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Sunday, October 19, 2014

October 19, 2014-Boat Work in Chiapas

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Quiet Day in Marina Chiapas

We’ve been back in Mexico for more than a month. It has been an enjoyable time of tranquil days mostly spent working on boat projects.

While boat maintenance can sometimes be viewed as tedious drudgery, it can also be an enjoyable pastime depending on one’s attitude and approach. Our approach has been to have a relaxed routine with some time for work each day but also with time for daily exercise, for preparing and enjoying home cooked meals and with evenings free for a little good tequila and our favorite TV show.

The days run together as we tackle the boat projects one after another at a gentle but steady pace. If the work it takes to complete some minor task often seems disproportionate to the result, we don’t mind, our satisfaction comes from the time spent doing it and knowing that, in the end, our boat will be a little better.

When we are involved in a project there is a zone we can enter where we shut off the outside world and just putter along, focused entirely on the work, and where neither schedules or objectives matter. The activity becomes an end unto itself. Before we realize it we come to the end of the day and maybe we have accomplished something or maybe not, but we knock off feeling good for having done it. And anyway, the tequila calls to us.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Now the cleaning task begins

Take winch servicing for example. Our eight Barient sail-handling winches were made 35 years ago by a company no longer in existence, so parts and repairs are not readily available, and they live in a salt-water, sun-drenched, and dirty environment. We use them for all everything, in all kinds of conditions, and they take a real beating. It would cost a fortune to replace our winches, so we try to take care of them.

To keep winches operating smoothly requires periodic cleaning and oiling. We disassemble each winch and inspect every part. There are many gears and roller bearings and a lot of other bits and pieces, each of which must be scrubbed in solvent with a brush or scraped to remove the grease and dirt. When I have finished cleaning I inspect the pieces closely and often I find it is still not clean; it needs more brushing or scraping. Sometimes I just start over. It doesn’t matter. It’s the doing it that counts.

When everything is ready the parts are and oiled and greased and we reassemble the winch then spin the drum to test our work. If it whirls effortlessly and nice clicking sounds come from the pawls we are happy. Then we put in a winch handle and see that everything turns the proper way and works perfectly. When it does, which it usually does, it is nice. It takes a day to do one of these winches, but it’s worth it.

At the beginning of this month we had a long list of projects, mostly little things but a few major items. Hammering away at them every day we’ve managed to get the list pretty much checked off. In addition to the winches we had many small electrical repairs to make and several mechanical items to fix. We also had several sewing projects. Judy worked a week making new bug screens for our hatches. We made the old ones when we in Mexico 15 years ago and they needed replacing. Fortunately, and amazingly, we still had netting and material left over from the first job to make new ones. She got into the task and did a great job and we know the new ones will last another 15 years.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Ready for Re-launch

We also did a haul-out this month. We just finished the haul-out and re-launched the boat on Friday. It involved some keel work and replacements of through-hulls and sea-cocks, as well as the normal sanding and painting of the bottom. The project went well; while we tackled the repairs, the workers at Marina Chiapas did the sanding and painting and we were happy with their cheerful and steady progress.

Much is going well but we do have our problems. Our new mainsail, which we ordered from Fareast Sails in Hong Kong, has disturbed our tranquility. When we put the sail on the boat and measured it we found it did not match the design specifications. We’ve been communicating with Fareast Sails to understand why this happened and what are going to be the consequences of the discrepancy. At this point they are giving us a bit of double talk and basically denying responsibility. They say we asked for a custom shape and that caused any problems there might be, and can only suggest to us that we ship the sail back to them so they can look at it. Then, if they don’t agree that there is a problem, we have to pay for the shipping both ways, plus, presumably, the import duty to get it into Mexico again. Meanwhile we would be without a suitable mainsail which we need to sail north. Will we ship it back? Probably not. So far, from how they have responded to us, we have no confidence that they will acknowledge the problem. We think the sail, while not optimal, will be usable. In the next week or two we will go sailing and check it out more thoroughly. If it is not usable we’ll have to look at our options.

Was it a mistake to buy a sail from China? We saved a lot of money by going that route and if the sail turns out to be usable we’ll just consider it a lesson learned but not too much harm will have been done. Otherwise, I don’t know.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Judy at Casa Mexicana, Tapachula

Meanwhile, what else has been going on? While the boat was in the boatyard we moved off and stayed in a delightful little boutique hotel in Tapachula. Called the Casa Mexicana, it was filled with art and had a virtual jungle in the inner courtyard. Casa Mexicana was a haven of peace and quiet. We enjoyed it.

But we are back aboard now and we will work towards finishing off our list and getting ready to set sail again. The hurricane season is drawing to a close, and like migratory birds, we will soon be on our way.

Click here to see more images.

