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Greetings from the middle of the Tehauntepec

After waiting an eternal 13 days an opening in the nasty gulf of Tehauntepec finally appeared! This little gulf is probably the nastiest stretch of water that I have ever known. I'll spare you all the boring details, let's just say that this place sucks.

Our luck has really turned for the good, however. Since leaving Puerto Chiapas, Mexico we have had tremendous force of nature pushing us for the past 36 hours. Some sort of mystery current has been our benevolent benefactor moving our boat with an unseen hand at 20% to 30% faster than we can normally go. If all goes well it will cut 12 hours off of our projected crossing time!

So here on the start of day 2 we are a bit groggy. There were a lot of shrimp boats out working the shoals, but we never had any problems or had to alter course much. The winds have been against us, but light. Right now we have been moving at 6.6 knots (we normally max out about 5 without that current push) and the wind is SW at 10 knots. We have to turn SW against the wind of course later this evening, but we are trying to time things so that when we need to turn the thermal (day time) SW winds will start to die down. What all this means is we've been motoring. Motoring because of headwinds and motoring to avoid more headwinds. At least our Tehuantepec weather window is gorgeously long lasting a full 24 hours longer than we need. Due to the mellow conditions we are taking the 16 degree short-cut which chops off a few miles and reduces the amount of time we will have to head SW against the wind...fellow sailors don't try this at home; stick to one foot on the beach.

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Chorizo-Dr Pepper-Haas-Heaven

Posted on Wednesday Feb 17, 2010

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Today I cooked up some soy chorizo with black beans, pico de gallo and haas avocados to make the worlds most delicious burritos.

It probably sounds crazy, but here's the skinny. Mexico has a lot of good soy products. They make some excellent soy chorizo and outside of Costa Rica/Panama Haas avocados are hard to find. There are several different varieties of avocados, but haas is what many of us gringos are used to. Now, to be honest, Nicaragua has some of the worlds finest tomatoes (and rum) but some combinations like soy chorizo and haas avocado with a fresh pico del gallo (chopped tomatoes, onion, celantro, lime juice) can not be beat.

And Dr. Pepper, as bizarre as it sounds is one of my favorite drinks. But this random blend of raisins (I think) and sugar isn't a big hit outside the US. But occasionally places in Mexico carry Dr. Pepper. Now I'm in some kind of coma induced chorizo-dr pepper-avacado-mezcal stupor.

And while we are still waiting for the Tehuantepec winds to stop blowing for a few days in a row so we can travel north, at least we are enjoying ourselves!

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Photos from Nicaragua

Posted on Friday Feb 12, 2010

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We finally found internet! So here are some photos from our time in Corinto which was a great place to hang out with the boat. We were surrounded by mangroves and volcanoes. That cloud on top of the volcano, isn`t a cloud; that is smoke and ash! Sometimes you can hear a rumble.

Ivan and his family were friendly and helpful. We let the kids take a turn at trying to row PUFF around the estuary. The navigator took them straight across the water and hard onto the mud. We had to go out in Ivan`s boat and pull them out of the muck.
We took several day trips to see some of the famous areas and parks around northern Nicaragua. We even splurged one day and rented a car to see the highlands.
This photo is from the cathedral in Leon. It seems you can`t take a photo anywhere without a volcano or another church in the background.
One of our side trips took us up to the private forest reserve run by a coffee plantation Selva Negra. They are hard core conservationists with all shade grown coffee and they have even developed a new way to capture the waste from coffee processing and reusing it...something no one had done before. They have a small lodge with private chalets. The most amazing of the building is the little chapel which has been carefully designed and watered so that it is covered with plants. It looks like a living building and it is truly amazing.

Here`s a picture of Sherrell looking out the window of the chapel. Notice the roof and walls?

And the chalets are on the edge of their private reserve where we hiked several trails and listened to the howler monkeys.

Culture Shock

Posted on Thursday Feb 11, 2010

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We arrived in Puerto Chiapas (used to be Puerto Madero) thinking we would be in the middle of nowhere, stuck in a commercial port, paying high commercial prices to clear in. Turns out we were wrong. Despite having been here before, we didn't see much of the area. The port captain let us sneak in and out without clearing our papers. This time however we had to go to immigration because we are international arrivals. In the past they used to charge private boats high commercial rates to clear in.

Immigration has recently changed it's policy about charging private boats, so now there is a separate fee which is much more reasonable. We paid only $48 for two people. (The port captain also charged $20). The total to clear in was about $70.... While expensive we were expecting a ridiculous $180-$200.

