Update # 18 – The Gulf of Tehuantapec

Written at sea, off El Salvador 13 06.671N 89 05.36W]

Greetings all!

Our plan has been to stop at Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala, followed by the Barillas Marina Club in El Salvador, and then into Costa Rica. However, as Roberta and I look at the calendar, we’re starting to run out of time. We don’t have to wrap up our trip until April 18th, but we are trying to reserve a full month just for exploring Costa Rica. After a bit of discussion we made the decision to bypass Guatemala completely and go directly from Huatulco Mexico, across the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and into El Salvador.

Trip planning was a frustrating experience. Overall, our run from Huatulco to El Salvador would be around 530 nautical miles (nm). Unfortunately though, it isn’t that easy. The Barillas Marina Club is 10 miles back a river, and we need to be guided in by a “pilot boat.” The entrance to the river is not easy to find. There is a narrow channel surrounded by breaking waves, which moves as the sand is shifted by the waves. To help us navigate the entrance and guide us up the river, we will be following a pilot boat which will be sent out to us by the marina.

Sans Souci generally cruises around 9.5 nautical miles per hour. Excuse the boring math, but to go 530 miles at 9.5 knots requires 56 hours, or two days and eight hours. In other words, if we leave Huatulco at noon, we will arrive at 8pm two days later. This doesn’t work. The pilot boat is only available from 7am to 4pm, so we need to arrive during these hours. In other words, leaving at noon, and traveling at 9.5 knots, does not work. We need to arrive at a time when the pilot boat can meet us. Actually, it gets a fair amount more complicated.

Between Huatulco and El Salvador, we must cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec. This is a 250 mile wide, by 100 mile deep bay. The Tehuantepec has a well-founded nasty reputation. In the Rain’s Mexico Boating Guide, they introduce their discussion of Tehuantepec with this paragraph:

“The Gulf of Tehuantepec is infamous for Force 8 gales of North wind called Tehuantepeckers, or t-peckers. […] Even Coastal freighters caught off shore when a T-Peck gale starts have been blown 200 miles further out by 60 knot sustained winds into seas 25’ and higher. Some break windows, hatches and rigging. Many have capsized and sunk.”

The Gulf of Tehuantepec is uniquely positioned, such that the isthmus (the land) separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific ocean is very narrow and low. When the conditions are right for a T-pecker, which is about 200 days a year, the gulf acts as a wind tunnel, and you don’t want to be caught at sea. To safely transit the Gulf of Tehuantepec, there are three strategies:

1) Wait for a perfect weather forecast and scoot straight across the center of the gulf (this trims nearly 50 miles off the passage)

2) One foot on the beach. To do this you run the coast of the gulf, in 30 to 60 feet of water. This allows the winds from the north to pass over you, and you are close enough to the beach that the winds (coming from the north) won’t have had time to stir up waves.

3) 5-10 miles off the beach. This approach puts you far enough off the beach that, if you are surprised by a T-pecker, you can hopefully turn towards shore and start hugging the beach within an hour. This technique gives a simpler to navigate, and smoother, ride, but puts you at some risk. If a T-pecker arises, that one hour to the beach, may become much tougher than it sounds.

In our case, we had a forecast for a narrow window, of one to two days of calm weather in the gulf. We actually wanted to stay longer in Huatulco, but the forecast was that when the T-pecker started, it would blow for several days. In other words, we had to go now, or perhaps wait a week.

Several people, including Enrique, the Harbormaster at the Huatulco Marina, gave me advice to scoot straight across the gulf, but I never took this seriously. I have spoken with many cruisers who convinced themselves they had a safe weather window, only to be beaten up by a surprise T-pecker. Roberta not only agreed, but said that had I made the decision to cut straight across, she would have had to pull rank on me. We decided to make the decision on the fly, pursuing option 3 to semi-hug the coast, five miles off shore, if all looked well, or hug the beach tight if the wind was kicking up.

So, to return to my original discussion, about computing our start time, I knew that we had the uncertainties of the Tehuantepec to deal with. Our exact route was going to vary according to the sea conditions and wind.

