Monday, May 30, 2011

PANAMA

On Friday, May 27th, we upped anchor at 05:15 and motored out of Golfito (Costa Rica) heading to Panama. Virtually no wind, so motor-sailed. A couple hours out, Jordan caught a nice Sierra that will give us 3 nice meals.

By about 14:00, we rounded Punta Burica and entered Panama waters! By 16:30 in flat glassy seas, we dropped anchor in an open roadstead (N08°06.829' W082°52.066') and about an hour later we saw a wall of black cloud and showers coming across the bay from the east. Just as we battened the hatches, and within literally 15 seconds, the winds went from 0 to 20 knots and the temperature dropped 15 degrees. The seas picked up and the rain came down in buckets but at least the lightning kept its distance. But 2 hours later it was all over except the choppy seas that took another 2 hours to subside.

The next day at 05:30 we were off again - this time to cross Bahia Charco Azul heading to the estuary that will eventually take us up to Pedregal. There are 3 entrances, including 2 precarious bar crossings. So we headed for the first one but just as we got to the entrance our electronic charts with integrated GPS crashed!!! So we turned around and motored out of breaking surf harm's way over to safe anchorage at Isla Parida (N08°07.236' W082°20.921') to sort out the electronic chart problem. No luck though.

Beautiful sunset at Parida

Late in the afternoon a local young man, Daniel, who spoke good English, with another worker in a work boat offered to escort us in through the tricky 5-mile entrance fringed with hidden reefs. Jordan questioned going in at dark, but this guy said he grew up here and knew it like the back of his hand. So we headed out as it was getting dusk and Jordan was getting nervous. As we approached the main entrance and in the dark, Daniel came aboard our boat and let his worker follow in the work boat.

A large cloud moved in, now covering our radar screen and obscuring what little sightings we could see in the distance. He said "No problem" and went up on our bow sprit in the pouring rain and called back heading adjustments to safely get us through. He said goodbye as we safely anchored in a calm and protected cove for the night.

The overnight anchorage was a little deserted so on Monday, we decided to move closer to the little town of Boca Chica and just as we were pulling anchor, MV Hobo came around the corner so the 2 of us went around the corner and dropped anchor (N08°12.944' W082°12.452') in an anchorage of about 10 other boats.

We went ashore for lunch at Hotel Boca Brava, perched up on a point overlooking the surrounding islands. You walk up 85 stairs to get there! I ordered medium lobster and it was huge! And delicious. And only $7.45. Amazing! Make sure you stop here.

Now the good news - we have been totally set up with CMAP. This is an electronic chart program that compares very favourably with SeaMax and gives us charts for the whole world. Now its been installed on 2 computers (GPS integrated) so in the future, if 1 computer fails, we will have a backup. Very Happy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gunkholing in Golfito

It's finally time to leave Golfito and Costa Rica behind. Unfortunately, I don't have too many good memories of Costa Rica because of so many dirty grey sand beaches, many very difficult beach landings, outrageous prices for dinghy landing - obviously not wanting your business in town, I guess.

Then to top it all off, a couple of days after arriving in Golfito I became ill. Very ill. And I just couldn't shake it, try as I might. Jordan finally took me to the hospital (as that is where the doctors are - you cannot make a doctor appointment). They kept me in for 2 hours for "observation" and then had the gall to charge us US$1,200. They had decided that I had an infection, and for some reason, decided I must be in pain. So they gave me 3 prescriptions and said to take all the pills.

I started to take them and shortly thereafter started to vomit. After several days of no food and still vomitting, Jordan researched what drugs I was taking. They had given me 2 prescriptions for pain relief and 1 prescription for an antibiotic!! I immediately threw the remaining pain relief drugs in the garbage.

A few days later, I started to feel marginally better without the need to vomit. Still waiting for my appetite to return to normal. Things just seem to taste weird. So that's my story for the last 10 days.

Jordan has been kept pretty busy. One morning, he changed the oil and filters. Very messy job. Another day he went to the Duty Free Zone to register as in order to shop there, you must register a day in advance. A few days later, he convinced me to go with him to shop so I agreed. But I pretty much sat in every available chair I could find.

Most of the cruisers anchor out in front of Land Sea, Tim and Katie's facility, and hang out there. It`s a dock and clubhouse, book exchange, and generally a friendly watering hole for the boaters. Most transient boaters over the years that stop here have painted their names and boat on the wall. We recognized a few of our friend's paintings. It was hard to find a vacant place on the wall but Jordan was getting an area high up ready so he could start painting our boat there. But he did not see the spinning rusty edged metal ceiling fan and WHAM! Big cut open on the top of his head. So guess what he did! He shaved his head bald so the wound could properly be cleaned and taken care.

