Sunday, January 25, 2009

Visit with Steve Duff

Sunday morning, and not too much breeze yet. Arrived in Potrero on friday after noon. Called up an old friend Steve who now lives down here. We motored ashore and tried to not get too wet in the surf. I'm getting better at landing the zodiac in the surf but like Kevin always said "make sure you put cameras and valuables in a water tight bag" Steve came and met us at the "monkey bar" (i wonder why i wanted to go there!) we had a nice visit and he asked us to come to his place for the evening which is in Tamarindo. We were reluctant as we don't like to leave the dinghy on the beach for too long. He called a friend who happened to have a house on the beach right next to where we landed and said it was o.k. to leave the dinghy there. We drove in to Tamarindo with Safari Steve at a bout 150mph. Even 40kmp seems fast when you havent been in vehicle for a while. No kidding i thought we were going hit at least one person and a few other cars on the way , i'll stick to 40kt winds.

Steve lives in a really happening resort type town. Lots of surf shops and bars. He has a nice place with a pool and lots of palm trees all aroun. We all went out to eat at a local bar. The owner knows Steve and his dad John quite well. They even had shepherds pie ready for us! After that we went to a bar where there was a good band playing. It was Nancy's birhday so we thought it would be good to go out. We didn't stay too long as Nancy was quite tired from the night before when we could not sleep because of all the wind at anchor.

The next morning we went for a walk to the beach before everyone else got up. Steve had kept on insisting that we come around to Tamarindo and anchor so i went to take a look at the beach. No wonder it is not in any of the guides. It's o.k. to surf into shore but i wouldn't attempt it in the zodiac.

Anyway Steve got up and took us on a whirlwind tour and down to a lovely beach where they all surf. The beach bar was called Lolas and was really nice. We saw teak trees which they grow or farm here. Lots of development, the gringo's have allready inflated all the prices so it's not like it was 15 or 20 years ago.

Back to Potrero and our boat. We brought Steve and his dad out for a visit and then they went back to Tamarindo. It was nice to see them hang out for a bit. We will stay here for a day or two then start heading south out of the papagayo's. We are waiting to hear from my brother Glenn who is planning to visit soon.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Papagallos on the way to Costa Rica

Papagallos are not to be taken lightly, and contrary to some of the information we've read in the guides it blows alot harder than 25 knots.
I've already posted information on our first attempt to enter Cost Rica, and how we were basically re-routed to Nicaragua.
Before setting off for Costa Rica we consulted our usual source of weather through our SSB radio, knowing that we would get a bit of wind for a day or so. We got alot more than we expected, which one would think would make our passage fast - no so in this case. We reached Costa Rica's border after dark and made our way into Bahia Santa Elena using unreliable charts and radar. Thank God we got in. We anchored as close to shore as was safe which put us into the wind shier, so the 30 - 40 knot gusts mostly went over us. ( By the way our guide books warn us not to pull into any of the bays north of Playa del Coco which is the first port of entry. We left Bahia Santa Elena with north east winds blowing us along at almost 4 knots before we even put a sail up. We did put up our tiny stay sail and had a pretty brisk sail to Potrero Grande, a fairly wide open bay where we learned that our anchor when properly deployed does a great job of holding us in place.
The next morning we took off again expecting to have a 4 - 5 hour sail to Playa del Coco. We tried to sail in as close to land as possible and the papagallo wind was really blowing now. We recorded gusts of 47 knots and the winds were blowing us offshore, which we didn't want to experience again, so we motored, mostly on our ear, with waves hitting us on our side pushing our gunnels right under water - which for Moondancer is quite something. We arrived in Playa del Coco late afternoon, attempted to clear in with the Port Captain.
Apparently the Port Captain doesn't work on Friday afternoon, or Saturday or Sunday. This is Monday and we have finally started our clearing in process, which does seem to be going quite well. We have an appointment with Customs this afternoon which should finalize the procedure.

If this all seems quite negative - I'm sorry, but that's the mood I'm in. We think that maybe its time to slow down a little. We have some information of what to expect of the Gulf of Panama, (which is likely to be more of the same), so we are going to take a little more time travelling through Costa Rica. We need to improve the balance, its leaning a little too heavily to the tough side and less of the fun side.