Click here to see the whole work list.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Chiapas

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 23, 2014-Coffee Country

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Coffee Beans

The State of Chiapas is mountainous and from our berth in Marina Chiapas we can see some of those mountains and even two volcanoes, weather permitting. One volcano we can usually see is in nearby Guatemala, and the other one, closer, visible even more often, towers over the town of Tapachula where we go to do our shopping. That volcano, Tacana, is only about 75 kilometers from us, and closer by far to the town of Tapachula than Mount St Helens is to Seattle, if that means anything to you (so maybe if we don’t have to worry about hurricanes, at least we should pay attention to seismic activity).

We thought that a nice Sunday drive would be to head up into the mountains and see if we could get some shots of the volcano, take a little hike or two in the cool mountain forests, and maybe buy some local coffee beans from one of the fincas for which Chiapas is well known.

It didn’t seem too hard; the roads are reported to be good, the Chrysler had a full tank of gas and seemed to be straining at the bit, and we had all day. Off we went. We took the bypass around Tapachula, stopped at the Izapa ruins to see what is left of one of the most important pre-Olmec, pre-Mayan and pre-Aztec cities in Mexico, dating from a few centuries before Christ, and found it interesting but steaming in the humid lowlands, then hopped back in the car and headed up hill towards the cool mountains.

Getting to the mountains from Marina Chiapas is pretty easy: it’s about a 50 mile drive from our dock up the slopes of Tacana, to the town of Union Juarez, where the hiking trails start, the coffee fincas abound, and a nice restaurant lies waiting to serve us lunch. Easy, as long as you stay on the main drag. We made the mistake of turning off the highway to visit a small town, Tuxtla Chica, on the way, which was nice, but at that point our Google Maps navigation program decided we wanted to take the local route and pretty soon we were on a one lane road paved with loose boulders. Five miles per hour was way too fast, we were bottoming out the car, and the locals were giving us funny looks. This can’t be right, we thought, let’s get back on the main highway, but the main highway seemed to have disappeared from the database. It wasn’t on the map anywhere. According to Google, this was THE ONLY route. Boy, was that fun. But anyway, we followed the donkey track, or river bed, whichever it was, and finally made it to the next town, Cacahoatan, where the highway mysteriously reappeared, and continued to Union Jaurez.

Tuxtla Chica Market

Problem number two, which wasn’t a problem really, but it did change our plans a little, is that Tacana was completely socked in on that day, and in fact the whole mountainside was drenched in steady rain. We never saw the mountain. Never took a hike. But the restaurant was nice, we had a great lunch and the damp mountain air was cool, chilly actually. While there we also enjoyed the work of a wonderful Mexican photographer, Dasha Hornita, which is on display in her mother’s restaurant, Donde Morayma, where we had lunch. Later, on the way back down, while we knew there must be a better route, Google again insisted that we take to the back roads. That we refused to do, instead followed some nice Mexican road signs, (who would have thunk?) and found our own way to the main road, which was smoother and faster. If you ever go to this place, for God’s sake don’t get off the road at Tuxtla Chico, or if you do, turn off Google Maps and ask a local for directions.

Oh, the coffee beans? It turns out you have to get them at the Walmart store in Tapachula.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Chiapas

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September 23, 2014-Hurricane Hell, Hurricane Safe

Latitude 38 images-2014 Shelly Ward
Hurricane hits La Paz

The community of cruising sailors is surprisingly small and when a storm hits somewhere and devastates a fleet, as they too often do, not only do we hear about it though friends on the scene, but sometimes, too often really, someone we know is touched, not usually in a good way.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Our friend Venus, Safe in Chiapas

So last week when Hurricane Odile tracked Baja like a sidewinder missile and made direct hits on Cabo San Lucas and La Paz we heard the terrible news immediately; neighbors of ours here in Marina Chiapas were in touch with cruisers from La Paz. Venus on SeaRenity gave us the first report: Twenty or more boats were on the rocks or sunk. People were missing including her friend Guenter Trebbow from the yacht Princess and his dog Fritz. His boat was sunk and Guenter had not been seen. His body was later found in the sunken boat. Venus recounted how they had walked their dogs together and how she will miss Guenter, as will many in the cruising community. Paul and Simone of the ketch Tabasco also went missing after their yacht went down too. They have not been seen. Another friend of Venus’, Tim Nobbs, lost his boat, Rock Bottom, (what a name!) on the rocks of the Mogote which bounds the anchorage of La Paz. It is holed and filled with water. Venus told us Tim had just finished paying the boat off. Now he will have to start over but at least he is alive. The likelihood of recovering Tim's boat and others is not strong. We heard that the Mexican Navy, which has been on the scene helping and even pulling boats off the rocks, will now focus on missing people and boat owners will need to organize further salvage efforts themselves. It will be a long haul for many. Boats were also lost in Puerto Escondito and across the Sea in San Carlos. All in all the news was not good. But in general, boats in the marinas were OK. Boats which had to ride out the storm on anchor got the worst of it.

Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Hurricane tracks

But we’re lucky: we are in Chiapas Marina in the far south of Mexico and hurricanes don’t generally hit here. In fact, there has been no recorded strike of a hurricane here since records have been kept. Look in the lower right corner for the red "X" in the image above (that’s where we are and that's why we have stayed here during hurricane season). So, while Baja has been through hurricane hell, we have been safe. We are thankful. Next year, when we have moved north, we might be closer to the hurricane areas. We hope our luck holds.

Click here for a couple more photos.

Click here , here and here for the 'Lectronic Latitude stories.

Click here and here for our 1997 hurricane reports when we were in the Sea of Cortez.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Chiapas

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Friday, September 05, 2014

September 5, 2014-One lap of North America

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Somewhere East of Bakersfield

Somewhere East of Bakersfield in the Mojave Desert lies China Lake Naval Air Station and there we slid our Chrysler to a stop in front of a red stucco apartment where our granddaughter Candace answered the door and offered us an orange flavored craft beer. More importantly she gave us each a big hug and as we sat down to chat we were delighted to find that in the previous four years she has turned from a sharp navy boot to a confident and composed 29-year old woman.

Family in Twin Peaks

This has been the story of our 7500 mile loop in America; at each stop we have found that our family and friends have grown up, matured, and changed from the wonderful people we remembered into delightful people even more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. And our timing was good, for family events and tourism too. We got to Seattle just in time for the birth of our newest granddaughter, Helena Anne, we made it to Oregon for Jenny and Gabe’s wedding, we were in San Diego in time to be with the Waldrups as they celebrated the life of Aunt Levis. We even hit Sturgis South Dakota for the great motorcycle rally.

Gabe & Jenny's Wedding

So, so far, the trip it has been a success; we’ve spent quality time with my brother and sister, son and daughter, and all of their families. We’ve been together with most of Judy’s family, and we’ve reconnected with many of our friends, particularly ones we missed last time we were in the US. The car is running well, and we completed all of our shopping and bought everything on the boat list. Even the weather has been great. From Oregon south we’ve barely had a cloud in the sky, but it’s been hot; in San Diego it was over 100, and in Indio, California we had temperatures over 112. Never mind that, in the low humidity of the southwest desert, it didn’t seem too bad.

Now we’re back in Mexico. We drove through the Sonora Desert and it was stunning. We visited Mazatlan and boy has it changed; the marina area has been totally built up and then been run down. Now there is a tacky air about the marina which might cause us to reconsider whether we will bring the boat there. We’ll see.

We stopped in small towns like Tecuala, and in old cities like Cuidad Obregon, Morelia, which was historic and gorgeous, and Oaxaca. We had great meals in outdoor restaurants on centuries-old plazas. We dropped into the Valley of Mexico and struggled through Mexico City traffic for hours. We had been in Mexico City before and could have by-passed it but we wanted to experience the size of hemisphere’s largest city by driving through it and we did. Whew! Big!

Yesterday was the toughest drive. After the hours of Mexico City we finally broke free of the gridlock and climbed from the city’s 7500 ft altitude up into higher Sierra Nevada on a four lane freeway with sweeping curves and traffic moving faster than we were comfortable with, but you have to go with the flow, right? Then down the other side into Puebla with more curves and even higher speeds. The driving was tense and definitely tended to focus the mind. But too, it was exciting.


Because of the traffic jams in the Valley of Mexico we were behind schedule and to get to Cordoba where we had reserved a room we had to drive into the night. In the last set of mountains we had fog, rain, road construction everywhere, poorly marked lanes, and darkness. It was exhausting, but we arrived safely in Codoba. Today we had another exciting day in the mountains with more stunning scenery and arrived in Oaxaca this afternoon.


Tomorrow we hope to be back at Marina Chiapas and back onboard Wings.

We have been driving long days and stopping rarely so there are few photos of the trip, but we have some of the people we stopped to see.

Click here to see photos from our lap of North America

Click here to see Gabe & Jenny's Wedding

Click here for photos from Sturgis.

Fred & Judy, Oaxaca, Mexico

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

August 03, 2014-On The Move Again

Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City

We loved Chiapas so well...

We left.

Monday we took a bus to Tuxtla, (great 6 hour bus ride and crummy dinner in Tuxtla Guiterrez.)

Tuesday we flew to Mexico City, (great dinner in Centro Historico, and stayed where I always do, for the last 32 years, at the Ritz; they gave us a suite for our loyalty.)

Wednesday we flew to Cleveland, Ohio.

Thursday we bought a used car, (Chrysler 300) and got USA phone cards.

Friday we drove to Iowa, where we are now (at Judy's niece Angie's house in Cedar Rapids).

Looks like we will drive to Seattle on Monday, or start anyhow, and visit relatives and friends in Washington State, then later in August go to Jenny’s wedding in Oregon.

Finally, after we pick up the new mainsail somewhere on the West Coast, a drive to Mexico and down all the way to Chiapas.

