SSCA Article- Ecuador
In the September 2000 Commodore's Bulletin, our friends Jane & Harry Hungate of CORMORANT wrote a piece about their transit of the Panama Canal which included a leg out of Panama to Ecuador. We read this with some interest, I must confess chief of which was the idea of breaking up the long trip to Galapagos. In February in Colon, eastbound cruisers Ellen and Jerry King of GRACE gave a presentation at the Panama Canal Yacht Club about their recent side trip to Ecuador, complete with show and tell of all the treasures they bought up in the highland markets.
Until about a month previous to this, we were bound for the South Pacific like just about 75% of the boats we knew. A whole bunch of factors had come up to cause us to reconsider this headlong rush. A chief one was that we had really enjoyed ourselves coming slowly across the southern Caribbean. So many boats we saw were zipping through straight from Trinidad and even Florida. A second consideration was that we had made a big investment of effort to learn some Spanish; it seemed a shame to drop it abruptly the moment we wet the hull in the Pacific. Lastly, we had met a number of cruisers transiting east from California and Mexico who persuaded us we couldn't miss Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. At the time of GRACE's presentation, we had decided to take a year and divert north up the Eastern Pacific. After it, we decided to take two years and not miss Ecuador and the Galapagos.
Although scores of boats make a point of visiting the Galapagos each year, Ecuadorians consider the Galapagos to be a relatively minor part of what Ecuador has to offer. If you come here, you must be prepared to travel inland, and that, of course, means leaving the boat. We had now heard of three options for arrival: CORMORANT's recommendation of Bahia de Caraquez, where you can leave your boat free of charge at anchor in the river's estuary; GRACE's recommendation of the larger city Manta, where you can leave your boat on a mooring at the Manta Yacht Club; and a report on the informal Panama/Galapagos Net from the yacht SKYE about the nice new Puerto Lucia Yacht Club near Salinas (the Salinas Yacht Club being reputed to being cool to cruisers) where you can moor, med-moor, take a slip or haul out!
We decided finally to make Bahia de Caraquez our first stop, in large part due to the fact that Baker & Cindy Hardin of LITE'N UP, who had arrived there a year earlier with CORMORANT, had not yet left for the Marquesas. Cindy was just finishing up a year of teaching English as a second language, and we anticipated, rightly, that their local knowledge would be an unmatcheable asset. We used CORMORANT's waypoint ? 00*35.7S; 080*27.0W to plot our approach along with the Soft Chart Digital charts for Ecuador, which seem to be relatively accurate. In touch with Baker by radio, he told us that four boats had come to Bahia earlier in the year and none had used the pilot to enter. He described the approach, (which from the waypoint passes south of Bajo Santa Maria going due East at about Latitude 00*35.6 S to a point along the shore about 1/3 the way in from the point, and from there parallel the beach fairly close in, making a wide turn around the end of the point, and then up river close off town), and gave us the state of the tide. We would have had to wait for the pilot and it would have been utterly miserable to anchor out for the night, so with Baker's description coupled with the digital charts, we entered on our own. With reflection, we wouldn't do it again! We arrived just before sunset, just after high tide (full moon), with a big swell running that was scary but did serve to show all the shoal areas, however, had we screwed up, it could have been disastrous. We used the pilot when we left. (Tito Buchelli Quinonez; call ?piloto Tito? on VHF 16 or 12; he is the ferry driver so he needs as much notice as possible.)
We anchored as CORMORANT recommended just upstream from the Capitania (office of the Ecuadorian Armada), put up our Q flag, and gratefully collapsed for a good night sleep. Apparently, however, we committed a faux pas (?faulto? is Spanish!) by not first calling for permission to enter the harbor and then compounding it by not coming in right away to enter! This astounded Baker, as previously all arrivals had been quite laid back! Fortunately, it turned out that the hubbub was mostly in the mind of one manual-toting aide, and the actual Port Captain turned out to be a gracious, English speaking gentleman who accepted our apologies without penalty. Indeed, we almost came to feel like the Capitan was our personal host. (We found out that the Armada had just had a very bad day, with one of their ferries breaking down just in time for the start of the Semana Santa holiday week.) Regardless, it can't hurt to call ahead on VHF 16; no one may hear you, but at least you can say you tried! As it is also the best way to line up the pilot, call early!
