Horizons Travelblogue

Sailing vessel Horizons, a Tayana 37 cutter, has been cruising the West Coast of Mexico and Central America for the past 9 years. This is the ongoing story.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

11º 15.33' N, 085º 52.56' W. At anchor. I've just about recovered from my 26 hour trip from Puesta del Sol to San Juan del Sur. Pulled away from the dock on Tuesday at 1000 hours and motored for the first few hours. But then the wind came up and I had an excellent sail for the rest of the day until about 1½ hours after dark, with all sails flying. Then it was back to the motor, although I left the full Main and staysail in place. The mistake I made was not reefing the Main while there was no wind, given that this is the beginning of the Papagayo gale season in this area.

And sure enough, at about 0100 hrs on Wednesday morning, the wind came up again, this time as an Easterly from shore. With the movement of the boat, the apparent wind direction was therefore on the nose, port nostril. I then went through a rather slow and laborious reefing process in the dark.

Things never go smoothly in the dark. Not counting the irritation of constantly trying to avoid being tripped up or entangled by the two tethers of my safety harness. it was difficult to see what the various Mainsail lines were doing when I was at the mast. Being unable to get the clew reefing cringle down to the aft part of the boom, in spite of cranking on the reefing winch, I discovered that the dangling leech line had somehow got wrapped around the flailing 2nd reefing line and both had got jammed in the 1st reef block on the boom, along with the 1st reefing line.

It was blowing a bit at this point. The 1st reef tack was already on the reefing hook at the mast and the loose bottom part of the sail was now being a bit unfriendly, especially as I had to work on the downwind side of the boom. After freeing the 1st reef block, with the help of some ungentlemanly language (it's amazing how strong you become when you're really pissed off), I finally managed to complete the reef. But when tying up the loose area of sail at the reef points, I managed to trap a small stowaway insect which was constantly flashing like a white LED light. It eventually crawled its way to "freedom".

The good news was that my little fair weather autopilot kept the boat on course while I was out on deck, in spite of the wind and increasing waves. In fact, the autopilot never faltered throughout the trip, and held its course in 25 plus knots of wind, with short steep seas. This was good consolation for the lack of success I'd had earlier in the day trying to get my wind vane self steering to work. I guess that I don't have enough patience for the wind vane. The thing seems to work mechanically to some extent, but doesn't seem to turn the auxiliary rudder sufficiently to keep the boat on course. I'll have to try it again but using only the staysail and Main. The boat balances better in stronger winds when not using the big genoa.

The next 12 hours were under headwinds between 20 and 30 knots. I was between 5 and 7 miles from shore initially, trying to avoid the unlit fishing boats closer to shore, which I could see on the radar. As the seas started to get bigger and steeper, I tacked in nearer to shore a couple of times, although I had to tack back one time to avoid a small fleet of well lit fishing boats.

The bow got buried in waves constantly, and I think I took on some water through the chain locker as I had to pump out the bilge a couple of times. I need to find a way to make the two anchor chain hawses water tight. The cap on the secondary rode (anchor chain) hawse is OK for rain but not for when buried in a wave. And the plastic bags tightly stuffed beside and around the chain at the windlass hawse is inadequate. Possibly disconnecting the chain from the secondary anchor and dropping it into the chain locker when under way might be one way of enabling that hawse to be completely sealed. I'll have to think of something else for the windlass. But it's also possible that water was also getting in through other places. The forward cap rail was constantly awash, so there may be some recaulking required in that area. I also discovered after anchoring here that the steel plate on the cap rail under the anchor chain between the windlass and the bow roller, which protected the cap rail, had been torn off by the waves. There's just the three holes left where the bolts had been.

I really like staysails. With my boomed self tacking staysail and the deeply reefed Main, both being sheeted in tight on a close haul, tacking when needed was simply a matter of disengaging the autopilot and cranking the wheel. This sail combination works well in strong winds. My 2nd reef in the Main, for even stronger winds, brings the sail size down to that of a trysail. My hanked on staysail can also be reefed, bringing it down to a storm staysail. But I'd hate to have to reef that, given the severe conditions which would require it.

When I arrived at Bahia San Juan del Sur, the wind was still blowing briskly, but the water inside the bay was quite flat. As I entered the bay I passed the cruise liner, “Regal Princess”, which was anchored at the mouth. I had earlier seen this cruise ship at the dock as I passed Corinto, about 14 miles south of Puesta del Sol. It had passed me during the night.

