Posted by: vlbyers | April 29, 2011

Tehuantepec crossing-we did it!

lowering the Mexico flag

Larry tested his PFD, it works!

This motley crew, Lane, Vicki S, Larry and Vicki

We are all ready for a good nights sleep, especially Larry

Maybe this is the post you have been waiting to read, maybe you have been anticipating this part in our journey or maybe you just by chance happened upon our blog and you are travelling vicariously through us, never mind the reason I am glad you are sharing this with us. We have been eagerly anticipating this crossing, which would be the longest yet. We are so happy our friends surprized us by arranging to make the trip with us, this would make the journey much more fun!
We began the trip on a Saturday, April 16th at 1050 in the morning. The weather stations that I check regularly gave no watches or warnings, the wind and waves were to be respectable to light, nothing was forecast. Larry did see some ‘red’, red always means big on weather sites, in the Gulf of Mexico, which is where the weather in the Tehuantepec comes from. Weather storms form in the gulf and are sucked through and over the land mass of Mexico because mountains flank either side of this low land bordering the bay. We left anyway.
Saturday saw some choppy seas, winds SSE 7-15, sunny skies with scattered clouds. We were excited to begin and had worked out the logistics of watches, some easy meals while underway and our route. I have spent hours with the Nobeltec creating several routes, calculating distances, looking at the depths over our proposed route and considering our options. The final choice was that we would hug the coast staying 4-5 miles off, except for the area around Salinas Cruz because it is a shipping channel and we could cut off a bit of the inlet there by going more in a straight line, this would only take us offshore about 13 miles and then we would gradually come more towards shore.
My watch was just over and Lane was taking over at the helm, I had marked our position and jotted notes in the logbook we had single reefed the main which is our practice at night with 4 crew, I was just getting comfortable for a snooze when suddenly the boat healed about 25 degrees. I went up top to hear ‘the wind is up, we have too much sail up’, ‘ease the main’. The wind had come up from 4 knots to 25-32 sustained within about 4 minutes.
Our ‘weather’ lasted about 4 hours, winds in the 25-32 knot range and steep seas. We headed a bit toward shore to try to get out of the waves stirred up by the winds, the theory being that the waves don’t have a chance to get big unless the wind is stirring them up for several miles. By the time I got out of the bunk, my stomach a bit more settled but not any more rested due to the violent motion and crashing into the waves, I was greeted by my husband exclaiming ‘oh shit’ and staring into the bilge, which was filled with water up to the floorboards ie: our cabin floor. We started the bilge pump and Lane began hand pumping. It took about 10 minutes before we saw that the water was receding. We mopped up the cabin, opened up the books that had gotten wet to dry, and tried to tidy as best we could. After the weather subsided the rest of the night was calm. Our nerves however were still a bit on edge due to the events of the night.
The next day we woke to sunshine and calm seas with a little breeze. The engine would remain on for this entire journey due to worries that the starter was submerged and would not start once the engine was turned off. We ate and made sure we got plenty of water, tried to get some sleep after our exciting night, and alternated our watches. This night we watched the clouds form during the early evening and become darker as the night went on. Lane and I were on watch and began closing some of the ports, checking the security of the items on deck and generally getting ready for another blow. This time the wind build slower up to 20 knots for only a brief period, then we had a downpour. Thankfully we were prepared this time and the cabin was in much better shape than the night before. When the sguall had passed by we opened the hatches back up to cool the cabin, the rest of this night would be calm.
The third night the speculation continued regarding what Mother Nature would deal us. The weather seemed to be similar each night and this night would prove to be no exception. As the clouds built again we prepared the boat as the waves and wind picked up, although not as forceful as the first night and the duration was much shorter. Thankfully we did not take on as much water this go around.
Lane and I were looking at the GPS and he was asking if we were headed to a waypoint. I thought we were but as I looked at the track I noticed a line without a ‘box’ at the end showing the waypoint. I thought that was weird, maybe it was continuing our route based on our previous track. We were almost at the waypoint so I thought I would put in another waypoint to navigate to, so I did. My shift was almost over and I looked at the GPS and saw that same little line after the waypoint I had entered. We discussed this for several minutes before I moved the cursor and the screen enough to notice the scratch on the screen. This was our night of ‘navigating the scratch’.
Our fourth day has been the most exciting. Not only do we get excited knowing our trip is getting closer to its end, we have also seen tens of turtles, dolphin, rays and long lines. Long lines are what some of the fishermen use, they are a floating line with hooks attached with monofilament. These lines usually have a black flag on a float where the line starts and then some assortment of floating jugs along the way to keep the line floating. We watched all day and were successful in dodging all of the lines except for one, we very carefully approached the float with the engine in neutral and watched as the line slid under the boat without incidence. Thankfully we did not have any problems with other lines during our travels although we came very close to 2 black flags before we really knew what they were there for.
We have all gotten into a rhythm of sorts and we feel pretty good, although will be glad to reach our destination. Tonight the stars are out, something we have not seen the past few nights. We watch the clouds and the sky with anticipation wondering what is in store for us this last night of our passage. We are about 40 miles from Bahia del Sol and at our current speed would arrive pre-dawn. There have been many long lines throughout the day and we are concerned about having a problem with wrapping one around the prop so we have made a decision to drift/sail until morning, we are lucky to have about a 1 k current in a favorable direction so we are actually making headway. Tomorrow will be great to have our destination in sight. There is a bar at Bahia del Sol which needs to be crossed only at high tide, which is in the afternoon so we will have plenty of time to arrive without worries.
The last night of our passage we saw no storms, no rain and not much wind. Our projected arrival would put us at the entrance to Bahia del Sol early in the morning so we slowed our progress during the night. As expected we began to see the breaking waves at the bar entrance at about noon, our expected crossing would be at 4:30 pm so we had about 4 hours to kill. The fish weren’t biting, we took a little cruise down the coast, or up the coast depending on your orientation and got to the entrance about ½ hour early. Good thing as we still had stuff to stow, lines to tie, fenders to attach and oh yes the fishing lines, which would of course be the only time in the past year and a half when any fishing lines got tangled but tangled they did get!!
The pilot and his helper Bill from Mita Kulu were in constant radio contact with us guiding us to the safe location where we would cross the bar. The waves looked huge from our vantage and the boat was ready, everything was out of the cockpit and stowed below, all hatches were closed and everyone was in the cockpit, not hanging off the rails. We were excited as you can imagine, it was a little like standing in line anticipating a big roller coaster. At the precise moment, the pilot has been watching the wave sets and gives us the directive to ‘turn left and floor it’.
The timing was perfect and in only about 4 minutes and 2 waves, the first one gave us a big push, we were over the bar and on our way to the dock. Not even a drop of water on the deck, and everyone remained on board. Thankfully the worry that each of us did from time to time, despite the assurances from Bill and Jean on Mita Kulu and the hundred or so boats he has helped to cross this bar, didn’t come to fruition. We were in El Salvador. The trip across the Tehuantepec bay was behind us and we were ready to rest and then enjoy the offerings at Bahia del Sol, the restaurant, pool and of course what all cruisers love, the showers!!


  1. Good on ya!

  2. Congradulations on your safe crossing to El Salvador. If you make it to Barillas club, please send our greetings to Hereberto, manager of the marina. I hope you still flying the AYC burgee, Nicole now is the Commodore of AYC.
    Good luck!!

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