Be prepared that the Armada officers are not sure what to charge you. Our fees totalled about $11 dollars to enter the country. After that it was about $2-4 dollars for each internal arrival and zarpe. Don't be afraid to argue politely.
Bahia is the quintessential sleepy beach resort town. It is recovering from two hard years of earthquakes and mud slides. The cluster of medium rise condo buildings on the point surprised us upon arrival, but are more or less forgotten as they are largely empty most of the year. There are several good restaurants ?Colombio's and El Muelle were our favorites -- where you can get a 650 ml Pilsener for $.60-$1 and good meal for $2-5 pp, about double what CORMORANT experienced a year ago. This is due to the repositioning of the economy since Ecuador adopted the US$ as its currency.
We were fairly happy with our picturesque anchorage in the river. There was a lot of natural debris the night we arrived, but that lessened remarkably during our stay. The tides switch you back and forth, north and south, daily, with stiff currents, so plenty of scope is desirable, although we had no problem with holding. The water is full of silt, so no watermaking, and we did collect a lot of barnacles on the prop and anchor chain in three weeks. The biggest handicap is no easy dinghy dock. We just used the seawall and steps and tried to get back before low tide! There have been a few thefts from visiting boats, as far as we know largely of things left unattended on deck, and this worries the Port Captain. When we went inland, we stowed the dinghy on deck, engine locked on its stand, and we hired Marcelo, a tricycle driver recommended by Baker & Cindy to sleep in the cockpit at night. Ask around for him, and be sure to ask for his letter of recommendation from Lite'N Up to know you have the right guy. Be sure to leave fenders down to protect your topsides from the panga he may use to come out. Assume absolutely no instincts for yachts! Arrange with the small ferry drivers to pick you up and get you back aboard.
There is much to say about Bahia, but I know that Cindy of Lite' N Up plans a more detailed article on its attractions. After a year living there, she is surely the expert. Even if you don't want to leave the boat there while traveling inland (in retrospect we would leave it at Puerto Lucia instead; see below), Bahia is a charming stop in its own right..
Bahia has no Migracion office, and for a short visit of a week or so, a Migracion stamp is not insisted upon. We, however, were going inland, so a day or two after our arrival, we traveled with Baker and Cindy to Manta for a night. Manta is not far away as the crow flies, but the crow doesn't fly between Bahia and Manta! We took the Ejecutivo bus 90 minutes to Puerto Viejo ($2), where we stopped for some errands. Then we took a cab a short hop to Montecristi, a major center of the Panama Hat industry, where we acquired some hats! Finally, from Montecristi we caught a local bus into Manta, and a cab to the Hostel Inca where $16 got us a double, w/ cable & private bath.
Manta is another option for entering Ecuador. This is a city of 200,000 + and is major fishing port. We saw dump trucks full of huge tuna guarded by armed guards on their way to the tuna cannery, which is said to be one of the largest in the world! The Manta Yacht Club is where GRACE chose to leave their boat. GRACE's waypoint 00*55.769S; 080*43.156W brings you just off the end of the seawall. Entry should keep the seawall close to starboard. Friends Bruno & Helena of the Swiss boat HELENA ZUO, also chose the Manta Yacht Club. They were moored bow and stern, with room for about six or seven boats. Mooring there cost $5/nite, with a reduction to $3/nite if you stay longer than a month, and that includes use of the club facilities including the pool! Bruno & Helena report the club very friendly to cruisers, and meal costs very reasonable. When they traveled inland they were able to hire a guard through the club to sleep in their cockpit for $5/night. Obviously, the big advantage of Manta is that you can take care of official paperwork right there, and you have access to urban scale services, including a modern mall with a fairly well stocked Mi Comiseriata (limited American products). We enjoyed a movie at the multiplex theater in English with Spanish subtitles! Also Baker had an alternator rebuilt while he waited at Maestro Alternador (ask the cab driver for directions.) FYI, we were able to negotiate a cab for all four of us, with piles of provisions to drive us the nearly 2 hours all the way back to Manta for $25!
