Mooring the Boat: our experience in Nicaragua and Ecuador, Part 1

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Old School Tractors… this how some of the locals dragged their pangas up the beach in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua, where we moored the boat last year. This year, we kept Aldebaran in Bahia Caraquez, Ecuador.

As I buckled my seatbelt on the plane towards Quito, I wondered: how is the boat doing after four months in Ecuador? I prayed nothing went wrong or got stolen — we are planning to leave on our big ocean crossings to Galapagos and French Polynesia this February, so setbacks would be a bummer…  Here’s what I discovered when I got back to the boat — and a comparison with mooring the boat in Nicaragua the year before.

  

We've done Season 1 and 2 so far, and the boat is moored in Ecuador's mainland.

We left California March 2015, mooring the boat 4 months in Nicaragua, after 8 months of cruising. Then we went sailed 6 months from Costa Rica via Isla Coiba, Isla del Coco, and Galapagos, and we moored the boat another 4 months, this time in Ecuador.

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Where to park the boat?

Many sailboat cruisers face the issue of where to safely moor their boat while they return home for periods of time. For us, after sailing each season, we try to head back to California for the end-of-year holidays, in order to catch up with family, friends, and do work. Sabrina takes 3 month assignments as an ICU nurse, and I do boat captain work, as well as run our sailing cooperative’s behind the scenes. We left our trimaran moored in Bahia Caraquez, Ecuador this year. For perspective though, let me first share our experience last year in Nicaragua, as Part 1 of this post.

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MOORING IN NICARAGUA

After cruising the Nicoya, we made a decision:  Costa Rica was too expensive and Panama had too much lightning and rain to keep going south in August. So we stalled and cruised the epic Santa Rosa National Park for 3 months before making a u-turn and going back north to Playa Gigante, Nicaragua.

map-playa-gigante-location

The good folks at Pastora Tours gave us a solid mooring for $150/month (I scuba inspected it, immaculate), plus wi-fi at the office, occasional panga rides to the beach, and we borrowed a kayak as part of the deal.  However, there was no security, and unfortunately all of Central America is prone to petty theft.

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The Pastora Tours office. Captain K in usual garb for shore landings with his SUP.

How to deal with security concerns

Luckily  we had planned “boat-sitters” to stay aboard — first my dad Bob and later lifeguard & co-op member Chris, who wrote this blog post about the experience with his buddy Adam as photog.

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Chris watching the boat from all angles.

When our boat-sitters were away, we could pay $10 per night to have someone from Pastora Tours sleep on the boat as a security guard. If we had no boat-sitters,  my guess is that for a $200/month we could make a deal for a part-time security guard.  All in all, it was a good place to moor: there were surf spots next door, a pleasant village with an ex-pat community, and cheap living in Nicaragua.

As it turns out, Sabrina and I had to delay our return. Thanks to Bob for being a total legend, as he picked up the slack and returned to the boat to keep her safe!  

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I like the wet season — as long as our cockpit stays relatively dry. Thanks to Tarp technology!

Wet Season Winds

During July to October, which is the wet/hot season and most cruisers take a break to go home, Nicaragua’s famed easterly winds can back off, and squalls can come through with 10-20 knot westerly onshore winds. These aren’t long lasting and I feel confident in Pastora’s moorings if they remain well maintained. As surfers keen on getting south swells, which align with the wet season, we decided to spend a good chunk of time in the relatively dry northern Nicoya (plus, we lucked out with a particularly dry spell driven by El Niño in 2015). In general, the easterly winds, which blow off the land, keep the squalls at bay, and tends to reduces the amount of lighting and rain exposure in this whole region.

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Strong winds just south of Gigante tore our inner jib. Note the north ward set of the wind on the water, which make it hard to go south!

Dry Season Winds

After the surf/wet season, we moored in Playa Gigante during November to March, during which time it blows nearly constant offshore winds. This is great for anchoring, but the main downside is that it can blow TOO strong — upwards of 35 knots on the Papagayo days. The trimaran is comfortable at anchor, but the rigging is shaking and getting oneself to the beach is a daunting task. Pastora’s promise to give us rides to the beach with their pangas didn’t quite measure up, as their timing was always unreliable and haphazard.

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Surveying the shore break on a medium swell day at Playa Gigante

The Shorebreak!

The other big downside is that there is a significant shore break on the beach, so landing a skiff here is not safe… I would always anchor the skiff outside the shore break and swim in. This is why we opted to rent a kayak from Pastora’s instead. Flipping a kayak and getting a bit hurt is still a possibility, but way less catastrophic than flipping a skiff.  All the more kudos to my dad Bob, at 75 years of age, for kayaking through that almost daily! Keeping him nimble, I reckon!

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Sabrina stoked to be back on the boat, provisions under way. Pictured here after our return to Gigante.


Other options for mooring a boat in Nicaragua

What are the alternatives to Playa Gigante (which I should add, is not at all “Giant”, it is quite small)?  We really liked Marina Puesta del Sol in northern Nicaragua — super affordable rates (perhaps $350/mo), good surf nearby, wi-fi on the infinity pool, and security included. However, we didn’t want to head back north, as that would require bashing south against the easterly headwinds of the Papagayos, which are especially strong in the dry season.

When we went south (or more correctly, south-east) along that coast in July ’15, we blew out two headsails on 30knot+ days, so we weren’t excited about doing it again (see headsail picture above). Note:  San Juan del Sur does have an advantage of a pier over Playa Gigante, and I speculate you could just anchor with confidence, but security is an issue. It’s hard to trust anyone — unless they work for a reputable company, even security guards or their “friends” will rip you off.

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When your boat is safe, you can enjoy Cuba Libres. Pictured here in Gigante at my friend Jack’s pizza restaurant — the original reason why we came to this random little village in the first place.  Thanks for the tips (and the pizza) Jack!

Bureacratic Nonsense

Oh yeah, and Nicaragua’s boat customs laws are pretty funky. They only allow 30 days for the boat, technically. After that you have to pay a “fine” of $50 plus $1 per day. All this was extremely unclear, with the customs officials contradicting each other, which gave me a good deal of anxiety. Fortunately, it ended up well, and I paid a total of $180 or so for the boat’s four months in the country (I should add that I speak good spanish to converse with all the officials).  All told, I was pleased with mooring the boat in Nicaragua, but it did feel like the wild West, and I can imagine that lacking spanish skills or ability to figure out the security issues might be a serious setback, except if you get a slip at Marina Puesta del Sol and they take care of it all. Mucho mejor.

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We rented a storage in Playa Gigante (the attic at Giant’s Foot Surf Camp) for $40 for our surfboards, so that we didn’t have to leave the boards on deck (surf damage, theft vulnerability). This is us kayaking and paddling them back to the boat… a little mission in itself!

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Sabrina and cousin Sophie made quite a “splash” with their improvised funnel made out of a gallon water jug they purchased for the task (sorry about the pun!) We’d leave the water jugs at Pastora Tours and they’d bring them out to the boat when they were taking clients sportfishing, as part of their service.

Want to know anything in specific, or enjoyed reading the blog?  Holler in our comments section below.

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Related Posts:

Exploring Rincon la Vieja National Park in Costa Rica

Robby’s Reflections of the Osa Peninsula

Green Coco on “Marketplace” National Radio, by NPR! 

One thought on “Mooring the Boat: our experience in Nicaragua and Ecuador, Part 1

  1. Kristaen,
    Awesome update…so many details to work out, we are thankful you are at the helm and can’t wait for our trip to the Marquesas with you!
    Judy & Matt

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