Monday, March 16, 2015

Crossing the Bar at Bahia del Sol

The bar at Bahia del Sol has a well deserved reputation. Twice a day the tide exchanges millions of gallons of water into and out of the Estero de Jaltepeque. Over the years, sediment from the estuary has formed a wide shallow bar. All that water combined with the shallow depths and the long swell of the Pacific Ocean creates huge waves. But at slack water, with a knowledgeable guide, good luck, and nerves of steel, one can make it safely across.

In this photo you can actually see the greyish sand of the bar. The water (even at high tide) is only 10 feet deep where you see the breakers. Further in, in the narrow part of the mouth, the water is 50 feet deep. I managed to capture this screen shot as we started into the waves. We are the little blue dot.

The Pilot Boat

All four boats in our group arrived at the staging point for crossing the bar at 7am Saturday morning. We called the pilot on the radio then bobbed around for an hour waiting. High slack water was at 8:20am and they absolutely will not take you across any sooner. We spent our time doing final stowing, eating breakfast, and closing up the boat. They recommend that you close all hatches, portholes, and companionways. And stow everything inside the boat, and lash everything down on deck. Our boat hasn't been this tidy since we sailed out under the Golden Gate.

Delphinia catching their first swell with Thistle and Velvet Sky in the background
As we sat out there watching the waves pound across the bar I think we all got a little apprehensive. But the pilot has done this hundreds of times with very few problems and once the process starts, there's no backing out! Delphinia went first and then Seahorse V went and ten minutes later Velvet Sky. It all happens pretty quickly.
Seahorse V with a big wave coming up behind them
Velvet Sky starting to surf
At 8:40 it was finally our turn. The pilot boat comes out beyond the breakers and has you get close to them. Then they wait for the right "set" of waves and tell you to gun the engine and keep close to them. We did exactly as they instructed and had two swells pass under us. Although we saw depths of less than 10 feet, we handled the swells easily. The third one was a big wave though and we surfed down the face of it at 12 knots! It was very exciting and we hooted with joy to be safely across the bar.
Thistle surfing at 12 knots
It takes about 20 minutes to motor up the estuary to the marina and when you get there people tie up your lines and the marina staff hands you a Rum and Coke! What a welcome. The officials are there too and everyone is so friendly and welcoming. Then all eleven of us (four couples and three kids) trouped up to the office to do the official paperwork. That office was jumping as we all talked at once and compared our experiences crossing the bar.

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