We can't say enough about our travels in inland Ecuador, but the Bulletin would have a heart attack if we did! It is beautiful, it is friendly, and it is rich with history and crafts. And, it's cheap! If you'd enjoy details on our inland travels, check out our website at www.thetwocaptains.com/logbook.
It had not occurred to us to actually cruise coastal Ecuador before going on to the Galapagos, but when Baker and Cindy urged us to follow them south to Salinas, where they were headed for a haulout, we did. There is no cruising guide for these waters, and frankly not that many places to stop. We had several possibilities to check out. We were able to xerox several pages from a guidebook (in Spanish) that is put out by & for the Armada (ask the Port Captain). You must get an internal Zarpe for any movement between major ports (more on this later), so we cleared out from Bahia to Salinas with ?puertos intermedios.? This probably would not include Manta, if you wanted to put in there.
It took us every hour of daylight?and then some?to travel from Bahia to Isla de la Plata, billed as ?the poor man's Galapagos.? We motored the whole way, the first half with no wind, and the last half more or less dead on into the wind and current, pressing to get there before dark. We didn't quite make it, but the digital charts (the best chart available!) revealed that Isla de la Plata is wide open for a night approach, and we managed fairly easily with a combination of radar and electronic charting. We anchored at 01*16.050S; 081*03.90W, which you could use as a waypoint coming from the north. The tricky part is that the anchoring shelf is narrow, and there could be unlit fishing boats already at anchor. There is one building in the bay, and someone there turned a light on for the duration of our approach. Later in the week we saw several sportfish boat anchor successfully more to the east. We stayed at Isla de La Plata for several extremely peaceful days. The bay is filled with blue-footed boobies, swooping and soaring and chuckling in their roosts. The water temp was brisk ?67 degrees! Even if we hadn't had highland colds to shake, it would have been hard to get motivated to snorkel or dive. However, we saw tour boats doing both, as well as hiking ashore. In retrospect, I'm sorry we let our body bugs makes us vegetables. I think we missed some really nice opportunities, in a less restricted environment than the Galapagos.
From Isla de La Plata we sailed east to Los Frailles, part of the Machalilla National Park.
From an offshore waypoint of 01*29.13S 080*48.5, approach perpendicular to the long caramel beach. Avoid the SW side of bay where a sand bar nearly breaks at low tide. We anchored at 01*29.620S/080*47.74W, and sat bow out in a gentle swell. (note: we did a 180-turn every night.) This park area preserves the last bit of virgin tropical dry forest remaining on Ecuador's coast, and the water is much warmer, although we had a red tide when we were there. There are hiking trails into the park from the beach, but be aware that the park has $20 entry fee, according to the Lonely Planet guide.
Another possible coastal stop is Isla Salango, several miles south of Los Frailles.
HELENA ZUO stopped there and found good holding in sand with lots of pelicans and frigates and good viz for snorkeling. They noted, however, that the village on the mainland stinks of fish!
