Greetings friends and family!  Fasten you seat belts because we are going to cover some ground in this Journal Entry!  We will tell you of
    our travels from El Salvador, Central America all the way to Ecuador, South America, a distance of approximately 1000 nautical miles
    (which is approximately 1200 statute miles).  You can find corresponding pictures by clicking on the Photo Album button above.  And
    remember, you can always look at our previous ramblings by clicking on the archived Journal Entries (above) and the corresponding
    archived Photo Albums on the Photo Album page.

    We departed from Barillas Marina Club in El Salvador in the company of our friends on Ketching Up.  We stopped for the night at Punta
    Ampala which is at the northwest entrance to the Gulf of Fonseca.  The Gulf of Fonseca is smallish but interesting in that it's shoreline
    encompasses 3 countries, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  We took all the kids to shore for a little burning off steam time.  We
    found a little beach-side cantina and had refreshments while the four boys (Joshua, Cooper, Wills, and Griffin) played with some local
    kids.  The people were friendly, but oh so poverty stricken.  The next morning we departed and headed straight for Puesta Del Sol in

    At Puesta Del Sol we obtained a slip at the marina.  It is a reasonably priced and extremely nice Marina/Hotel complex.  They have good
    Internet access, a restaurant/bar, and great swimming pools for the kids.  They also have a large beach Palapa with a swimming pool right
    on the ocean, just a half-mile hike from the Marina.  It is beautiful and a great place to watch the sunset.  The kids had fun swimming,
    surfing, boogie-boarding, building forts in the woods, and picking fresh mangoes and coconuts from the trees.  We met some nice folks
    from Oregon and from Hawaii who were there on a surfing trip.  They were staying in the hotel, which has beautiful air-conditioned rooms
    each with their own large balcony.  Every morning the marina panga driver would load them up in the boat and take them out to the surf
    breaks, which they tell us were phenomenal.  This is a far cry from the grungy old surf camps we have heard tell of.  After 5 days
    Southern Belle and Ketching Up departed Nicaragua and headed for Costa Rica.

    After a fairly gruelling 24 hour passage we all made it safely into Bahia St. Elena in Costa Rica along with our other sailing friends
    Rangin & Toshin aboard the Turkish flagged sailing vessel Delfin Solo.  En route we had winds in excess of 25 knots and gusting to as high
    as 40 knots almost all the way.  Luckily it was blowing right off the land and we stayed close so as to minimize the large seas that tend to
    build up.  These are the famed Papagayo Winds that, as you can see, can really get honking!  But our fine vessels transported all of us
    safely across.  The crew of Southern Belle even managed to land a 15-pound Yellow-fin Tuna during the passage (be sure to check out that
    picture)!  Bahia St. Elena is located in the Santa Rosa National Park in northern Costa Rica.  It is absolutely beautiful and a very calm
    anchorage after a tough crossing.  We had fun taking the kids on hikes, spear-fishing, snorkeling and exploring jungle rivers.  We ate
    fresh fish almost every night because we had good luck spearing Red Snappers, Silver Mullets, Pompano, and Trigger Fish in the mangroves
    that grow along the shoreline.  One day we hiked up a stream to a waterfall that had a nice cool swimming hole.  The weather here is
    definitely hot and humid, but usually with a nice breeze in the evening to cool you off.  Without the breeze it is brutal!  All in all we spent
    6 days in this paradise and did not see any other boats (beside us and our two sets of friends).