Last night, when I climbed into my bunk, my batteries were down 17.4 amps from full. This morning when I got up, they were only down 11.5 amps, and this with the amp guzzling fridge running. It normally uses about 20 amps overnight. It was quite windy last night, so finally I'm getting some value from my wind generator. Today it has been blowing through the anchorage between 20 and 30 knots all day. So my batteries have been full all day, with the regulator cutting off power from the wind generator. I even cranked up the fridge a couple of notches to take advantage of the extra power.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Leaving Puesta del Sol

12º 37.50' N. 087º 20.52' W. These are my coordinates in the marina at Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua. Tomorrow I leave the marina and head south east along the coast on the way to San Juan del Sur, not far from the border with Costa Rica. I’ve been slowly, but with increasing intensity, getting the boat ready for departure over the past couple of weeks after almost 7 months here. I’m also preparing myself mentally for becoming a cruiser again.

This is the longest period I’ve spent in a marina since I left Vancouver in August, 2001. But it was a very enjoyable luxury immediately following my almost two years at anchor in the same spot in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. The hull has now been scraped of all marine growth. The propeller, likewise. The tarps have been removed from over the decks. The deck house and decks have been hosed and scrubbed. The fuel tank has been filled. The diesel jerry cans have been filled. I’ve just filled the main water tank, to be quickly topped up in the morning just before I leave. Additional water jerry cans have also been filled.

I installed a new zinc anode in the engine heat exchanger and then checked out the operation of the engine. All looks fine. The wind generator was scrubbed down and put back in operation. But there are still many things left to stow away in secure places inside the boat.

I have just checked out with the Port Captain and Immigration officer. As I plan to check out of the country in San Juan del Sur before then heading for Costa Rica, I have only obtained internal check-out documents for Nicaragua. I will get my international zarpe when I check out of San Juan del Sur.

So far, the weather looks good for the next several days. South west winds over the past five or six days, coupled with swells from the same direction, have delayed my departure a little. San Juan del Sur has a harbour which is open to the south west, which makes it very rolly and uncomfortable when the winds are from that direction. By the time I expect to get there, the winds and swells will have moved to another direction. I’ll update my progress as the opportunity arises.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Estelí, Nicaragua

[I'm continuing to have problems uploading photos. So I'm going to publish this posting now, and update it as time permits.]

The rainy season is entering its late stages in Central America and it’s time to start thinking of moving further down the coast of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica. Horizons has been based in Marina Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua, since the end of April and it has been a very enjoyable stay. Some necessary work was done on the boat during the early part of my stay, but mostly I’ve been doing other projects.

I visited Granada, the island of Ometepe and León last year, when I was based in El Salvador. I also fit in a short visit to San Juan del Sur on the way back from my recent visit to Costa Rica. But I couldn’t leave Nicaragua without first taking a trip to the northern highlands.

Estelí was my first destination, by way of Chinandega and León. Except for the InterAmerican Highway section, the road was rough and slow. Estelí lies at an elevation of 2675 feet and is located about halfway between Managua and the Honduran border, on the main highway. It is primarily an agricultural town, with the addition of the production of livestock and cheese. Cotton, tobacco, sesame and various fruits and vegetables make up the agricultural production. As in most rural and many urban areas, horses are relied upon for much of the personal, public and business transportation and haulage. On one street in the southern part of town, not far from one of the market areas, is a concentration of saddleries which make and repair all the necessary hardware for equipping the horses.

As in other parts of Nicaragua, the people were very friendly. But I found the street kids to be more “friendly” than most I’ve encountered, often sticking to me like glue and remaining with me for many blocks as I walked around. It was sometimes very hard to shake them off. One even accompanied me uninvited into a restaurant and sat at my table while I had lunch. They also all seem to think that they know my name. But “Juan” is not my name. Nor is “Peso” my last name. “Juan Peso, Juan Peso!” they call me. Sometimes it’s “Juan Córdoba”. Persistent they may be, but generally they are quite good natured. And for security reasons, I keep some space between us.

Unfortunately, poverty is a widespread condition in Nicaragua with little in the way of social benefits. It’s impossible for individual tourists and travelers to alleviate the problem. One can give small amounts of money to some from time to time, but there are just too many.