The uncertainties in our exact route are not nearly as big a factor as the uncertainty surrounding the current. To really know our speed I need to know whether or not the surrounding water will be flowing the same direction as us, or against us. On most of our trip south we’ve had a significant, 1 or 2 knot, current going with us. Although Sans Souci’s maximum speed is 10.6 knots, we were seeing speeds over 11 knots on the run to Ixtapa, even at lower RPMs. This caused us to arrive at Ixtapa in the dark, and have to circle for hours in order to pass the time. At home, in the Pacific NW, I wouldn’t think of traveling without a current guide. Here, there is no information available, or, I don’t know where to find it. I asked Enrique, the Harbormaster at Huatulco, about currents in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and he said that the current would be with us (speeding us up). This was good news. We would want around the Gulf of Tehuantepec as quickly as possible.

Given all the uncertainties about the speed we’d be traveling, we set our departure time as 4am. This would put us into El Salvador around 2pm, assuming we could average a conservative 9 knots. Leaving a port in the dark is not something I normally like to do, but it is better than arriving in the dark. You have the opportunity to look things over in the daytime and plan your departure route.

Our departure went without incident. Once outside the breakwater, at the entrance to the marina, we followed the little red line on Nobeltec, that showed our arrival route, out to deeper water. For those not familiar with this, our navigation program, Nobeltec, traces a red line on the chart showing where we’ve been. One of the readers of my blog sent me an email with the hint that this line can be used as a guide when departing at night. It allows you to exactly retrace your steps, with the assumption that if you were there before, it is probably ok to be there again.

In this picture you see a red line, which represents our actual track, and a black line showing our planned route. Note the lack of detail, and that it shows us sitting on land while in port. The poor charts here are frustrating.

Once leaving the port we were into the Gulf of Tehuantepec within an hour. As we turned, we noted our speed: 5.6 knots. Jeff and I were on the bridge, and trying to decide if we had somehow sucked a net into the props, or if we were battling one heck of a current. The good news was that the seas were relatively calm, but at 5.6 knots we’d be in the Gulf for a long time. Pushing up the RPM only took us to 7 knots. I suggested making a 90 degree turn to starboard, just to see what would happen to our speed. We gave it a try, and within seconds we were at 10 knots. This told us that we were indeed fighting a current, of 2 or more knots. Ouch. There went our carefully thought out plan.
 
There were no other boats on the radar. I mean zero boats. We zoomed the radar out to 48 miles, and still didn’t see anyone. We assumed it would pick up as we neared daylight, but it didn’t. This started us wondering if perhaps some notice had gone out that the Tehuantepec was about to have a bad day, and everyone received the notice except us. We were near a port (Salina Cruz) so I tried to raise them on the radio, but they didn’t respond. I then tried calling them on the sat phone. They did answer, but the girl who answered didn’t speak a word of English. We have a good weather router, so I wasn’t really worried, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe. I decided to call the port captain’s office in Huatulco. When we were there, the lady at the desk spoke good English. I was in luck! She answered, and I asked if the port was closed. When we had been in the office yesterday, they had completely closed the port due to excess swell and wind. She said “The port is open.” I asked what report she had on the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and she said “The Gulf is closed due to high winds. The winds are at 37 knots, gusting to 66 knots.” Ouch. This was not what I wanted to hear. We were in the gulf, but against the edge, and not seeing much wind. I thanked her, and decided it was time to jump on the internet for newer information. Everything I could find indicated calm seas in the Tehuantepec, and we were seeing calm seas out the window. There is an anchorage at Salina Cruz. I’ve heard it is not good, but we had it as a backup if needed. Jeff Sanson, who was with me on the bridge said that he had heard that VHF channel 06 would give weather reports. We turned on Channel 6 and listened for a while, without success. As a last resort I picked up the mike and said “This is Sans Souci seeking weather conditions in the Gulf of Tehuantepec.” A voice came back in English and said “This is Tehuantepec Marine Weather. The Gulf will be calm today, with 5 to 10 knot south winds.” I asked again just to be certain, and received the same response. Yay!!!! We had a “green light”.