    From Bahia St. Elena, Southern Belle and Ketching Up moved around the peninsula to the Islas Murcialagos (The Bat Islands, reported to
    have over 60 species of bats inhabiting the area).  We anchored at Isla San Jose and met up with the Park Rangers to pay our park fee
    for the nights we would be anchored.  We were happy to pay these fees as we had seen how clean and well preserved they keep the Santa
    Rosa National Park.  On our second day at the island, two of the rangers came over to the beach where we were playing with the kids and
    started digging a hole in the sand near the high tide line.  To our surprise they started extracting baby sea turtles that had just
    hatched.  We all got to help the baby turtles make it safely down the beach and into the water.  It was a spectacular sight!  In addition,
    the cove at Isla San Jose had some great snorkeling reefs.  It is protected so you can't spear-fish.  Of course all the really tasty fish
    know this and they hang around there just tempting you.  George had a large school of big Yellowtail swim right up to him.  We tested a
    diving toy that Ketching Up had on their boat.  It is a diving plane that you tow behind the dinghy.  One person drives and the other
    person wears their diving mask and holds onto the plane behind the dinghy.  You tilt it down and it drags the rider right down to the
    bottom.  Tilt it back up and you go flying to the surface for some air.  It's really cool.

    Next we visited a spot called Bahia Huevos (Bay of Eggs).  Things have gotten decidedly more tropical.  We found a small beach to play on
    that had flowering shade trees growing right on the beach.  It was such a beautiful spot it needs to be featured on a postcard.  The boys
    all set to work building a fort and climbing trees.  The next day we sailed around to Playa de Cocos, our first stop in Costa Rica with a
    town.  Here we formally checked-in to Costa Rica and did all of the paperwork.  In town we found a restaurant called the Louisiana Bar &
    Grill and all had Gumbo and cold beer/soda for lunch.  Playa de Cocos was a good spot for provisioning and doing some boat projects.  One
    day as we walked down the street from the store on the way back to the boat, we spotted 4 spider monkeys swinging through the trees
    along the street.

    Since Southern Belle had a limited amount of time to explore Costa Rica before jumping off to Ecuador, the crew decided they had to get
    moving.  So we said goodbye to our friends aboard Ketching Up and headed south toward the Gulf of Nicoya which is the next big
    destination in Costa Rica.  We took three days to get to Bahia Ballena, spending the night at a couple of rolly uncomfortable anchorages
    along the way.  By this time we were getting into the famous Central American rainy season.  In three days we saw more rain than we had
    seen in at least the past two years!  Ballena was nice and we met some interesting folks.  There are many gringos living in Costa Rica and
    a large percentage of the natives (Ticos and Ticas) speak decent English.  This makes it a bit easier for us since we still have not become
    very fluent in Spanish.  It's on our to do list!  We left Ballena and tucked up further into the Gulf of Nicoya to visit the Islas
    Tortugas.  This is a beautiful spot that is used by a few tour groups as a day getaway for tourists and locals alike.  During the day the
    beach gets many visitors and in the evening they all disappear.  Ketching Up caught up with us here and we had a couple of nice days
    playing with the kids on the beach.  There is a domesticated wild pig that hangs around during the day.  It let's the kids bury it in the
    sand with just its head sticking out.  Pretty funny.

    We left the Islas Tortugas and sailed across the Gulf to Bahia Los Suenos (Bay of Dreams).  Once there we learned that the proper
    translation of Bahia Los Suenos is Bay of Over-Priced Marina!  The Marriott Marina quoted us $277 dollars per day for an end tie.  Ha!  
    We anchored out and payed them $40 per day for use of the property.  This worked out well because they have some nice swimming pools
    that the kids were able to use, and some other services like marine supplies and a fuel dock.  The best thing about this anchorage is that
    you can pick up a solid Wi Fi connection from the boat.  The town of Jaco is nearby and has a couple of big grocery stores.  This was our
    final stop in Costa Rica.  From here we provisioned and fueled up for the long haul to Ecuador.  All of the people who had gone ahead of us
    were reporting that you should carry as much fuel as possible because the sailing toward Ecuador this time of year is mostly bad as the
    wind will be on the nose the whole way across.  We calculated that our normal full load of fuel was not going to be sufficient if we had to
    motor the entire way.  So George went to town to look for additional fuel containers.  He ended up buying a refurbished 55-Gallon steel
    drum which we strapped to the stern deck and filled to the brim with diesel.  Now we have enough to get us there!

