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Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19, 2014-Sailing the Monsoon Trough

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Sailing the Monsoon Trough

Yesterday we departed Golfito and set sail in a nice southerly breeze. We pointed the boat out of the Golfo Dulce and sailed close hauled towards the open Pacific Ocean. Soon we felt the lift of the long Pacific swells. The ensign on our back stay stood proudly. It was good to be under sail.

At Punta Matapalo we took a hitch into the beach and caught the lift around the cape, then held starboard tack well out to sea, looking for the right angle back to the north. The wind shifted, a knock which we didn’t expect, and we tacked on that shift and found we could sail on port right up the coast. It was a glorious sail.

To sail north along this coast, however, we must deal with the monsoon trough. The rainy season is in full swing and with the coming of this season the ITCZ has moved north. A monsoon trough is fully established over the Pacific Coast of Central America. There is a daily pattern which we have come to know well: Mornings are calm and sunny and you have to motor if you want to get anywhere in the mornings but at least the sky is blue and it is pleasant. Then by noon the sky becomes overcast and a wind fills from the south. From then until sunset you have very nice sailing. By evening the wind dies and you are on the motor again and the squalls come, bringing rain and lightning, torrential rain, and heavy lightning. Nights are dirty. We don’t like being at sea in those conditions but the harbors are far apart; we must keep going through the night, and we do, but we hang on with gritted teeth through the squalls, hoping to avoid a lighting strike, and water drips everywhere, inside the boat and out, as the motor drones onward.

Our next stop is in Northern Costa Rica, Ballena Bay, and here, if it is pleasant, we will stop a while and work on the leaks which have appeared in last few weeks. We’d like to keep the boat dry inside, which it has been in the past, even during the heavy rains. We are hoping, however, to get away from the monsoon trough, and away from the heavy rains and the hours of motoring. Perhaps when we reach the Papagayo, between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the pattern will change. There, and further north, across the Gulf of Tehuantepec, we might see northerlies blowing offshore during the night. But that brings its own issues. The winds over the Papagayo, gap winds, as they are called, often blow in the 20’s and 30’s. The Tehuantepeckers, as the heavy winds across Gulf of Tehuantepec are lovingly known, can blow even more fiercely. They can be strong enough to keep you in port for weeks at a time, although that happens less frequently during the rainy season.

And then there are the hurricanes. The rainy season is also hurricane season. This part of the coast is generally free of hurricanes, but it is not impossible to imagine one causing chaos in southern Mexico, or even bringing rain and strong winds here in Central America. We watch the weather, and when we get to Chiapas, the southern-most port in Mexico, we think we’ll hunker down for the rest of the season.

So that is the plan: get to Chiapas and hunker down. Right now, on the way to Ballena, we are having another nice sail, under spinnaker, and we push most of this weather stuff into the back of our minds and focus on the sailing.

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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica

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