We were told immigration is in a nearby "town" called Tapachula. Turns out this town has over 500,000 people! It's huge and it has everything. We gazed in awe of the 10-plex cinema, the mall, the US-sized Wall-Mart, the Sam's Club, Office Depot and many other stores and restaurants. Who knew? We didn't.

Our minds were reeling in panic as we walked in the stadium-sized Wall-Mart and were overwhelmed by the billions of products. Billions and billions, in fact.

Shopping and selection are really just a bonus. We are anchored in the ONLY nice spot in the commercial harbor next to the estuary and large dock. We have a ton of birds all around us and fish swimming all around the boat. The other basin with the fuel dock and the shrimp boats is equivalent to floating in a large unflushed toilet ringed by a 1/2" thick layer of animal fat. I physically felt ill when I went over there for fuel in the dinghy. I still get shivers just thinking about it.

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Piss poor passage

Here we are working very hard to move forward, yet the depressing fact is with the wind and the current against us: if we did absolutely nothing, we could almost go faster backwards. Apply that frightening thought to 84 hours of a passage and you will probably understand how we feel-frustrated.

Anyway despite the head-winds and nasty current we often made it above 3.0 knots and we survived the short (yet painful) 350 mile passage without going insane, despite the large amount of fuel we used, the ringing in our heads and the beating we took.

It's good to be in Mexico. I heard a weather forecast from the port captain over the vhf radio...it's like being in a first world country with a marine weather service. The Tehauntepec is supposed to blow hard starting tomorrow, so the fact that we need to rest and repair some things won't matter because we have to wait for a weather window anyway.

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So much happening in route to Mexico

After some slaving, we finished another update to our guidebook (Part 1) with some serious updates including new city maps and more information for those of you who are never satisfied. Go update your copy today. www.sailsarana.com/guide/Login.php

We had a great time in Corinto thanks to Ivan and his staff. They watched our boat while we toured the forests, volcanos and cities of Northern Nicaragua. Corinto is a great place to stop in northern Nicaragua and much cheaper and centrally located than Marina Puesta del Sol. Anyway, we had planned to post some photos of all the cool things there during our 3 week say, but you lose. Perhaps we'll get some posted when we get to mexico.

Yes, Mexico. That's where we are headed to right now at this very moment. However there is a nasty 1.0-1.5 knot current that has been slowing us down for 30 hours now. We also have had headwinds and some sloppy seas. However I can't complain now because the last 8 hours have been favorable (except the current) and I have high hopes that tonight things will stay mellow.

Right now we are off El Salvador, where we avoided stopping because it would probably add a week or two to our schedule...too bad too because it's a great place. Anyway only about 44 hours more to go.... Lots of turtles and dolphins out here today with deep blue water.

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Satanic Winds Part 2

Posted on Wednesday Jan 13, 2010

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We heard from our friend on PAPAGAYO in San Juan del Sur and it sounds like we missed all the fun. With wind gusts clocking to 80 knots, boats broke moorings and drug anchor. The wind pushed these boats out to sea where the waves were tremendous!

One boat had the roller furling sail open and shred, then the mooring broke and this 68 foot boat tried to power its way back against the wind and waves but could not even get their bow pointed into the wind. The navy offered to take them off the boat, but they refused to abandon the boat. A large fishing boat came to the rescue, but it took them almost all day to tow them against the weather back into the anchorage.

The following photo was taken two days AFTER the worst winds had calmed down enough that our friend could get his camera on deck. These two boats are fighting to stay tied to the large white sea buoy (in front of the Ketch with shreded sails). This buoy is about 3/4 mile from the beach but look at how the waves have built up! It is also a buoy normally used by ships, but both of these boats drug and were desperately tieing to anything that wasn`t moving.

Looks like we made it out just in time, eventhough our passage was rough we got north fast enough to avoid the brunt of the hurricane force winds!

Satanic Wind

The gap winds toyed with us. The computer models showed 20 to 25 knots for leaving southern Nicaragua and heading north. However the NOAA forecasters kept making references to a cold front up in Mexico that would make "fresh breezes" and "strong breezes" in the gap wind areas. While I trust the forecasters over the computer models, I wasn't sure if fresh and strong were 20-25. Turns out the models lied.

We departed San Juan del Sur with about 20 knots and started sailing north along the coast. The gap winds blow NE to ENE allowing for a nice sail if you're heading NW like us. They also come right off the shore so the waves don't build up if you stay close to land. The key is you have to STAY close to land in marginally charted waters. The problem was the wind built to about 35 knots and stayed there. Dust was blowing onto us off the shore and we were getting sprayed with salt water. All still good on board as we were doing about 6 knots with only about 1/2 of one sail up. Then it started to get gusty...really gusty! Winds were hitting the 40's and starting to really heal us onto our rail (which is hard on our fat boat). We reduced sail down to about 1/8 of its size to stay in control, but we were still hitting over 7 knots!

