Log 6
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Log 6 - Back to Boating
(October 8, 2003 - January 25, 2004)

PUERTO BARILLAS
NORTHERN COSTA RICA
 

PUERTO BARILLAS


October 8, 2003 - November 3, 2003 (Dana)

By October 8, I was back at Barillas Marina Club (BMC) (originally discussed in our April log), where Chris had gotten a head start on cleaning up the boat. Returning to a boat that has been sitting closed up in a tropical estuary for six months in the height of rainy season is an interesting time. You can’t be sure exactly what will await you when you open the hatch, but you know it’s not going to pretty. You just hope it’s not going to be moving. We returned to the boat for a quick inspection almost once per month, so we had some previews of what we would find: an interior cabin coated with a patchy layer of dark, fuzzy mold. A few wipe-downs with bleach later, we found mold stains giving our white painted surfaces a new dalmatian-like pattern (our unpainted teak handled the mold much better). Had we fixed some leaks in advance and asked BMC to do regular air-outs for us, we might have avoided the mold spots, but now we will now be adding a new coat of paint instead.

Another service of BMC’s of which we unfortunately did not take advantage was their bottom cleanings. For whatever reason, we did not find out until later that they offered the cleanings, so we did it ourselves upon our initial arrival then let Ker-Mor sit for months with growth accumulating on her bottom. Small crabs moved into little volcano-shaped barnacles that grew all over our hull and hunkered down in them with their whole families. Grassy moss streamed from our partially submerged boot stripe. A whole ecosystem seemed to have formed on poor motionless Ker-Mor. I felt a bit guilty having it all cleaned off, picturing a tragedy a la Hurricane Mitch hitting the little community that had developed on our hull. Hopefully, the crabs floated off to a nice mangrove branch and rebuilt there.

After spending a few days on the boat, we discovered that crabs weren’t the only creatures to make Ker-Mor their new home. While working on the bowsprit I could have sworn I saw something move underneath our jib cover. Giving it a little shake, I saw rat-like droppings fall into the water, supporting my suspicion. Finally, we removed the cover and a little bat flew off. Apparently, he too had hunkered down for quite a while, based on the amount of droppings that were piled up in the sail folds. After our rousting of him, I suppose he missed his new home because he kept coming back. At night, we’d hear sonar-type noises echoing down the mast that passes through the middle of our “safe sex” v-birth. But eventually, he learned that we were sticking around and headed out to set up camp elsewhere.

During a couple weeks of cleaning up Ker-Mor and completing little projects here and there, we really got to know and love BMC and the other cruisers there. At the time, there were about 15 other boats in the harbor, about 4 or 5 of which were occupied at any given time. And since this was to be the longest we’d hung around in one spot, a spot which had beautiful facilities that encouraged lingering on shore, we did more socializing with other cruisers than we’d done anywhere before, and BMC became the birthplace of our cruising “family”.

Our cruising family began with Bob and Carol on Caricklee (a 45-foot ketch), who may be closer to our parents’ ages but whom we quickly thought of as close friends. In addition to being two of the nicest people we’ve met, they’ve been cruising for many years on a boat similar in style to ours, so there was a lot we could learn from them. In addition, they’ve been writing about boating for various cruising magazines for years (watch for them as regular contributors to Cruising World and Northwest Yachting), so they gave me some insights on the various magazines, to help me once I start writing articles (if I could just get caught up with these logs…).

Another couple we got to know was Joe and Jan on Cabiri (a 42-foot sloop), who have since become two of our closest cruising friends, and you’ll hear more about them later. In October, however, we spent just a little time with them before they took off to spend one and a half weeks traveling around Honduras by bus on a trip we helped plan out for them. When they returned they were very thankful, calling it one of the best experiences of their lives. “I’m a changed person,” Jan said. When we asked for the details, they told us of people they’d met, challenges they’d encountered, wild bus rides and a stay at the Honduras Maya hotel that was “like a second honeymoon”, but they couldn’t pinpoint exactly what made the trip mean so much to them. I think there’s just something invigorating about leaving the tour guides behind and forging your own way into new territory to discover its culture and beauty. Such is the magic of Central America. Anyway, I think their enjoyment of the trip that we encouraged them to go on helped formed a bond between us, a bond which Joe solidified by proving himself a selfless friend in November (which you will read about in Chris’ log).