Here you see the course we ran around the Tehuantepec:


As you can see, we ran very tight to the beach at first, and then allowed ourselves to drift farther out as we gained confidence in the conditions. We never saw winds above 10 knots, and had an amazingly smooth trip.

Our speed was an issue. We were pushing the boat hard, but averaged under 8 knots until we started exiting the gulf, and our speed started creeping towards 8.5 knots. Nobeltec has a feature which gives you the arrival time based on a given speed. We were on track for a 9pm arrival, which would be impossible. We needed to arrive by 4pm. Roberta, Jeff and I discussed what we should do. We had two choices: speed up or slow down. To arrive by 4pm we needed to average 9 knots for the back half of our voyage, or, to slow down and arrive at daylight the following day we needed to drop to 6.5 knots. It was decision time. We decided that the current in the Gulf was an anomaly and that as soon as we exited on the other side the current was going to stop and we’d be able to speed up.

This did seem to be true. On exiting the gulf our speed started rising: 8.5 knots, 9 knots, 9.1 knots, even 9.5 knots. I felt like Capt. Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise begging Scotty, down in the engine room, for just one more tenth of a knot of speed. The current wasn’t disappearing completely. My guess is that we saw 2 to 3 knots of adverse current in the gulf, and 1.5 knots outside the gulf. To overcome the adverse current we decided to push it and run at high rpm.

I normally cruise at about 1275 rpm, getting 9 to 9.5 knots. We pushed it to 1500 rpm, which would normally be our maximum speed of 10.6 knots. In this case, all we could do was fluctuate between 8.8 and 9.5 knots. I wanted more, but this would be fine.

However, the combination of high water temperature and high rpm were translating into engine room heat. The water temp was now at 85 degrees! Our engine room generally runs 120 degrees, but was now running 135 degrees. The lazarette houses the batteries and the inverters. The inverters are supposed to be kept under 95 degrees, but were reading 105 degrees. Jeff turned on the air conditioning in the lazarette, and it worked! The temperature dropped immediately. We tried the a/c for the engine room, and to my surprise, it did cool the engine room down, but this solution left no cooling for us, and that wouldn’t be acceptable. I did keep a little a/c going in the engine room, which was bringing the temp down to 132, which was better, but far from good. The engines were also running warmer than I had seen them. The normal engine temperature is 179, and I’ve seen 181, but we were now looking at 189. I have since spoken with Nordhavn, and all of these temperatures are acceptable, and to be expected, given the high water temperature, but I still wanted to do what I could to bring them down.

One area we decided to tackle was the fuel itself. Diesel engines do not burn 100% of the fuel they are fed. A percentage of the fuel, I think around 30%, passes through the engine, but is then returned, unused, to the fuel tank. On Sans Souci, we have a series of valves which allow us to control which tank we consume fuel from, and where to put back the fuel which is sent to the engines, but not burned. When I took delivery of the boat, the “returned fuel” was set to go to a small 80 gallon “supply tank” which is the primary tank that feeds the main engines. I measured the temperature on this supply tank, and it was at 151 degrees. In other words, we were feeding hot fuel to the engine, and getting it back even hotter. Generally, my rule under way is “don’t mess with anything until we get to port.” In this case, we wanted to cool down the fuel, so after Jeff and I triple checked ourselves a few times, we flipped the valves to feed the fuel to the starboard tank. Our fear wasn’t that we didn’t understand the valves. Our fear was that perhaps the valves might be labeled incorrectly or not work. This is a new boat, and it is unlikely, but not impossible, that someone mislabeled a valve. Were there an error we could easily pump fuel overboard, or into the bilge. Once we flipped the valves, all seemed good, but we still used the heat gun to try to trace the movement of the hot fuel – so that we could verify it was going to the right place. It worked! The supply tank dropped quickly to 125 degrees, and the engines to 183 to 185 degrees. Much better.

