Ecuador, Puerto Lucia to Bahia de Caraquez

Puerto Lucia to Bahia de Caraquez

Many months have passed since I last put anything up here, sorry. I suppose I could have written about what building a house in the rain in Hilo, Hawaii was like, although it was not all fun in reality. On the other hand it was fun most of the time, rain and all. Bob Deringer is a good builder, I learned much from him. Thanks to the generosity of Bob and Cary I was able to live with them while working with Bob. It saved me a lot of money that would otherwise have gone towards rent, a vehicle and all that sort of thing. They are both committed surfers, so, I also got a lot of time in the water with them and became a much better surfer than I was. Thanks guys.

Bonnie spent the last month or two working on a dredge ship off the coast of Texas. Her job title is something like “Sea Turtle Observer,” or perhaps “Endangered Species Observer.” Sounds like she had a good time on the job and was able to top up our bank account nicely. Our standard of living on board Willow is not very extravagant, however, it does require a certain amount of money to keep us going.

After far to many days apart, Bonnie and I met up at a hotel near the Houston International Airport, and got ready for the flight to Guyaquil, Ecuador. Airports are not unfamiliar places for the two of us, and not my favorite places to be sure. On this particular trip there was in fact very little stress involved in the whole process, except for a minor baggage issue. During the peak travel season (right when we were traveling) there is an “embargo” on the amount of stuff travelers can haul with them. For example, no piece of baggage can be over 50lbs, which ours were. This is not at all uncommon, and I was ready to pay the additional fees, as usual. No joy! When they said not allowed, they meant not allowed, period. I was stumped, but only for a few minutes.

Bonnie and I found ourselves a spot amongst the other overburdened people there and began shuffling our stuff around a bit to even things up. We did have to leave a few items behind, but nothing of real importance. Each bag weighed in at exactly 50lbs in the end and all was well, until the agent spotted the surfboard I had with me. I got it used in Hawaii and really wanted it on Willow. It is small as surfboards go, and I figured no problems would be caused, wrong again. Not only was there a weight limit, there were other specific items that were not allowed. Surfboards were highlighted on that list. This caused me a moment of stress, but I took a few deep breaths and asked very calmly to speak to someone that had the authority to make something happen for us.

Margaret was her name and she was awesome to us. After many phone calls and discussions with the powers-that-be on the other end, we were able to slide the board onto the plane. Now this was a huge thing for us. The only other option would have been to postpone the flight a day or so until we could figure out how to deal with the board. Shipping it to Ecuador was discussed, but would have cost us way more money that the thing was worth. Well, it worked out for us in the end, thanks to Margaret of Continental Airlines. We were off to Ecuador and smiling to be together again. Over the previous 7 months Bonnie and I were only together about two months of that time. It is one of the prices we pay for our lifestyle, and it is the heaviest one to bear.

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The flight was fine; we had a driver meet us at the airport for the 2-3 hour drive out to La Libertad and Willow. The marina Willow was hauled out in is called Puerto Lucia Yacht Club. There are very few cruising boats there now, as compared to the many we saw when we arrived back in May. Willow was in relatively good shape. It took a lot of scrubbing to get all the boat yard grime off, but that was not a real big issue. The only moment of panic for Bonnie was when we saw the extent of the mold that was growing down below. It took a while to get the full picture soon realized that it was not as bad as it seemed. Actually, it was pretty bad, but Willow is not a very big boat, so the problem was manageable.

While Bonnie attacked the mold issue, I got right into dealing with getting the bottom paint on the hull and all the other assorted jobs that needed doing concerning the mechanical and electrical systems. It was four days of solid effort to get everything under control and put to rights. Bonnie was heroic in her cleaning and organizing efforts with the reward of getting Willow back in the water relatively quickly. It is not much fun living on an ocean cruising boat while hauled out in a working boat yard. The first night in the water was a good one, we were home and all was right in our world.

It took us several more days to get Willow re-provisioned and a re-rigged. Not to mention that we were back in cruising mode, so, there were many long breaks between tasks to just sit around or talk story with some of the other cruisers in the yard. One couple we became fast friends with were Mark and Brandi Fox, owners of the boat, “Restless.” They were also out of the Pacific NW, Seattle to be exact. They are two very fun and generous people. We feel privileged to call them our friends now and were sad to say good-bye after knowing them for only about 10 days. They were headed back to Seattle for 6 months of work now, so we will not be seeing them in the South Pacific this season, but I have a feeling we will be seeing them out there in the future. Thanks for everything Mark and Brandi, we enjoyed sipping tea with you.

