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Brunos Hotel and Marina - saloon, bar, restaurant, pool

running the bar


Rio Dulce Forum, 1 kB
Running the bar PDF Print

Fishing Boats Crossing The Bar At Sunrise
Fishing Boats Crossing The Bar At Sunrise


(Editor's Note: Since we have a lively discussion going on in the RIo Dulce Forum about GPS coordinates for crossing the bar at Livingston, it seems timely to rerun Casey Brooks' article about "Running the Bar". Please read the discussion Here . If you have a boat with a draft of 6' or over and have different waypoints than those mentioned, please let us know.)


A few notes on the Rio Dulce entrance, Guatemala 


   For those of you who have not crossed the bar yet I want to summarize up front: DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. 
  The normal depth of the sandy bar is five and a half feet. Many of you have a GPS with tide stations. Some of you might have the regular printed tide tables.
   You can find the tables on the www.mayaparadise.com website.   There  was a photocopy on the wall in Raul’s (ServaMar) office in Livingston last time I was there 

   You want to cross an hour or even two before high tide. Check that you are on the right time, too. You want to err on the early side so you have time to fool around getting off before the tide falls.

   When I crossed the first time, “Retriever” was very heavy drawing 6’8”.  Since then a ton, literally, of tools and 25 years of cruising stuff has come off the boat and into my shop on the lower Golfete. Now she draws 6’6”, maybe 6’5”. 

    I have been over the bar six times now, with the lowest I have tried a plus 1.4’ I’ve encountered a number of river bars over the years: The Pacific Northwest, Ecuador, Malaysia, East Africa, and most memorable, Coff’s Harbor, Australia with roller coaster seas running.

    The Rio Dulce is pretty easy.  Here’s my strategy. Pick a reasonable tide. If this is your first crossing you want to do it in daylight. 

  Find the entrance buoy at approximately N 15degrees 50’ W 88 degrees 44.5’. When the light works it flashes green. Hang offshore of the buoy and get ready. Douse the sails but keep them ready.

  Line up the distant canyon mouth and check that it is about 225 to 230 degrees on your compass.  Set up your GPS “runway page”   When all is ready for example, pull your dinghy painter up tight if you are towing.

  Then get the boat up to full speed and go for it. This is about a 10-15 minute run.  Have your crew watch the GPS and say GO RIGHT or GO LEFT. Don’t get all technical and expect to steer a perfect course.

  There is often a side setting current here. Keep looking back at the buoy to see how this is affecting you and come back onto the line drawn between the buoy and the canyon. This is seat of the pants and eyeball navigation. The GPS is just there to make you feel good.

  If you start to bump, don’t back off the throttle, keep the momentum you have, this muddy/sandy bar can’t hurt you. I like an afternoon tide, because usually an onshore wind is blowing, say ten to fifteen knots.  

  This sounds scary, but in reality it is very helpful for a boat like mine. “Retriever” has a very old and tired 3 cylinder diesel. Add to the equation a narrow two blade prop and I’m lucky to get the boat up 5.7 knots.

  Now with the wind and waves helping, “Retriever” bumps over the bar instead of sticking.   This bumping starts about a hundred meters in from the entrance buoy and continues until about the point the hotel sits on.

  By the way don’t angle into the anchorage off the town dock until you are about at right angle to it.  “Retriever” has a full keel with external lead ballast shaped like a V. Without the wind waves she happily wedges herself into the sand and sticks there with a dumb dog look on her face.

   If this happens to you, don’t panic, the boat is not in dire straits. The bottom is soft, there are no rocks, and you’re not going to sink. Are you? 

  Put on the coffee pot. If you’re English, tea. If you are an old Rio hand, crack open a beer. Now CALMLY, unfurl the genoa if there is wind. Your strategy is to heel the boat. Now using the engine try going back and forth.

  Advanced students can let the boom out as far as it goes and get your crew to climb out there. Bribe with beer if necessary. If all you have for crew is Jake or Fluffy, try hoisting the dinghy from the end of the boom. Try bucketing water into the dinghy for extra weight... 

  Now by this time the sailboat that might be anchored off Livingston has seen you or heard your calm call on the VHF (try 68 in addition to 16). At any rate, a local lancha will come out. The natives are friendly.

   They want to, of course, make some money pulling you off. If you just can’t get off yourself, start negotiating. I think something around $30 or $40 is reasonable. The 100 Quetzal note is worth about $13 US. If you don’t speak much Spanish try holding up two twenty dollar bills and see if they agree. At any rate, be nice; give them each a coke and maybe some cookies.

  If they don’t come down from a ridiculously high price, tell them “Gracias” for coming out, crack open another beer, after all you ARE technically in the Rio, and pretend to rig the hammock.  

   Just remember old tub of lard Spanish galleons got in here and so have 7’ draft yachts.

   I just now turned on my GPS, November 12, 2007 clicking on the tide page for Rio Dulce Entrance; I see that the tides are asymmetrical at the moment. The first high is 9:30 am and is only a plus 1.3 feet.  Europeans please switch from meters, and shellbacks please switch from fathoms, so that we are all talking feet here.

  The second high is a really good one, topping out at a whopping 2.0’ at 8:00pm. I would go on this one.  Let’s say I’m up the Rio and want to go out. I would go down to Livingston in the afternoon and check out. Then around sunset I would head out with the tide at about 1.6 and rising. 

      So let’s say you’ve made it over. Anchor off the town dock, hoist the yellow Q flag and wait for the authorities to come out.   Raul is your key guy here and makes checking in smooth and easy.  Nobody hurries here; call Raul on 16 if no one has come. 

  If I’ve caught a fish, I like to have chunks ready in plastic bags for the officials. There will be four or five.  Cookies and cokes are good here too, and Raul is very fond of Velveeta cheese. So to summarize, DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.  

  Hope to see you on the Rio,


OVER THE BAR you'll see river scenes like this. Photo by Brian King, s/v Mustang
OVER THE BAR you'll see river scenes like this. Photo by Brian King, s/v Mustang


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