On a more positive note - Saturday afternoon, as we were being blown around our anchor by more big gusts of wind, and had decided to take shelter down below, I looked out of one of our portlights and noticed a man who appeared to be struggling in a plastic kyak - the lying down model, he didn't look very happy. I went up on deck and asked if he was coping alright with the wind - first he said yes, so I went back below and told Tony that some bloody idiot was out there in a kyak. Tony came up and we asked him again if he needed to rest. He decided he did need to rest and found his way alongside. We tied him up and asked him aboard to rest. He declined but we chatted for awhile waiting for the gusts to subside enough for him to make a break for shore. It didn't come, but we did get to know him a little - a very nice gentleman who spoke perfect English, Rodrigo. When it was apparent it was not going to be possible for him to paddle back to shore, Tony towed him back with the dinghy. Rodrigo was very grateful, and so were his family, who awaited him onshore. They invited us to dinner that day, which Tony refused, as we did not expect any reward to this small good deed.

The next day we went ashore for a walk and we saw Rodrigo again, who repeated the invitation. This time we accepted. They met us on the shore at 6.00pm and took us back to a beautiful apartment in town which is owned by Rodrigo's "number 1 son-in-law" Pedro and his wife Gabriella. We had a wonderful evening, a great dinner cooked by Lorena, Rodrigo's wife, the company of 3 of Rodrigo's daughters, Maria, Carolina, Gabriella, and "number 2 son-in-law" Roberto, plus 5 gorgeous grandchildren who performed for us after dinner.
The hospitality extended to us - total strangers - from this generous family was perfectly timed and gratefully accepted. A super introduction to what we know will be a lovely country.

Monday, January 12, 2009


These video's are a bit short. We lost our old camera in the drink, and just getting used to the new one, so they will improve!



Nicaragua video

Hualtuco to Costa Rica (via Nicaragua)

Huatulco to Costa Rica (via Nicaragua)

