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!