Still my handsome sweetie

But back to the painting, he did finish his picture and, of course, I think it turned out great.

Sea Turtle to be seen by future cruisers

Next stop - PANAMA!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Run to Golfito

Our track on the chart showed a zig zag line as we were trying to avoid the storm cells. One formed right over us and we took a tack which I thought would get us clear of it but it just kept forming around us and became worse in the direction we were heading. So we did a 180 and an hour later seemed to be on the outside edge.

At one point we were driven out 20 miles with short steep waves that were bucking us. At daybreak, things were no better although we seemed to be able to stay clear of lightning but the seas were even larger, at least 10-foot high rollers.

We continued on towards our destined gulf but were driving straight into a stiff breeze right on the nose. Making way was difficult and frustrating as we would just get up a little speed and we would be arrested with a series of deep wind waves pounding us to a halt. We had 10 miles to go in this before we could expect relief after turning into the gulf. We contemplated turning back 20 miles to Drake's Bay for refuge, but stubbornly persevered. Those 10 miles took us 5 hours, but as expected, after rounding the corner, the winds came from our side and we actually turned off the motor for a while and had a good sail under one reefed main and a half furled headsail.

Our destination was the Bay of Golfito, the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, about 10 miles up into the main gulf. Night overtook us but we had good charts, both paper and electronic so with those, radar and depth sounding, we made it in and with much relief dropped both our anchor (N08°38.076' W083°10.271') and our heads for a sound sleep.

This had been our worst one-and-a-half-day passage to date.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bahia Manuel Antonio

Off we go to try and find a good anchorage along this Costa Rican coast. They seem to be few and far between. We filled up with dinghy gasoline at Quepos' Marina Pez Vela and left at 11:00 and arrived at Bahia Manuel Antonio (N09°22.908' W084°08.876') exactly 1 hour later. No other boats but a few tourists on the beach and swimming. This is the same place where the Manuel Antonio National Park is located, but by now, we were hiked out, and didn't even go ashore - as pretty as it looked.


But Jordan did lower the dinghy into the water from the stern dinghy davits as he knew later in the day it would have to be raised onto the fore deck for our next over-nighter voyage. Oh no!!! When Jordan turned around, he saw the dinghy floating away! I forgot to tell him that I had untied the painter (its tether rope) earlier. He immediately jumped in and swam successfully retrieving it.

Then we both jumped in and tried some snorkelling in the beautiful emerald green water but it wasn't quite clear enough. Ya, we are fussy. Must be because runoff of the rainy season. So we threw our 2 water chairs into the ocean, tied them to the boat, and just relaxed, bobbing around in the perfect temperature water for about an hour.

Later the Coast Guard came to Sea Turtle, politely checked our papers, advised us that we were in a No Fishing Zone, and went on their way.

At 16:45 we pulled anchor expecting our passage to Golfito to be an over-nighter and most of the next day. Cabin temperature was 30.7°C (87.2°F) with 86% humidity. There was nearly a full moon, but it's under increasing cloud cover, and the breeze was warm as we motor-sailed into the night. Thunder cells with prolific lightning started to show up and confirmed by the vivid display on the radar, so we started to take evasive action as things deteriorated.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Quepos

At 06:30 this morning, we left for Quepos, about 32 miles from Herradura. After anchoring, we were asked to move to a more secure spot (N09°25.611' W084°10.322') where the Marina Pez Vela staff could keep an eye on our boat. This was a very rolly anchorage, even with flopper stoppers out.

We needed to go to town but discovered it would cost $25 (okay, not as bad as $50 but still exorbitant) to tie up our dinghy at the marina dock. We of course refused to pay that much money so...Jordan found a close spot for free - a government wharf with security. The staff was a little hesitant to let us through the locked gates but after speaking nicely with them and saying we would only be a couple of hours they let us bypass. But upon returning, there had been a change of staff! He did not want to let us through the locked gate to get back to our dinghy but Jordan explained our situation in very good Spanish. He then checked our grocery bags and let us pass. Whew! Can't say they don't have good security around here.

