Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Entering Guatemala's Rio Dulce River

Left the cays west of Utila around lunch time after a nice swim, heading off to find the Rio Dulce River of Guatemala. I figured it would take about 17 hours to get there if all went well. This would put us in a position to cross the shoaled bar at Livingston, the entry point of the Rio at the high tide the next morning. Using REEDS Nautical Almanac of 2007, the high tide calculations gave us comfort of having a good idea when there might be enough water for us to get our 6'11" over the bar. Well, when we arrived at the rivers entrance we were just a bit in front of 3 other sailboats that had waited out the night on Puentas Tres, ten miles away, for the same purpose; run the bar at High Tide.
My calculations from the almanac, said I was late by nearly 2 hours. Their calculations using local Guatemalan tide information derived from ?, stated we were all on time.

I got my bearings strait, using the 225 deg.'s suggested by Nigel Calder and 223 deg. suggested by one of the boats, Argo, behind us. Keep in mind, using a 'Range' of two hilltops is not precise, so we were 'somewhere' near correct when running the bar.

Track shown with waypoints and headings. All is accurate except the placement on the chart is typical of the misalignment of the True Position of the boat, and the Charts. Use the waypoints with confidence. The scribble at the top of the red line shows our first 2 attempts to enter, our anchoring, then the 3rd run with an assist.

I got about 100 yds. past the sea buoy and the depth dropped to 6'7" on my instruments..........I usually feel us touching bottom when it reads 7-7'2". We were aground on soft bottom. I tried to use throttle to push us over, but no luck. Had left the main sail up for a little heel, but there was not enough to make a real difference. I spun the wheel to port(we were on a starboard tack), hit the throttle and got the boat to spin around and return to deeper water. The group of 3 sat outside the buoy, as I tried a different approach and once again, a hundred yard off to the East, did the same thing. I had to unfurl my Genoa to get some added inclination but off we went again to deeper water.

Argo, then decided to make a run for it as their draft on a Valiant 42 was supposedly 6'4", 7" less than us. They got in and said they saw 5'9" on their instruments, meaning it was soft bottom they were pushing thru.

I anchored out and observed.

Oyster hard aground and way off to the East, Cayuse aground and we are scootin' along being directed along at 230+ degrees.

The next boat, Cayuse, a 50'er with 6'6" draft went next and got 1/2 way in before stopping. He tried several things and got a little further, but eventually needed a tow from a small outboard powered Cayuga to get further East, off a bar apparently and then made way into Livingston.

The 3rd boat of their pack, an Oyster 53 with 7'3" draft and confidence as he said he had done this before, opted to hire a tow boat(inboard powered fishing boat called Hurrican). We watched as the fishing boat took double halyards from atop his mast and proceeded to heel him over. Off they went. Heeled over maybe 20 degrees, they got no further than my first attempt. Then they began trying different angles of attack with no success. At times he was heeled over maybe 35-40 degrees and was obviously way off to the east, where there is Hard bottom surface. I did not envy the lower area of his keel and what might have been there for bottom paint.

The Port Capitan, Raul, noted friend of cruisers, had been called earlier to get the local guy out to do the job, but Oyster did not want to wait. "I" took the local guy. The reported $ was $50 US for this job so I decided to just give him the 'thumbs up' and make this a team effort of solving a task, rather than a business deal. I quickly set up one spinnaker halyard with an additional 40' ---- 3/4" line and tossed the bitter end to him.

Hoisting his flag, the guard at the Port Captains compound.
He was proud to show his stuff!

He then attached it to his starboard side, mid ship post and with hand signals directed me to take a certain course. He spoke no English, I have forgotten any Spanish I once knew, so we smiled and used hand signals. It worked. A couple of times I got ahead of him and actually started to drag him backwards. We had to stop, realign ourselves and go for it again...no problema.

Got in just fine, only grazed the bottom muck 2X, obviously needing the 20 deg. port heel to do the trick.

Wouldn't Ralph Nader just LOVE this !?

Taxi anyone?

Note: My original plan was to raise all sails if anywhere near a beam reach, sheet them in hard for maximum heel, then power like hell to raise apparent wind speed to increase heel as well. I chickened out!!

Anchored then off of the town of Livingston, in front of Argo and awaited Raul, immigration, agriculture, a Doctor (required) and paid the approximate $100 US to complete the clearing in introductory procedures. All went very well and was smooth and friendly, not like twenty years ago with inefficient search parties aboard. We were instructed by Raul, to come into town an hour later to pick up all paperwork, passports etc.

Left later and proceeded up the Canyon, a most magnificent entry.

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