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Venezuela to Canada

By Val Ellis last modified Sep 15, 2009 02:56 PM

Published: 2009-09-15 14:56:24
Topics: Pacific Ocean East
Countries: Bonaire , Canada , Colombia , Costa Rica , Curacao , Nicaragua , Panama , Venezuela

MARCH 2007 TO DECEMBER 2008

Crewed by Hugh, and Heather Bacon on ARGONAUTA I

Our circumnavigation was completed January 2006. There followed almost a year hiatus with ARGONAUTA I, our highly modified Beneteau 440, languishing on the hard in Puerto La Cruz (PLC), Venezuela while we spent some time at home in Canada. There, we managed to secure a slip at Canoe Cove Marina near Victoria and began to plan a voyage to move ARGONAUTA I from Venezuela to a new homeport on Canada's Pacific coast.

VENEZUELA TO CURACAO AND ON TO CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

In early March 2007 we returned to Venezuela to prepare for our westbound passage to Panama. A myriad of maintenance tasks later, we left Bahia Redondo, PLC late April. Familiar with the Venezuelan scene, we avoided known areas of piracy and enjoyed an excellent cruise to the ABC islands via Isla Tortuga, Los Roches and Aves arriving Bonaire three weeks later on May 22. There we tied up at Club Nautico at the town of Kralendijk. Henk and his brother operate this small friendly marina, a pleasant contrast to nearby Harbour Village Marina. While unprotected from the rare westerly swell, it is otherwise smooth and secure with both water and electricity. Moreover, it is cheaper and more convenient than the other options, even the town moorings.

A few days later, we day sailed to Curacao initially anchoring at Spanish Waters. Having struggled through the much reported lengthy check in process, we moved to Curacao Marine located in Schottegat Harbour near Willemstad. This excellent facility offers secure dry storage as well as full spectrum yacht maintenance. There we left ARGONAUTA 1 from June 2007 until returning early October.

Based upon historical weather information suggesting that October has relatively light winds we chose that month to sail from Curacao to Cartagena. In 1998 we did this passage in November and had good conditions but easterly winds were rather strong; up to 35K. We knew that October is rainy season in Colombia. On passage, formidable thunder activity was visible along the coast but about 50 miles offshore conditions were comfortable with easterly winds at 10 to 15 K. That was until night three early morning when we experienced a wind reversal and heavy rain. With 65 nm to go, we decided to forgo a bash and crash into 15K winds in favour of beam reaching for the beach. By mid morning we anchored at Ensenada Trebal, “Valero” to local boaters, and continued early next day for Cartagena; winds still on the bow but much lighter.

We used the Bocagrande entrance and passed over the sunken wall with about twelve feet of clearance under our keel. We motored across the vast, protected harbour leaving the Virgin Mary statue to starboard and anchored off Club Nautico. The hook was down by 1730 hours October 26. Cartagena lives up to its name Pearl of the Caribbean, it is a marvellous city!

CARTAGENA TO PANAMA

Club Nautico was much the same as in 1998 though for those who remember him, Australian Norm Bennett is long gone! Current manager, John Halley is most helpful. Owner Candelaria still organises great parties. The 2007 Halloween bash was incredible! Check in is now easier as there are a couple of English speaking agents available who will do it all, both in and out. The need to personally visit Customs and Immigration is no longer necessary. We used Manfred Alwarelt. Cel/mobile 616-1836, . We found no problem getting technical things done. In particular, Sven, of Laboratorio Electronico, call 660-4222, is an excellent troubleshooter who quickly solved a couple of problems for us. Provisioning is good and fuel is easily transported by jerry jug from the local gas station. We hired a lad with a tricycle and trailer. Technical support including haulout facilities now equal the capability found in Venezuela. The Club Nautico web page details the extensive marine services of the area. After a week enjoying the big city it was time to move on.

November 4, we left Cartagena at 0715 hours for the Rosarios and arrived Isla Grande late morning. In 1998, we did not call into the Rosario Islands. Despite a briefing from John Halley, we found entry confusing but some helpful local boys in a dinghy directed us through the extensive reef to a safe anchorage.