One thing I’d like to add about both the Caricklee and Cabiri couples is that we enjoyed noticing how much in love they are. Endearingly, every time we’d make a toast, they would say “to love, to amor” and look at each other with a glimmer in their eyes. They’re both second marriages that are not new by any means, but their deep love, respect and appreciation of one another is quite apparent.  (I am beginning to think that relationships like theirs are more common among cruisers, because without one it would be hard to enjoy being together in close quarters nearly 24/7, sometimes under highly stressful circumstances - but I digress...)

Soon after meeting Caricklee and Cabiri, Rick on Garbi (a 47-foot ketch) arrived. Rick is another one of the rarer younger cruisers, like ourselves. He and his wife Sue were ages 42 and 35, respectively, and had quit their jobs in the Bay Area to go sailing. We never met Sue, who’d already returned to the Bay Area to prepare their home for their return as they neared the end of their 2-year voyage. But we spent a lot of time hanging out with Rick, who was enjoyable company and to whom we related well. It also didn't hurt that he always had cold beers for sharing, as well as bug spray to lend when I forgot mine and Sunkist gel candies that he’d toss to me as treats. The three of us had lots of long conversations by the pool, and in the computer room since he and I both share the “techie” trait (as well as the same birth date). He was also the first person I interviewed for a future article.

Last in this group of cruisers came Gamecock, an approximately 35-foot sloop named after the University of South Carolina football team. Gamecock was captained by Bradford, a very southern man from, where else, South Carolina. He had a strong and witty personality that was very entertaining at most times, and borderline maddening at others. He called it “southern charm”, a term we adopted in reference to him sarcastically. On board with Brad was Nancy, a cheery and lovable Canadian sailor who was on vacation in Costa Rica when she met Brad and decided to join him as crew. Her crew term would begin here in Barillas. However, Brad’s southern charm, for which Nancy’s kind, aim-to-please personality was no match, was becoming overwhelming to her before they even left Barillas. She stuck it out for a while nonetheless.

Some other boaters might have come and gone during this time, but us nine were the core group. We hung out for about a month, enjoying nightly happy hours at the pool, occasional dinners on each other’s boats, semiweekly shopping trips to Usúlutan, and the like. Those trips to Usúlutan were quite important, as that was the closest town where we could buy groceries, hardware or most anything else we needed. Despite the conveniences of Usúlutan, it is not the prettiest or most charming town we’ve run across. But the drive there is picturesque (and air-conditioned in the BMC van), and week after week we kept going. Our mixed feelings about the place inspired us to come up with a little song called “Usúlutan, My Home”, with continually improvised verses like “a ferreteria on every corner” and “when I smell rotting vegetables in your streets, I know I’m home”.  Chris starts singing it whenever I mention the place, and it cracks me up every time.

In addition to the core group of cruisers I’ve mentioned, we also enjoyed meeting other members and visitors who stopped into BMC briefly, like El Salvadoran doctors who invited us to join in their drunken dinner party, where they got us all dancing to their live local music. Then there was the crew of Amity, a large new power catamaran passing through during a delivery captained by John Rains (whom BMC manager Heriberto loves because Rains has given BMC good publicity in his articles – in fact that’s how we first learned of it). There was also a charming Italian/South African couple and their crew who came in on the impressive 72-foot sailboat Plum and welcomed us all over for cocktails.  Oddly there was also a local El Salvadoran news crew one day, that ended up interviewing Chris, me and Rick and putting us on the air later that week.  Chris did the most talking as the only fluent Spanish speaker among us, but since I was the token girl in the group they pushed me to make a fool of myself by saying a few unprepared words as well.

Perhaps one of the visitors we most enjoyed meeting was BMC’s most recognizable member, the President of El Salvador himself, Francisco Flores. Like other Salvadorans, President Flores was outgoing and eager to make us feel welcome in his country. He was relaxed and likable, and looked like he was about 20 years old with his baby face. He enjoys coming to BMC to relax with family and friends, but said that seeing the cruisers sometimes makes him wish he had a less restrictive job because it's his nature to want to go off and explore other lands and cultures. “When I see you guys, I get wanderlust”, he admitted with a smile. His term as President is ending in 2004, but he’ll be running for Secretary of OAS (Organization of American States), so it seems his wanderlust will be on hold a while longer.

Apparently, President Flores is a member of BMC because of his friendship with BMC owner Juan Wright, about whom we also got a chance to learn a bit. Interestingly, Juan’s father used to own about 2,268 acres of farm property on which the BMC property is located, but with the signing of peace accords in 1992, the Wrights (and other wealthy landowners) were required to sell their property to the government for distribution to the general population (who had been suffering from increased landlessness) via cooperatives. Six years later, Juan purchased about 33 acres of the property back from the cooperatives for sentimental reasons, paying 100% of the original sales price for only 1.5% of the property, and built BMC on it. BMC opened for business in February 2000, and five months later, Juan hired Heriberto, the former accountant for the family farm, to run the club. We’re big fans of Heriberto, who, in his soft spoken manner, did everything he could to take care of our needs and make us feel at home. “This is your home in Central America”, he would say, and indeed it was starting to feel that way.

