News aboard Sol Surfin


April 2006 Update

Hello Everyone,

We arrived safely from our journey across the dreaded Tehuantepec. We had an eventful crossing filled with lots of exciting winds and seas. I think that we knew that we were in for a ride when the first day out, we hit 25 knots of wind and 6-8 foot seas and we were not even at the mouth of the beast yet. This surprised us because we even waited an extra day for the weather window to calm things down. Apparently, the wind did not hear that we were attempting our crossing and it decided to shut the window on us. All in all, it was not so bad. We have seen worse when we first set sail way back in December 2004, when the West coast was setting records with rainfall and raging storms. We were sailing in those storms, so everything now seems to be a piece of cake. We did find (made one up) an anchorage and tucked in for the night waiting for the winds to subside. Turns out it was a good idea to anchor because a few other cruisers hit 38 knots of wind that night crossing the window. We did the crossing in daylight with a fully reefed down main sail to our 4th reef and a very small jib out. We hugged the shore at about 50 feet of depth and zig- zagged through the freighters and tankers who were waiting to be unloaded at Puerto Salina Cruz. God knows why they would have a port in the middle of one of the windiest places in the world. Anyway, we inched our way around the point and held the wind on our port bow until we could safely scoot across. The wind was howling and the rigging was singing but it was exciting and Sol Surfin did great. The rest of the journey was filled with great sailing winds and also dead calm periods when we jumped in the ocean and cooled off. It is pretty hot especially when there is no wind.



As we crossed the border of Guatemala, the bees decided to pay us a visit. Not sure if they were the welcoming or warning committee because we were not able to get the bees shooed away quick enough. The bees are usually looking for fresh water and I am sure the mango that I just ate also sent them into a frenzy. The whole gang was alerted and within a few minutes, we were surrounded by swarming bees. Unfortunately we only had one fly swatter and I was fighting off about 6 bees at my ankles when I stepped on one between my toes. It hurt more than I could believe and I went down to put some tobacco on the sting while Gary continued the fight as he backed down into the companionway fighting off bees as they attempted to get inside. He broke the fly swatter and I squished all the bees that got past him. To make a long story (1 1/2 hours) short, we ended up killing over 100 bees and were held captive to our cockpit where we managed to get the screens up for a safe place to hang out. Amazing critters, how we hate to kill them but their sting really does hurt! My foot swelled up like an elephant and I could not walk on it successfully for 3 days.

The next evening, we experienced our first rain and thunder squall. I was on watch when I noticed lightening off in the distance. No big deal, but I was just keeping my eye on it when all of a sudden, the wind started to pick up rather quickly. Gary woke up and we quickly reefed down the main sail when 28 knots of wind suddenly sprung up on us. Within a few minutes, we had the thunder and lightening over us and Gary turned the boat towards shore to run from the squall. We could see it on our radar and the cells were huge. The rain hit us hard for about 20 minutes and we were grateful for the boat washing. The thunder and lightening were sending bolts down to the ocean and hitting with great force. We were grateful not to be the target of the bolts. I am still trying to figure out if I should put on my rubber soled shoes or not. Gary says that I should just not touch metal, which is hard since all of our hand holds are made of stainless. We ended up going through another squall the next night. We know that we will be hitting lots of storms from here on out since we are now coming into the rainy season.

We did finally arrive at our destination of Costa del Sol, El Salvador. It took us 6 days to get here but we had to anchor outside of the entrance to the estuary because huge swells had come up from Ecuador and the channel crossing over the sand bar was too dangerous. We waited for 2 days and had to anchor out in rolling waves while our friends enjoyed the calm flat protected waters inside. There were 2 other boats with us waiting to get in, Loon III and Blue Fox. On the third morning, we got the go ahead from Murray and Jim who are the local gringos living in Bahia del Sol and assisting all the cruisers across the sand bar and into the estuary. Now, this crossing has many stories. Many cruisers have had very easy crossings of the sand bar, while others have had disastrous outcomes. We have heard of a few who have sustained heavy damage and one catamaran which was a total loss. Apparently, the captain went in even though he was told the bar was not crossable. They say that cruisers must have patience because those who push things end up with lots of problems.


Anyway, to get back to our crossing. I told you of huge swells from Ecuador. Well, I could see waves crashing into the channel where we were suppose to go. I thought that it was crazy for us to take a sailboat across waves that were even too big for us to ride with the surfboard. We spent hours preparing the boat for the crossing, removing absolutely everything off the deck and out of the cockpit platform. Everything went down below and anything that was left on top was tied down. If it is not tied down, then there is a chance that if the wave caught it, it could be ripped off the boat. We put on safety harnesses and waited. It was about 7:00 in the morning and it was high tide. We were told it was a go and to await instructions for our crossing. Now, you have to imagine that there are 3 boats with Sol Surfin in second position waiting to be told when to go full throttle and speed through the waves. I am a little miffed because this goes against my better judgment but Gary keeps assuring me that it will be okay. There is a crowd that has gathered on shore to watch because I guess we are the best entertainment in town. Blue Fox is first and he is told to get into position at about 25 feet of water and when he gets the call, he goes full throttle with the set waves on his stern (back). I see the boat take off and does a hobby horse up and down the wave that almost pulls him sideways into the wave. I hear over the VHF radio to take the wave on the stern or the bow. THE BOW???? He screams back. The second wave hits him and the boat almost disappears from view because the waves are so big, I cannot see the boat anymore. I tell Gary this is crazy, let’s just get the hell out of here and keep heading south. My heart is pounding and we hear on the radio “okay, Sol Surfin you are next, get yourself into position and head into 25 feet of water.” I am thinking we can still abort but Gary moves the boat into position. It is kind of like going up the ladder to the high dive platform. You have to jump no matter how scared you are. So we go into 25 feet of water but cannot hold it there because the swells are pushing us into shallow water. We are told to hold the depth because we could end up on the sandbar so Gary circles the boat around. He does this twice to get up enough speed so we can haul ass when we get the word to go. “Okay, now Sol Surfin give her all she has and go as fast as you can!” Gary pushes down the both throttles, as I am watching a huge wave that is starting to build on our stern. “Oh my God, we are gonna get hit! Go faster, go faster!” I am thinking we are about to die… where are my fins? There is the most beautiful 12 foot curling wave that is peeling to the right and we are about to ride it with our SAILBOAT!!!!! The wave catches up to us and Sol Surfin lifts up and rides her down the wave with expert precision. Within seconds another wave is building, this time I know that we are in the perfect spot to take off on it, if I was on a surfboard! This would be the spot to start to paddle to catch the wave but not in our SAILBOAT!!!!! This wave is gonna crack on us. Gary is still focusing on keeping Sol Surfin straight into the waves because we could flip if we were to turn sideways. He is holding the helm when I tell him we got another one on our butt. This huge wave comes pounding towards and crashes on our stern. The foam water comes into the boat and over the sides of the boat. Sol Surfin quickly drains the water as she gets lifted up and sucked back into the wave and then slides down the wave with such great force that we are literally now SURFING!


