Update # 19 – Marina Club Las Barillas, El Salvador

[El Salvador – 13 15.763N, 88 29.348W]

The Marina Club Las Barillas, in El Salvador, is not a standard marina, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

To arrive at the marina, you are given a “meeting point,” which is two miles off shore, at 13 07N, 88 25W. The actual “marina” is 10 miles away, back a river.

I contacted the marina via sat phone, to schedule a pilot boat to meet us at 1:45pm. As we approached the meeting point, we were greeted by an oncoming panga; our “pilot boat.”

We could see breaking waves all along the coast. The purpose of the pilot boat was to guide us safely through the waves and into the river. Jeff suggested I drive from “up top” on the fly bridge, as I would better be able to see what was coming.

I’ve only run the boat from the fly bridge for a brief period off the coast of Cabo. When choosing equipment for the boat, I did not put a steering wheel on the fly bridge, figuring I’d drive so little from up on top , that a little jog lever would suffice.

I also have the jog lever on the three outside drive stations (port, starboard and in the cockpit). I’ve tried driving with it, with mixed success. I over-steered once when anchoring the boat in a crowded anchorage, so I’ve been avoiding the jog-wheel rudder control. For those not familiar with these, instead of having a giant steering wheel, I have a little knob which is labeled in degrees. I can turn it to the precise number of degrees of rudder I’d like. For instance, I could turn it slightly to the left to turn the rudder 5 degrees to port. I haven’t missed the rudder control during mooring the boat, because I always center the rudder, and just use the twin engines and the thrusters to maneuver the boat.

My first few minutes were a bit of a fiasco, as I adjusted to the jog lever steering, and made an accidental 90 degree turn. The guy in the panga wondered if he was in deep trouble. Within a few minutes I got the hang of it, and now will look forward to using it in the future. The major difference was that on the fly bridge I put a rudder angle indicator, but did not do so on the other drive stations. It made a huge difference. After this trip I’ll explore whether or not it is possible to add a rudder angle indicator at each of the drive stations.

I assumed we would be crossing the waves, which never really happened. Instead, we found an opening in the waves, and then turned to port, running for over a mile between the breaking waves to my left side, and the shore on my right side.

We entered the mouth of the river, which turned out to be very wide. After about five miles or so, I decided to put the boat back on auto pilot, which turned out to be a mistake. Almost immediately, we encountered a very tight turn. We were running at 9 knots, and the auto pilot just couldn’t turn us fast enough. I quickly realized this and flipped back to manual steering. Lesson learned.

After about 90 minutes we arrived at the Marina Club, which as I said, really isn’t a marina at all. It’s like a beach club, with mooring buoys.

Tying off to a mooring buoy was made much easier by our pilot boat. He positioned his panga at the mooring buoy, and we threw him down a line, which he fastened to the buoy. He then went around to the back of the boat, to take a second line, which he tied to another buoy behind us.

I hadn’t realized how strong the current was. When I tried to align the boat so that the stern was pointed at the buoy behind us, it removed to budge. I had been moving at 9 knots for the past 10 miles, so I hadn’t noticed the effect of the current, but suddenly, it was a major problem. I asked Jeff for assistance, and he struggled at first, but then got the stern to swing around by using rudder, thrusters, and the twin engines, all at maximum power. I later asked Herbierto, the marina manager, how fast the current was. His response – 3 to 5 knots! We were very lucky to have arrived near a slack tide. If you are reading this, and considering going into Marina Barillas – you may want to consider timing your arrival to high slack.

Within seconds of tying up we were boarded by customs and immigration. They were very polite, but very serious, and there were a lot of them! There were seven men standing in my cockpit, some with guns. They asked for a tour of the boat. Roberta took half the group downstairs, and I took the balance up to the pilot house. I relaxed a little when the immigration guy studied Sans Souci’s helm for a bit, and gave me a big thumbs up.

The group asked that I accompany them to shore with all of our paperwork to check into the country and the marina. Here you see a picture of me (in the red shirt) feeling very outnumbered on the immigration panga.

$50 and 30 minutes later, I was back on the boat, all checked in.

Marina Barillas Club is a very cool place! They have good wireless internet, a nice pool, a nice store, a decent restaurant, and a tremendous staff.

They also have an air field. Roberta and I had wanted to visit the Guatemalan city of Antigua while in Guatemala, but we had bypassed Guatemala. Roberta asked the marina office whether or not they could fly us to Antigua and they said “Yes!” It took a bit of money (a bus tour is also available, but it is two days each way) and we were on our way.

Antigua is a 500+ year old Spanish colonial town. It sits in a high valley (5,000 feet), and is surrounded by three volcanoes.

We were quite surprised by the town, and by Guatemala. Guatemala City where we landed was quite modern. Leaving the airport I saw several American chains, including Dominos, Burger King, Taco Bell, and even a Hooters! Although it seemed like a very modern city, I also noted that all windows were barred, and all fences were topped by barbed wire.

Antigua itself was very charming, and we had a great hotel “El Palacio de Dona Leonor” right in the center of town.

We were “lucky” in that it was holy week, and the town was packed. We literally had to push our way through the crowds at times.

