Having finished all posts about our trips to Ecuador, Peru and the UK its time to catch up with our more recent sailing adventures – recent being a relative term [well, I guess it always is!] as this episode starts back at the beginning of September when we left Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica for El Salvador.
We raised the anchor at 5.35am on September 5th and, once out of the bay, found favourable winds – both speed and direction – and were able to sail for the first time in a long while. We had great weather, dolphins accompanying us and no fishing nets to worry about. Perfect. Our only concern was avoiding an electric storm in the middle of the night but we managed that without mishap and we covered 131 miles in the first 24 hours.
We weren’t quite so fortunate the second day. The wind dropped to an average 5 knots meaning we had to motor sail and we encountered a current against us running at a approximately 1.5 knots. Even so we made reasonable time and reached the waypoint outside Estero de Jaltapeque, El Salvador at 2am where we anchored until first light.
There are two main anchorage/marina areas in El Salvador, both of them on the other side of sand bars. We believe that it is possible to negotiate the Bahia de Jiquilisco bar unaided but for Jaltapeque a pilot is needed. Given that the photograph below shows you the view we awoke to you might understand that we were very glad there was a pilot to show us the way!
High tide on 7th September was at 9.30am and the best time to tackle the entrance is on a slack rising tide i.e. approx 1 hour before high tide so, having made contact with Bill [more about him later], we made our way to the appointed waypoint to meet the pilot boat. The “pilot” does not come aboard your boat. He is a local guy in a “panga” and basically picks the moment when you have to go full throttle and follow him through.
Quite an experience and, just for your information, whilst most boats make it through totally unscathed some people get more of an adventure than they bargained for! We know that Anton and Rita in their trawler [“Albatross”] were turned sideways by a wave but managed to slide in and another couple, Bryce and Molly [“Abracadabra”] who, whilst being towed across due to engine failure, broached when the tow rope snapped. Fortunately, other than a few bruises, none of them were seriously hurt and, other than lots of water down below, neither boat was damaged.
The clearance procedure was very smooth. Bill took us to Bahia del Sol [the first marina once over the bar], where Immigration and the Port Captain share an office. We paid $25 [£16] to the marina for the services of the pilot – covers both in and out – and well worth every penny. The Port Captain charges $30 [£20] per month [a month being 30 days] regardless of whether you anchor, take one of the mooring balls or go into a marina. [If you stay 31 days then you pay for another complete month.] That, other than $40 [£28] for an International Zarpe on leaving, was the only charge – except, obviously, the marina. However, charges for marinas in El Salvador are very reasonable. We paid $300 [£200] for the month plus $28 [£19] for electricity. There is water on the dock but it is not potable so there is a charge if you want to fill your tanks. We were told by cruisers staying nearer the river mouth that they use their water-makers. We did not consider that an option further up river [and doubt we would have done anywhere inside the bar].
So, who is Bill? Well, he and his wife, Jean, are ex-cruisers who now live on one of the islands near the mouth of the river and who run the “El Salvador rally” which meets around April every year. If you want to know more about the rally go to http://elsalvadorrally.com
They are a very nice couple, always willing to help and give advice about local services. They have become an important part of their local island community and, when the island totally flooded as a result of an excessively high tide at Blood Moon [I am sure you all remember that taking place in September this year], they organised relief in the form of food staples and clothes donated by cruisers on the river and bought mattresses etc from donations sent to them from former rally participants who read about the flood on the rally Facebook site.
We stayed about three miles up the river at a small marina called the Paradise Fishing Lodge where we met up once again with our friends Allen and Patricia [“Nauti Nauti”].
There isn’t that much to do locally and it is about an hour and a half, by car, to San Salvador and probably about three hours by bus. You might remember that we spent almost a month in El Salvador [Sept 2014] on our land trip from Panama and didn’t therefore feel any urgent need to get out and about and see things we had already seen so being stuck in the river for a month was no hardship.
The nearest place for buying food was a small town called “La Herradura”, a twenty minute dinghy ride up the river.
Its a good job that we were there with Allen and Patricia because our dinghy was on its very last legs and, to top it all, the propeller – which had taken quite a battering in Costa Rica – decided to give up the ghost too. We were very glad of the tow!
There isn’t very much to the town and, although its a bit scruffy to look at….
……the locals were nice and friendly and, as well as a small market for fruit and veg, there is a reasonable supermarket which sells the basics. There are also a couple of decent restaurants at the dinghy dock for a well deserved beer at the end of the shopping trip.
We spent most of our time doing stuff on the boat – such as a full engine service, washing, polishing, small repairs etc – and socialising. Most late afternoons found us in the pool….
…. and we also met with other cruisers to share information on places to see and things to do. Greg [“Irie”] has spent about three years in Mexico and we had a fun evening studying charts and pilot books……
Sunday is a good day for visiting the “stilt” restaurants.
These are near to the river entrance so it was about 45minutes each way in the dinghy to get there and back. It was a great afternoon – meeting with people berthed, moored or anchored in other parts of the river [a special hello to Brit Alec and South African Cherry – “Rainbow Gypsy”] ….
I got a picture of the “boys” enjoying themselves and can assure you that the “girls” had an equally fine time!
What is even more impressive is that you sometimes see them doing this balancing in a small canoe.
We needed an early start because of the tide. An hour after high tide and the river is, we were told, impassable in a couple of places. We certainly saw some low tides during our stay and even had to think twice about a clear passage for the dinghy – well Allen’s dinghy!
We spent one night at the Bahia del Sol marina celebrating Patricia’s birthday.
We made use of that pool….
We had a very early start the following morning. Immigration will not stamp passports until the last minute so, although we had done the Zarpe paperwork the day before, the official wanted to see us on the day we were leaving. Fortunately she is prepared to start work early – so we could make the 6.30am rendezvous with the sand bar pilot and off we went.
It felt like a much easier crossing going out. I guess we had done it once, the “path” to take is much more obvious when leaving the river and the waves were far more boat friendly.