We departed Isla Grande late afternoon November 5. No sooner had we poked the bow out of the anchorage than it become obvious that the westerly wind was still with us despite a forecast for north easterlies. Fortunately the winds remained light but it meant that the major part of the two night passage was spent motoring. It was disappointing not being able to sail. I contemplated aborting but seeking another anchorage in the reef strewn Rosarios was not a safe option so we continued. Eventually the wind dropped and moved off the nose making for easy motoring.

We had the usual thunderstorms but in the main, weather stayed favourable and we arrived in the Holandes Cays midday November 7 and anchored in virtually the same spot we had occupied in January 1999. It's called the Swimming Pool by yachties. The adjacent island has been named Barbecue Island also by yachties but in re-visiting it by dinghy, we found a big change. When we were here in '99, a cruising family had moved ashore to live in a lean-to. The Kuna indicated some unease with this. Too, the area was littered with burned/unburned garbage. Yachties of the day cleaned it up and we took several bags out into the strait and dumped them. Today it is pristine thanks mainly to Reg and his wife on SV RUNNER, anchored nearby. They are there for months at a time and have slowly turned it into a pristine coconut island by dint of regular raking and burning of the accumulated fronds. There is a beach gathering every Monday evening. A hut is sometimes occupied by itinerant fisher folk.

The Kuna Indians are pleasant, affable and helpful. We paid our $5 for a month in Kuna Yala and looked forward to spending a couple of weeks exploring this marvellous archipelago

Kuna come by, not only with the famous molas but shellfish as well. We bought four good size lobster and a humungous crab for fifteen dollars and they threw in a few Acanners@. The following day they came by with strange little arthropods we knew in Australia as Moreton Bay Bugs. The Kunas call them Chinese lobsters. We bought two and once more received a few fishy gifts, one, regrettably, a senorita. We could have skipped provisioning and lived on shellfish and South African wine purchased in Curacao..

Cruising Guides do not cover adequately the hazards posed by the rainy season. We later heard that some cruisers have learned to avoid the San Blas during November as that is when the lightning strike hazard peaks. Eyeball navigation among reefs was extremely challenging because of the flat light. Once we managed to go gently aground in sand but it was an easy kedge off. Unstruck and between deluges, we visited a couple of Kuna villages for the cultural experience and to top up supplies. We bought several Molas. Molas are intricately stitched designs on cloth, a traditional craft of Kuna women. From Nargana Village we dinghied up the Rio Diablo and back; beautiful deep jungle setting on the mainland. As well, we made ourselves useful when a British yacht went aground by helping in the kedging process. Later, with the dinghy I towed a disabled tourist-filled boat back to its dock.

November 23 we motored 53 NM from Chichime Cay in the San Blas to Portobelo. There was not enough wind to make it worth unfurling the sails; lots of showers though. Still, it was the best day in the past three with fewer intense rain events. We anchored next to one of the forts across the bay from town about 20 NM from the Panama Canal breakwater and Shelter Bay Marina. Portobelo is the burial place of Sir Francis Drake and main port for the Spanish Galleons loading Inca spoils after they had been brought across the isthmus from the Pacific. Ruins of the several Spanish fortifications are well preserved.

Tuesday November 27 in continuous torrential rain we motored to the canal and by late morning secured in spiffy Shelter Bay Marina . Telephone (507) 433-3581 VHF Ch 74. Enroute visibility did not get much better than perhaps two miles. Friday, November 30, we had the boat hauled and secured on the hard stand and after a few days in a resort hotel, we returned to Canada.

Incidentally, the new Yard Manager is now Dave Jerling on DIGNITY. Dave and Glynis arrived there from PLC, Venezuela late 2008. Russ Goedjen is still the Director General.

DELAYED PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT

February 24, 2008 we returned to Panama and began to prepare the boat for perhaps the longest seasonal passage ever at 8400 NM, almost 1/3 the distance of a circumnavigation. The planned route was to be via The Galapagos, Clipperton island, The Hawaiian Islands, Alaska and the Inside Passage to Victoria B.C. Canada.

