Pacific Central America (2013)
Pacific Central America
The cruising in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica became quite brief because we wanted to cross the equator before the rainy season weather with thunder storms came into full force.
The check – in and – out formalities were easy done in all these countries by helpful officials. People in general were very friendly and helpful.
In El Salvador we stayed for a while tied to a buoy in Puerto Barillas, which is placed several miles up a river and part of a well run and guarded resort. The river had crocodiles and the jungle around was inhabited by spider monkeys. The mangroves offered some mosquitoes as well. We visited the nearby town Usulután and the capitol San Salvador and always with armed guards in the car. I have never visited a country with so many armed people and guards as here. E.g. the man at the gas station filling the car was wearing a heavy revolver in his belt, and in most vans transporting goods a guard with a pump gun was sitting next to the chauffeur. Also armed guards were placed outside many shops with an average distance of 100 m.
In Nicaragua we visited Marina Puesta Del Sol Resort, and had the honour of being well treated with free dinner and T-shirts etc. for being boat no.1000 visiting this place. From here we paid a visit to the local town of Chinandega. We found many similarities between Nicaragua and El Salvador; however the people here were generally less armed than in El Salvador.
We entered Costa Rica in Playa Del Coco, visited Turtle Island, different anchorages, and finally Golfito. At the entrance to the bay we were boarded by the coast guard. Finally we attached to a buoy at Marina Land & Sea in mid afternoon and went ashore to do the paperwork. When this was done, relaxed with a beer in hand we chatted with Tim, the marina owner, and some other sailors under the porch and looked out on the moored and anchored boats in a distance of 50 – 100 m.
During this time rain and dark clouds moved in over the mountains with lightning and thunder. Having only taken one zip of my beer, I suddenly saw a lightning strike Dana Felicia, and a big flash of yellow light appeared at the top of the mast. My heart sank – I have seen the damage on another boat struck by lightning and also heard from sailors with this experience what to expect. My thoughts went first to all the electronics, the extensive cabling onboard, and also to the rigging. I feared facing lots of damage, being stuck in Golfito and later Panama for refitting, substantial costs, and losing a season etc. – I decided to finish my beer, got lots of sympathy from the others on the porch, but nobody was able offer me stories about a positive outcome after a lightning strike.
When entering the boat, we were met by the smell of “burnt insulation”. On the foredeck I found the remains of the mast head mounted VHF antenna, and the smell turned out to come from here. The conclusion of the detailed inspection made during the evening and the next day was, that all electronics, lights, and cables including the VHF cable to the antenna had survived without any damage. Only the Inmarsat C antenna did no longer work. It was a big relief. I got one of Tim’s used VHF antennas which I managed to fit into the top of the mast the next day, accepted that 2 inches of my Windex had burned away and everything else was as before. – So now there is one positive story to tell about a lightning strike.
The lesson to be learned is that it is extremely important to have a good grounding of the boat. In this case I think that the current went through the eight ø 300 mm zinc anodes sitting in cavities in the hull bottom, through the hull and the mast and into the VHF antenna fixture and then half evaporated the antenna itself when the energy was released into the air.
Passage from Costa Rica to Peru
The incentive to leave the prevailing thunderstorms which Central America is known for in the summer and rainy season was greater than ever. – I had had enough with one lightning hit.
The plan was to head south for Peru although I knew that it would be a difficult route, which only few sailing vessels make due to the unfavourable prevailing winds and currents.
In short, the passage took 13 days. It was upwind sailing all the time, however we motored through the ITC zone, and were passing by Bahia de Caracas, Ecuador after 4 days, so the first part was easy. After having motored 29 hours since departure, the main engine got a very serious leak in the shaft seal to the fresh water circulation pump, which prevented us from using the engine the rest of the way. Now we were a real sailboat, and it was all tacking against an average of 2 knots of current with winds between 5 and 15 knots occasionally going to 20 – 30 knots. Unfortunately the wind was right in the nose all the way and it followed the coastline and probably made the current somewhat stronger than expected. The distance over ground sailed was 1817 Nm. Roughly the journey along the Peruvian cost can be described like this: On a typical day we sailed 150 Nm through the water, 100 Nm over the ground and gained 60 Nm towards the waypoint. Quite frustrating compared to our usual passage speeds. Fortunately we had the bottom well cleaned before departure, and the waves were moderate all the time.
There were many small fishing boats using long lines lit only with small handheld flash lights during the night, and big aggressively manoeuvred fishing trawlers on the way, which together with occasional fog and light drizzle in the early morning hours made it pretty stressful, and caused some extra tacking. Also close to Callao main harbour we had to tack our way through an anchorage with approx 50 – 100 big commercial carriers, fishing vessels, and container ships.
On the way to the Callao area in the morning hours, we heard and felt a kind of low frequency rumbling and noise, however were too busy to pay much attention. After having moored to the buoy at Yacht Club Peruano at La Punta, Callao in the early afternoon, we learned that we had sailed close to the epicentre of an underwater earth quake, measured to 6,5 on the Richter scale, which had shaken Callao the same morning. Earth quakes are not considered unusual in the area, but it was good luck for Callao and all the anchored and moored boats here, that no tsunami was created.
We left Costa Rica after a lightning strike and arrive in Peru with an earth quake, so what next to expect?