Over the intercom I hear “Now that’s putting some surfing into Sol Surfin!!!” All I can say back is “Holy Shit!” We ride this wave all the way in and safely cross the sandbar. I am still shaking and can’t believe what just happened. Gary looks at our speed indicator which reads 15 knots!!!! We surfed down the wave at 15 knots! “Holy Shit!” is all I can say for the next few minutes. We are told later that we hit second place for speed, the record holder is a bigger catamaran which hit 17 knots down the wave!

WOW we are here, “Welcome to El Salvador!” Inside the estuary is what I imagine the Philippines or Thailand to look like. It is calm waters with thatched roof houses and huts along the shore. The palm trees are swaying in the wind. We can see the silhouette of the volcanoes in the background. It is spectacular and makes it worth the near death experience of getting in. We drop anchor and are immediately border by Immigration, the Army and Customs. They are very friendly and fill out paper work with no English spoken. We pay a $10 per person fee for a 90 day permit for entrance into their country. We eventually hit the Bahia del Sol hotel and get a beer and hang out in the pool. The subject is our crossing and the “Holy Shit!” comment and the 15 knots because everyone was listening to us on the radio!

For almost the next 2 weeks we hang out in the pool and sip Pilsener national beers for a buck. The money is American dollars so we don’t have to exchange.

Our experience in El Salvador has been great. The people are absolutely amazingly friendly and warm. A few of us took the dinghy to a local town and went to the local open air market. It was wild to see all the fresh fish getting cut up from the days catch. There was large Red Snapper and Sierras along with Hammerhead sharks, which they were cutting off the fins in the lagoon turning the water red with blood. We bought some fresh cantaloupe for 35 cents each a watermelon for a dollar. Inside the market, people were staring at me. I was the only gringo along with my 2 other friends who were off shopping. I was being followed by 4 little boys who were smiling and saying “Hello, how are you?” in the only English they knew. I smiled back and spoke back in Spanish. I took lots of photos in the market and the kids loved to gather around the digital camera to see their faces on the camera. I think many of them have not seen a picture taken of themselves before. I met a woman who was selling flowers and I bought Tuberoses, my favorite! She has visited the US and loves Americans. Gary and I are so surprised that no one seems to have issues with Americans especially since we helped to extend their civil war. I guess since we ended up pumped in 6 billion dollars to help them out, it wasn’t so bad that 500 million dollars of that money went to buy guns for the military who were brutally killing men, woman and children. This was during the Reagan years! We were told by Jose, our taxi driver extraordinaire that the fighting was bad on all sides. The El Salvadorians are just glad that the war is over and they can begin to rebuild their lives and their country.




Gary and I explored El Salvador and our favorite trip was to the National Parque of El Impossible. We went with Carrie and Patrick on Terra Firma and all four of us shared a cabin in a newly established Eco Lodge in the rain forest. April is the dry season so there was not much rain, but everything was green and beautiful. We hiked up and down for 2 days. I haven’t hiked for a long time. We went down into the forest through the beautiful trees and cascading waterfalls and deep creeks where we had lunch and swam. The water was so refreshing from the hot heat. We were so glad to see that not all of the rain forest and old growth trees have been cut down. The park has recently been established through Salva Natura (Save Nature) a non-profit group to save what is left of the old growth. Over 90% of the old growth trees have been cut down over the past 30 years. It is so sad, because the huge canopy trees are so beautiful. We were so grateful to visit this place and to participate with tourism to help bring dollars to this forest. We hired a young non-English speaking guide who was 16 years old and on his Easter vacation (semana Santa) from school. We paid him $30 to guide us on the trails for 2 days. This was a huge amount of money for him and no doubt feed his family for a month. The locals are learning more about their forests and that the forest is helping them with good jobs as guides and forest rangers. It is a great way for them to make money instead of cutting down the trees. Maybe the forest can grow back someday!

Well we have really loved our stay in El Salvador. It is time for us to keep on sailing since the rainy season is quickly approaching. We decided to not visit Guatemala this time around because we need to get south to Costa Rica in the next month or so. We plan to hang around Costa Rica and Panama until the storms get too much for us to handle and then we will sail on down to Ecuador to wait out the rainy season.

We are now in Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua. Arrived yesterday and we look forward to exploring this beautiful country.

By the way… we left the sandbar crossing out of El Salvador and it was easy with hardly any waves. It was sure a big difference from our arrival!

Many blessings,

Celeste and Gary