OK, we were ready to go, just needed to get the necessary papers from the Port Captain. The process of moving around foreign countries in a vessel flagged elsewhere is often a confusing mess of paperwork. Ecuador is no different. Basically, the officials do not really know what to do with small cruising boats. We do not fit into their system as a motor vehicle, nor do we fit the slot set up for big ships, like tankers. At a loss for what to do, each Port Captain or Customs official simply chooses which ever one he likes the best at the time. The port official we needed to deal with likes to treat small boats as if they were tankers, including the mandatory use of an agent to do the paperwork. The agent costs $200 dollars, plus the other fees involved. That is steep considering we simply wanted to move 100 miles up the coast, not leaving Ecuador at all.

The issue at hand for us to base our approach to the situation was the fact that the use of the agent is not official policy anymore. It has been official stated by the big bosses that the agent is not necessary for small yachts. Well, the big bosses are up in Quito, a long way off, and the Port Captain is right down the street and he is the boss here. So, for other cruisers out there considering heading to Ecuador and Puerto Lucia in particular, here is what we found out and what we did.

The agent is officially not required, but the Port Captain here requires him anyway. We spoke with a yacht there in Puerto Lucia that had just come up from Peru. He was ending a 9-year circumnavigation and seemed very savvy when dealing with this sort of thing, plus he spoke fluent Spanish. He wanted to check in and out of the country at the same time, as he was just there to pick up crew. After learning that he was going to be charged $200 dollars by an agent that was not really required, he very aggressively took on the problem. Apparently the customs official basically harassed his female crewmembers, as did the health department official. In his words, it was nothing illegal or physical, just many rude, sexual comments. The cruiser ended up calling the US Embassy to see what could be done. In effect a US flagged vessel was being held against its will and against the law, not to mention the harassment.

The embassy folks called the Port Captain and learned that according to him the issue was the computer system that was in place. It was the usual shit. In order for him to be able to check a boat into and then out of the system he had to fill in all of the blanks on the computer, and there are a lot of blanks. Now, we could fill in all of the blanks our selves of course, all but one, the agent’s code. This is a common thing, even in the US in regards to the big shipping paperwork. Basically, there was nothing the embassy could really do. The big bosses made a statement that the agents are no longer required, but according to the Port Captain, no changes were made in the computer system to allow for it. That is his argument and he is sticking to it. The above-mentioned cruiser made a formal complaint against the Customs and Health fellows, but it remains to be seen if anything really comes of it. In the end, he paid Roque, the agent, $100 for his services and got the hell out of there.

Bonnie and I heard all of this info before we even met with Roque and were determined not to pay more than $100, less if possible. Karla, the fantastic lady at the marina, did most of the dealing with Roque. She seemed frustrated at having to deal with all of the mess the officials were creating, but was very kind and friendly to us. We could not get around paying the $100 for a national zarpe. The situation is what it is, and it is not the United States, with everyone having someone else looking over their shoulder to keep an eye on things. Actually, from what I have heard from non-USA cruisers trying to sail into the States, the nightmare of officialdom there is far, far worse than anything we have dealt with all through Latin America.

We chose the path that would for sure get our boat and us out of that port with the least dealings with the officials. Just like everywhere else, there are the good guys and the bad guys; La Libertad seems to have most of the bad ones. Aside from the money, it was an absolutely painless process for us. Now, we only had to deal with the Port Captain for a zarpe to another port in Ecuador. If you plan on checking out of the country there, you will have to deal with all of the above mentioned assholes. That was a big part of why we have chosen to sail north, back to Bahia de Caraquez for our final preparations and paper work before heading west and south. Not to mention that it is a very cool spot to be for a while.

Our agent gave us this calender/poster he had made up for publicity. That is his son at the wheel apparently. Hmmmmmm.

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The owner of Puerto Amistad, in Bahia de Caraquez is an American named Tripp. I have not met him yet, but have heard nothing but good about him and his willingness to help us cruisers out. He knows all the issues at hand and how to deal with them. The officials up there seem much more reasonable towards small cruising vessels.