You can cover a lot of ground if you take to the air, and even by land you go faster than a sailboat

We’ll check in along the way.

Our New Ride

Click here for more images.

Fred & Judy, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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Monday, July 21, 2014

July 17, 2014-Mexico Again

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
In Chiapas, Mexico

Today at 3:00PM we landed in Chiapas, Mexico, after a 3 day passage from Nicaragua, which pretty much gets us around the world.

How did that happen? We didn’t set out to go around the world; we just wanted to go sailing and live in some different places. We did that; some wonderful places. But in the end we got around.

It was the westing. We thought we’d go west, so west we went; west across the Pacific, to Bora Bora, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, and others, where we saw dancing girls and met the Frangi Pangi blossoms. Then west again to the land down under, New Zealand and Oz, and of Kiwi and Roos, where sailors are kings. Finally we went west again until we got East. We arrived in China and stayed in the Far East for years, in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and other exotic ports. Chop sticks became as familiar as fork and spoon, and spicy food became our staple. The East was nice. Friends of ours never left that place, in each of these remote corners there are ex-cruisers who dropped out of the line and they will never leave, but the need to go kept us itching for west.

So we left again and headed further west, crossing the Indian Ocean, and landed in Africa, where there are lions, and we stayed for there for a while, but there was more west to go.

Next we crossed the Atlantic and got back to the Western Hemisphere where we found the West Indies and all things Carib, and we drank the lime in the coconut and heard the Reggie but still the westing wasn’t finished.

There was Colombia and the Panama Canal, and Central America.

Through it all we kept on the move and we kept heading west.

And here we are, Mexico; back after 16 years. It feels good.

Now we look back on this voyage, and we think it has been pretty amazing, and we have more memories than we can ever tell, but are the travels over?

Maybe, maybe not, but west? No, we’re finished with west. Maybe we’ll try east.

Click here for other photos of Chiapas and Puesta Del Sol, Nicaragua

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Mexico

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 16, 2014-Sailing to Mexico

What about the trip?

We planned three plus days to get from Nicaragua to Mexico. The forecasts, all of them, said light winds.

Or no winds. So we took fuel and went in a funk.

But there were some surprises.

There was wind. Not much, but we could sail.

And when the wind failed we could motor.

Until the motor problems reappeared. After two months of no motor problems, of no oil consumption, all of a sudden, 12 hours into a three day passage, the oil disappeared. Like that.

So we shut down the motor. We had enough oil to run for nine hours, at the rate which it seemed like we were losing it, so we decided to wait. When there was wind we'd sail. No wind? We'd sit. When we were nine hours out of Mexico we could motor if we wanted.

We had some really pleasant sailing after that. Days of light winds and calm seas. Blue ocean under blue sky. Close hauled: Wings' best point of sail. The off watch slept, like babes. The standing watch? We sat and enjoyed the best sailing we'd had for a long time. Glorious.

The wind vane? Great! Silently keeping us on the best angle. Who could steer that well? Not me.

Tacking? We did some. We beat up the coast. Past Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. Long port tacks up the Central American Coast, short tacks off shore to get some sea room, then back at it. There was a moon, the light was nice.

That was the plan.

Some highlights? The Gecko reappeared. On a midnight watch he ran over my arm and hid under the dodger. Hadn't seen him for a month or so.

Welcome back.

Then my lifejacket inflated. I was shutting a hatch before the rain and PFFFT! My lifejacket filled and choked me like some kind of Boa Constrictor. What a surprise. I ripped it off and put on the spare. Need to get a new bobbin and bottle I guess.

Then, that was the night the oil alarm went off. So it was a night of drama.

We had some breeze on the last 20 miles into Chiapas, but the motor was already on, and we'd folded the sails, so we motored in.

You know what?

No oil consumption.

Now that has us baffled.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Mexico


Friday, July 11, 2014

July 11, 2014-Papagayo Update

The Papagayos are behind us!

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Judy enjoys a nice sail.

We rode at anchor in San Juan Del Sur, in Nicaragua, where the Papagayos were blowing, for a week, and watched the weather patterns. After noticing that the winds were strongest from midnight to noon and that in the afternoon and evening each day they got lighter, and that the strongest area where they blew was over Popoyo, a surf town about 20 miles west from San Juan Del Sur, we resolved to leave on an afternoon, hoping on that day to get past Popoyo during the evening lull, and we waited for the best day to leave.

By Monday the breeze was down a little and we were ready so at 4:30 we set out for Corinto, expecting to get there by about 7:00 in the morning and, based on our strategy, hoping for minimal problems. Even with a good plan in mind we were nervous; it was still gustier than we wished for and the big mainsail we were carrying scared us a little.

But we went.