Despite all the socializing, October in Barillas wasn’t all fun. I already mentioned cleaning up mold and bat poop, but of course there were boat projects as well (there always are). Our main projects were diagnosing and repairing a couple electrical problems that were causing our navigation lights to behave quite strangely, as well as installing new engine gauges and creating a box for them. We had a gauge box made by a local carpenter, but he mostly screwed it up so I had to revamp it. To do so involved using our jig saw and electric sander, which I took to shore because our batteries were low on power. Whenever, I use power tools, Latin men seem to think it’s the craziest thing, and this time was no exception. I went behind the club to one of BMC's storage units to do the work, but one of the BMC workers spotted me using the electric saw and then the sander. After observing for a few minutes, he left, only to return with more people. They watched what I presume was the first gringa they’ve ever seen use power tools (carpentry being a distinctly male task in Latin America), and there was even a discernible “aah” as I rounded off the corners with the sander. (No, I was not wearing a bathing suit.) I don’t know who was more amused – them watching me or my noticing them.  In any case, our small projects were completed satisfactorily and all was coming together as we prepared to leave Barillas in time to meet our friend Tanny in Costa Rica on November 5th. Alas, on October 29, as we dropped our mooring line and headed for the fuel dock to prepare for our departure, we discovered a problem bigger than bats, mold, quirky nav lights and screwy gauge boxes put together: transmission failure. We inched towards the fuel dock at full throttle making less than one knot’s headway, wondering if we were going to drift into the mangroves, while Bob and Rick looked on from the dock, thinking we were being a little overly conservative in our speed. After fueling up and getting a panga-tow back to our mooring, further tests verified that what we had was a transmission problem. This would indeed make for a different November than what we’d imagined, and further emphasized a rule that all experienced cruisers end up adopting – avoid schedules whenever possible.

Unfortunately, we were scheduled to be in Costa Rica on the 5th, and we couldn't back out on Tanny.  So we made last minute bus reservations, and put the transmission issue on hold for a week (after communicating with the manufacturer in England to at least get the ball rolling, of course).  At last that gave us a couple extra days in Barillas, one of which was Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead).  Most Salvadorans observe Dia de los Muertos by going to the cemetery to visit the graves of their loved ones, clean them up, repaint them if needed, and adorn them with brightly colored decorations.  Traditional cemeteries in Central America are already colorfully painted in cheery pastels, but around Dia de los Muertos they're bursting with color.  So of course we all wanted to go to a cemetery to check it out.  We commissioned an air-conditioned BMC van to get there, then walked through two crowded, colorful cemeteries in blazing heat until we couldn't take it any longer.  The next day, Chris and I said our goodbyes to Caricklee, Garbi & Gamecock, all of who would be leaving BMC while we were in Costa Rica.  Caricklee was going our way (south), so there was a good chance we'd see them again.  However, Garbi & Gamecock were heading north, so this was goodbye for good.  Little did we know at the time that the goodbyes from Barillas were the last that Garbi would ever hear.      

 
November 1, 2003 - November 30, 2003 (Chris)

Ahh…November, always a month to cherish. The chill in the air, familial visits to partake in inter-generational turkey consumption, and initial preparations to celebrate the birth of our lord through massive credit card transactions.

Wait…no wait. That was our life before. Lets try this again. Ahh…November, always a month to cherish. Boat mold abates with the commencement of the dry season, sweating is delayed 'til 10am every morning as the weather cools, and our daily humiliation ritual begins. Humiliation starts at 8am and continues until physical and emotional exhaustion override it. There, that’s better.

Well, we hoped we would be writing from Costa Rica by now but alas, it was not to be. As Dana indicated in our last log, our transmission stopped working and its recovery consumed much of the month of November. After a few days of “diagnosis denial” (that’s where you assure yourself that it sounded more like a fuel line issue or something tangled in the prop, or anything easier to fix than a transmission), we had to slap ourselves out of it and accept the fact that our transmission took a dive. We had the manual to this chamber of sprocket horrors on the boat and it didn’t look like taking it apart was going to be easy. It was a British make so we made a phone call direct to Wolverhampton, England to speak with the President, CEO, Chief Engineer and Production Manager of Thamseway Enterprises, Kevin O’Brian (and sometimes his wife would take the call if he was in the garage…ah, I mean on the production floor). Kevin was sure we had a bad output bearing based on our description of the problem. Fortunately, the #6308 bearing is very commonplace and can be purchased pretty much anywhere. How I got through life without bumping into one I don’t know. Kevin agreed to send us a set of gaskets we would need (yep, we would have to take the transmission apart) right away and we would look for the #6308 bearing in El Salvador.