By March 4 we had completed the usual series of tasks and Shelter Bay staff splashed ARGONAUTA I without incident. Once on the dock I made application for the Canal Transit. I soon wished I had made the application the day after our February 24 arrival as at that time it was a one week wait. I received a transit date over a month ahead: April 12. Internal issues within the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP) had caused a large reduction in Canal Transits particularly for yachts awaiting transit to the Pacific. By March 4 there were many yachts waiting, now approaching a six week delay. Several went on jaunts to the San Blas Islands or the Bocas to the north. Others cancelled cruising plans and left their yachts in storage, flying home in disgust.

Our North to South transit for April 12 was about a month too late to still include the Galapagos in our cruising plan. We needed to reach Hawaii by end May to allow a mid June departure for Sitka, Alaska. To be sure the storm season was at an end in the Gulf of Alaska one would not wish to depart the Hawaiian Islands any sooner but later would mean a rushed passage south from Sitka. Prior to our Canal Transit, winds looked pretty good along the route so we hoped for a fastish passage to Hilo, Hawaii with a short stop at Clipperton Island.

Our eventual Panama Canal transit was routine and without incident. We took a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club and completed some pop-up maintenance. The most significant was a rebuild of our 300 Amp Hour alternator that inexplicably died during the canal transit. Alejandro who specialises in electrical and engine work accomplished this speedily. He is a natural mechanic, responsible and reliable. His cell/mobile number is 6674-5961. He speaks excellent English.

BALBOA DEPARTURE

We finally, departed Balboa April 19, 2008. We rode the ebb tide and enjoyed at least a 2 knot push all the way to Punta Mala. Winds were around 10K from North to North East. We stood off shore by about 15NM to round the point and continued to Cebaco Island where we topped our diesel from a fishing supply vessel. Our initial objective was to sail to 10° N/87W where we hoped to encounter some easterly winds. The route Panama - Hilo is known as a light air passage but wind patterns of a week ago looked promising. Now by April 25, we were motoring in nil wind and the sea resembled a millpond. All of our weather info from both Sailmail and Inmarsat C showed little wind out to Clipperton Island. This was confirmed by weather guru, Don, Summer Passage . Don saw no forthcoming Tehuantepec or Papagayo wind event for the next couple of weeks. This meant that we were faced with motoring west at least 1000NM before encountering wind and even then wind was very much a maybe. Rather than running short of fuel and having to wallow for days in the eastern Pacific, I chose to abort. About 2200 hours local time April 26, 2008 we turned around at 09 21N 086 30W and made for the Costa Rican coast.

Late next afternoon, we anchored in Ballena Bay on the western shore of the Gulf of Nicoya. At this point it was clear we were not going much further this year. Coast crawling north was not advisable as hurricane season would be upon us before we could get north of the Baha Peninsula in Mexico so we decided to stay in Costa Rica. The following year, we had other commitments so we decided to ship ARGONAUTA I from Golfito, Costa Rica to Nanaimo on Canada's Pacific Coast.

COSTA RICA

The Costa Rica Yacht Club (CRYC) located in Puntarenas a few miles up the Gulf seemed like a good destination so we navigated the shallow approach behind the town and followed a helpful Club panga though the final shoals to a berth. The Club is accessible at high water but even then shallow bits left perhaps 5 feet of water beneath our keel. At low water, much of the passage dries. Even on a slip, keels are often in the mud at low water.

It was our experience that The Club does not respond to e-mail but a call on VHF Ch 6 sometimes elicits a response. It was on Ch 6 that we obtained assistance to berth. Many listed telephone numbers throughout Coast Rica are no longer valid as country wide, all numbers have changed from 7 digits to 8. Hard wire numbers now begin with 2, cell/mobile numbers are prefixed with 8. Unique to Costa Rica is that obtaining a cell phone number is not possible as system limitations do not allow the purchase of a sim card as in other Central/South American locations. The correct telephone number for the CRYC is 2661-0784. English speaking Sr Carlos Chinchilla is the affable, helpful Club Manager. Cell 8388-5491. The club has a nice pool and an excellent dining room. Modest hotel accommodation is available.