    On a cloudy, overcast, and rainy morning we left Los Suenos, Costa Rica and headed almost due south for Ecuador.  We had decided not to
    visit Isla Del Coco on our way south because this would have added over 200 nautical miles to the journey, and we stood the chance of
    sitting out there in torrential rain storms the whole time since we are rather late in the season (Coco records over 360 inches of rain
    each year with most of it falling between May and October).  So we had decided to make a straight shot for Bahia de Caraquez in
    Ecuador.  With 650 nautical miles to go, this was our longest ocean crossing to date aboard Southern Belle.  This made for a bit of pre-
    departure nervous energy aboard the boat.  The fact that we had to travel through the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), which is
    reportedly fraught with thunder storms and much lightning (not to mention the occasional water spout), did not help relieve the nervous
    tension.  But bravely we set forth, secure in our belief that our fine vessel would transport us safely to our destination.

    On the first day out we had a spectacular run of good luck fishing.  First we hooked up a large Sailfish that jumped around behind the
    boat as George fought to secure the rod.  It finally ended up breaking the line and getting away.  After breaking the rig the fish
    continued to jump out of the water behind the boat trying to shed the lure that was stuck in its mouth.  It was an amazing sight and
    lasted so long that we finally snapped out of our trance and Melinda ran for the camera.  Of course, by the time we were ready to take a
    killer picture, the lure popped out and the fish dove out of sight.  Shortly after that we hooked up another fish, but it was just a nasty
    old Skipjack so we released it.  Then that afternoon both of our fishing lines hooked up almost simultaneously.  One fish broke the line
    and got away, but the other stayed hooked up.  We had quite the fight getting the fish aboard, and worried the whole time that it was just
    a really big Skipjack.  Not so!  We were rewarded with a 25 pound Yellow-fin Tuna!  This big beautiful fish provided enough good meat to
    get us all the way to Ecuador!

    It took us a total of 5 days 7 hours to reach Bahia Caraquez, Ecuador.  En route we went through the ITCZ which provided many squalls
    with much rain, but thankfully no lightning at all.  The boat performed well.  We only had to repair the goose-neck fitting where the boom
    attaches to the mast, and adjust the rigging.  Other than that all systems were a go for the entire trip.  We crossed the Equator at
    approximately 1030 on the 5th day, May 26, 2008.  We had a fine celebration to commemorate the crew of Southern Belle becoming
    official Shellbacks.  We started by giving speeches and presenting each other with Shellback Badges on the foredeck while baptizing each
    other with water from the Equator.  Then we opened our fancy bottle of Champagne and toasted ourselves and King Neptune on the
    afterdeck (we gave a generous portion to Neptune).  Next we had a gift giving ceremony followed by a fine feast of steaks covered with
    lump crab meat, garlic mashed potatoes, tomato and heart of palm salad, and rice krispy treats for desert.  When we finished the
    champagne, we prepared a note describing the occasion and set it adrift in the bottle.  Hopefully someone will find it and send us an e-
    mail.  Then we topped off the whole celebration by watching the Sponge Bob Squarepants movie.  A fine time was had by all.  We made it to
    the waiting area at Bahia Caraquez before dark on that same day and dropped our anchor.  It was a little bouncy out there but still
    pleasant after our 5 day crossing.  The next morning a pilot from the Puerto Amistad Marina met us and led into the estuary where we
    picked up a mooring for Southern Belle.  This is where we will berth Southern Belle for the next 5 to 6 months.              

    Our next adventure will be to travel home to Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas for some fun family visitation.  After which we will return
    to explore some of South America.  We will bring you some more journal updates soon!  Until then enjoy the pictures of our journey from
    El Salvador to Ecuador, and as always we wish you all fair winds and following seas!
El Salvador to Ecuador