We had planned to meet up with Dana’s friend, Tanny, in Costa Rica on the 5th of November. It was evident we weren’t sailing there so we went by bus…again. We were able to order the bearing from the boatyard next door (Prestomar) and by the time we returned to Barillas, the gaskets and the bearing had arrived. Also, Joe, our friend from Cabiri, graciously offered to help us remove the transmission. I am now convinced that within that kind, gentle frame of this man lives the heart of a masochist. It would be hard to describe what it was like to try and remove this transmission but imagine wedging yourself between your car’s engine block and its chassis (quite literally) for 5 days while trying to remove frozen bolts. The bolts by the way are barely within arm’s length and out of view because every time you reach for them you had to turn your head and plaster your cheek to the engine block. That will get you pretty close to the real experience. The first bolt took two days to remove. After trying to coax it off with liquid wrench, heat and curse words (day 1), we resorted to the hacksaw (day 2). The three of us each took 20 minute shifts cutting away. I felt like Steve McQueen and the Great Escape bunch digging a tunnel with spoons. Our bilge was filled with broken saw blades and sweat. The other bolts surrendered a little easier, but not by much. Once we disconnected the transmission from the prop shaft and the engine, we assumed we could just hoist it out. Wrong. We soon discovered we had to move the engine off its mounts to make enough space to squeeze the transmission out. That was another two days of humiliation.

So we finally got the #$*@^+ transmission out and with three mechanics from the adjacent boat yard looking on, we disemboweled the thing. We reached in and extracted the #6038 bearing out as if we were Mayan priests ripping out the beating heart of the sacrificial virgin. There was bloodlust my friends. We wanted that mangled piece of metal in our grubby little hands (they really were quite grubby by this point) as our trophy. Our savage frenzy quickly abated however when upon examining the #6308 we found it to be fully intact. All the mechanics were now reassuring themselves of their own mechanical acumen by exclaiming that they knew it wasn’t the bearing all along.

So, we communicated with Kevin O'Brian and he was still convinced that it had to be the bearing. With nothing to lose, we put in the new #6038, meticulously cleaned and carefully connected all the pieces together again, lowered the transmission back into the boat, moved the engine back to its mounts and connected it all together again. The next morning we started the engine and threw it into gear. This time, the boat didn’t even inch forward. We had zero thrust…nothing…nada. By this time I’d hit rock bottom. I’m ready to deep six the transmission and buy a new one. We e-mail a dealer in Miami to arrange to purchase a US make transmission. Meanwhile we decide to e-mail Kevin O’Brian once more to see if there is anything we may have missed. He writes back and tells us to check 3 unrelated items. So, you guessed it. We had to remove and take apart the entire transmission for a second time. Obviously, the nuts were a little easier to take off this time so it wasn’t as bad. Sure enough, we found an error in our assembly. There is a paper thin gasket with a series of holes in it. It looks virtually the same weather you put it on one way or another – with the exception of a tiny hole on one side of the gasket that allows for passage of hydraulic fluid. Kevin said putting it on backwards was a common mistake. We were somewhat frustrated that he didn’t mention this before we reassembled the first time! But hey, we found something wrong. We were actually happy.

Once again we put it back together, reinstalled the transmission and connected the shaft and engine. We stayed tied to our mooring ball for security and put some slack in the line so we could move forward. We started the engine and put it into gear. It seemed like nothing was happening so we throttled up. Still didn’t seem like we were moving. Since one of us was down below and the other at the wheel we couldn’t see that we had actually moved forward of the mooring ball and were now testing the line strength of the mooring! Joe was watching from his boat and cheering his masochistic heart out. We had done it. We had gone into the belly of the beast and emerged victorious. “Cuba Libres all around!”