Fearing another bout of adverse current, we left Los Frailles at 4 am to make the trip (another motor; coastal Ecuador sure seems to be a region of flat seas and light winds, at least at that time of year) down to La Libertad (just east of the more famous Salinas) and the Puerto Lucia Yacht Club. Use an approach waypoint of 02*13.742S; 080*55.390W. To port you will see a bunch of large ships at anchor. To enter Puerto Lucia head for lighthouse dead ahead and enter the marina w/ seawall to stbd. The marina stands by on VHF 19, (get your Spanish ready) and if you call ahead they will come out and guide you in. They have moorings, Med moor w/ water & electric off the sea wall, as well as slips with finger piers on floating docks. EMAIL the manager, Gallo Ortiz, (who speaks English well) for rate info and reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a spic & span boatyard with Travelift, where Lite N Up was getting a bottom job. When we passed through, haul-outs were very reasonable if you were under 40 feet and dayworkers came very cheap. The owner of the facility is still working out what kind of relationship he wants with cruisers (i.e. it's a very upscale place but they need the cash flow) as well as what kind of boatyard he wants to run. George, an independent contractor, can facilitate most boat-related services and even get parts shipped in. We found everybody very friendly, especially Gallo, and it certainly is a very attractive and secure facility. In retrospect we would have spent a lot more time touring inland had we left the boat here. What's dockage compared to peace of mind! Some fees: Mooring: $12/nite; Med-moor (utilities available) $20/nite; $6pp/day to have use of yacht club facilities. $10pp/day to include gym and jacuzzi! Fuel dock. Diesel $1/gallon; Gasoline $2.50/gallon. Bottled water $1/5 gallons. Dock water is not potable and unfortunately you can't run watermakers even out on the moorings due to natural petroleum seepage. As much as we liked the place, we can't recommend the moorings?.we broke free and drifted right out of the marina the first night! Couldn't ask for a more solicitous reaction, however.
There is a well stocked Mi Comiseriata nearby in a mall, as well as a great hardware store. For fresh produce, the open market in La Libertad on Thursdays mornings is excellent (earlier the better, as always!)
One of the best benefits of this Ecuadorean itinerary, beyond the richness to the country you are visiting, is that it not only breaks up the journey to the Galapagos into two shorter passages (not counting the coastal hopping), but that it is a gentler journey (we beam-reached to the Galapagos in four fast days!) Reports from boats transiting from Panama in the same time period (March-June) cited adverse or no winds most of the way resulting in an 8-11 day slog.
The big catch is that however illogical it may seem you can't get an internal zarpe to the Galapagos from coastal Ecuador! The simplest solution is just to clear out for the Marquesas, and then make your stop. Unless things change radically, the Galapagos is very happy to have cruisers stop. Although the official word is still 72 hours for a stopover, in fact the standard is 20 days, and even that can be stretched. (The Port Captain in Wreck Bay told us 20 days in Galapagos; the one in Puerto Ayora said 20 days in his port, and the subject doesn't even come up in Isabela! ) If there is one thing you can count on in Ecuador, it is that no two officials will have the same story. Since we were not bound for the Marquesas (we came back to Panama via Cocos with tailwinds the whole route), I was reluctant to take that approach. Instead, George of Puerto Lucia ran interference for us with the officials in Guayaquil and managed to get a special clearance faxed to us. It ?officially? only gave us the 72 hours, but for the record we enjoyed about 23 days. George and Gallo hope it will set a precedent for future visitors.
One final word about Ecuador; I never enjoyed a place so much that I felt so crummy in! Parasites and amoebas are a fact of life here. We had the tourista on and off in every stop we made, including Wreck Bay, Galapagos! We ate out a lot, because the food is good and inexpensive. We tried to be careful and avoid juices made with water (with milk is OK) and raw vegetables, but it goes against the grain to avoid what we normally think of as the ?healthy stuff!? Informed sources suggest avoiding table salsas in open bowls. In the markets you can buy Vitalin, BacStop, or other products for debugging your fresh vegies on board. It seems to work. Pepto Bismol tablets deals with things short term. If you are worried about things when you are ready to leave get the following from any farmacia: Zentel 200mg; two tablets. Take both tablets after lunch. (No alchohol). Skip a day. Then take Secnidal 1g. Take both tablets after lunch again. Again no alchohol for two days afterwards. These were given us by a pediatrican we met in Bahia; most locals regularly dose themselves every six months!