The sailing, however, was good. We reefed the main and set a small jib and had winds mostly in the low twenties, though at times higher, and they came from a good angle; a broad reach. With the good wind and some long surfs from the SW swell we were hitting 8's and 9's and at 8:00PM we flew past Popoyo. By midnight we were well west of the worst area and the wind got lighter, which we expected, and in the morning it died and we motored into Corinto right on schedule.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Wings at Paso Caballos


Getting into Corinto, Nicaragua wasn't totally uneventful; the navy chased us down after we passed their base and told us to "Go Back! Go Back!" and to stop at the main port and clear into the country, which we had already done in San Juan Del Sur, but there is no resisting men in a speedboat in combat boots and armed with AK47's, so we turned around. But that was nothing, really, the officials in town agreed we were legal, and sent us back on our route, again past the navy base, but this time they let us go, to Paso Caballos, where we anchored under the watchful eye of the San Cristobal volcano.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Corinto, Nicaragua

The next day we walked in the small town of Corinto on brick paved streets, where traffic was mostly bicycles and a few cars, listening to music of a different culture coming out of the open doorways and seeing people in white aprons busy sweeping the streets; we were greeted with a friendly smile and incomprehensible Spanish by everyone we met. We found it delightful; Corinto is a great town. Totally absent any sign of tourism or tourists. Too bad most cruisers skip Corinto; we loved it. It's a seacoast town and seafood is a staple, so we had ceviche for lunch at the restaurante la playa and each of us had a fried whole Red Snapper at the upscale place on the estuary for dinner. The restaurant staff insisted that they drive us home (back to the boat) rather than let us walk, ("Peligroso" , they said; dangerous, but it didn't seem that way to us, however we accepted the ride).

Maybe we should have stayed at Corinto, but we wanted to keep moving, so the next day we sailed to Puesto Del Sol, which is only 15 miles, to a "fancy marina" but found a slightly run down, expensive, and mostly empty marina built by and run by an expat American, with high prices and not much to do but spend money in their bar and restaurant. Even the pool is too small to swim in. Oh well, tomorrow we'll check out the nearby village, and on Saturday maybe we'll take a 2 hour chicken bus ride to the nearest town and get some more money so we have enough to check out of the country.

We'll give you a report.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Nicaragua

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

July 6, 2014-Papagayo Winds

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Judy Sailing

In the winter time, wherever there are gaps in the mountainous spine of Central America, east winds blow through from the Caribbean Sea across Central America and into the Pacific. Around here they are called "Papagayos" and they can be fierce, as can the "Tehuantepeckers" in the Gulf of Tehuantepec and northerlies in the Bay of Panama. They are all known, collectively, as the "Gap Winds".

We're finding they can happen in the summertime too.

A combination of high pressure in Texas and some low pressure systems on the Pacific side have got the Papagayos pumping. We are hunkered down in a small bay in Nicaragua off a town called San Juan del Sur, where there exists some protection but not much, happy to be here and waiting for the gap winds to subside so we can move north.

We had been in the northern part of Costa Rica, a rugged, remote, and unpopulated area that was stunningly beautiful with blue water sailing, wide open bays surrounded by forested mountains, and no signs of other boats, civilization, or even humanity itself. It was fantastic, but tense at times. The Papagayos were often gusty and wild and the water was white capped and dark. Squalls came up suddenly. We often found ourselves looking at the horizon ahead, and beating into it for all we were worth to make it to shelter just before it got really bad, hoping the sails would hold together and the anchorage we’d picked was a good one, which luckily they all were.

That was when the weather was nice.

But the forecasts we were receiving told us the weather wasn’t going to stay nice; the Papagayo was going to howl. So we dashed across the Golfo Santa Elena and into Nicaragua, and just got anchored before the blast of wind hit.

So here we are: Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur. We been here a few days and have enjoyed the funky town, the restaurants, the stores, and the bar where we have been watching the soccer matches, but we're looking at our weather windows, trying to find a shot at crossing the Gulf of Papagayo, (which gives those winds their name) on our next leg north. We have to say we are a bit nervous about it, mainly due to not having a good cruising mainsail; the racing main is huge and only has one reef point. Even reefed it is huge. If we get caught out with that sail we will have a tough time reducing sail area. We might have to take it down completely, not much fun in high winds. Well, whatever happens, we'll deal with it.

Meanwhile, as long as we're here, we'll enjoy Nicaragua and we'll just let the Papagayo winds blow.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Nicaragua

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29, 2014-Up the Mast and a Party in Paradise

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Fred at the Mast Head

I made a new windex, sort of primitive, works a little bit, and went up the mast to install it. Got some shots, click here. Maybe it will serve until we get a new one; we can order one as soon as we get to some place where we'll stay long enough to receive a shipment, probably Chiapas, Mexico. We'll also order a new mainsail from Hong Kong and have it delivered to the same port.

We have been watching the soccer world cup in the town of Playas De Cocos, where we are anchored. Today Costa Rica won the their third game and they move up to the quarter finals. The bar, the town, the whole country probably, went ballistic with this win. We enjoyed it too, but the party looked to last all night, might have been fun, but when they started to turn over cars we went home.