Now a few notes on some non-transmission items. During the month of November, Dana and I had the pleasure of getting to know another couple – RG and Candice. Twenty years ago they headed to the South Pacific with RG’s son. Somewhere in the Marquesas, RG proposed to Candice and they had been married every since. Now they plan to return to the South Pacific on Avaiki, the very same boat they sailed to paradise twenty years earlier. We enjoyed getting to know them this month and hope to head south to Costa Rica around the time they do.  In addition to Cabiri and Avaiki, our cocktail hours at the pool now also included Charlie and Babe from Sea Feather and Jill and Rod from Lookfar.  For Thanksgiving, we five cruising couples put together a potluck dinner and invited Heriberto and the Barillas staff.  It was an enjoyable meal to cap off a leisurely fun day (no boat work) that began early in the morning with Heriberto taking us by panga to nearby Isla San Sebastian for a tour of the coconut plantations and a secluded beach that he left us to frolic on while he took care of some business.

And now the tragic news about Garbi. When we left to meet Tanny in Costa Rica, we had said our good-byes to Rick who was heading north while "buddy-boating" with Nancy and Brad on Gamecock. Buddy-boating simply means traveling and staying within eyesight of each other. When we returned to Barillas, we were greeted by Joe who a couple sentences later said "we have bad news... Rick lost Garbi."  Our hearts sank.  We learned that Garbi was shipwrecked but, fortunately, Rick was alive and physically okay. The information was a little sketchy about what actually happened but this is what we do know. Rick was single-handling Garbi (a 47-foot ketch), because he and his wife Sue were almost at the end of their three-year voyage and Sue had already returned to the Bay Area by plane . Single-handling is not an easy thing to do on a long run and Garbi was traveling 5 or more days to get to its next destination. Rick, however, was an experienced sailor and had single-handed the boat from Costa Rica to El Salvador, a somewhat shorter sail. The problem was that this time they were crossing the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec where blows off shore can reach storm force in a very short time (see Log 2 for more information about Tehuantepec). Moreover, November was one of the months where the strength and frequency of a Tehuantepec blow was heightened. From what we found out from Nancy on Gamecock, they had reached Tehuantepec and the winds really started to blow. It was a gale with gusts up to 60 knots. According to Nancy, Rick had been showing sings of fatigue after 4 days out (radio channel and coordinate errors). Gamecock, with its smaller engine, decided not to fight it, and let the wind blow her further offshore. This is a safe tactic but boats have ended as much as 200 miles offshore! Rick, on the other hand, decided to go in. Hugging the shore while crossing Tehuantepec is also a recognized tactic, but one usually prescribed before you get caught in a blow. They call it “having one foot on the beach”, and it requires navigating in as little as 30 feet of water while running very, very close to shore. The upside is that the winds tend to blow right over you permitting you to safely pass. But it requires some very active navigation and when you get to the northern end of the gulf, near Salina Cruz, you have to divert off shore at least 3 miles to avoid submerged rocks. We don’t know exactly what happened but an e-mail from Rick confirmed that Garbi washed ashore at Salina Cruz at about 2am. We were very happy to know Rick was okay but heartsick to hear about Garbi, a home, a ship and a passion for Rick (though a "humbling" one, he acknowledged). We wish him and his wife well. Having known Rick for a short time we found him to be resourceful, intelligent and grounded, so I’m confident he will turn this tragedy into a positive somehow.

As for Dana and I, we will now prepare to head South with a new insights into boat mechanics and a sobering reminder of the power of the sea.       

 
December 1, 2003 - December 27, 2003 (Dana)

My first few days of December were spent researching starter solenoids (ours was ancient and finally conked out), while Chris flew back to Tegucigalpa for a week of follow-up work for PCI.  Our starter solenoid was so old that it had lost most its markings, and we couldn't tell what model it was.  The couple replacements we bought locally and tried were not working.  So after a lot of Internet research and exchanged emails with solenoid sellers, including sketches and photos of our old solenoid, I finally determined that what we needed was a 3 or 4 post 12v 85-90 amp continuous duty solenoid.  I sent of those specs to Chris who managed to find one in Tegucigalpa and bring it back and eureka - it worked.  No more tapping the old solenoid to get it to work or bypassing it with a screwdriver to jump start the engine.  That's a good thing.

As we prepared to leave Barillas, we joined the other cruisers in feeling a little saddened about having to leave “our home” in Central America.  It was down to us, Cabiri, Avaiki, Lookfar and Sea Feather, plus Dream Catcher (Ben and Nancy) which had just arrived.  We said goodbye to Joe and Jan on Cabiri (and Sea Feather who was buddy-boating with them for a leg or two) as they headed south, then helped send off Avaiki by going to their boat for happy hour the night before they were leaving Barillas (finally, after Avaiki had been here for 2 1/2 years, mostly alone while Candace and RG handled family matters back home in the States).  Candace made some of her special-recipe margaritas, which were about as strong as they come.  This was our first time spending time with these two one-on-one (two-on-two), and we had a lot of laughs while getting to know them better.  A couple margaritas later without having eaten dinner, we were going to have to get back to our boat quick or pass out on theirs.  We made it back the 50 feet or so to our boat, but not without leaving our bag and a pair of flip-flops behind.  Bright and early the next morning, I was more soberly retrieving our belongings from Avaiki before she sailed away, while Chris slept off a nasty hangover. 