I had assumed we would start seeing boats again once we exited the gulf. We had been a day and a half running alone. Actually, I had mixed emotions on this. I either wanted to see no boats, or a reasonable number of boats. What I really didn’t want to see was one single approaching boat, with no one else around, which is of course exactly what happened. Off the coast of Guatemala, we observed a boat on radar, moving at 17 knots, that would pass closely in front of us, moving right to left. We were running 25 miles off shore at the time. Roberta and I watched the boat on the radar, and constantly stepped outside to look for it in the binoculars. As it approached, we observed that it was unlit. There was no moon, so we were never able to see the boat, but it passed within a mile in front of us, never slowed down, and kept on going.

A bit later, Roberta and I saw another small boat on the radar. It was a weak signal, so I wasn’t 100% certain it was there. It wasn’t moving, and we were on track to hit it. I’ve heard about pangas floating at night in these waters, and have been running the night vision camera non-stop so that we might be able to see one, just in case the radar couldn’t pick it up. In this case, we shifted course to pass about a quarter mile to starboard of the target, and looked for it with the binoculars and night vision. It was clearly showing on the radar, but otherwise invisible. I was disappointed that the night vision camera wasn’t picking it up. As we passed it, and were deciding the target really wasn’t there, it turned on its lights! It was indeed an unlit panga with sleeping fisherman. We had woken them up, and easily could have hit them! They immediately started their engine and started driving away. As we watched them go, I was happy to see that they were still easily visible from nearly five miles away. Why these guys would think it is safe to sleep on an unlit panga, 25 miles out to sea, I don’t know.

Off Guatemala, we were passed by one freighter, and a couple shrimp boats, but our only other radar contact was an AIS target which seemed to be approaching us from behind. It wasn’t close enough that we could get its’ information, and as we reached the El Salvador border, it stopped. Strangely, it turned off its AIS transmitter. Our guess is that it was Guatemalan military checking us out, but we do not know.

On the positive side, our speed was holding. We were averaging 9.3 knots, and would be arriving in El Salvador ahead of plan, at 2pm. The only cloud on the horizon was – “the clouds on the horizon.” From time to time, we zoom out the radar and look at land, just to reassure ourselves that it is where we think it is. As we were approaching El Salvador, I did this, and noticed that the land seemed to be 10 miles closer than expected. After a few seconds of confusion I realized I was looking at a squall (a thick burst of rain and clouds) which was heading our way. The squall wouldn’t be a problem, but squalls tend to confuse the radar. I don’t like running blind.

In this radar picture you see the squall sitting slightly in front of us.

Although there were squalls around, we never actually encountered one. The sun came up, and life is good! Here you see Karl and Kirt driving from the top deck. When life is good on Sans Souci, it is VERY good.

And, the good news doesn’t stop there. For months I’ve been trying to procure a reservation at the Los Suenos Marina in Costa Rica. Los Suenos is alleged to be the best marina in Central America. Both Jeff and I have been working every connection we can to get us in. Finally, we received the news that a slip will be waiting for us. As I was giving the great news to everyone, Kirt mentioned that he had been there several times. I asked if it was as great as I’ve heard, and he said “Well yes, and no. It depends on what you like. It’s very modern, and very fancy. It just seems a long way to go to get to something that looks a lot like home.” His comment aside, my guess that by the time we cross El Salvador and Nicaragua, a little luxury will sound pretty darn good.

My next update should be interesting. The approach to Marina Club Barillas is “unusual” and I’ll be able to report on a side-trip Roberta and I plan to Antigua….

Until next time!

Ken Williams
Sans Souci www.kensblog.com

PS Make sure you read the last “Email”. It’s not really an email to me, I’m just passing along a message that a friend posted on the Passagemaking Under Power message board. I found it quite stimulating, and suspect you also will.
 

Email (I enjoy reading your mail. Write me at: kenw @ seanet.com) – my responses preceded by “+++”.


Ken,

Are your problems with the A/C and the electrical system due to your vessel’s being #1? Maybe you should have Arild visit you there or when the boat gets to BC?

