ready to catch some z’s. Normally, entering a marina or an anchorage in the dead of night is a no-no for us, but we had a full moon, GPS way points for the entire entry into the marina, and we had emailed the Capitania in advance to let him know when we’d be arriving. Matt being the eternal Captain, did a flawless entrance into the maze that leads to Marina Chiapas.The marina is so well-organized, that they even had line handlers waiting for us on the dock. Enrique runs the marina here and he is fabulous.
After a good night’s sleep, we prepared for our inspection from the Navy. Even though we arrived from a Mexican port, an inspection is still required, due to the close proximity to the border of Guatemala (about 15 minutes down the road). Not quite sure if the reason is for drug smuggling or human trafficking? Nonetheless, the check-in inspection was easy. It was Semana Santa, and apparently the drug sniffing dog that they board your boat with was also on vacation. After the military left, Matt hosed the top decks and cleaned the boat off. We were doing great, until all of a sudden, the air conditioner tripped off! What, why, how….NOOOOOOOOO! Matt immediately took apart the filter and discovered a jelly fish was sucked up into the air conditioning pump. Son of a… So we cleaned the filter, flushed out the thru hull, disassembled the pump, reassembled the pump and thank little baby Jesus, Matt got it working again. A/C back on.
We had a great second night with A/C pumping, but when we woke up, my eyes were glued shut and the kids were both coughing and sneezing. There were black ashes ALL OVER THE BOAT and my pillow (we had left the hatch open for ventilation). The nearby instant coffee factory likes to burn at night and if the winds are blowing towards the marina, you’re s.o.l. I wasn’t going to let a few ashes ruin my day. Matt hosed the decks off AGAIN. I changed the sheets, took a puff of my inhaler and gave the kids some allergy medication. We continued about our day with the cold air kicking. We received an email from the El Salvador Rally hosts that the Bahia del Sol bar was being closed for at least the next 5-7 days due to extremely large swell. This prompted us to think about some inland travel. We finally decided on a city called San Cristobal in the high mountains of Chiapas. Later in the day, the A/C shut off again. Same issue…one less jelly fish in the world. After sucking up our fourth jelly fish, we had our motivation to book our rental car and Air BNB house online. San Cristobal de las Casas…here we come!
And our outlook on the world did a 180! San Cristobal de las Casas is a Spanish colonial town, settled in the early 1500’s by Spanish explorers, as a military fort. It still has very narrow cobblestone streets lined by stone homes and buildings. The city sits at 7200 feet in elevation, in a valley, surrounded by even higher mountains and lush forests. It was a stark contrast to Chiapas, with 72 degree daytime highs and lows in the 50s. Not only does it burst with Spanish/European flavor, but it still maintains its indigenous Mayan roots. The weather is…perfect. The food is eclectic and exquisite. My photography skills are zilch/zero, but I had the best time snapping pics here. The vibrant colors and old buildings beg to be photographed.
We can’t be certain if the boy (below) is praying for the sick and hungry or for a Nintendo 3DS with Super Smash Bros.
We rented a two bedroom “cabin”, just outside of town, for $30/day. It was a doll house. We were five minutes from town and two minutes from the biggest playground we had ever seen.
This barber opened THIS shop 60 years ago. He said there were 2 cars in the entire town.
In the 1920’s, the entire town flooded. You can still see the water line on some of the wooden doors.
On our last day we drove to San Juan Chamula. San Juan is a completely indigenous community that has survived on its own for centuries. The natives still farm and raise sheep as their ancestors did. We had heard that it was disrespectful to photograph them, as they believe that it steals their souls. Matt approached a group of women sewing some crafts in front of their stick hut and politely asked if he could snap a quick pic. They told him he could…for 300 pesos. Matt being the negotiator that he is, was able to get them down to 100 pesos, but $7 was more than we could afford for one photo. So I do not have a photo for this caption. Sorry. Apparently, their souls are for sale for a hefty $1.75/each.