On the 9th, we and Dream Catcher had dinner on Lookfar, us three being the last remaining cruisers at Barillas at the time.  The next day we wrapped up our bill and the like, and the morning of the 11th, my birthday, we were ready to head to Costa Rica.  Heriberto (Barillas Marina manager) came out on a panga to say goodbye, or rather "hasta pronto" (until soon) in the hopes that we would meet again.  We dropped our mooring and followed another panga through the mangrove-lined rivers out towards the ocean.  That morning, Juan (Barillas Marina owner) and a photographer went up in a plane to take some aerial shots of the area.  Just as we were leaving Jiquilisco Bay, their plane flew over to us and swooped down for a fly by that was close enough for us to see their smiling faces as they waved goodbye -- a grand final farewell from Barillas.

NORTHERN COSTA RICA

Finally we were on our way Costa Rica, land of "pura vida" (meaning "pure life" - it's an attitude in Costa Rica and they use it even as a greeting).  Our first day and night out we were treated to good sailing, but on the 13th the Papagayo winds picked up and the weather turned squally.  We could see a large rain system quickly approaching and eventually engulfing us on our radar screen.  We were almost to Costa Rica, but it was nighttime, so we decided that we should not enter an unfamiliar port under those conditions.  Instead, we tried "heaving to" for the first time, a technique where you balance your boat by adjusting the sails and the rudder in a way that nearly stops the boat from moving and allows you to ride out rough weather in greater comfort, get some sleep or both.  (Ideally, the balanced position of the boat to the swell causes side-slippage that leaves a slick of relatively smooth water to windward, breaking waves before they reach the boat, which is why its a more comfortable ride than just laying ahull.)  By this time we had already dropped the jib and put a reef in the main sail.  After some quick reference to our books for recommendations on how best to heave to with a ketch, we backed the reefed main into the wind and left the mizzen and rudder in neutral positions (and kept the jib lowered).  Ker-Mor balanced amazingly well, as ketches tend to do, and we were able to sleep in comfort for about 6 hours while the rain and wind from the squalls whirled around us.  We got up occasionally to check our position, noting that the furthest we'd drifted from our starting point was about a mile.  By the next morning, we were back to exactly the coordinates where we first hove to.  We were very pleased.  We lowered our courtesy flag for El Salvador, raised the Costa Rica flag, and sailed into Bahia Santa Elena.

As we pulled into the large bay, Avaiki was already there and we waved hello while motoring by to go pick out our anchoring spot.  This was a beautiful bay with clear blue water and low green mountains that provided some protection from the powerful Papagayo gusts, which still powered their way through enough to heel the boat and spin us around the anchor from time to time, effectively testing our anchor hold.  Ours held flawlessly, but Avaiki had to move a few times until they were satisfied with their anchorage.  Dream Catcher, which arrived the day after we did, likewise had to move at least once before getting a good hold.   When the Costa Rican Coast Guard came one day, courteously boarding each of our boats to check our papers (and excusing us for not yet being checked in at Playas del Coco, an official port of entry, because of the weather), their anchor dragged too and they bore down alarmingly close to Avaiki, catching themselves just in time.

The three of us (Ker-Mor, Avaiki and Dream Catcher) hunkered down in Bahia Ballena for about a week while we waiting for the Papagayos to ease off so we could make passage to Playas del Coco.  It was a fine place to be stuck for a while, with lots of wild life to observe (hawks, frigates, dolphins, fish, etc.), little rivers to venture up in our dinghies, a waterfall and freshwater pool to hike to, decent snorkeling and a social event on one of our boats every other night.  One night after happy hour on our boat, I awoke to find our dinghy missing.  With three dinghy lines being moved around in the dark as people left, our dinghy line must have either been loosened inadvertently or moved purposely and not tied well.  Either way, it broke free in the strong winds and I was determined to go find it in the dark, without a dinghy and without Chris' knowing, because I wanted to avoid him having to be worried and upset if possible.  (There was some strange engine knocking we heard that morning, which later turned out to be nothing, but had almost put Chris over the edge of sanity that day.)  However, I also didn't want to risk that Ker-Les  would drift out the entrance to the bay and get lost at sea.  So I tried to signal the nearby Dream Catcher for help (a ride) but was unable to do so without waking Chris, so instead I tied our lifesaver and a cushion from our couch together to make a little raft that I was going to paddle over to Dream Catcher so Ben could take me in his dinghy to hunt for mine.  I got in the water and sat on my spongy raft, and made it about as far as the stern when I heard "Dana? "  Yes, Chris was awake and was wondering where I was.  He couldn't have come at a more embarrassing moment.  I got out of the water and explained the situation, and he was happy to have caught me before I ventured off in the darkness paddling through the water on a makeshift raft alone.  Eventually, we were able to awake Ben (since we could make noise now) and he picked us up in his dinghy and took us for a tour of the shoreline.  However, our spotlights were not making the search fruitful, so we threw in the towel and resumed the search the next morning, finding little Ker-Les happily bobbing in some mangroves.  After retrieving it, Nancy treated us to a victory breakfast aboard Dream Catcher.

