Tick tock. Our French Polynesia visa starts April first. We told our Tahiti bond agents we will arrive about April 15. As the days go by those dates look more and more unachievable. We expected to be the welcoming committee in the Marquesas for our friends transiting the Panama Canal this season and here they are all through, and some even in the Galapagos already. What in heaven’s name is the holdup?
We told Bill and Jean, the unofficial cruising station hosts, that we wanted to leave Monday the 9th. They organized a going away celebration for us at the weekly potluck at Lin and Lou’s.
Monday slipped into Tuesday, then Wednesday as we ticked the items off our long to-do list. There was provisioning to do, meals to cook for our first week out, last minute troubleshooting on our port engine, and a final hiccup with changing our cruising grounds designation with the insurance company, which got worked out but only after hours of stress.
Leaving the Bahia del Sol estuary involves a bash through the breakers over the river bar and must be timed to high tide and general surf conditions. The high tide gets later and later ever day until right now it’s just at nightfall. We aren’t crazy about starting a long passage with a night watch on a coastline with a lot of fishing lines and nets, so we adjusted again to go out with the Thursday morning high tide at dawn.
We got up at 5am, stowed what needed to be stowed, battened the hatches and portlights for the wet exit over the bar and made our last ceremonial walk up to the port captain’s office to check out of El Salvador. Latin American countries love triplicate forms and rubber stamps and it took a little while to get all the paperwork completed but it was all done with smiles and friendly handshakes.
Back at the dock our new friends had roused themselves to give us a warm send-off. And then we were off. Jack piloted us out toward the entrance in larger and larger swells as I lurched back and forth on deck unaccustomed to being on a boat underway, stowing the fenders and docklines. We won’t need them for a long time.
By the time I got back to the safety of the cockpit and looked around I could see the solid line of breakers we had to go through. The pilot boat went over the swells nearly vertically; Escape Velocity handled them well in Jack’s competent hands. But as we got closer and closer to the breakers, Bill and the pilot said to stop and we’ll wait for a break in the surf. We watched the pattern for minutes, rising and falling in the steep swell, feeling over and over again that first steep drop of a roller coaster. I was glad I thought to take a seasickness pill when I got up.
There were two rows of breakers and we were looking for a moment when there was at least 20 seconds between the first and the second to give us time to get over both. They were close together and never more than ten seconds apart. We watched and waited, rising and falling, rising and falling.
Finally Bill came over the radio and asked did we want to wait or go back. We could hear in his voice that waiting wasn’t going to change the conditions. Jack said go back. Even that was easier said than done, because with the high swell we couldn’t just turn around or we’d be beam to the seas and in danger of broaching. Bill suggested backing up, which we did until there was enough flat water between swells to pivot the boat and head back in. We surfed a little over the swells until we were back in calm water and motored back into port.
I couldn’t bear the thought of digging out the fenders and docklines again so I suggested we drop the anchor instead and spend our waiting time on the hook. We didn’t know if it would be 12 hours or a few days. The port captain called and requested Jack return to the office. Once they check you out, they actually want you to leave. Go figure. Bill stopped by in his panga and shrugged. You just never know until you get out there, he said. He thinks the conditions will be the same tomorrow. My heart sank. We’re the first boat since we’ve been here that had to turn back and wait for another opportunity to exit the estuary. We’ve said many goodbyes to boats over the last few weeks. None of them came back.
Jack made peace with the port captain and I lay down on the mezzanine seat and promptly fell asleep. The busy, stressful week of preparations finally caught up with me — that and my non-drowsy seasickness pill — and I slept for seven hours until Jack roused me with a glass of passionfruit juice and a warning that I wouldn’t get to sleep tonight.
This is the essence of cruising. Nature nearly always throws a monkeywrench in any mortal plans you make. We go when the wind and the waves let us. Or in this case, when the surf over the bar will let us out.