Every cruising area, no matter how beautiful, has certain places that are special. Punta Sal, located just 60 miles east of Livingston, is one of these.
As you approach Punta Sal from either the west or east, its cliffs which jut out from the coastal plain are usually visible from a distance of 10 to 15 miles. Rocky and sheer, topped with lush vegetation, this craggy promontory is home to thousands of birds and animals. It's a welcome sight as this area offers the sailor protected anchorages, friendly visits from the locals, and beautiful isolated beaches.
I think what I like the most about the point is that it gives me a feeling of really being away from it all. It's rare to see another boat in your lagoon and as there are no roads or electricity one is truly cut off from the rest of the world. Most of the locals come from a village on the beach west of the cliffs and use small dugouts with paddles for water transport.
On my last stay there in April of '97 I didn't hear a single outboard or generator. Not even an airplane. Our only visitor was an old fellow who paddled up to the side of the boat, chatted for a while, and left us with a few husked water-coconuts. He wanted nothing in return.
If you have Nigel's guide book, a depth sounder, a GPS, and a blender in good working order you will have no trouble entering either of these lagoons in the daylight. For those of you that lack some of these things, whether it be out of sailing purism or, as in my case, just plain 'ol poverty, I will describe the area. It is fairly easy to learn. Bear in mind, however, that attempting these cuts during a "norther" or any strong westerly wind could be a little iffy. If its dark, revert to Plan B which involves heavy use of the aforementioned blender.
This breathtaking point consists of three prominent groups of cliffs or small mountains that protect the lagoons behind them. The first entrance gives access to Laguna Tinta and is a bit narrow when viewed from a distance. In fact, if you can see it from a distance you are already doing real well. Don't sweat it though because the entrance lies near the end of the beach and is wider than it looks. A great flat-topped rock sits in the middle of the two cliff walls of the southern and central mountains. You'll recognize the rock as it looks like an ideal spot for sacrificing virgins and throwing their bodies to the shark-infested waters below. This rock gives one the impression that entry can be gained on either side. This is certainly not the case because if you choose the northern side your trip will be delayed somewhat. Don't worry about it too much though as there is a haul-out facility only 20 miles to the west.
The southern cut, or upon entering from the west, the right-hand side of the rock, is deep, wide and free from surprises. Once inside, the lagoon is shallow with great holding and leaves lots of room between your boat and the multitudinous sand-flies lurking in the mangroves just waiting to make your life miserable. Drop the hook, kick back, and have all those cocktails you wanted to have before you went through the cut but your crew wouldn't allow. It's a beautiful spot and totally protected from virtually all kinds of nasty weather.
At times, due to the fact that the sea breeze will drop during the night, I've left in the dark when headed eastwards toward Utila. The loom of Cortez and the prominent features of the cut make it easy to do, giving yourself a good jump on the breeze which will usually come up in the late morning. This tactic can really help as I know of several boats that have had to turn back with the cayes of Utila almost in sight.
The northern lagoon which lies in a wider gap between the central and northern cliffs is smaller and there’s a semi or submerged rock somewhere in the middle of the entrance. Entering or leaving in daylight is no problem but, as I've never tried it in the dark, I can’t honestly say if it's a good jumping-off point for an early start. There’s a trail in the NW corner of this lagoon, where the cliffs meet the beach. This is where the fun begins. The trail takes you over a small saddle and into a semi-protected bay literally chock-full of surprises.
Actually, on previous visits I had taken the boat into the bay, passing through the wide break in the cliffs, over the coral beds, and anchoring just a few feet from the crescent-shaped white sand beach. It's a good idea to set your hook here as strong puffs of wind can come off the cliffs. On my last trip I decided to have a real good look around and easily found the trail.
After a swim to the beach, the first thing that caught my eye was a coco palm with about 50 long pendulous nests hanging from its fronds. These were inhabited by birds with a brilliant yellow tail whose haunting calls reminded me of the old Tarzan movies. They seem to have quite a social scene going on up in that tree -- lots of action.
A few yards up the trail I spotted the monkeys that I had heard howling earlier. A group of about ten, including infants, were playing in the large trees overhanging me. I wondered at first what monkeys were doing here until I realized that the banana trees I had seen from the boat and which cover the majority of the steep sides at the head of the bay, were wild. Chiquita wouldn't give them a second look but these guys were in heaven.
I followed the trail to the summit and dropped down to the other side where I found the beach trail-head. It's a pretty walk, just the leaves crunching under my bare feet, the buzz of the insects, and the calls of the birds and monkeys.
Later, I donned my snorkel gear and passed a pleasant hour or so exploring the bottom of the bay. There's lots of coral, jacks, angel fish, lobster and trunkfish. I wouldn't have minded finding a trunk-full of dubloons or at least some good aged cheese, but as fate would have it I spotted no treasure.
I raised my facemask above the waves and had a look around. Here I was in a fantasy cove, the boat moving easily on its anchor, with a solid near-vertical wall of green hanging above. A truly beautiful place, hombre. What did I need a bucket of gold for anyway? I had it all right here in front of my eyes.
November 9, 2012
© 1997-2012 Phillip Landmeier