Another interesting night was one where local fishermen came to our boat to see if we wanted to buy fish or had any cigarettes to give them, and we ended up joining them to go fishing and observe their intriguing technique.  They would motor around in the darkness shining a spot light into the water, which would highlight the ballyhoo.  The ballyhoo would lay almost still with the light shining on them, and the panga driver would make an abrupt turn to get close to them while the fisherman standing on the bow scooped them up with a long net.  Chris tried his hand at it and managed to scoop one up too.  However, it looked easier than it was.  We tried it the next night just for kicks in Ker-Les with our dinky 2hp engine and our tiny little net, which just wasn't going to work for catching ballyhoo, but did succeed in providing some unusual entertainment for the night.   

On December 23, the weather had abated enough for us to head out at dawn for Playas del Coco.  We arrived that afternoon, and the next morning we began the check-in process to the extent we could the day before Christmas, did some grocery shopping, spent a half hour speed-Christmas-gift-shopping, and then had the "Great Christmas Eve Capsize of Ker-Les" while trying to get through the surf loaded with goods.  Luckily, Candace and RG of Avaiki were there to help us gather up our goods and re-load.  Our failure was to not have had our ours ready to keep us straight into the waves, relying instead on our outboard motor which didn't start quick enough.  We didn't really have experience launching through breaking waves before, but we learned our lesson well and have since gotten quite good at it.

The next morning, Christmas Day, I awoke to find Dagwood (our wooden fertility god statue from Ghana) wearing a Santa hat made from red paper and cotton balls, a Christmas tree made of parsley attached to our compass stand, and gifts wrapped in canvas below it.  (Chris is so good.)  This set the mood for a perfect day.  We ate breakfast, opened gifts from our speed-shopping excursion, then spent about two hours sailing slowly in the sun and light breeze the 4 miles to Playa de Panama while blasting Christmas music and enjoying the picture perfect day.  When we arrived in Playa de Panama almost every cruiser met in Barillas and others we knew about from the net were there, preparing for a potluck Christmas dinner.  We entered the bay and anchored under sail, a satisfying experience that many sailors never even try (unless they have to because their engine died).  Upon arriving, we were welcomed by a couple dinghy visits from other cruising boats, and after making a quick potluck dish and reuniting with our friends on Cabiri, we headed to shore for some Christmas celebration.  In addition to some cruising couples we were already familiar with (Avaiki, Cabiri, Dream Catcher and Sea Feather) we met other cruisers we'd heard of (Howard and Donna on Nintai, Rick and Marsha on She Wolf, Jake, Sue and their dog Matey on Sipapu, Compañia, Revenir and more).  We were particularly pleased to meet Graham and Taryn on Water Dragon, another couple of young cruisers, beating us by about a decade!  After potluck, we held a secret-Santa-type gift exchange for which everyone contributed whatever creative gift they could find on their boat.  There were a couple gag gifts like broken engine parts and sex books, but we scored big time receiving a wet suit and a Citizen Kane DVD.  All in all, we found holidays in the tropics to be very enjoyable. 

 
December 28, 2003 - January 25, 2004 (Chris)

Dana and I gathered no moss in January anchoring in no less than four different locales and covering 117 miles of Costa Rican coast. We would also share this month with friends we have met along the way and a very special week with my mother.

We started off on the 28th of December in a very familiar place – Tamarindo, but from a new vantage point – by boat! Tamarindo is the place we had intended sailing to on two previous occasions but had to settle for bus travel.  Various boaters we met in Playa Panama opted to bypass Tamarindo due to rumors of a rolly and windy anchorage with poor holding. It didn’t prove to be very rolly but the wind did not disappoint, since the Papagayos were blowing pretty hard again. The holding wasn’t so great either. It took us almost an hour to set the anchor and throughout our stay the rode was so taught due to the wind that you could pluck a note on it.