Very steep incline - we felt as if we were on a roller coaster

Quepos the town is your typical Costa Rican town with most amenities. The beach we did not go to. But we would not recommend this place as a cruiser stop because of the difficulty or price involved to get into town and because of the excessive rolly anchorage.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bahia Herradura

We decided to leave the Gulf of Nicoya and head SE once again. At 10:15 we pulled anchor and motor-sailed about 4 hours to Bahia Herradura which is located at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya. Enroute Jordan once again snagged a beautiful Dorado with a trailing line - more delicious fish to share with fellow cruisers!

As soon as we arrived at the bay, we went directly to the fuel dock at Los Suenos Marina They would not sell us any diesel until we showed them our Temporary Boat Import for Costa Rica which we've never been asked for at a fuel dock until now. But after filling our tanks, they were kind enough to let us rinse all the salt off Sea Turtle with their hose.

Prices at this marina are quite outrageous. Their current moorage rate is $3.25 per foot (which would be $113.75 per night for small Sea Turtle) and even if you are at anchor, they charge $50 per day to land your dinghy at their dock!!

Pretty...expensive

After we were done at the fuel dock, we anchored for free out in the bay (N09°38.857' W084°39.593') alongside MV Hobo who had arrived a few hours before us.

The beach area had breaking surf, was fouled with large rocks, and appeared to have dirty grey sand so we bypassed any dinghy landing.

But we jumped into the 30.2°C ocean for a wonderful swim as we bobbed in the swells. This is the warmest temperature so far for us in the ocean.


Much later around 19:30 it started to rain hard so we thought, "Why not?" We stripped and went outside, getting a drenching shower in the cool rain. What an exhilarating feeling - and my hair was so soft afterwards.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Curu and Cedros

We picked up Larry and Lena of MV Hobo and their dinghy with Sea Turtle early this morning and motored the short distance from Islas Tortugas across to the Curu Nature Preserve (N09°47.351' W084°55.329') on mainland Costa Rica. But oh oh, the depth sounder was not working - making anchoring tenuous. With no instrument, we reverted to the old fashioned way. I went up onto the bowsprit and with the sun at my back I visually sounded. We went in as close as we dared and then Jordan dropped anchor in what seemed like perfect depth.

The 4 of us hiked around and up and down through the very tropical jungle setting and saw hawks, howler monkeys, iguanas, and the so very adorable white-faced capuchin monkeys which entertained us  for awhile with their antics. The babies were extra cute as they pranced around from limb to limb looking down at us. Unfortunately, we did not spot any of the other animals that make this their habitat (i.e. armadillos, coatis, etc.)

Yes, I know I'm cute

Larry and Lena then dinghied us back to Sea Turtle and they then chose to continue in the dinghy back to Islas Tortugas to their boat.

As the display was not working on our depth sounder, Jordan checked the external contacts and then opened up this fragile instrument and cleaned the internal contacts and electronic board. It's mostly working now but we definitely need a spare in the future as this is a very important instrument for any boater.

So off we went heading north up the Gulf of Nicoya to the next set of islands. About 2 hours later, we set anchor between Isla Cedros and Isla Jesusita at 15:45 (N09°50.601' W084°53.062') where we had the area all to ourselves.

This is a well protected and treed area with not a lot of beach where tourists are said to come for swimming and windsurfing but no one appeared while we were there. Fresh produce and a few groceries are available but we did not go ashore. The local ferry also docks here which goes north across the gulf to the city of Puntarenas.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lots of tourists

We made an easy dinghy landing on shore today. The white sand beach here is finally what we were expecting to see in Costa Rica (but not as brilliant white as at Isla Coronado in Mexico!)

Many boats were coming all morning with hordes of tourists to visit here as some consider this to be the nicest beach in all of Costa Rica. Plus Isla Tolinga is also very close to the mainland at less than 1 mile offshore. The beach is open to the public but the rest of the island is privately owned. Tours available included horseback riding, snorkelling at nearby Turtle Rock, panga ride around the island, plus rental of beach chairs and/or umbrellas, kayaks, etc.

Jordan in front of a very large tree

We walked the half-mile long palm fringed beach then had a fun swim in the warm ocean. Our plans were to next snorkel by Turtle Rock but as clouds were rolling in, lightning was visible, and with the sound of thunder, we went back to Sea Turtle to relax instead. It never did rain but we felt it was not safe to snorkel.

MV Hobo also anchored here today and later that afternoon we had them over for home-made margaritas.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Islas Tortugas

12:15. Off to Islas Tortugas. A bit of breeze blowing. A nice easy sail. Three hours later we were just about to drop the anchor. Jordan had his 2 fishing lines reeled in with 1 just dragging in the water a few inches right beside the boat.  All of a sudden, a large Sierra leaped up and grabbed the lure. I turned Sea Turtle around and headed back out while Jordan attempted to land this delicious tasting fish. Success!