It took us a couple of weeks to organise a booking on Dockwise to depart from Golfito for Nanaimo in early December. Dockwise is a float on/off yacht transportation company based in Holland. WIFI Internet was particularly useful in making these and other travel arrangements. Meantime, we took the boat back out to the Gulf of Nicoya to cruise locally while consuming provisions laid in for the aborted Pacific passage. The Gulf offers some pleasant anchorages and at the Tortugas, there is decent snorkelling. The other locations in the plankton rich sea lack any visibility beyond 3 feet.

When we checked into the country April 30, 2008, we learned that a foreign vessel was permitted an initial stay of 90 days with a renewal for a further 90 days upon application in person. We were told that the boat then could be bonded for a further stay but this would be costly and the option was only available in two locations, both expensive high-end marinas catering to sport fishing motor yachts.

Ramon Suarez, semi retired, and American expat Richard McFarland offer agent services. Call 2661-0952; cell 8364-4412 . Neither could be sure about bonding options but it was clear that I would have to apply in person for a 90 day renewal for the boat. An agent could not do it! This meant I would have to be in Costa Rica a few days prior to the first 90 day expiry which was July 30. So the plan developed that Heather and I would fly back to Canada leaving the boat at the CRYC. I would return late July to renew then return to Canada. Late October we would both return and take the boat south to Golfito to place her in bond at Banana Bay Marina by end October. Manager, Bruce Blevins telephone 2775-0838 was helpful in providing information on the bonding option.

Unfortunately, during our cruise of the Gulf of Nicoya, we had the bad luck to anchor near an underwater rock. It was not shown on Charly's Chart of the anchorage on the south side of Cedros Island: 09 52.717N/084.55.738W. At about midnight our rudder contacted the rock with a loud crunch so we re-anchored and next day checked for damage: moderate abrasion and slight delamination to the base of the rudder.

The CRYC offers dry storage and there is an adequate supply of technical support. Haulout using the 20 ton travel lift is a challenge. The haulout slip dries at low tide. To give us about 6 inches under the keel we needed at least an 8.3-foot high tide. May 16 was the day and with the help of some wooden spacers at the beam, straps of the sling just avoided contact with the lifelines. It was of course necessary to enter the slip stern first, drop the wind generator tower and disconnect backstays.

Once secured on the hard, we arranged for rudder skin repair and bottom preparation with Jorge & Juan Fallas telephone 2664-0348, cell 8838-9174. Then we closed the boat and flew back to Canada. A week later, tropical storm ALMA created havoc in the marina and wrought major damage to both Nicaragua and El Salvador. ARGONAUTA I was OK!

Back in Canada I became increasingly uneasy about the uncertainties surrounding the bonding option to extend the boat stay in Costa Rica. Bruce Blevins explained that once bonded, the boat had to remain on the dock and could not be used. Should we opt for the 90 day extension and then take the boat to Panama, it would not be possible to re-enter Costa Rica for at least 90 days. Thus this was not an option given the December load date for Dockwise.

Mid July, we heard from Ramon Suarez in Puntarenas that the Costa Rican authorities had arbitrarily and without prior notice discontinued the option for a 90 day extension. Our decision was easy: we would remove the boat from Costa Rica. The new plan was to take ARGONAUTA I from Puntarenas to Marina Puesta Del Sol in northwestern Nicaragua. Telephone (505)-880-0013 or (505)-880-0019 . We arranged to leave her in the water there with the intention of sailing back to Costa Rica to arrive Golfito early December and load on Dockwise.

It was too expensive to re-book my July 26 flight to allow more time to prepare the boat so I booked a second ticket for Heather on the same day and off we went. Ramon had agreed to arrange for an International Zarpe for departure the day of our 90 day expiry, July 30. Cell phones continued unavailable to visitors so our driver whom Ramon had booked to pick us up at the airport kindly lent us his for a few days. Despite a three day weekend, we got Jorge & Juan to finish preparing the boat and with a repaired rudder and fresh anti fouling, we splashed midday Tuesday, July 29. Luck was with us as the aging travel lift had lost a wheel and dropped its load the week before! As well, tides were high enough to provide adequate water at the haul out slip and high tide for a passage out of the estuary was good for a midday departure July 30. A final glitch though was that our 45 pound CQR anchor was missing. Only the shackle remained. Like most blue water cruisers, we carry spare anchors. Thus it was a simple matter to dig one out and rig it. Carlos very graciously ordered a replacement from Port Supply to be available upon our planned return to Costa Rica later in the year. Meantime a high security fence has been erected around the hard stand.