OK, that gets you all up to speed on the official dealing down here. We thought it was going to be a problem, it turned out to be no problem at all. One piece of advice I will give, since no one can stop me from giving it, is this; if you pull into a place like Puerto Lucia Yacht Club and expect things to happen for you as if you were back in the states, I promise you, they will not. Yes, the fees are steep there, yes, we are paying for a service, but no, the employees are not our servants. The people working in the boat yard earn about $15-$20 a day doing work you cannot or do not want to do yourself. I tip them all well and evenly, say hello all the time, and help them on a task if my help is useful. They all became good friends and were always willing to help me when in need.

One person you for sure want to be good to is Karla Espinoza, in the little office out in the boat yard. She speaks English quite well and seems to be the one running the show concerning the needs of the boats there. She is the one that can make happen all you want to have happen, or not. I saw nothing but a smiling, ultra helpful woman, but have heard that she is no push over and can make your experience there as miserable as you are probably making hers. Bonnie and I are low maintenance people and our boat is low tech, our needs were few and perhaps that helped our situation out a bit.

The funny thing about how we are treated is that you can never be all that sure if anyone is actively doing something to thwart you, or just plain bad luck. One cruiser there on a big boat has hired a crew to paint the hull. Apparently this fellow is a huge pain in the ass to everyone there. I met him and he definitely has what I call the “center of the universe” complex. In his mind everyone and everything around him is his to use or abuse at will. Well, his boat has been sitting there for months now all sanded and prepped, but no paint has touched it. There is always a good reason why no paint has hit the hull, but the weeks go by and all the fellow can do is kick and scream, at no one. I suppose he could paint it himself, but I am thinking that is not the sort of job for someone that commands the universe to dirty himself with

I will end my rant there and get back to cruising on Willow.

Puerto Lucia north.

Here are the GPS numbers for the spots we have anchored on our way north from Puerto Lucia. We have been in search of waves to surf and also to simple check out every nice looking spot as a potential anchorage.

Ayangue: 01* 58.9’ S
80* 45.3’ W
Ayangue is a small beach town about 15 miles north of Puerto Lucia. The beach was crowded with weekend sun seekers and the bay is filled with small boats on mooring or anchored. We anchored outside of the fleet and close to the north side of the entrance in about 16ft of water. Bottom was sand and the anchor stuck hard. Should have dropped a stern hook to keep us pointing into the swell entering the bay, but it was not all that bad really. Would probably not be a great spot if a really big swell were running.

Montanita: 01* 49.3’S
80* 45.5W
Dramatic headland and a big party town for travelers. Also a well-known surf destination in Ecuador, and there were waves. Anchored to the south of Punta Montanita in about 30’ of water. Bottom seemed like sand and good holding, but that was all the spot has going for it as an anchorage. In order to get into water shallow enough to anchor we had to be rather close to the beach break, and it was big. I did not really sleep at all that night as I listened to the wave thundering just a hundred yards away. Of course, if you are looking for waves to ride, that is the price. In the morning I paddled over to the point break to have a better look at the surf. It is a beautiful wave as far as waves go, but getting into the big and powerful realm in relation to my level of experiences. But I went anyway. I got creamed a few times, but also got some good rides. The bigger sets were downright unnerving, but managed to get out of their way before taking them on the head. Soon the local crew of surfers came out and I soon paddled back to Willow. Those guys probably ride that wave everyday and they were all over it. We got out of there to look for a calmer spot to play.

Isla Salango: 01* 35.6’S
80* 51.6’W
Fantastic spot on the north side of the island. Anchored in 25’ although there is coral all around the spot. The bottom slopes quickly down away from the beach, so we had to get fairly close to the beach to find good depth. Centered on the white sand beach seemed to be a good spot with more sand than coral. Very cool place. Steep trail to top of island. Bonnie headed up to look at the thousands of birds making the place home. Several tourist boats with divers came out, all were very friendly

Salango: 01*35.4’S
80*50.6’W
Anchored in 25’ just outside of fishing fleet to the north. Would probably be better protection in big swell to the south, but a bit crowded with big shrimpers and the like. Very peaceful spot with an awesome long beach, very small town. Beach landing is just that, a beach landing. There was no spot better than another, just depended on the swell and how badly you wanted to get ashore. I watched the locals come and go for a while before heading in, had no problems. Had a great meal at Restautante Pelicano. The owner, Ivo, we met out at Isla Salango while he was running a dive trip. Very friendly fellow and good food, but probably not the cheapest in town. There is a cool little museum on the north end of town focusing on the history of the people in the area. It is one of the oldest settlements on the coast, super friendly people. My Spanish is improving out of necessity. Virtually no one speaks any English at all.