Ticos Celebrate

Tomorrow we will check out of Costa Rica and prepare to depart for Nicaragua.

Click here to see some more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 24, 2014-How We Blew Up the mainsail

By 8:00 PM we were hauling. The wind was 24 in a squall and still building and the boat was broad reaching at 7.5 knots. We had the full main up, maybe more than we needed but the wind came up quickly and at the moment we seemed OK and we were happy for the speed. Except that the autopilot alarm kept going off as the computer complained that it could not keep the boat from rounding up. I went back and took the helm. One good hard pull on the tiller and the boat swerved down and we came back onto the course.

Then the boat jibed; a sudden, unplanned, un-wanted, accidental jibe. Not my first but surely my most disastrous. The preventer kept the boom from coming across and that probably saved the rig, but the main tore right up the middle. It was a hole big enough to fly a drone through.

Judy came up, “What’s going on?”

“We jibed. Stay clear of stuff, I’m going to jibe back. The main is torn.”

But I couldn’t jibe back. The back-winded main, that part of it which remained whole, held the boat pinned down. I looked at the swirls of water in the glare of our stern light and saw that we were not making any forward motion. We were on our side and just sliding off to leeward, the rudder useless.

I tied off the tiller and together we eased the preventer and centered the main and got some way on, then tacked around, but it was slow, and took two tries, the main flogging constantly and that first tear was just the start; suddenly the mainsail simply ripped to shreds. It was an awesome sight.

“Look at the main.” I said.

Judy didn’t want to. Anyhow, she knew it was gone.

Somewhere in this mess the windex departed, so that was gone too.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Torn Dacron

We got the sail down, pieces of it all over the rig and over the side and tangled up in the runners and reefing lines. It took a couple of hours to get them untangled and cleaned up and it was difficult work with the boat rolling mercilessly in the pouring rain and darkness. We kept our harnesses clipped on and worked with hand tools and flashlights; the engine running slowly ahead and the autopilot steering again.

Now the shreds of the main are rolled into a ball and stacked on the quarter deck, a reminder to the skipper of his errors, and we have motored on to Playa del Cocos without having any further incident, but the emotional scars will not heal as quickly. This incident has left us shaken. We’ve heard stories of disasters like this happening to other boats but we’ve avoided them for all these years. Maybe we thought we were invincible. But it happens quickly and when it does there is no going back to the time before; you can’t unwind it, you just have to deal with it. Some of the memories of that squall will stick to us for a while, like looking aloft and seeing the entire mainsail flying in the wind like so many white streamers and like me hanging on to the boom for dear life while trying to undo the shackles on the clew, Judy holding a flashlight and urging me to hold tight as I swung from one side of the boat to the other like a rag doll.

And the total disorientation I felt when trying to figure out which way to safely turn the boat on that black night in that gusting and shifting wind. I kept looking up where the windex should be to see the wind direction but it wasn’t there and all the numbers on the B&G basically meant nothing. I remember one moment when I finally got a mental image of it: “OK, the wind is 165, we are heading 30, so I’ve got it; I have to turn right to tack.” Sounds easy now but then, when our course up till then had been 290 and the wind 110, it took time to make that new mental image. I was glad the shoreline was miles away; at least we had sea room.

So now we have to buy a new main. It’s no surprise; the cloth was old and getting brittle and just earlier that day I saw that some stitches on a previous patch were opening up new holes. I just hoped it would make it to Mexico but it didn’t. We put on the racing main so we can sail again, and we’re looking for a windex or some sort of substitute for wind direction aloft, and we have to start thinking about where and how we’ll get another Dacron main. But that can wait for Mexico. Right now we are going to get ready for another leg:

wingssail images-judy jensen

We’ll leave for Nicaragua in a few days.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 21, 2014-Back to Bahia Ballena

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Gulf of Nicoya

It’s twenty seven miles from Puntarenas to Bahia Ballena, less if you could go in a straight line but you can’t, Isla Negritos is in the way, and besides, on most days this time of year it’s a beat, and it was for us today, so you have to tack; you wind up going twenty seven miles.

That’s a long day if the wind is light, which it was. Longer if the bottom is foul, which it also was, and the boat is heavy with fuel and water, and which definitely we were.

But we made it. Even after waiting to leave until the wind filled in at 11:00 we got to Bahia Ballena by 5:30, well before dark.

There was a long starboard tack, a lift as the wind clocked to the west in the afternoon. We sailed easy, letting the wind vane steer, and we drowsed in the cockpit, taking turns watching for ships, never touching the sheets or the helm.

When we tacked to port for the leg into Ballena, Judy spotted the other sailboat.

“There is a sailboat,” she said, “behind us.”

I put the binoculars on it. A sloop, close hauled on starboard, with a tall mast and flat sails, looking good. They had been behind us all right, on a course to weather of ours, inside on the long lifted tack I thought, with some irony. I wondered how long they’d been tracking us, if they were, probably for a while. They could have been back there with an eye on us for a long time. We hadn’t seen them. Asleep at the switch. Lulled by the lazy day. We hadn’t seen a sailboat out here sailing in a couple of months so we’d become complacent. We let them sneak up on us.