I turned around again and we dropped anchor at the northern point in between the 2 jungle-clad Islas Torgugas (N09°46.468' W084°53.680') called Isla Tolinga and Isla Alcatraz. What a beautiful setting!


There was a brief rain shower around 02:00 in the morning but not enough to get anything wet.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Land of monkeys and parrots

Yesterday we walked along a trail of Costa Rica that leads out to the point and part way along the beach, seeing and hearing several parrots as they flitted among the trees. We also spotted the howler monkeys that we had been hearing from the boat.

Monkey business

They were very quiet as we passed below them but when a couple of other cruisers were walking their dog earlier, the monkeys were really making a ruckus.

We took the following photo of several dwellings that, in our opinion, did not look very habitable. Jordan described them as being only slighter better than forts that he built as a kid. But we were surprised to see a truck, car, or motorcycle parked alongside many of them when we walked behind these same dwellings!

Local habitations

Today we walked down the beach in the other direction to the Village of Tambor. It had the typical places - restaurants and small hardware, grocery, and clothing stores.

Another cruiser that we know, SV Comfort Zone II, pulled in today too. As they had not yet cleared into Costa Rica and didn't want to leave their boat, they invited us and Larry and Lena from MV Hobo over for a visit in the evening.

While we were visiting, the clouds about us were waxing. When we heard a few drops, we all made a dash back to our boats to batten down the hatches because when it lets loose here, it can be an instant deluge. And that it did. We just made it before the heavens opened up for a much needed freshwater wash of Sea Turtle's decks, rigging, and gear to rid it of weeks of salt and grime build-up. And glad to report, we found no leaks!

It is the rainy season but until now we haven't had any rain. It poured buckets for about an hour, but the lightning show was unbelievably spectacular. The skies were constantly lit up by the non-stop lightning flashes all around. Jordan timed it and could barely count past 1 second before there would be another bolt.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Bahia Ballena

Now past the gap winds, we continued to motor-sail SE on our over-night journey to Bahia Ballena in Costa Rica's Gulf of Nicoya. Jordan caught a beautiful large Mahi Mahi (Dorado) about half an hour before reaching our destination. We then motored into Bahia Ballena (N09°43.021' W085°00.586') at 11:00 and laid anchor. The Gulf of Nicoya has several islands, some of which we will be exploring in a few days.

MV Hobo, a trawler boat from the US that we had met in El Salvador, was also at anchor and we later jointed them at the Ballena Bay Yacht Club to catch up on stories over cold beers. It was nice to finally meet up with another cruiser that we knew!

It is very calm in the bay here so landing a dinghy was fairly easy. But we did need to set a stern anchor to keep it from going under the concrete stairs of the fishing pier as the tide went up & down.

Sea Turtle dinghy by stairs

Friday, May 06, 2011

Bahia Brasilito

As we disliked the constant winds and we found nothing of interest at Bahia Potrero (Costa Rica), we decided to motor around the point to the next bay for a few hours and then go much further south later in the day. We arrived, after trolling slowly for 1 hour, at Bahia Brasilito (N10°24.908' W085°47.841') at 10:00 and anchored off the shore in this bight, open to the northwest. Once again, as in Bahia Potrero, we dinghied over the precarious surf.

Sea Turtle in the background of this surf

There is a small village here where we bought a few groceries and looked up at all the mangoes overhead in the trees. Where's a ladder when you need one! The long sandy beach was fairly deserted and lined with a lot of poor looking homes. But the people were happy and friendly.

A bicycle in front of someone's home

Jordan timed the surf to return to Sea Turtle and we had an exciting ride, just barely making it! We raised the sails and pulled anchor at 13:00 in semi-overcast skies, temperature of 32°C (90°F) and winds from NNE, though not as bad and gusty as yesterday.

 After rounding the point at Cabo Vela, we were caught off guard with a full main and 3/4 headsail when we suddenly encountered very strong offshore gap winds. Jordan was able to furl-reef the headsail, but didn't want to fight to reef the mainsail. Sea Turtle was heeled over and screaming along for about an hour and then the winds completely died.

Heeling over just a bit...

