Monday, March 23, 2015

Behia Caraquez

 Bahia de Caraquez is a cool easy going Ecuadorian beach town built on a sand spit extending into the mouth of the Chone River.  The people are relaxed, happy, friendly and mostly honest.

Bahia's tranquil tempo picks up a bit weekends, as people from Quito and Guayaquil return to weekend condos that line the shore.  Beaches are crowded,  jet skis and runabouts slash through the water around the moorage, streets bustle,  restaurants fill and music booms through town ALL THE TIME.

But the real reason Bahia is cool is because it is cool.  Just a few miles south of the equator, it is cooled by a large pool of cold water rising from the depths of the ocean.  Climate wise it's like a perfect Seattle summer day.  The air is cool and the sun warm.  And unlike Seattle, that gets almost three or four of these days a year, Bahia gets them all the time.  Well, almost all the time.  It does rain every now and then.
Cruisers coming to Ecuador have pretty limited choices on where to come ashore.  There are only two marinas that I know of in the country.  One very expensive full service marina in Salinas, and the Puerto Amistad marina here in Bahia Caraquez.  Puerto Amistad has a mooring field with 18 or 20 moorings.  The new mall, gas station and restaurants are a short walk away.  In fact everything in Bahia is a short walk away. The monthly rate for a mooring is a bit over $400.

Approaching Bahia, stay offshore.  Shifting sand bars block most of the entrance.  We did not close with land until we reached 00 35.780S, 080 28. 300W then headed directly to the "waiting room" at 00 35.305S, 080 26. 832W to meet our pilot at high slack tide.  You should email ahead and let the marina know when you plan to arrive so they can arrange for a pilot.  Approaching Bahia, contact them on channel 69 after about 9am.  Unfortunately, there is a hill between the marina and the waiting room that blocks the marina's signal.  Relays from cruisers in the moorings are frequently required.  From the waiting room the pilot took us straight in toward shore, aiming at the base of a large hill to the south of town.  When we were several hundred yards off we turned north and paralleled the shore around town and into the bay.  As you come around the point the mooring field comes into view about a mile to the south.

Most boats moor bow and stern.  There are a few swing moorings available, but they are more expensive as the boat swings over a larger area, and they are usually reserved for cats.  Boats moored bow and stern are very close to each other.  Tidal currents of three plus knots can bring boats even closer at times.  We have been brought to within ten feet of our neighbors.  Rudders should be locked amidships lest they drive boats together.  Twice a day high tide covers protective sandbars allowing choppy waves to wrap around the spit into the moorage. You won't have to worry about losing your sea legs. 

Shore side facilities here are very nice.  The marina office, showers and restrooms are in the building close to the road, a beautiful restaurant extents from the shore on the muelle. 

The food is good by Bahia standards.  Happy hour from 5 to 7pm with $2.25 well drinks usually draws a good crowd of cruisers making for delightful evenings.  Wednesday evenings a group of expats will welcome you and your money to their weekly poker game. 
Dingy dock at low tide
The good stuff:
The marina office and restaurant staff  are very friendly and efficient. 
Good shopping now that the new mall has opened.
Wacho.  Wacho is the diesel mechanic everyone here uses.  He is as good as the great Kenny Breazeale in Panama.  Wacho is also beginning to take care of boats left here for long periods of time.  His phone #is 0997914250.  Refrigeration mechanics, electricians and machine shops are also available locally.
No lightening.
Great social life. Cruisers usually get together at the end of the day at the restaurant for happy hour.  Sunday the restaurant is closed.  Cruisers have access to the restaurant's BBQ and usually have a potluck dinner together. 
Good place to leave the boat for land travel.  Inland Ecuador is stunningly beautiful.

Great wi-fi from the boat.  Puerto Amistad recently upgraded their service.  It is the best marina wi-fi we've had since leaving the US.

Clean showers and restrooms, good laundry service, beautiful facility.  The on demand hot water heater for the showers short cycles causing the water temperature to constantly go from hot to cold to hot again.  The firing rate of the heater needs to be reduced or if that is not possible a smaller unit installed.

Great fuel prices.  Regular gasoline is $1.40 per gallon.  Diesel is $1.04 per gallon.  Fuel purchases should be arranged through an agent, in this case Puerto Amistad, but it is possible to dingy to the gas station.  There are steps up the sea wall.  Go at high slack.  Or it is possible to take a couple jerries to the station using a pedicab for $1.50 round trip.  Some of the service station attendants will limit you to two jerries per trip since it is technically not legal for foreigners to purchase subsidized fuel.

The not so good:

The consensus amongst cruisers is this is one of the worst places in the world for barnacles.  Not the worst (Cartegena, Columbia) but close.  .  Bottom cleaning can be arranged through the office, and should be done every three weeks.  Visibility in the water is very bad, so it is very hard to do a thorough job.  Ask to have your prop cleaned, greased and bagged.
Changing zincs may tax the diver's mechanical talents.

Like almost all anchorages and marinas in Central America, Puerto Amistad has had theft problems.  Boats should be well secured. 

Last year marina mooring lines parted three times.  In the one case I know of personally, a bridle line failed, the boat veered toward it's neighbor, but rapid action by the owner using his dingy as a tug prevented a damaging collision.  Should one of the single moorings fail completely on a flood tide a boat could be swept under the new Chone River bridge immediately to the south of the marina.  The bridge is low to the water.  Dismasting or worse would be a sure thing.

Tripp, the marina owner, has assured us that maintenance has been stepped up and all lines are in good condition.  As far as I know he has not personally inspected the moorings to verify that this is the case.  The guys working on the moorings seem to be self managed, and one in particular has a checkered work history.

I will be relieved when we leave and get away with no damage.

Grace will be leaving soon, heading to Golfito. Costa Rica.

I would come back to Puerto Amistad.