We were pleased to see another couple and new friends, Graham and Taryn from the sailing vessel Water Dragon, who were also full enough of piss and vinegar to brave the anchorage. They were anchored aft of Ker-Mor when we arrived. We held steady throughout the night in spite of hefty and fairly constant winds on the bow. Then the next morning the unthinkable happened. I was up on deck looking for something I could tie down, scrub, fix, whatever (idle hands being the devils workshop and all) when all of a sudden, Water Dragon started bearing down on us – or were we bearing down on them? For about 10 seconds I was in denial which allowed me only 10 more seconds to get to the cockpit start the motor and pull away. Graham calmly called out “your O.K.” as he stood at his bow measuring the inches as Ker-Mor was closing in.

After re-anchoring, Dana and I thought this might be an opportune time to build a second anchor locker so that two anchors could be quickly set off the bow. We finished it by afternoon. I believe the wind felt threatened by our audacious move because after we set the second anchor the wind scurried back up the mountain side not to be seen for the next 24 hours.

This allowed us to enjoy New Year's Eve on shore with Graham, Taryn and two of their friends visiting from up north. They started celebrating earlier that day as they didn’t feel the same urge to build a second anchor locker. Nevertheless, we caught up with them and enjoyed a debaucherous evening eating overly priced meals (for Costa Rica) drinking who knows what and cart-wheeling by bonfires. Everyone made it back OK but unfortunately Team Water Dragon’s inflatable dinghy delaminated en route back to their boat at the end of the evening and Taryn's digital camera was drowned. 

While in Tamarindo, we also visited a few people we'd met in our prior trips there, including a visit to Tom at Century 21 to pick up the mail we'd had forwarded to him.  Our last night in Tamarindo, we spent at a little party on Blue Dolphin, the catamaran that local expat Jeff uses for his sailing tour business. 

The next day (January 3), we headed south to Bahia Carrillo which our guide books said "was not to be missed". While pretty, we were happy to depart after a night of excessive rolling over the swells. By now we had made it to the 9 degree parallel putting us out of hurricane alley and out of the Papagayo winds. We left Carrillo at midnight and by daybreak we had reached Cabo Blanco, the headland at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula that marks the entrance to the Gulf of Nicoya – Costa Rica's largest gulf and a treasure trove of islands, natural parks and plenty of monkeys. We rounded the point and for the first time since leaving San Diego, found ourselves heading north. About 20 miles up the Gulf we approached and entered Bahia Ballena (Whale Bay), so named for the occasional whale that finds itself in the bay. It was quite beautiful with palms and beautiful beaches. And there was plenty of good anchoring. There’s a sleepy town called Tambor, an inconspicuous resort hidden behind the trees and a somewhat reclusive gringo that lives up one of the mountains and operates a small manufacturing plant making high-end battery monitors for boats.

Ballena was so beautiful we thought it the perfect place for my mom to visit. We checked things out at the Barceló resort – a stone’s throw from where we were anchored, got my mom to book a flight and two weeks later we were all sipping fruity drinks poolside.

Given my mother has never been too fond of water (she didn’t even bring a bathing suit!), this was a big step for her. During the week, we visited a butterfly farm by horse and buggy, walked through a monkey-filled park and enjoyed shows put on by the hotel. But her most impressive venture out was in our little 8-foot dinghy. She boarded in the surf and rode through the waves like Cousteau. We first went to the boat to hang out for a bit and then took the dinghy to the far end of the bay to do some snorkeling. Mom actually donned a snorkel mask and we almost got her in the water but she decided better of it as a non-swimmer. We returned to the hotel and landed the dinghy on the beach at night. Once again, Mom handled it like a pro.

All and all, we had a good week and Mom left having had a well deserved rest and a bit of an adventure.

The day after, Dana and I weighed anchor and headed northeast to Puntarenas – one of Costa Rica’s principle ports on the Pacific. Entry can only be taken at high tide and we timed our departure so we would arrive around that time. Once inside the estuary, a panga guided us to the Costa Rica Yacht Club. We would make the club our new home base while Ker-Mor got a much needed paint job and I headed to Washington D.C. to begin work on a contract.

We decided that Puntarenas would be the last major port we would make in Costa Rica. Here we would provision and ready the boat for our big jump to the Galápagos and beyond.
 

 

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