A few dolphins joined us but only for a couple of minutes this time. At 18:00, we watched a glorious bright orange and red sunset and hopefully a bit of wind for the rest of the way.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bahia Potrero

We pulled anchor at 08:45, leaving peaceful Bahia Guacamaya behind to go to the next bay, also only a couple of hours away. We're not making much distance along the Costa Rican coast but we are enjoying our short layovers.

We lowered the headsail shortly after rounding the point, and just in time, as the gap winds really kicked in as we neared Bahia Potrero. We soon lowered the mainsail and dropped the hook at 11:00 at Bahia Potrero (N10°26.418' W085°46.916') amongst several boats that appeared to be here permanently rather than actively cruising.

In the anchorage, there is this mast sticking up out of the water that apparently stands up straight when the tide is high. A sunken sailboat along with someone's dreams.


Like Bahias del Coco, the constantly moving and shifting gusty winds here were relentless and very uncomfortable!!  But we decided to venture ashore even though the surf looked menacing. We arrived beside a pier, thinking that would be a good spot, and made it in dry between breakers to another dirty sand beach. We were then informed by a local that it was a very bad place to land a dinghy, risking getting flipped by bad timing of the surf. He said most cruisers usually land down the beach further by the breakwater but then the risk there is thievery. We already had 2 hand-towels taken from our dinghy at Bahias del Coco.

We walked around a bit and didn't see much so we returned to our dinghy. After watching the surf come roaring in for a few minutes, Jordan timed it perfectly and we made it safely out and back to Sea Turtle dry once again. My hero!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bahia Guacamaya

We departed Bahias del Coco of Costa Rica this morning at 09:15. Even though we felt frustrated checking into Bahias del Coco, it is a very cute town full of small eateries, souvenir shops, and the typical open-air roadside vendors in front of their shops. We found most, but not all, places to be a little on the expensive side. But we wanted a beach with nicer sand and less wind!! So we chose a protected bay only a couple of hours away.

We had a great sail and arrived at the tiny bay of Bahia Guacamaya (N10°31.334' W085°47.439') which we had all to ourselves except for a fishing panga that arrived later in the afternoon (and the 4 fishermen rested and slept through most the night before leaving in the wee hours of the morn).

Immediately upon arrival, we jumped in the water to cool off and snorkelled a reef. We saw a lot of multi-coloured fish, a few schools, an eel, and Jordan spotted a small octopus but by the time I turned around it was gone. We also saw a bit of bright orange coral! We then swam to the shore of beautiful striated sand and walked several feet over to another reef area which we also explored. We swam back to Sea Turtle as wrinkled as 2 old prunes after 2 hours in the water!

The sun is very hot and intense here. We were both tired and hit the sack early after a great day.

PS We took a lot of photos but I forgot to replace the card in the waterproof camera - so no underwater photos!!

2 horses we saw on the beach from Sea Turtle

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Challenging check-in

Early Monday morning, we began our check-in procedure for Costa Rica, not expecting it to be an all-day affair. First we checked in with the Port Captain shortly before 09:00 and he then instructed us to then go the short distance to the Migration office. After waiting for a short period, we completed the paperwork and next went to the bank as instructed, but our teller did not know how to deal with our papers. We refused to leave and someone knowledgeable finally sorted it out so we could make the payment.

We went back to the Migration office as instructed and then had time for a quick lunch before keeping our 13:00 appointment at the Port Captain's office. There we met with the Inspection Officer who we took back to Sea Turtle in the dinghy so he could do his 30-second inspection of the boat. We brought him back to shore where he completed his paperwork for us.

We then waited 1 hour to catch the 15:00 bus to the Customs office that was only 25 km away. But this of course took 1 hour and the bus driver let us off 1 km past the office as he did not know where it was. Upon catching a ride from an elderly couple in the back of their truck, we arrived at the Customs office 16:05. The office closes at 16:00 and they refused to deal with our paperwork as we were 5 minutes late!! We had to catch 2 buses back to Bahias del Coco, once again at least an hour long ride.

The next morning, we made the return trip back to the Customs office in another hot bus. The officer apologized for not dealing with us the previous day but it only took about 15 minutes so we were not very happy about the whole situation. But oh well, what can you do.

This has been our most difficult check-in so far. We had been warned by other sailors that we would have to have multiple copies of all our documents as none of the officiating offices in Costa Rica will make a copy of your original documents. We never had an issue anywhere in Mexico and they always made copies of our originals for their records and returned the originals to us. It wasn't expensive to check-in, only about $60, but it was sure a hassle.

We think it's time to go to another port...