La Playita: 01* 38.8’S
80* 50.3’W
A fantastic bay just around the point from Salango. No name for it on the chart but enclosed by Punta Mala to the south and Punta Los Piqueros to the north. We tried anchoring closer to the Punta Mala side, but was all smooth rock and boulders so had to move around. The position above is well off shore in 35’ and we had all sand. I swam around and towards the beach to see what there was to see. Was good depth way inshore, but lots of rocks on the bottom. Would be a good idea to swim around and find a sandy patch to set the hook. Punta Mala is supposedly a good point break, but the conditions are fickle and need to be just right. I was tempted to paddle into the waves breaking there, but on closer inspection realized it was shallow rocks where the wave looked good. Must need a bigger swell to break further out. Nice beach, dramatic geology. Apparently the last nesting beach for sea turtles in Ecuador.

Puerto Lopez: 01* 33.5’
80* 49.1’
Dropped the hook in 40’ again outside the fleet of smaller vessels. Did not really look around for a better spot to anchor as all seemed good bottom. Again, super friendly people. When I got to the beach a bunch of kids came up to say hello. They did not ask for anything, as was the norm up in Mexico, just wanted to sit in our little boat and laugh. I asked them to keep my boat safe and a good thing to. As I was headed back to the skiff after some food and shopping I saw my crew bailing the boat out. I guess I did not pull it far enough up the beach and a bigger wave crashed over the stern and took it off the beach. They hauled it back up and were just finishing cleaning out the sand and water when I showed up. They were all telling me the story and laughing. I did give them all a tip at that point and they were psyched. Now I have my own posse of 6-10 year olds when I hit the beach. That works out fine with me, as my Spanish speaking skills are probably that of a 4 year old. I know our dingy will be safe from now on. Lots of restaurants and little stores.

Well, that gets us up to date. I am writing this on Willow anchored up off of Puerto Lopez. It is early morning and Bonnie is still up forward asleep. There is a light rain falling that seems to be the norm for the mornings around here. The mist gives landscape around us depth and texture, in contrast to the brightly painted buildings of the town. I can hear water trickling down the hoses of our rain collection system into our water tank. We have been able to collect enough water this way so we have not had to break into the jugs of water we loaded in Puerto Lucia. The temperatures here just south of the equator are surprisingly mild, in the 70’s to low 80’s most of the time. However, when the sun does burn through the clouds, it is intense. We hide from it most of the day and are thankful for the overcast days that have become the norm here.

An often-asked question by folks back in the states is: “What do you do all day on the boat, don’t you get bored?” No, I sure don’t and Bonnie does not seem to either. I have been sitting here writing for several hours now, sipping coffee and listening to some music, content with my spot on the planet. Bonnie has since woken up and is now sitting across from me reading a book on sea birds while also sipping coffee. She can do that for hours on end. Later we may go into town or at least to the beach to look for the birds she is reading about. We swim a lot, every day and it feels good.

Few cruising boats stop in at the places I have mentioned above so we are somewhat of an event. The fishermen coming and going from their labors often motor by us to take a look and say hello. Yesterday the entire crew of a big shrimp trawler swam over to say hello. All six of them climbed into our little skiff floating astern of Willow. I did my best to chat with them while Bonnie listened from below, intent that I practice my language skills. Eventually they invited me back to take a look at their boat. I jumped in and swam back with them to meet the captain and have a look around.

That is the sort of thing that may happen at any time, and it is fun to be part of.

Bahia de Caraquez.

Well, we arrived in Bahia de Caraquez about 12 days ago and I have still not put anything up on the website about it. This is a beautiful spot with about 20 other cruising boats at anchor here. Many we know from Mexico or Central America, which is a great thing. We have taken care of the last jobs and provisioning on Willow and are ready to head out for the Galapagos tomorrow morning, which is the 12th or so of Feb.

Bonnie is an awesome at getting the needed items for our trip from town and back to Willow. Her Spanish skills have become very good now and she is comfortable heading out and tracking down all the things we need. I have been spending much time on Willow taking care of all the little projects we had to do. Everything is running fine now and we are anxious to get moving.

So, I need to get this on the web site now and then take care of a few more things before the morning high tide that will float us over the river bar and out to sea.
I will write while underway and hope to give a good account and pictures once in the Galgalapagos.

Hello to all and keep in touch. Greg and Bonnie