July 30, Ramon assisted by Richard secured an International Zarpe and we had the document in our hands about 30 minutes before high tide. To be sure of not going aground, we got a CRYC panga to lead us through the shoals to deep water. We anchored at Cedra Island on the north side for the night and early next morning headed out non-stop for Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua.

COSTA RICA TO NICARAGUA AND BACK

We covered the 275 NM from Cedra Island to Puesta del Sol in 50 hours. Weather was good although we had to motor/motor sail some 33 hours. Winds were light enough both locally and in the Western Caribbean so I chose to cross the Gulf of Papagayo direct rather than shore crawl as many are forced to do because of the often high easterly winds funnelling across the Central American Isthmus from the Caribbean. Still we encountered E20 to 25K winds but despite 10 to 15 foot seas, we beam reached comfortably enough using the staysail and double reefed mainsail.

The last bit was overnight in nil wind. The entrance to the lagoon where Puesta del Sol Marina is located is easy especially from the south. Radar painted the entrance marker from 5 miles back. We followed the well marked entry and tied up in this very modern facility by 0900 hours. A couple of days to secure the boat and we flew back to Canada.

October 26, 2008 we returned to Puesta Del Sol. We found ARGONAUTA I in good condition. Our main GPS, a Raystar 108 had failed so we brought a replacement: a Raystar 125. With my guidance, I received competent assistance to exchange the sensor units at the port lower spreader. The young Nicaraguan helper had clambered up masts before with a ladder but this was his first time up a mast using a bosun's chair. He liked it! We replaced the in-mast cable, connected it to the Sea Talk bus and were operational again. Bats had made a home in our Doyle stack pak creating a huge mess. No damage but we spent a lot of time cleaning up, then they came back! Yet another clean up was necessary. November 1, we departed early morning and headed south. The last bat flew shoreward as we raised the main!

We continued overnight tacking as necessary to make entry to isolated Santa Elena Bay, Northern Costa Rica. We dropped anchor next morning at 0945 and remained there for a few days before heading around Cape Santa Elena for Playa de Coco to check in. Papagayo winds were inactive and we motored most of the way. We debated proceeding to Playa del Panama said to be less roly but given the light wind, we chose to anchor at Coco. We did stop short at attractive, well protected Bahia Huevos for the night then motored over to Coco to check in. The anchorage was comfortable and a friendly local allowed us to use one of his moorings. A cruising friend now living on the beach had volunteered to pick up our replacement anchor from the CRYC at Puntarenas and it was waiting there for us in her car. Our check-in to Costa Rica was without complication but we did confirm that indeed, visiting yachts were now restricted to a stay of only a maximum of 90 days.

Thereafter, we day sailed down the coast to Golfito. Most anchorages are 40 to 50nm apart and protection at some is marginal at best. Specifically, Carrillo Bay is poorly protected and even in light wind there was an uncomfortable roll. Quepos was equally uncomfortable with little if any protection. There is a Marina in progress there but given the frequent huge swells coming in off the Pacific, entry in heavy conditions would be a challenge! Uvita Bay was the worst. We arrived an hour before last light. A Marine Parks vessel was nearby and soon a Rib load of officials arrived to check our documents. They were satisfied with the paper work but informed us that there was no anchoring allowed and we would have to leave. Heather convinced them to let us stay one night. The roll became severe once the rising tide covered the protecting reef. We got out of there at first light and anchored in tranquil Drake Bay by noon. We later advised Captain Pat Rain, author of Cruising Ports The Central American Route, 6th Ed., 2007 of the changed status of Uvita Bay.