The fine line here is we had to stay in control enough to keep close to the shore. If something happed and we got pushed away from the protective land, we would end up in open water in terrible seas with no real way to fight our way back to land against those winds.

Then to top it off we started getting even stronger gusts in the 50's! With almost no sail out we were putting the rail in the water during those gusts! Fortunately we have a good guidebook (haha) and sought refuge in a nearby anchorage which had good protection and great holding. We spent the night there, but we only managed 25 miles that day and we were pretty nervous about getting pasted the next day because we still had 80 miles to Corinto.

Fortunately for us the wind was more normal running 20-25 and we trucked north the next day without seeing anything over 30 knots. We eventually sailed out of the gap wind funnel zone and the wind even died for while forcing us to motor some.

We arrived at the entrance to Corinto at 2:30 am and since it is a well marked commercial port with good charts, we decided to attempt the entrance. The channel was pretty easy and only one buoy was missing and one was lit the wrong color, but it was all good. We anchored, checked in and then met Ivan who took us up the estuary to his hidden spot. It is super calm here and we have some work to do on the boat before heading out again. More about this place with smoking volcanoes later....

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Happy New Year from Nicaragua!

Posted on Tuesday Jan 5, 2010

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We've been enjoying San Juan del Sur as usual! The resturants are still great and a few new ones have sprung up! There are more surf shops here now and it seems like there are a lot more tourists, but this is the first time we've been here during the xmas/new years season.

As usual most cruising boats skip Nicaragua and that's their loss because this rough and tumble little town is still a hidden diamond.

We were overjoyed to have xmas and new years (a day early) celibrations with our sailing friends Scott and Liz who now run Rancho Cecilia (rated 4.5/5 on trip advisor!) They have built a jungle paradise from scratch and are only 10 minutes from the surf. It's amazing! Here we are at xmas:



And the night before New Years we sort of outdid oursleves. We had a great meal at Colbri and drinks just about everywhere. Here's a nice New Years Prelude photo:

Of course it wouldn't be a complete new year if we didn't have something break on the boat at a bad time. You see the winds here blow often and hard. It isn't a big deal because they come off the shore so the waves are pretty flat. However sometimes your anchor won't hold and you have to be prepared to move the boat and re-anchor to avoid dragging out to sea or onto the rocks.

So one windy day we went to start our engine because we decided we wanted to anchor closer to the beach. No go. Not even a click. Now this is a problem I've had occur randomly for the past year or more. But on this evening unlike in the past, trying again didn't solve it.

That night was a bit unerving because the wind blew into the 40's and if we drug it would be a very bad bad bad bad scene.

The next day I ripped everything apart, climbed in there ready to test for the electrical failure, told Sherrell to crank it...and it worked first try. Damn. Tried again and again. Only once did it fail and thing I was measuring worked during that test. At least I knew it was something else.

So we stripped everthing apart, starter, solenoid, relays, and switches. Cleaned tested and put it back together. I still can't find the problem or get it to repeat now. So I'm going to wire in a completely redunant starting system (assuming the starter is still good because during the failure the solenoid didn't click) until we can buy some replacement Yanmar parts.

We can't have the engine not start, that would suck in these strong winds where it is impossible to sail upwind against it if we needed to.

Needless to say we're going to spend a little more time here getting that sorted out and looking for a weather window before departing lovely San Juan del Sur.

Photos from Costa Rica and Arrival in Nicaragua

Posted on Sunday Dec 20, 2009

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This post contains a GPS location. Click here to see it on the map.

The winds have been blowing very hard for almost 2 weeks. We had a surprise while in Santa Elena, our friend Ira on PAPAGAYO sailed in to the bay. He is usually hanging out in San Juan but he decided to take a trip to Costa Rica and it was really cool to have a friend to hang out with while we waited for the winds to calm down. After about 10 days there was a slight lull where the winds were below 30 knots. We didn't want to miss our friends xmas party in Nicaragua, so we slammed our way through the waves to San Juan del Sur.

During our time in Bahia Santa Elena we found a few more places to hike and saw more wildlife (parrots, large deer, dead bright blue snake, a 5' long crocodile, and monkeys to name some of them). Here are a few photos, including one from a very naughty monkey:

Parrots cry out "WACK-CAH"


Crocodiles lurk in the mangroves

Playa Blanca was beautiful.

Capuchin Monkey that threw a stick at us.