By the time we left Huatulco we were glad to be getting underway, not that we didn’t like being there, but because it was time to get moving and the Tehuantepec (a big bay with its own nasty weather system) was looming.
We plan most of our passages on the basis of moving at about 5 kn. That’s how we estimate our fuel consumption and the time we will be at sea. So the trip to Costa Rica was due to take about 7 days and we fuelled accordingly.
The first 4 days were fairly uneventful, mostly we motored and stayed about 13 – 15 miles offshore, as we had no intention of going into Guatemala, El Salvadore, Honduras and Nicaragua, we thought it right to stay out of their 12 mile limit.
We did stay fairly close in going around the Tehuantepec as that is the prescribed method, just in case the offshore winds pipe up, as they can be very strong. But strong winds are not really the problem for sailboats as we can just keep reducing sail until we have the right amount for the wind – or none if necessary. It’s the seas that really cause us trouble and the further offshore a boat is its more likely to be dealing with bigger seas, which get bigger and bigger the further the wind pushes the water along.
Well that didn’t happen to us in the Tehuantepec, but we did encounter pretty strong current against us for most of 2 days – about 2 knots of current. This slowed us down and used up our fuel at a much faster rate.
Until the 6th we motored mostly – took any opportunity to sail, but most of these opportunities were very short lived, and very slow, but were becoming increasingly necessary to conserve fuel. We also had to start making decisions about shortening the distance as much as possible by going offshore a bit further – thus cutting out the lengths of the bays. Our entertainment was mostly dolphin visits which were always very welcome. They usually come when we are motoring as the like the speed of the boat. The dolphins love to swim alongside the bow and under the bowsprit and love to look up at us. We always call out to them to encourage them to stay with us, as they are such a happy presence. While I was looking over the edge of the bowsprit on this particular occasion a very large dophin was swimming directly below me, and with the swell causing the boat to hobbyhorse quite a bit I was sometimes about 2 feet above him/her. He rolled over on his back while swimming and looking up into my eyes with what always looks like laughter in their eyes, and spat a mouthful of water up at me. What a thrill to be spat at by a dolphin – it made my day.
We also had many bird visitors, some who used our boat as a roost at night, those were the yellow footed boobies. I renamed them poopy boobies, they made bloody mess everywhere, and sometimes when they were asleep and the boat rolled they fell off their high perches up on the spreaders.
We monitored weatherfax on our SSB radio every morning at 0700 hrs. which is how we get our weather forecasts and by the 7th (5 days out) started to see the change coming. In fact on the morning of the 7th there were actual squall clouds in the sky ahead about 3 miles and they were raining in some areas. We were pretty excited about being rained on as we hadn’t showered for 5 days and the boat was covered with booby poo, plus we knew there was plenty of wind under that cloud and we were going to have a great sail. So we put up our sails – and were not conservative because this was a local system, and we bobbed along at about 2 kn towards that lovely cloud. Then the company arrived, we were surrounded by hundreds of dolphins, just ambling alongside the boat, some were pushing their bodies straight up out of the water and looking around – as if checking out the weather, some were jumping high up out of the water and slapping down hard on the water. That was the first time I saw that one poor dolphin had horrible sucker like fish hanging on to the side of it – big fish, about 12 – 18” long, and the dolphin was probably trying to get rid of them by knocking them off as it lands. It was interesting that I only saw 2 dolphins with these nasty clingons.
We finally reached the cloud and we were in the wind, and so were the dolphins, and then more visitors – the flock of birds who had been with us on and off for the last 4 days – don’t know what they are but I called them Chichimungas because that was the sound they made. These birds were swooping all around the boat, but particularly around our heads – they seemed to be playing chicken with our heads – ‘lets see who can get the closing without bumping into that thing’. And a flock of terns came out of nowhere to join in the fun. For the next couple of hours we were definitely the guests of honour at a squall party, it was a lot of fun, not enough rain, unfortunately to clean us or the boat, but enough to clean the dodger windows.
And then it was over and we were back to motoring and now had the lumpy swells left over – or were they the swells which precede bigger weather further along the way.
By the 8th we were now definitely in fuel conservation mode and were sometimes sailing along doing a couple of knots, or motoring at reduced revs to use less fuel, and feeling a little concerned about a low which was moving up from further south and a cold front which was moving east in the Gulf of Mexico (these are usually followed by strong northerlies which funnel through the Sierra Madre valleys out to the Pacific and become the much feared Tehuantepec/Papagallo type winds. By now we were about 40 miles offshore.
So in the words of my husbands beloved hero Captain Ron – ‘if its going to happen, its going to happen out there’, and my addition ‘at night’ – it did. At about 0200 hrs all hell broke loose and Tony was up on deck reefing down to our 3rd reef in the main, our little staysail and we were using our reefed mizzen to keep us up into the wind as much as possible.
We were not in a good situation – we had enough fuel to motor for about hours in normal conditions, not into 35 knots of wind and huge seas, and we were being pushed out to sea very fast, we were sailing overpowered, but had to keep the boat moving into the wind and we were about 80 miles from shore and still about 120 miles from Costa Rica. And the wind was getting stronger and the seas were building. And sleep was becoming very difficult. Its all very well to know that you have to sleep or you’ll just compound the problems, but sleep doesn’t come when you’re really scared. And I was really scared, a praying a lot.
By the morning of the 9th the conditions were very bad, and we had to come into shore as quickly as possible and as we couldn’t motor in the direction we wanted to go – ie Costa Rica, we headed north east, knowing we would lose all of the miles we had clawed our way into. The closest and only marina we could reach on that point of sail was in Nicaragua and that’s where we came to. We sailed until we were within motoring distance – the wind pummeled us until the last 2 hours offshore. We were coming in at about 2100 hours in the dark. When we were within hailing distance I called on the VHF and reached the owner of the Marina Puesta Del Sol who welcomed us, and told us that as the lights didn’t work on the channel markers they would come out in the launch to meet us and guide us in. Which they did.
We were soooo glad to reach this place. It’s a very quiet marina in an estuary surrounded by mangroves, a couple of very small fishing villages nearby. For more info on the marina see
The next morning the Customs, Immigration and Port Captain all came to our boat to fill out the necessary documents for us to be here. The Dockmaster, Dorian is an extremely personable, very well educated bilingual young man who has been so helpful to us; he stayed and translated for us, and as we were in the embarrassing situation of having no money, kindly lent the $30 immigration fees to us until we were able to get to a bank.