We crossed ahead; there was that, at least.

The other boat tacked soon after we did and fell into an easy course to leeward. For an hour we sailed on parallel courses. I expected to leave them in our wake but it didn’t happen; they hung in there, neither gaining nor losing.

After a while I got irritated by their presence. I started to trim more aggressively. I cracked off a little and eased the sheets. I got on the helm. The speed went up, and we did not fall down on them. So it helped; we started to move, even starting to work up to weather of them. We were sailing better. I guess it takes some competition to make you sail better.

The wind continued to shift to the west. On this tack it was a knock. The other boat was benefiting by being on the outside of a knock, but by now it didn’t matter; the wind was lightening and they had sagged down quite a bit.

When it came time to tack they rolled up their headsail and turned on the motor. We sailed on to Bahia Ballena. They peeled off to the Tortugas.

I got out a beer.


Puntarenas is a province, not just a town. We took buses and traveled around a bit, to Jaco and Quepos. We saw some of the sights of Puntarenas, the province. We visited Manuel Antonio Park and saw sloths and howler monkeys, and a few hundred college kids from the US down here on break. We also saw a crocodile cruising just off the popular swimming beach in the park and a few dozen would be bathers gathered on the shore. The people and the croc eyed each other; a stand off. Once we took a long dingy ride up the estuary behind the marina and there were hundreds of fishing boats tied to small wharves and piers, and there were crocodiles.

In fact crocs are common in Costa Rica; we saw them often, besides when we were driving around in the dingy, but that part was the un-nerving bit since they are as big as our zodiac and have been known to be aggressive towards boats. After that we put the dingy away and stuck to tours we could take by bus.

wingssail images-judy jensen
Fred watching the game

And we joined with a lot of enthusiastic Ticos to watch Costa Rica win its first two matches in the Soccer World Cup. That was fun.

Now, however, we have departed Puntarenas.

Next stop, Plays Cocos, Coco beach

Click here for images of Puntarenas

Click here for photos in town.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Bahia Ballena

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

June 5, 2014-San Jose, Costa Rica, and Poas Volcano

We parked the car and walked up the trail towards Costa Rica's Poas Volcano. We realized right away that we didn't need the extra clothing we wore; the path was easy and the exertion didn't make us sweat but the sun did; it was warm even at 8000 feet of altitude.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Poas Volcano

We reached the viewpoint at rim of the volcano and the stunning view of the caldera with the green sulphuric lake and the rising columns of steam made us forget the sun and the sweat and the climbing up there. We didn't say much, just looked at the lava field 900 feet below us and stared. We were spellbound.

The wind blew one of the columns of steam our way and the sulphur made us cough and brought us back to reality. We could hardly breathe. We'd been warned that sometimes the park is closed due to the sulphuric gas, but then the wind instantly blew it away again.

The wind also dried the sweat on our bodies and we were cool.

A burst of steam came up to the surface of the lake and threw a black cloud into the air. A boulder splashed back into the green lake. This was what we came for; to be close to an active volcano, our first since Tanna Island in Vanuatu in the year 2002, and it was fantastic to be here. We continued to stare silently at awesome beauty of the volcano and felt its power and we knew we were lucky to see it; often Poas is obscured by clouds and fog. They warned us of that too, when we came in through the park gates, but like I said, we were lucky.

We watched the constantly changing scene for an hour.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
In the Cloud Forest

Then we returned to the trail and hiked another mile, still higher, through the cloud forest. There was another crater, the beautiful, cold, green Botos Lake, in the park, and we wanted to see it. The air was thin and we breathed deeply and we trudged up the trail with measured steps towards the 9000 foot level but the air was also cold and clean smelling and again the sweat dried on our skin leaving the welcome coolness and there was a tingle from our muscles and that metallic taste in our mouths from hard breathing. It all felt good and we enjoyed the climb.

Botos Lake was attractive but the crater's vents are not active and while pretty and surrounded by a forest of ferns and pine trees, we spent little time there. We were ready to go down, first to the car and then down the mountain road to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, where we'd come for a three day visit, leaving Wings in the marina at Puntarenas.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
San Jose, Costa Rica

This was our trip: three days in San Jose and its surrounds, including one day going up to the volcano and back. It was a good trip. We liked San Jose; though it was far below the summit of the Poas volcano it's elevation is still nearly 4000ft and San Jose, too, is cool compared to Puntarenas. The city is pleasant and filled with walking streets, museums, and small shops. In the suburbs we found malls and fast food restaurants but the city center is older and historic and we enjoyed strolling around with our cameras. We stayed in a small hotel and had a great meal at an Argentine Steak house nearby where the waiter kept our glasses filled with excellent Malbec and then walked us home in the rain when we didn't have our own umbrellas.