Drake Bay was a pleasant stop where we enjoyed a coastal eco tour with Corcovado Expeditions and did some re-provisioning. November 22 it was time to move on towards Golfito for our early December date with Dockwise. In the afternoon we entered the Golfo Dulce and anchored in Parrot Bay off Puerto Jimenez just 10 NM from Golfito. Next day we careened the hull and then November 25, we crossed the Gulf to Golfito.

SUPER SERVANT 3: FLOATING ON IN GOLFITO, COSTA RICA

In Golfito, Land Sea Services operated by Tim Leachman caters to cruisers. . He has a number of moorings as well as a pleasant facility ashore. Recognising the absence of cell phones for visitors, Tim provides a free telephone for calls within the country. WIFI is also available. It is probably the best option for sailing vessels happy to moor. We enjoyed our stay there. If a marina berth is required, Banana Bay Marina or Fishhook Marina are good bets.

Golfito is rainy and rain it did just about every day. SUPER SERVANT 3 was our Dockwise vessel that we awaited along with several other yachts. Happily, she was running close to schedule and arrived December 4. That day we completed paper work with the agent and removed Bimini and Dodger ready to load next morning. Loading proceeded efficiently and soon we were advised to motor aboard. Entering the vessel, I notice that we had about 10 feet of water under the keel as we passed over the submerged deck to tie up. It was easier than entering a marina. That was it! We passed over boat keys and were ferried ashore. We were aboard our Sansa flight to San Jose by 1230 hours and into San Jose an hour later. Back to Canada!

SUPER SERVANT 3: FLOATING OFF IN NANAIMO, CANADA

Nanaimo Canada is a small, deep water port on the east coast of Vancouver Island about 50 road miles north of Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia (BC). Vancouver is on the mainland some 30 miles to the east. One of the expressed concerns about Dockwise centres on delays. On this transit to Nanaimo timing was good. SUPER SERVANT 3 docked at Nanaimo December 25. Weather the week prior was foul with major snowstorms and road closures. By this time we were staying in Sidney near Victoria Airport. Unloading was scheduled for December 27.

Friends kindly drove us up to Nanaimo the day before. Road conditions were poor but we survived the trip. We boarded SUPER SERVANT 3 about 0730 hours and after signing Customs form, made our way to ARGONAUTA I. The yacht carrier was still at Adry deck but welds securing our hull supports to the carrier's deck had been removed. All tie downs were still in place. I had the chance to grease the Max Prop and check anodes. Then we stood around in the cockpit waiting for the vessel to sink to Awet deck. This took about three hours! It was a long cold wait. Once we were afloat, divers knocked over the supports and tie down straps were removed fore and aft as well as from around the mast. When other boats behind us had motored away, we untied our lines and reversed off the ship.

We docked at the nearby boat basin and inspected our yacht. The deck had a lot of yellow stains probably from the carrier's exhaust and some rusty dots perhaps caused by metal chips from the unwelding process. The deck was a cosmetic mess. In places, the hull above water had some orange stains that I removed with cleaner. We rigged the dodger and bimini and spent a quiet night alongside. ARGONAUTA I had never been in such cold! Air temperature was about -5C, water temperature about +8C. No boat heater was installed but I had of course brought an electric space heater so with shore power we were comfortable. Next day dawned bright and sunny. We stopped at the fuel dock to buy diesel, the cheapest since Venezuela. Then in company with another vessel also recently unloaded, we headed south. We awaited slack water at Dodd Narrows, as otherwise tidal currents are severe. We had no trouble there but avoiding floating logs was a constant concern. We docked at Thetis Island Marina that night . . . 6 inches of snow on the slip! In the face of a gale warning for later next day, we left at first light and motored the remaining distance to our new slip at Canoe Cove Marina near Sidney about 20 miles north of Victoria. We arrived just after noon well before the gale. I spent the next few days cleaning the deck. I had complained about the cosmetic mess to Dockwise and they kindly sent me a cheque for $300.00, which compensated me somewhat for my labour.

ARGONAUTA I is now settled into her new home port and we are making plans to explore the marvellous cruising grounds of the BC coast and beyond. We are planning a passage to Alaska and back in 2010.

Hugh Bacon, ARGONAUTA I, Calabogie, Canada

August 5, 2009

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