The center square


A volcano behind the town

A little market

One of the many churches

Roberta, exploring an old church

Antigua is a very international town. We saw tourists from many countries, although not so many from the US. The city seems to specialize in educational institutions. I was told that there are over 50 Spanish language schools in town. We also saw a university, cooking schools, dance schools, and technical schools. Roberta and I seriously discussed coming back later this year, for a month, so that she could work on her Spanish, and me on my French (we also discovered there is an Alliance Française). There is a wide selection of restaurants. We had dinner at a French restaurant the first night and at an Italian restaurant the second. We also saw Thai, Japanese, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Argentinean, Chinese and of course Guatemalan restaurants.

Speaking of “Spanish,” Roberta speaks very good Spanish, and has been a tremendous help on this trip. This brings up the question: “How would it be traveling south without a Spanish speaker on board?” My guess is that it happens several times a day. Roberta has certainly added value, but I would bet that very few boats have Spanish speaking crew aboard. As we’ve traveled further south, we’ve encountered fewer and fewer English speakers, and Roberta has had more translation work to do. But, as I said, I am positive that a boat with no one on board who speaks Spanish would get by with only minor discomfort.

While we were visiting Guatemala, the “crew” was back on the boat hard at work. They changed the oil in the main engines and the 25kw generator, washed and fueled the boat, shopped for provisions, and more. Did we feel guilty? Well… yes….

One interesting side story from their shopping expedition: They went to a nearby town, where they said only one store was open. It identified itself as being affiliated with Walmart. They said it was a reasonably decent store, but noted that there was an armed guard on every aisle (even a female armed guard in the makeup section), and that they received some strange looks from the locals. We’re pretty far off the normal tourist track here at Barillas.

That’s it for this update! I’m off to the office to check out. Tomorrow morning we will run off shore from Nicaragua, headed for Costa Rica!

-Ken Williams

Your emails (sent to kenw @ seanet.com ) – my responses preceded by +++

WE are still enjoying your logs – they are great.

In your last log you mentioned not being sure if you had an adverse current. I suggest carefully calibrating your log instrument so that it accurately displays your speed through the water and then looking at the difference between the GPS speed over the bottom and your LOG speed through the water as an accurate reflection of an aiding or adverse current.
John H

+++ I don’t have anything that gives me speed through the water. It’s funny that with all my fancy electronics that I don’t, but I didn’t think to ask for it. A good idea! I’ll have to add that to my list when the boat gets back to Seattle. -Ken W

Ken, I was reading about the North Atlantic record-setting boat and learned that they used French military night vision/FLIR equipment whose performance was extraordinary. In the US, we can’t get current military gear, but overseas, military gear seems to be available. What I don’t know is whether it is affordable to people not part of an exotic syndicate. Still, interesting.


+++ It would be interesting to know what they have. My night vision has two modes; light amplification and thermal. There has been no moon the past few nights, so we’ve been running in pitch black. The light amplification mode, which is usually fairly good, has been worthless. The thermal mode looks for temperature differences. As such, I suspect its range is limited. I’m guessing that it only picks up items less than 100 yards. It does work well in pitch black conditions, but only on things that are very close. I’ll google to see what else might be available if I order from outside the US. Thanks! -Ken W

+++ The following message was sent by Sonaia, who with Chris Samuelson, crossed the Atlantic with us in 2004.

Congratulations, you made Tehuantepec! Everything you described about T-Pec we got it up, close and personal. The seas, winds of 50 knots on the nose, green water all over the place…the lot. Chris set on the helm chair for 7 hours NO STOP and we never hugged a shore so tightly and we hope never need to do it again. Another difference we had from you was that it was only the two of us on board and you can bet that THAT was a learning curve for both of us. I am very glad that you have made it safely. Hiring crew to come with you on this potentially very difficult piece of water was a very smart move.
Sonaia Hermida,

+++ I don’t even want to think about Roberta and I alone on the boat in the Tehuantepec. And, when you did it, Chris and you were new to the boat! Amazing.. The crew has been awesome, and I strongly recommend them — but I’m really looking forward to a week from now when we put them ashore and Roberta and I have a month alone, just anchoring around Costa Rica.
Wish you were here! (or, us there!) -Ken W

Hi Ken,
glad to hear you made it into port safely. I have been in the engine room over the last few days and I think running a T off the transmission coolers and water injectors you could safely run on one engine and utilize the running engine to cool the other. I have also contemplated doing this off this off the waterpumps on the engines incase of a water pump or impeller problem. I am by know means a mechanic and I will ask our mechanic about this when he’s down next. How many Cruise Aire system are you running on board, we are considering adding them when we leave the PNW? My wife loves the decorating your wife did, thanks that will cost me a few dollars! Have a great trip and look forward to any updates.
Safe sailing.

Shane and Wendy Roche Harbor, Wa

+++ What kind of boat do you have? Did we meet at Roche Harbor? I hope to be sitting in my slip at Roche in about two months! One thing is clear … Roche Harbor is one of the best marinas in the world. While in Seattle I’m going to try to do something on the engine cooling issue. -Ken W

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