On the bus back to Puntarenas, as we came down from the central valley, we felt the growing heaviness of the atmosphere and the heat and humidity at sea level, but even though we enjoyed the coolness of San Jose, it was good to get back to Wings. After all, it's home.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puntarenas

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31, 2014-No Hay Problema!

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Puerto Azul

Well, we've exhausted everyone's ideas about what could be wrong with Wing's motor and we've found nothing.

We don't know what caused it to apparently and mysteriously consume eight quarts of oil.

Further, the problem is no longer evident; we're not losing any oil now, and we've put about five hours of operation on it without any loss.

So we are left with three choices:
1. We had a serious problem which we still have since nothing was fixed, but it's in remission.
2. We had a serious problem which fixed itself.
3. We never had a problem, we just thought we did.

Frankly I am leaning toward door number three, which is the same view as my mechanic here in Puntarenas, William Martinez, who seems to be very competent and thorough, and is highly recommended by several sources. William doesn't know what to think, he can't find anything wrong and can't say anything but good stuff about what he sees in our motor, although he's puzzled by the oil loss I reported. He also brought two other mechanics by to consult on the problem, and has taken the oil-cooler and fuel pump to test labs for examination. They came back certified sound.

Possibly he doubts my report about the oil loss in the first place but it's hard to argue with the empty oil containers which we kept and anyhow, he's too polite to say so.

So now what?

Well, Puerto Azul, the marina, is pretty nice, and the daily rate for ten days, which, as a condition for entry, we prepaid, covers 30 days at the monthly rate. So, effectively, we have paid in advance for a month if we want to take it.

We might. There is some touring we can do in Costa Rica, and life is pretty relaxed on the river in Puntarenas, so staying would be easy.

We'll let you know.

Oh, by the way, we replaced the water pump impeller, which we knew was going out although it still pumped heaps of water, and the engine never ran hot in the slightest, and upon taking it out, were surprised at how shot it was. Check out the last photo here.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puntarenas

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 25, 2014-Sailing to Puntarenas

Clouds over Puntarenas

The motor’s broken and we need a mechanic. Puntarenas should have one, probably several; we need to go there and try to get our broken motor fixed.

The distance from Ballena Bay to Puntarenas is 25 miles but there is a good anchorage about 18 miles away and we think we can break the trip into two days. On Friday we will leave.


At sunup we are watching the bay for any sign of wind. At 10:00 there are a few ripples on the water, then a light breeze. It’s only four knots of wind but we can sail this. We immediately weigh anchor.

The breeze is an easterly, so it’s upwind, and we set the main and genoa and haul sheets out of the bay. We expect to have to tack to get around the heads but a lift is showing and we clear into the open water on one tack.

Now the wind frees and fills a little and we ease sheets and crack off to northeast. The speeds are good. We’re seeing six knots of wind and Wings is going better than 5 knots as we pass Isla Tortugas.

The wind vane steers and we concentrate on trimming the sails.

At noon, looking at the chart and the time, we decide to go for Puntarenas, now only 16 miles away.

This is not a race but we sail like we are racing. Trim, steer, watch the tides, follow the shifts. We’ve done this before; we know how to make a fast passage when we need to. The wind has shifted further around to the south and even though Puntarenas is north we are reaching towards the NE to keep the apparent wind on the beam. The computer program says to jibe when the mark bears 335, which we do, and the wind comes around to the beam on port side and we hold our speed.

And Wings performs. Even in five to six knots of wind we can make 4-5 knots of speed. In 11 knots of wind we are over six, almost 7.

At 3:15 PM we are a mile out and approaching the shallows off of Puntarenas. We drop the jib.

Thirty minutes later we come head to wind behind the point and drop the main; we’re in the harbor at Puntarenas.

It’s been a good sail today. Tomorrow, at high tide, we’ll go into the marina.


At an hour before high tide we weigh and motor slowly up the river the three miles to the marina.

We’ve topped the oil in the engine and we think we can run the motor that long.

Judy navigates us and though there’s less than 1 foot under our keel at times, she keeps us off; we don’t touch. Luck is still with us.

At the marina they are expecting us and they help us into the slip, which is tricky in the strong river current.

The mechanic says the motor sounds and looks fine; he says the problem has to be the oil cooler, can’t be anything else. He’ll come back Monday with tools to take the oil cooler off and into a shop for a pressure test. After he leaves we shrug; what can we do?

Meanwhile we watch the depth of the water in the slip; it’s the deepest berth they have but as the tide goes out we sink into the mud. I rock the boat to see if we are aground: if the boat moves we’re floating.

It does.

We decide the bottom is pretty soft. We’re OK.

So, here we are: the motor's still broken, but we're in a marina with a swimming pool, bar and restaurant, and we can float at low tide. We’ve got the mechanic going on the motor, and things could be worse. We’re fairly positive.

And we’ll keep you updated.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puntarenas

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