And apparently I was really meant to be here. Yesterday Tony and I took the bus into the closest town Chinandega, 20 miles away. We were the first passengers on the bus as it starts its route at the village by the marina, and when I sat down I gasped at what I saw in front of me – scratched into the back of the seat in front was my name Nancy. So with Twilight Zone music playing in my head most of the way to town we took in the sights and the incredible experience of being squashed into this bus, where old women and small children had to stand and hang on – where most people getting on were carrying a lot of stuff – sometimes great big sacks full of dripping fish, and the young wiry driver had to get out of the bus regularly to take some huge sack on his back and climb up a ladder to put in on the roof. The bus was also used as a delivery truck; we picked up milk urns left by the side of the road at a dairy and dropped them off a few miles on. The dairy seemed to be a commune project benefiting 15 families who all live and work there. We saw many signs (which of course I had difficulty understanding) but they seemed to show that the government or private organizations were working to help the people out of what looked like terrible poverty.

On the way to Chinandega we passed through a town called Viejo (see video), which was seething with people and skinny dogs, horses tied up outside a house on the sidewalk, bicycles everywhere, people walking on the road in front of taxis, buses cars and pedicabs all swerving everywhere – I was very glad to be on the bus. Having been on the bus for about an hour I felt less like a great big white gringo.
But when we got off the bus – we definitely stuck out. We were the only gringos in town – another teeming with people place – but not quite seething. Wherever we walked people stared at us. We found a bank machine which was essential as we had no money on us at all – we scrounged the 17 cordoba bus fare from fellow marina residents. The bank machines all have security guards. There are security guards everywhere.
We got on the bus at 7.30am, without time for breakfast so we were very hungry by the time we reached town at about 9.30am. We bought fried plantains and chicken drumsticks from one vendor, less than $2 for both us us (17 cordobas to the $1 Canadian). We bought cut water melon from another – 17 cents. As we stood around eating people looked at us perhaps to see if we ate the same way they did.
When we were standing on a very busy corner buying vegetables we had our only uncomfortable experience. A very aggressive beggar accosted us, first just asking for money then he started to grab at us, and as Tony was paying for our purchase he tried to grab at the money. The vendor was careful to keep him from getting it. Tony gave him a little change, which seemed to make things worse. Now he was grabbing at me and stroking my hair. We were surrounded by people who were all looking to see what we would do in this situation. We stayed cool and polite, and one of the men in the crowd pulled the beggar away from me, and we paid for our food and took off – walking fast – the beggar followed us for awhile calling after us, but because he was also crippled could not keep up.

We looked around the municipal market which was very dark and unsanitary – we didn’t buy anything there. And didn’t feel like we should be there.
We found a supermarket, where we couldn’t find much fresh fruit, so we stupidly paid over $4. per can for 2 cans of Delmonte fruit salad. Don’t buy gringo food. Lesson learned.

Once we were loaded with bags we decided to gat a taxi back to the marina – we were told it would cost about $20. As there were hundreds of cabs honking at us constantly we didn’t think this would be a problem. The first cab that stopped that had all of the appropriate signage to look legitimate, we asked the price to go to the marina before getting in – 300 cordobas. We thought that was good, about $17 so we got in and he drove for a couple of blocks before he changed his mind and told us that it would be another 300 for two people. We tried to negotiate him down a bit – at the most 400 cordobas, but he wouldn’t relent so we got out.
The next cab we got in was driven by a really nice young man called Paolo who played very basey, raunchy Nicaraguan rap music most of way, but was kind enough to stop from time so that I could take pictures. He even recognized photo opportunities I missed and stopped to show me. He told us a little about his country – showed us the sugar plantations which are very important here, told us where he lived, and was generally a super host. He drove us right to our dock ramp and kept to his negotiated price of 400 cordobas, so we gave him a good tip and thanked him very much.

Once back at the boat we went looking for beer at a Tienda (shop) closeby. We found it after a short walk up the dirt road but they had no beer. Should have bought it in the supermarket, but didn’t want to carry it home.