Ron R

+++ Yes and no. Our boat is actually the fifth in Nordhavn’s 64 series, and the systems (electrical, plumbing, etc) are a combination of those used by their 64 series and 76 series boats. We’re somewhat the first of a new series (the 68), but not really. We are the first to use the particular air conditioners that are on our boat. They are a new model from Cruisair (the TWC36C) and are the root of many other problems. The chillers tend to draw an extreme amount of electricity when they cycle on or off, and cause problems elsewhere in the electrical system. Nordhavn has been great to work with on this, and we temporarily solved the problem by stopping the chillers from cycling. We deliberately keep them overloaded so that they never turn off. This avoids the sudden current drain when they turn on. This is not a permanent solution, but will get us through the rest of the trip. On our next run, to Alaska, air conditioning will not be a factor. Ultimately, Cruisair needs to either make these chillers work, or replace them with chillers that will work. Cruisair has a solid reputation, and I am confident that they will stand behind their product.

+++ Overall, I’m constantly amazed by how few problems we’ve had. Even though Sans Souci is only six months old, we’ve already run nearly 5,000 miles, most in open ocean. In that time, we’ve experienced no serious mechanical problems. We have had problems with things like the air conditioning, and our international power adapter (the Atlas), but these are not mission critical items. Fortunately, the true show-stopping items, such as the engines, transmissions, barbecue, and of course: the toilets, have performed flawlessly.


Ken,

Many thanks for your cruising updates. I am enjoying your common sense and twists at problem solving.

Somehow I missed the update where you talked about running your vessel for an extended period one engine to save fuel but here are a couple of my thoughts based on many years at sea and over the drawing board:
A free wheeling prop will induce less drag than a stationary one.
A “trailing pump” is offered as an option by most gear manufacturers to provide lubrication to the gear while the output shaft freewheels. Oil cooling is not required as the friction generated in the gear is very low.
Thanks for the updates!
Enjoy life. Best regards,
Dick M


+++ Thank you! That said, I can’t take credit for the good things that are happening on Sans Souci. Roberta and Jeff are the real brains behind the operation of Sans Souci, as are Karl and Kirt. The readers of my blog have also played a very important role, and each email I open is a learning experience.

+++ I have never heard of a “trailing pump”. This sounds like a perfect solution, and something I hope to install.

+++ If ever you miss an update, just visit my website: http://www.kensblog.com and click on the word BLOG in the left hand menu. All updates are there!

 

Ken,

Wanted to let you know (reading your part about searching for a fitting) i am a Mechanical Project Engineer and have alot of access to parts and pieces related to pipe, hoses, fittings and such,, should you ever be stuck in a third world country and need assistance chasing down a part of piece and getting it shipped to you priority , just give me a shout via email xx@xxx.com or cell 4xx-xxx-xxxx will be glad to ship you anything you need that i can find for you.

Have a great cruise! Jim

+++ Jim: Thank you! I may take you up on that some day. For now, I use a service: Seakits (www.seakits.com), which I can’t say enough good things about. They have all of the manuals for my boat stored in their files, and whenever I need parts I just email them. They are geniuses at getting parts through customs, and have worked miracles. I received parts from them in Barra, that I was convinced would never make it across the border. They are working now on putting together some supplies that they will send to Los Suenos.

Hi Ken ,

I read the discussion about extending the range of your boat.

I think the easiest and cheapest solution would be to lock one shaft and run one engine at near full power. You should burn 20-25% less fuel and lose say 1,5 knots. I had a similar discussion with a yard in Malta that always recommends that option when crossing an ocean in calm seas. The lock should be easy to unlock in case you need the extra power or for other reason you need to switch in a rough sea. If you try that, you should test if the autopilot and rudder hydraulics can cope with 20-25% constant angle and extended pressure. Even if you should convert one of the props to variable pitch, the rudder will still run at an angle and be pressured, since the driving force will be off-center in any case. If you run both engines at the same “low rev” you risk damaging both engines at the same time, which will put you at great risk. Better run “both” engines at “1000 RPM” for say 50% of the time, i.e. half hour 80% power and half hour 1000rpm. You should talk to Lugger about this and try doing the numbers and see how much it would extend your range. A wild guess 10% ?! If that would be viable I think the boat will perform much more balanced than running one engine off center, but only if Lugger can assure you.

