The Bay of Fonseca - Entering Central America
It had been almost six months since we’d last sailed Agape and it was so good to have her back out on the water. We were a little nervous pulling out of the slip at Marina Chiapas to navigate the shallow channel leading back out to the main port and into the open ocean. We’d run the engine at the dock for an hour to make sure that everything was working correctly, but there is a big difference between at the dock and out to sea. We’d be jumping right back into cruising with a 315nm sail to Isla Meanguera located off the coast of El Salvador, in the Bay of Fonseca. Luckily, we had our friend Nicola onboard to help ease us back into cruising with our first passage that would last about two and a half days.
Every time we leave a port that we’ve been in for a while, our bodies have to readjust to a life of constant movement. Most of the time we feel a little tired and slightly nauseous, but sometimes Rachel can’t even go down below for the first few hours. I used to think that I never got seasick because I never lost my lunch, but I’m starting to recognize how tired and sluggish I feel when we first start a passage. After a couple of hours though, our bodies seem to remember how to cope with the motion, and after the first night we are back to normal. Nicola though is super human, I swear she feels better being on a boat than on land.
It was a beautiful first passage to start the season off and although the winds were light we were able to sail about 70% of the time. We saw dolphins and turtles during the day and Nicola and I even got to see Volcan Fuego erupting while off the coast of Guatemala on one of our night watches. At first I thought she was seeing things, but after watching for a while we realized that it really was Fuego erupting. It was so cool to see it from the water and reminded us of the last time we saw it erupt on our recent trip climbing Acatanango, Fuego’s sister volcano.
Midmorning on our third day we dropped anchor in the calm waters of Isla Meanguera, in the Bay of Fonseca. The bay is bordered by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and all three countries along that stretch of coastline have been involved in a lengthy dispute over rights to the Gulf and the islands located within it. Even the US at one point tried to lay claim to one of the islands in the bay.
We would not be checking into the country here, just making a short pit stop. We spent our first beautiful day at anchor napping on the boat and tidying up a bit. I don’t know how, but on passage especially on over night passages, the boat seems to instantly become a wreck! Pillows and blankets are everywhere, towels are shoved into cabinets to keep things from banging around, and anything that went flying from its living space got wedged on to the pilot birth.
In the late afternoon we finally mustered up enough energy to put the dingy in the water and go for a walk along the beach to stretch our legs. Nicola and I also went for a little sunset fishing trip up at the point and caught some sierra mackerel for dinner.
We spent the next two days at Isla Meanguera mostly catching up on sleep, reading on the beach, swimming, fishing, and slowly falling back into the cruising routine. We are so blessed to be able to experience this kind of lifestyle while we are still young. Rachel and I sit together every morning enjoying our coffee, relaxing and talking. There’s no Instagram, Facebook, or internet in most of the anchorages we visit, and without these distractions we are able to really focus on each other and the beautiful place that we are in. This time is truly a gift and we try our best to recognize it and cherish it each day.
After a few days we moved Agape a little further into the bay and anchored in front of the island of El Tigre, Honduras.
This sleepy little fishing island is one of the larger islands in the bay and the town of Amapala long served as the main Honduran port in the Pacific Ocean, but since the commercial shipping no longer makes port here, the island has all but been forgotten. El Tigre has a rich history though, and like so many places we have visited it’s a history that America helped to write, wanted or not. In 1984 the CIA opened a base of operations here because of the islands strategic location next to Nicaragua. This was during the Cold War, when the United states was training and funding the Nicaraguan rebels, the Contras, to overthrow the socialist political party of the Sandinista’s. The tall radar, radio towers and bases were established on the top of the island’s volcano to keep track of movements within the neighboring countries. This all came to an end in the 1990’s when the Sandinistas lost power and the country returned to democracy.
One afternoon we hiked up to the top of the now dormant volcano to see the ruins of the old CIA radar installation. We took a tuk tuk up as far as we could and then walked the rest of the way, in flip flops. If you ever go, we highly recommend hiking shoes.
If you ever plan on sailing to El Tigre and anchoring here, make sure that you let out plenty of scope (anchor chain) and back down hard. The current can run up to 5 knots in the anchorage and when the wind picks up the combined forces will test how well you’ve set the hook. We experienced this combination of wind and current on our second night anchored just north of the pier, as the tide started dropping the wind picked up to 20-25 knots. As the wind funneled around the island we slowly started to drag. Luckily we always have an anchor alarm set and a gps running to shows our tracks to see if we are dragging anchor. Our recorded tracks can also help us get out of an anchorage at night if needed. We only drug about 100 to 150 feet before the anchor finally dug in again, but for the rest of the night we were on edge and didn’t get much sleep. Luckily we had room to drag here, and it made our dingy commute a little shorter to the pier.
We spent the next six days in the bay and would highly recommend it as a great stop for boats transiting the coast. There is a lack of a good places here though to resupply and get fresh foods, so after a week the three of us decided to continue on our way south. Our next stop would be Puesta Del Sol, a small protected marina located in the mangroves of Aserradores in Northern Nicaragua, only 45 miles to the south.