We decided to take a walk down to the outside beach, where the marina has a palapa with a pool and bar by the beach. As it was too difficult for the security guard to give us directions, a young woman Judy who works at the hotel said she would take us. Another great interaction – Judy lives nearby, she is a proud young woman who politely asked questions of us and answered those we asked. We laughed a lot at our common inability to speak each other’s language, but got by. She walked us to the palapa and left us there.

That’s where we met Graham and his family, possibly the only guests in the hotel right now. Graham is a mining engineer who used to be from Kitsilano but now lives in Managua, Nicaragua where he is involved in gold mining. He’s fluent in Spanish and is married to a beautiful woman from Peru. Funny eh! The only other people in an almost deserted hotel, definitely the only people at the palapa and he is from Kitsilano, Vancouver. As they say – small world.
It’s now Monday the 12 of jan and time to think about moving on. The weather looks to be building again by the end of the week so we need to be down in Costa Rica by then. We hope the officials will be back here today so we can clear out and get our zarpe for the next country. The next leg will only take a couple of day’s. We plan on staying fairly close in this time as the seas will be more comfortable. The next stop will be Playa del Coco

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Huatulco, our last stop in Mexico

New Years Eve in Huatulco and Leaving Huatulco

Its easy to see why people stay in places they visit, especially if their future plans are a bit blurry. We really got to know some of our neighbours in the Chahue Marina and became very fond of them. Fernando, Delphin and their twin sons, Pablo and Adienne are a lovely family from Mexico City. They came out to spend their Christmas holiday on their boat Santa Lucia – every time I saw the boat I started to sing the song of the same name which we have recorded by Mario Lanza. After Tony installed our spare speakers in our cockpit we cranked up the song and asked the whole family and their visitors to stop what they were doing and listen. They were very happy to hear the song and Fernando’s mother knew a lot about Mario Lanza, an opera singer (tenor) who my mother adored.
We took Pablo and Adienne snorkeling with us one day, we went out to a reef and anchored the dinghy. The water was a bit wild and made me a bit nervous, and as always took on the role of mother protector of their two 15 year old boys, but Tony knows better how to treat young men and he taught them how to free dive, clearing their noses and masks etc. They had a good time snorkeling and we got a fix of children, who we really miss, we would love to have been spending that time with our own children, but as stand-ins these two boys were great company.
And continued to be – Tony invited them over to watch Captain Ron with him while I spent time on the computer. They have a pretty good command of the English language, as well as French (their mother Delphin is French) so they understood the humour well.
A couple of new boats came onto our dock, Pursuit II, recently owned by Gary from Ontario, who bought the boat in the Sea of Cortez and then took sailing lessons. I guess the lessons worked because he sailed it down to Huatulco. He had crew onboard, a guy called Chris from Florida, who interestingly took cover when photographs were being taken at the New Years Eve/Tony’s Birthday Party.
A Nordic Tug style boat came in too which a Panamanian flag. I was keen to meet these people as we were sure to learn something about Panama from them. We didn’t meet them until the next day when I was working on cleaning the deck and a gentleman in a muscle t-shirt and a Captain’s Hat came up and introduced himself. He told me in a strange accent – which of course I thought must be what they talk like in Panama – that he and his wife would like to ‘get closer’ to us – which I think meant they would like to get to know us – and would like to invite us over some time soon to meet them both.
When I said that I was so please to meet someone from Panama, he laughed and said “Oh no, I am not from Panama, just my boat – I am Nikolai and I am Russian”.
I laughed and apologized for so foolishly thinking he was from Panama, and in my head said “Of course you’re Russian, why not meet a Russian with a Panamanian boat in Huatulco, Mexico”.
We did actually go over to their boat with a few other friends, and were very quickly given a glass of wine which we had to drink in 15 minutes flat as they had a plane to catch. The other Russian gentleman who was driving them to the airport is called Sergie, said with a Russian accent, and is a chain smoking concert violinist who now resides in Huatulco – again – I say – Of course, why not.

We spent New Year’s Eve and Tony’s 50th birthday with the same friends, hosting a party on our dock and around and on our boat. It was a little tame by some of Tony’s other birthday party standards, but it was very enjoyable. I have found that the friendships that we form with the many new people we meet along the way fuse fast – or they don’t fuse. We know that just as we genuinely care about the well-being of these friends, likewise they care about us. Plus we like to have fun together.