Have you discussed with Jeff the possibility to fitting two extra small tanks somewhere in the boat, I assume it has to be placed low. This option I think will be expensive but probably the best one. I think when they designed the hull, the tanks were sized with one engine in mind. Another option could be to use the water tank for fuel and install a smaller water tank where space permits.

I am interested to hear your thought about this ,

Dan

+++ Dan: I did speak with Lugger and Nordhavn, and summarized my thoughts in this document.

+++ The following message was posted on the Passagemaking Under Power message board, by Scott Bulger. Scott is on Aluani, a Nordhavn 40, traveling along the same coast as us, about two weeks in front of us. I’m reposting his posting here, with his permission.

They say the definition of cruising is either:

a. Working on boats in exotic locations, or

b. Long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror

Well I guess it was inevitable. We finally had one of those terrifying experiences that no one wants to have. We were attempting to enter the channel to Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua. We had left Barillas marina in El Salvador and traveled 11 hours to arrive 1 hour before sunset. We had had a good crossing, a bit more bouncy than most of the trip as the seas were mostly on our bow, but not bad by any measurement. I’d read the Rains guide over and over about entering the channel and felt fully prepared for arrival. I had the marina provided waypoints entered on both chart plotters. The boat, having recently been prepared to cross the Tehuantepec, was as sea shape as she’d ever been.

I began to get concerned when I noticed on my RADAR that I was actually seeing breaking waves along the entire shoreline, something I"d previously not been able to tune my RADAR to observe so crisply. I wondered if I’d gotten better at tuning or if these waves were showing up because they were so large? At sea we weren’t feeling any significant rollers, really nothing more than a few feet. However, as we closed on the sea buoy and began our approach (about 2 miles out) I became increasingly aware and concerned about a series of rollers that would pass under us every 4 or 5 minutes. They were in sets of 3 or 4 and were SUBSTANTIALLY larger than the surrounding seas. I’d been hailing the marina for at least 30 minutes but only getting sporadic response. They were sending a panga to meet us and I was trying to keep an eye out for him. I made certain we were on the approach as described in the guide, and by the marina manager. As I observed the large rollers passing under the boat I started to become really concerned when it appeared to me that they were breaking across the entire shoreline, including in the channel entrance, which we believed we were approaching.

I asked my wife to join me on the bridge so she could spot the waves behind us. We reached a point where if the channel didn’t become obvious I was going to turn back out to sea. Then a set of rollers arrived. As I looked back and saw the wave standing up and beginning to steepen I realized it was time to abort. Each second the wave was getting steeper and steeper and I realized we were going have a problem. I didn’t know if the boat would accelerate and start surfing, but I knew this was going to be an experience unlike anything we had ever had. I guess a 40,000 lbs trawler doesn’t surf well because as the wave arrived the nose buried and the stern started moving to the port, it was then I knew we were going to broach. The boat began to heel with the face of the wave and the stern swung parallel to the wave. We ended up about 45 degrees to the horizon as the wave peaked and we started down the backside. As the boat heeled the noise inside was dramatic as the contents of every locker and container shifted. Fortunately only a pair of binoculars and a compass were tossed loose as everything else in the cabin was secure. The righting moment of the boat was fantastic, it snapped right back into shape and I spun the wheel to continue the momentum of the broach to head back out to sea. Thanks to the Edson speed knob the turn was rapid as I added full power. We moved quickly ahead to face the oncoming waves and climbed up and over them returning to safe water within seconds. I knew were through the worst of it when we completed the turn but my wife continued to whimper as we climbed up and over the remaining rollers until we were back in water deep enough that the swells were gentle. After calming down I got back on the radio and hailed the marina manager asking about conditions. I had asked him several times if conditions were good and he said Yes it is very calm. I asked him if he could see the channel entrance and he said he wasn’t in a place he could see it, but that he had called a person in the beach facility and they advised the conditions were fine. He then added that the panga was leaving the marina and would be there in just a few minutes. We circled for 15 minutes and then we saw the panga coming. I asked the marina manager if the panga driver spoke English and he told me no, but that he would translate for us. Then he came back on the radio and said. The panga driver says to go NOW. I pulled in behind him and we started into the entrance channel, but we were about a mile further south then the location where I had attempted to enter. This approach was much better as we observed breaking waves on each side of us, but the channel remained clear. Then another set of the rollers arrived.