Estelí was one area which saw a lot of heavy fighting during the Revolution which in 1979 overthrew the American-backed brutal dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the last Somoza of the 46 year dynasty. Much of the centre of the town was left in ruins, and there are some buildings remaining which can still be seen with pockmarks of bullet holes from the fighting.

One of the places of interest in Estelí is the small Galería de Héroes y Mártires operated by the Madres de los Héroes y Mártires. These are mothers who lost sons, daughters and other family members in the fighting during the Revolution. There are many photos on all the walls of a number of those local men and women who died, most of them being very young. Each photo has the name and the date killed printed underneath.

Guillermina Meza, now aged 59, was the mother in attendance at the museum when I visited. Her two sons were killed on April 10, 1979. The older son, Efrain Rugana Meza, was 17 years old, and the younger one, Juan José Blanco Meza, was only 15. The accompanying photos show Guillermina beside the photos of her sons, which are the ones above her head with the red flowers. The impact of these and all the other photos was quite moving. Guillermina herself was very friendly and warm, with a mixture of pride, serenity and sadness – even now, after so many years. She was genuinely appreciative of the interest I was taking, and spontaneously hugged me before I left.

One of the many photos in the gallery was of José Benito Escobar, one of the leaders of the GPP (Prolonged People’s War) tendency of the Sandinistas. Of the three “tendencies” of the Sandinistas, the GPP focused on the guerilla war in the northern mountains. Gioconda Belli, a Nicaraguan poet, author and revolutionary herself, describes her meeting and positive impression of Escobar in her 2001 (translation: 2002) book, The Country Under My Skin. Escobar was killed in Estelí in July,1978, while fighting against Somoza’s National Guard.

Augusto César Sandino was a passionate patriot who organized and led a military campaign in 1927 to oust American control from Nicaragua. Persistent American intereference in Nicaraguan internal affairs from the mid 19th century, including several invasions by US Marines, fostered a nationalist movement in the early 20th century. The US Marines finally withdrew from Nicaragua in 1932, and Sandino's forces laid down their arms in 1933 after the signing of a peace agreement with the government. Sandino was assassinated on the orders of the dictator Anastasia Somoza Garcia in 1934.

Sandino's silhouette in stetson and riding breeches has become a national symbol in Nicaragua.

Other exhibits in the museum include photos and paintings of some of the national revolutionary heroes, some remnant weapons and accessories, and some murals on the external walls. Posters of Sandino and Carlos Fonseca are shown below.

Murals are a prominent feature of Estelí. They can be seen in many places around the town, often in unlikely places. Some have powerful political themes. When I visited the Casa de Cultura, I met a mural artist who has painted murals in a number of towns and communities around the country. He showed me a binder/portfolio of photos of many of his works, which were very impressive. Some murals appeared multi-layered, with different images appearing, depending on how you viewed them and how far back you stood. Mural painting as a means of expression, as well as political expression, is a popular art form in Nicaragua. I saw many during my first visit to León early last year. This binder/portfolio also contained a fairly recent photo of this artist with revolutionary leader and former President Daniel Ortega during a visit by Ortega to this cultural centre.

The Casa de Cultura provides courses in art and music to its students. Guitar lessons were taking place in one room; and in another, a kind of mosaic art using what looked like dyed palm leaves or the outer leaves from corn ears. These dried leaves were cut up into small pieces and assembled into pictures by gluing them onto a board.

The political mural below is one example of many to be seen around Estelí and other locations.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Children of Matagalpa

Princessa & her little brother

The family run a tiny tienda from their humble home in Barrio San Francisco, a poor neighbourhood in the steep hills on the east side of Matagalpa. I can't remember the names of the children - I should write everything down. But I think that Princessa perfectly suits the little girl.



Nica Youth

Picture Perfect

Mona Lisa

"The eyes have it."

I continue to be amazed at the striking beauty of the children of Central America, and it's particularly noticable in Nicaragua. This child leaves the original Mona Lisa well in the shade.

Local Boys

Cool for School

Cool hair

This young lad obviously takes great pride in his appearance. I've noticed that many of the young schoolboys are very conscious of hairstyles, and they really like the gel look. As with most of the kids in school uniforms in these photos, this boy was a pupil at the local primary school in Barrio San Francisco, Matagalpa.

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