Leaving Chiapas, Mexico we sailed directly to the Bay of Fonseca, as one of our friends had been here before us and loved it. Arriving late in the afternoon at the Punta Ampala (Tamarindo) anchorage (don’t confuse this one with the town of Ampala on Isla Tigre), we dropped the hook in 19 feet of water over a mud bottom, still at least half a mile from shore. To our delight, another of our buddy boats (with kids) showed up that same afternoon, having just left Bahia del Sol, El Salvador that morning via favorable conditions over the vaunted bar outside the harbor. Although the next day didn’t go as planned because both of us became involved with helping another boat who needed fuel off the coast (S/V Kyrie did the lion’s share of the work, we just hung around in case a tow was needed), we ended up behind Isla Meanguera in front of the small town, hiding from winds that had come up. This same evening we were approached by El Salvadorian Customs and Port Captain from Isla Meanguera, telling us that I had to come check into the country in the morning. Since Kyrie had just checked out of the country and we were hiding from weather, the authorities didn’t bother with them. After an exciting surf landing dodging panga lines, I quickly found the Immigration and Port Captain Offices and checked into El Salvador. The process here was very professional, we paid for Visas only for the adults and they allowed me to check into and out of the country on a 72-hour basis. $14 dollars per adult tourist visa and $30 to check in and $40 to check out. Same fees as our buddy boat, so all was above board.
This being done, we took off to the front (west) side of the island where there’s a beach lined anchorage called Playa Majahual. Probably should have started watching the weather carefully then…as the winds have a habit of funneling directly into the Bay of Fonseca in the afternoons when there’s no Papagayo blowing, at a rate of 20-30 knots (right now). So we took a wind and swell beating on this first afternoon and evening. The next evening we moved back to the other side of the island to hide behind Punta El Panteon and Isla Meanguerita, but the wind switched back to a nasty southeasterly direction so we moved back around again at approx. 10pm, managing to stay anchored for 48 hours straight in the pretty Playa Majahual anchorage.
Finding what we thought was a manageable weather window to get through the Papagayo’s, we left Isla Manguera and Playa Majuhual to journey over to the Moneypenny Anchorage in Nicaragua to get into a position to leave the bay more easily early the next morning. What we found over at this anchoring area was strong currents and variable depths, but we anchored anyway as we had a birthday to celebrate and chores to do before departing. That evening, we were approached by Nicaraguan Coast Guard in black pangas, asking for documents. They gave us an inspection form stating they had inspected us and told us how dangerous the anchorage was…close to a small village whose lights we could see. We honestly didn’t feel ill at ease until they had told us this. This same panga then came back a second time to inspect more documents and brought another larger panga back a third time to sit and photograph the boat. We’re not sure why or what they wanted but we didn’t give them anything, although they told us several times that they would be staying in the area to provide security for our three boats. They had also done nearly the same routine with our buddy boat Kyrie but only visited our third buddy boat once (27-ft sailboat). Perhaps they thought we would give them money for providing security? In hindsight the anchorage wasn’t that great as a large southeasterly wind came up about 0300, swinging us into shoal waters. We knew it was time to leave as the wind started to go past 20 knots and we procceded to go from 15 feet to 12 feet, the tide was dropping and it was time to go. So we raised the hook in the dark and left, intent on getting out of the Bay of Fonseca and on to Costa Rica. But it just wasn’t to be. After getting out of the bay, we found wind and swell on the nose building past 15 knots and we were getting bashed as we went nose into swell, current and rising wind. Our buddy boats were not enjoying themselves and a call came in around 0830 asking if anyone felt like turning around. It didn’t take long for everyone to agree and soon we were heading back to the Bay of Fonseca, under sail. It was really great to sail, but it really sucks when it’s time to turn on the engine and it just won’t turn on. This had happened before, but this time we were in high wind and swells and it was time to get back into the Bay of Fonseca and into an anchorage with some protection. Finally the engine came on and we motored into more swell and wind going into the Ba;, for the next three hours to get back to Isla Meanguera. Once there, both of our buddy boats came over to help diagnose the problem, which we think is electrical. -In retrospect I don’t think the Moneypenny anchorage gave us any advantages for leaving in the morning and I would not use the anchorage again.
The next day, we decided to go into Ampala, Honduras to check in, reprovision and relax a bit. This was not to be. Ampala is a bright cheerful town where we checked into Honduras through the Port Captain and Immigration quickly and for free.
We found a restaurant with cheeseburgers and cold beer then found provisions. The town has a working bank ATM’s to get money from and it was really busy, as it was Semana Santa weekend. However, the anchorage has tides and current to deal with (but good holding) and we had been lulled into a false sense of security behind the lee of Isla Tigre. In the afternoon, the wind came up strongly, gusting through 30 knts and driving up the wind waves, which opposed by current became larger and more square.
Our buddy boats called and said they were moving and soon we had a bathtub of water in our stern cockpit so we knew it was time to go too. Some shelter might be found around the island in front of the Navy base behind another small island…so we all went there.
This small anchorage is shallow and only provided marginal minimum protection…and as predicted the Honduran Navy came out just after we anchored (in high winds and swells) to tell us to leave. We managed to ask them for two more hours to let the wind calm down and they allowed it. At sunset we moved back in front of Ampala. The anchorage in front of Ampala has good thick mud for holding and decent depth. We spent one night there with no problems holding. If not for the winds that came whipping around the island, we would have spent more time there. The next day we checked out of Honduras ($35 limpira, for the printed form to check out with the Port Captain), returning to the Punta El Panteon anchorage off Isla Meanguera, El Salvador between the big island and Isla Meanguerita. We found this small bay has decent protection and it’s easy to get from here around the island to the shelter of the Playa Majahual anchorage if needed.
The day after Easter was another window through the Papagayo that looked promising so we were prepped to leave. Both of our buddy boats left at approx 0400, however we waited for first light as we want to be able to see any long lines or nets – there’s lots of them in the Bay of Fonseca entrance. A squall came in as they departed the bay. So we waited, listening to the radio chatter as our two buddy boats took large swell and winds on the nose, coupled with strong lightning. The building animosity of the sea coupled with lightning forced them to turn around and convinced us all not to leave at all that morning. Two days later, we all found a weather window through the Papagayo that we agreed was doable. It wasn’t a perfect window but we thought all three of our very different boats and crews could manage. We were off again, south bound for Costa Rica. 3rd time a charm!
Tulum-5 and our buddy boats mentioned in this story could not be more different and we love it. S/V Mango is a 1978 Bristol 27 monohull while S/V Kyrie is a 1983 Prout Snowgoose 37 (with kids and dog). We (Tulum) are heading south slowly as we explore the world around us, writing as we go. You might have noticed that we took a big break in our writing in April….that usually corresponds to us being at sea with no internet. We’ll soon be on the move again, as we slowly cruise Costa Rica.
We LOVE all of you reading our stuff and will answer questions and comments if you have them-