[050502; 1809 UTC,
Anchored off Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador
N 13 degrees 18.2/W 088 degrees 53.9]
We are now safely inside the bar and anchored off of Bahia Del Sol, having crossed on Monday morning May 2, 2005 at slack high tide.
And, before we forget, we are excited to tell you that our animal visitor Sunday morning at dawn wasn’t a sloth or anteater but was actually a water opossum, the only marsupial adapted to the aquatic environment (its pouch can be made water tight to protect babies while the opossum is swimming). Native to the Americas south to Paraguay and scientifically named, Chironectes minimus, it has also been called a yapock—from the Oyapock River in Guyana. We’re thrilled to have seen this creature but unfortunately couldn’t take a picture because our digital camera is not functioning properly.
On a sad note, the body of the second man who was swimming the day we took Alex aboard Carina (see our last passage note) was sighted by friends on Indigo Moth about ten miles west of here as they were approaching Bahia Del Sol. The Salvadoran Coast Guard was dispatched to retrieve his body. We had held out hope that perhaps he’d made it back safely but that we just hadn’t received the news. We also learned that there may have been a second, younger brother who went into the water that day and who remains missing. The currents on this coast are very dangerous.
The crossing of the river bar was intense, though Philip, the white water river rat that he is, thought after we were across that it was “fun”. He can say this because he didn’t have to watch as towering waves came roaring at Carina’s stern as we powered full throttle over the short but dangerous bar. Here’s a description of the day:
On Monday May 2, 2005 we again rose at 5:30 am to prepare our boat for possibly crossing over the bar into the estuary at Bahia del Sol. We had already stripped most everything off of the pushpit or stern rail but we kept walking the boat and lashing and securing everything in site. (One lesson learned by our friends who were knocked down during their bar crossing was to close sink drains. Their knockdown was so violent that it shot water up through their sinks and into their cabin.) We also duct taped the “gutters” around the lazarettes that can be flooded easily and also the seams around the companionway slats. At 8 am we began to talk with Colette, a Canadian, who along with her husband Murray and the owner of the hotel, Marco, would act as pilots.
Watching the large waves hit the bar as we had for a day and a half, and seeing and listening on the radio as friends Denis and Michele of Aquastrian were violently knocked down, produced significant anxiety in both of us. Before our crossing, we were constantly up and down, in and out of the boat, tweaking this and that, while always watching, watching and tidying nervously as we waited for the calming pilot’s voice on the radio. The swells this day were coming in sets of six and were passing under us producing a change in depth of 4-5 feet. When these big guys hit the bar they often completely filled the opening with white water while spray shot into the air to a height of 20 feet or more. We were unsure that there would be intervals of calm long enough to make the crossing, the situation that prevented our crossing on Sunday morning.
By 8:30 am Carina’s anchor was up and lashed securely and we began to circle around talking with the pilots who were in a big, fast motor catamaran on the other side of the bar. They talked with us as they timed the wave sets and studied the waves, building our confidence as they explained how they were studying the bar and wouldn’t give us the go ahead unless THEY were confident of the possibility of an uneventful passage. Colette kept advising us as we circled, “Turn out and go east”, “Try to slow down and maintain this position but be aware of the current dragging you towards the waves”, “Do not get inside a depth of 27’ until we tell you” and finally “Turn in and come at us as fast as you possibly can” followed by “Keep coming, keep coming, you are doing fine” and “Throttle back and let that wave come under you” and finally, “You are inside the bar but keep coming straight towards us”. Even despite their coaching we had a some tense moments as we began to shoot down the front side of a couple of large waves, surfing and nearly losing control until we were able to throttle back and slide down the back side of these waves. In fact, George, a friend and surfer from Claire de Lune who was watching, wanted to give Philip the award for the longest surf of the fleet! Jake was unfazed by the whole affair but a little indignant about being duct taped below decks.
Once anchored off the navy pier west of the hotel in the estuary where currents run frightfully swift, we spent the rest of the day winding down, checking in with the hotel (it’s $10 per week to use their facilities, pools and dinghy dock) and making contact and sharing hugs with friends who preceded us here. Dugout canoes, traditional and valuable to families living amongst the many islands and up river, come by many times a day, often carrying an entire family and baskets full of supplies. Mangos, figs and cashew trees are everywhere on shore. We haven't ventured too far yet, but went out a couple of nights back to a local place and had pupusas a traditional Salvadorian food that is served with the curtido topping (pickled cabbage and carrots). Four big pupusas (corn or rice flour thick, pancake-like cakes filled with cheese, frijoles or pork, or the "todo" meaning all of the above), a beer and a diet coke for $2.90 US. A turkey sat on the wall overlooking us, while kids (American and Salvadoran) swung in a hammock and fought to cuddle a very tolerant orange tabby kitten.
That same night we had a wonderful squall that brought 30 knot winds, pouring rain and cool air. It was glorious except that it drove us out of the cockpit where it's most comfortable to sleep. Unfortunately we didn't have our rain catchment system together yet, and now that it is finished, it hasn't rained significantly here though we have seen storms passing north of us each evening and are sure we’ll get a drenching soon. We’re still a few weeks away from the official start of the rainy season, so consistent afternoon squalls haven’t yet begun to occur.
Tomorrow it's off on a river tour in a panga (driven by Amadeo and his son Ricardo) to visit a rural village and school and a “stick” restaurant that serves fish and is built of small wooden tree trunks over the river and run by a family, Manuel and Maria and their children Lorraina, Edith and Reina (“rayna”, meaning queen in Spanish). On Saturdays we are told there is a traditional market day at La Herradura (the nearest town approximately six miles up the estuary to our west where most nautical charts still show the bar to be) and we may go there with a convoy of dinghies seeking fresh supplies and a bit of local culture.
We’re still contemplating a trip into Guatemala and will be exploring that possibility along with traveling to San Salvador for a few hard to find items where we are promised a thoroughly modern city with all things American (and American pricing). While there we’ll try very hard to avoid designer stores and chain restaurants but will take advantage of supplies we are unable to obtain here on the rural coast. The ride to San Salvador by taxi ($50 for the day) is approximately an hour and a half and climbs through scenic mountain passes on a highway frequently traversed by farm animals, so the ride alone sounds like an interesting outing.
Sus amigos del velero Carina,
Philip, Leslie & Jake the cat
lying at anchor outside Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador