After a day of rest and enjoying the pool at Marina Bahia del Sol it was time to makes some plans for our time here. The first order of business was to meet up with other cruisers at Bill and Jean’s place. Bill and Jean were cruisers who fell in love with El Salvador and Bahia del Sol. They sold their boat and bought a house on the island in the estuary and are the cruiser’s ambassadors for the area. From here we all headed off to the “restaurant” for pupusas, El Salvador’s national food. It’s a corn or rice flour flatbread stuffed with cheese, ground pork and refried beans in any combination. Not likely to become a staple on Stray Cat.
Rick, the captain of Pilialoha, is fluent in Spanish. He organized a tour to San Salvador, the capital city, for our group of three boats. We hired a van and Rick translated for us as we checked out the Palacio National (National Palace), Metropolitan Cathedral, the Church of the Rosary and the obligatory central square.
The Church of the Rosary is a bit strange looking from the outside but once inside you find that the exterior holds amazing stained glass that creates an incredible effect on the interior.
We had a very nice lunch at Linda Vista, a restaurant within the Volcatenango Theme Park. We were amongst beautiful gardens and had an amazing view of the city. We then hiked up the volcano at Parque el Boqueron. By hiking up I mean we drove to the parking area and walked the last 100 meters up to the rim of the crater, but 6000 feet up is a big deal for people who spend their lives at sea level.
The next tour took our group inland to visit 3 quaint towns Ataco, Apaneca and Salcoatitan. More town squares and more churches. Apaneca had a cool church in the Spanish style but with a wood panel ceiling. It was built in 2017 after the original was destroyed by an earthquake. Old looking but modern. The tour took us through a lot of the countryside so we could see the coffee plants, other flora and volcanos. We stopped and had a great lunch in another garden setting restaurant.
Checking in and out of a country is different every time. The marina in El Salvador has a customs office right there. It is not manned so advance notice is required. We just let them know 26 hours before our departure. 24 hours’ notice and a 2-hour allowance for the paperwork. I say that somewhat in jest, but we need customs to clear us out of the country with passports and the Port Captain to examine the boat documents and crew list to issue an exit Zarpe ($40 US). Most of this is done by hand with the customs agent, only typing in our passport number into a computer. It’s not complicated, it just takes time.
The thing about crossing a bar to get into a port is that you must cross it to get out. That needed to be timed as well. Bill let us know when there was a high slack tide with the lowest forecasted swell and once again he guided us out safely. We were again faced with a challenging section of coastline. 250 miles along El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua crossing the notorious Gulf of Papagayo. You will remember in the last blog we discussed the advances in modern weather forecasting and all its benefits. Well sometimes you must take the best of the worst options. Getting out across the bar meant we were going to be faced with some stronger winds and rougher water than we would normally like. It was this or wait out even worse forecasts for who knows how long. The Papagayo winds are known to be strong from December – March. Time to put on the big boy Captain’s hat.
We made it to Bahia Santa Elena in Costa Rica. From what we can tell we had a relatively easy crossing to this point. We only saw 10 ft waves and winds gusting to 30 knots mixed in with real nice sailing for 50 hours. We had 2 nights in Bahia Santa Elena to rest and recover then a 50 mile hop down to Playa del Coco where we checked in and cleared customs in Costa Rica.
The three boats checked all our available weather information and made a collective decision to depart the following morning at 4 AM. Based on the best information we had this would limit our exposure to any real nasty weather. We have discovered why weather information is referred to as predictions and not promises. We got slammed! What was supposed to be 15 to 20 knot winds with gusts into the low 30’s, we received consistent 30 plus knot winds with gusts into the 40’s. Our highest wind speed recording was 46.7, a record for us. Stella Blue recorded a 50-knot gust. Waves quickly grew to 15 feet with the tops breaking off and saltwater spray in the air. We would have pictures, but we were too busy hanging on.
We were 10 miles from Playa del Coco when things finally settled down to a nice 20 knots with low 30 knot gusts and 8-foot waves. We thought we had it beat until one of the blocks used to raise and hold the dinghy up on the davits broke. With a loud bang the stern of the dinghy was hanging in the water. We quickly had to lower the bow, so the boat was flat and floating in the water, then get into the dinghy and rig up a way to tow it. With some luck, ingenuity and coarse language we secured the dinghy then slowly towed it with us hoping the wind and waves did not flip it. Overall, the crew figures if 10 is puking this run rates about a 8. Other than the dinghy episode the boat handled the tough conditions just fine. She needs a bath as there is dried salt spray residue on everything. It’s like living inside a bag of potato chips.
As noted earlier checking in and out of countries is different each time. We had two choices – pay an agent $500 to do the paperwork or do it ourselves. We chose to do it ourselves. The first stop was the Police Station to meet with the Immigration Officer and get us into the country. The second stop was to the Port Captain to get the boat into the country. The final stop required a trip to the airport to meet with the customs agents to get the Temporary Import permit for the boat. We were very fortunate that our friends on the boat Ramble on Rose had a rental car and volunteered to drive us to the airport to get this part done. We survived the Papagayo, we are checked in now its time to see what Costa Rica has to offer.