Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!
This is a post dated blog for our time in Nicaragua as I just didn't have time to get it done before we headed out. Anyhow, our first stop in Nicaragua was a marina named Puesta del Sol, which means "sunset" and is located in an estuary with a very winding channel which is fairly well marked, but there was one section where it was far from clear as to where you were supposed to go and I'm sure that we were out of the channel. Luckily it was high tide and we had 9' of tide to work with, but I was only seeing 10' of water. Clearly that wouldn't have worked at low tide...
We pulled into the marina, washed the very salty boats down and headed to the pool to cool down. A while later a bunch of officials showed up to clear us into the country. I will say that Nicaragua was expensive to clear in and out of. I think that it was around $85 to clear in, $25 for a zarpa to the next port, and then another $65 or so to clear out and get an international zarpa. It was also the only place that we've ever been shaken down for a bribe from an official. Granted it was only $5 per boat, but it's the principle of the thing.
The marina and the grounds are nicely maintained, but you're a long way from anything. After a couple of days there we decided to hire a van to take us to the Flor de Cana rum distillery in Chichigalpa, which is about an hour and a half ride away. We got to see a lot of varying countryside as we travelled over bumpy dirt roads, roads built with paver stones and normal asphalt roads. It was interesting to look at the transportation hierarchy, which I'll list in most frequent to least frequent and probably least popular to most popular:
Despite Flor de Cana being one of my favorite rums, the tour was quite disappointing for me as they showed us very little of the actual distilling process and wouldn't let you take pictures virtually anywhere (including the cooperage which just had oak barrels, but they claimed that taking pictures could cause a fire...
From Puesta del Sol we headed south on an overnight passage towards San Juan del Sur and we had a great, windy sail down the coast. The Papagayo winds can be very strong and while we picked lower wind days, we still saw winds to 36 kts true. However, it did give the boats great chance to put out their sails and make some fast miles. Art, on Eternal Bliss, said that this was one of the first times in years that he had all of his sail up.
We decided to stop just short of San Juan del Sur and pulled into Playa Marsella as it looked like a very nice bay and we weren't disappointed. It had a beautiful crescent shaped beach and at the SW end there was a little restaurant which served up some of the best food that I've had on this trip. It was also relatively sheltered from the Papagayo winds. The next day we moved down to San Juan del Sur (SJdS).
SJdS is only a few miles from Playa Marsella, but it's much less protected as we found out when we turned into the bay and were hit by 25+ kt winds. It's a big bay with houses perched the surrounding hills. It's also bustling surfer town where I could easily see one of my nieces hangout out. The main street is lined with restaurants facing beach and the inner few streets are filled with little shops (many catering to surfers), shops and small restaurants. We met a boat that we had known in the Sea of Cortez and they had been there for a month and had done a bunch of in-land travel. I wouldn't do that as the Papagayo winds whip through there and I'd worry about leaving my boat unattended at anchor. After a poor night's sleep due to the winds, we were ready to move on, so we checked out of the country and headed to Costa Rica, but those are blogs for a future day.
-- Geoff & Sue
For the cruiser:
We cleared into marina Puesta del Sol. It was very easy. The fees were $83 for 2 persons and the boat. It was another $25 for a zarpa to the SJdS. We arranged for the van through the office and it was $135 for 10 of us. The tour of Flor de Cana was $20/pp. The fees to clear out at SJdS were $65 for the 2 of us and to get an international zarpa.
We picked up a MoviStar SIM card for Sue's iPhone and got Internet and phone service for cheap. The SIM card was only $4, but only provided service for 3 days. I tried multiple times to replenish it on-line, but the billing never went through. Due to the low costs and roaming fees in other countries, you need to get a SIM card/phone-number per country. The upload/download speeds were very fast.
According to other boats who came in at low tide, they saw a minimum of 10' in the channel, hence my statement that we must have been out of it. I suspect that it's rather easy to see the channel at low tide as there are lots of sandbars lining it. We felt compelled to leave at high tide due to our experience coming in. The current rips through the channels, sometimes at right angles to the boat.
At Playa Marsella we anchored on the west wide of the bay in 24' over sand. Holding was very good.
We stopped at SJdS for 2 nights on our way S in order to clear out of the country and pick up some provisions. You can anchor anywhere in the bay, but the E side has lots of moorings for power boats. Due to the prevailing winds and slowly shallowing water, you can pull a good distance up to beach, drop your anchor in 20' of sand and then drop back.
If the Papagayo are blowing in any form, this will be a windy anchorage and you might not sleep all that well as the winds howled through here.
There's a water taxi who will pick you up and give you a ride to the navy base for $2.50/pp round trip. You can take your dinghy and tie it up on a floating dock attached to a barge located at the navy base. The only issue is that when the tide is low, you may have to scramble up large tires between the barge and dock.
The port captain's office is right there and he will check you in, generate zarpas, get immigration, etc. He only speaks Spanish, but was easy to work with.
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