I’ll never forget the look on the panga drivers face as we looked down on him from about 25" above his head and less than 100 feet behind him. I think because we were in the channel and the waves weren’t steepening up as they did before we had a much more sedate ride in. Oh, I should also mention that by this time several of the marina residents had heard the fear in my voice and were providing additional advice. CC from the S/V Ten Ten even got in her tender and was on the way out to help guide me in. I can"t say enough about how much I appreciated the assistance, hearing those voices was amazingly comforting. We arrived at the marina and tied the boat up, I didn’t even care if we had the fenders out, I just wanted that boat tied to the dock. In conversation with the marina manager and the panga driver I was to learn that these conditions had only started a day or so ago and I was the first boat to come in and experience this problem. The panga driver even broke the VHF antenna off his boat in the rough conditions. They think the recent swell must have shifted the entrance channel and moved it about one half mile south and made it much more narrow. They assured me this was not the normal conditions.

Reflecting on what happened I think there are valuable lessons in this for everyone. For me they were:

a. Trust my judgment and don’t let questionable information cloud my decision making.

a. I allowed the affirmations of good conditions from the marina manager to influence my progress into what I believed was a channel. I kept thinking it was going to improve and it didn’t

b. Not seeing any cautions about a tricky entrance in the guide books left me thinking this should be an easy entry.

c. My observations of the conditions was much better than I thought it was. What was hard was finding the location where the waves WEREN’T breaking. It turned out the entrance channel had narrowed to about 50 yards.

d. It was really hard to tell when and where the rollers were going to steepen up, because as you’re approaching the beach from the sea it’s hard to tell where and how long the wave faces are steepening. In the period between the rollers I advanced the boat far enough that I was exposed to the next set of breakers.

e. If a pilot boat is available, WAIT for it. In retrospect I should have been more patient waiting for the pilot boat. Language and radio difficulties left me thinking I should use the remaining daylight to my advantage and try to move the boat forward. In retrospect I would have been better served simply circling and waiting for the panga.

b. Have a plan B and be ready for it. a. We had departed Barillas with the goal of getting to Puesta del Sol. I’d called my insurance company and placed an additional rider on the policy to cover being in Nicaragua. This fixation on getting in the marina made turning away hard to face.

b. I wasn’t mentally prepared to continue south and find an alternative port, nor did I have good weather information to enable me to have the confidence to enter into the Gulf of Papagallo.

In retrospect this was a great experience. Don’t get me wrong, it scared the crap out of me and worse yet my wife. She was terrified, WE were terrified. For her it was the feeling of the boat heeling and the realization I’d allowed us to get in a dangerous situation. For me it was the realization I"d come very close to a terrible situation and had allowed myself to expose us to the danger of broaching. Worse yet I’d let my wife down by exposing her to this. I don’t know how close to rolling the boat over we were? Certainly 50 or 100 yards further in would have been catastrophic as the wave would have fully developed and been breaking. But I’m not sure I would have gone another 100 yards? I’d like to think I was about to turn around and head out anyway?

Experience, I guess this is how you build it? Being exposed to something, learning and modifying your behavior in the future in the hope of not repeating a mistake. I"m a bit wiser today for this experience. I wish I could tell all you skippers out there that it needn"t happen to you, that you can just read these words and avoid our circumstances, but I don’t think that’s the way it works? I think we share these experiences in the hope of helping others and saving them that last 100 yards? I learned a lot from this experience and believe I’m a better skipper today then I was two days ago. Maybe I’m just kidding myself? Who knows? I can tell you one thing, facing an entrance covered in breaking waves, I’ll have plan B entered in the chart plotter and be on my way toot sweet!

Scott Bulger,
Alanui, N40II,
Seattle WA Tied up at Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua

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the game releases!

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 — Ken Williams

Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson