Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Rich Coast North / Bay By Bay – May 25-June 5, 2016

And now we return to the sailing portion of Travels on Abracadabra!

Nos Vemos, Nicaragua!

Checking out of Nicaragua was as easy as checking in. On the afternoon of May 24 we spent about half an hour with various officials, got some documents stamped and received an international zarpe for Costa Rica. No charge. At 06.25 the next morning we left the dock at Puesta del Sol marina.

To the "Rich Coast" 

Like most sailing journeys of any distance our trip to Costa Rica (translation: Rich Coast) contained a little of this and a little of that and a moment of drama:
  • Motoring Along: For the first six hours we motored in flat, calm conditions. We had been warned that “sailing” in Central America during the rainy season would involve a lot of motoring. We felt -- resigned.
  • Standing Watch: Abeam the commercial port of Corinto we saw what for a heart-stopping few moments looked like an overturned lancha – a dark, 20-ish-foot object rising and falling in the water with birds sitting on it. As we got closer we realized it wasn’t the remains of a tragedy, but a huge tree (shades of sailing in the Canadian Gulf Islands)! Apparently the river that enters the Pacific at Corinto can discharge very large obstructions during the rainy season – keep a close watch if you pass that way. 
  • This Is Why We Came!: Shortly after noon the wind came up and we were thrilled to be able to sail for about six hours - at times making over five knots.  It was glorious!  Several times we were surrounded by playful pods of dolphins. The sunset was spectacular. Ah, yes – this was sailing!  
  • And Then: Near sunset the wind died and we motored for several hours watching lightning behind us. It seemed to chase us through the night. For about an hour the wind and swell both picked up and we had an uncomfortable bash into some choppy waves. Around midnight the wind rose and shifted just enough to allow us to sail again. This sail was more or less on course in winds we think were between 12 – 18 knots. [Reminder: the boat’s wind speed indicator is, in technical nautical-speak: kaput.] Who says you have to motor everywhere in Central America! 
  • Ooooh – But We Definitely Didn’t Want This: Our drama moment came around 11.00 on the second morning. The wind had dropped and when we started the motor it didn’t take long to see that sea water was not squirt-squirt-squirting out the back of the boat as it is supposed to do. The raw water alarm set up a piercing screeeeeech. [Non-Sailor Simplified Side Note: The raw water system takes ocean (raw) water through a heat exchanger which cools the engine’s anti-freeze. The raw water is then discharged at the boat’s stern. Think: a car’s radiator. Think: hot engine = soon dead engine.] Captain Bryce, in his calm, self-assured way cursed himself for having screwed something up during his recent overhaul of the raw water pump . . . As Molly stood watch and Abracadabra crept along under sail, he assumed a yogic-like position, uninstalled the raw water pump, looked it over and found . . . nothing wrong. Hmmm . . . partially good. Feeling validated but confused, he traced through each step of the system and found nothing else out of order. Hmmm . . . still confused. He put everything back together and about an hour after first hearing the warning screech we fired up the engine and - water pumped through as it should. As mysterious as rebooting a computer, only dirtier and way less comfortable. We suppose the positive takeaway is that we know Abracadabra’s Chief Engineer can replace a raw water pump underway if necessary.

Bahía Santa Elena (May 26 – 30, 2016)

We sailed for the rest of the morning until we turned into Bahía Santa Elena, a bay in one of Costa Rica’s many beautiful national parks. We began to motor again because after performing a raw water system reboot the Captain/Chief Engineer/Foredeck Anchoring Mate (i.e. Bryce) just wanted to get the anchor down and take a nap. At 15.00 we anchored.

Abracadabra At Anchor

And found that our nap would have to be delayed. Apparently the starboard latch on the forward hatch had broken and during the “bashing into the waves” portion of the trip water had trickled in under the latch and down onto . . . our bed. And of course this was the time we failed to stow the bedding out of range of potential drips because, well, we hadn’t had a leak at the bow hatch  . . .. [Some Non-Sailor Explanation: While sailing at night we take turns sleeping in the saloon rather than in our “regular” bed in the V-berth, so we hadn’t realized that water was dripping in. The saloon is nearby and offers a better ride.]  Fortunately we were experiencing a dry and breezy moment and were able to tie the bedding onto the deck until the next afternoon. Sun and breeze cures almost everything.

Our company in Bahía Sana Elena consisted of (a) a few fishermen who camped during the day near their lancha and left to fish at night, and (b) Prism, a 33-foot Hans Christian sailboat.

Prism At Anchor

The Prism crew, Shannon and John, joined us for drinks, appetizers and Sailor’s Story Hour on our second night. Their home port is Berkeley and we learned that that we have a lot of sailing connections in common – both in California and Mexico. It was a very fun evening (and we are sure certain boat yard workers’ ears were burning). We have since watched a few of John and Shannon’s videos on YouTube. If you’re interested in sailing info – or just armchair sailing in California and Mexico, check them out: S/v Prism.

The Prism crew had warned us that the path to the waterfall in the park had been overtaken by wasps, so we contented ourselves with a hike to a look-out point where we enjoyed seeing Abracadabra at anchor. No wasps – but we were glad we remembered our mosquito repellent!

Fashionable Hiker

On our day four Prism left us with only the fishermen for company. We puttered around the boat, checked weather and had another nice swim.

Bahía Huevos (May 30 – June 1, 2016)

The next morning we got up early to explore some of the bays to the south. The skies were grey and the winds were light. We tried to sail without success.

The Rainy Season

We decided to anchor in Bahía Huevos some 35 miles from Bahía Santa Elena. Bahía Huevos (Eggs Bay or, if you prefer, Testicles Bay) is named after the two large rocks at the bay’s entrance.
We spent two nights there and were happy with our choice of location except when the wind would put us cross to the ocean swell – creating quite a rocking experience. Great for sleeping but not for much else. Fortunately this happened primarily between 03.00 – 09.00 – prime sleeping time.

Bahía Huevos is a sleepy place even when the swell isn’t rocking one’s boat. Our primary entertainment was watching tour boats come and go to the good snorkel spot in the bay. Apparently if one books a snorkeling tour from one of the operators in Playas del Coco (the main tourist town in the area) it will leave at either 9 a.m. or 2 p.m. and include a one-hour motor to Bahía Huevos, time to snorkel, a drink and a snack, and a one-hour return. Like clockwork.

Bahía Culebra / Playa Panama (June 1 – 5, 2016)

Our current home is the anchorage off Playa Panama in Bahía Culebra. This is a lovely bay about nine kilometers by road from Playas del Coco – a town important to sailors as the first place one can check a boat into Costa Rica when traveling from the north.

We arrived around noon on the 1st of June and once we were sure the anchor was set we dinghied to shore to buy a beer and a snack and get some free wi-fi from a local bar. It’s very interesting being without internet for what to modern persons seems like a very extended period of time – six whole days! Imagine – six days without knowing the latest offensive thing Donald Trump has said. . . .  Priceless.

Our initial recon suggested that Playa Panama would be a good home for Abracadabra – a nice walking path, a gentle dinghy landing, a road to pubic bus service (which, frankly, we haven’t yet figured out), a good place to swim and a pubic trash tip (beats having to buy lunch at a restaurant to get them to take our trash!).

Sunset - Bahia Culebra

Our next day’s mission: to check into the country. [Brief and Highly Simplified Background: When arriving in a new country via boat one must (1) obtain permission for the crew and their possessions to enter the country from immigration and customs (“normal” tourists do this when they arrive at the airport); (2) obtain permission to bring the boat into the country from customs; and (3) inform the port captain of one’s intended movements (sort of like filing a flight plan).]

We dinghied to shore, deposited our trash and walked out to the main road to catch the bus. We waited. And waited. Finally, we put out our thumbs – and hit the hitch-hiker’s jackpot. We were picked up by two of the nicest people we’ve met anywhere: Don and Elaine, who have a lovely house in the hills above Playa Panama and were heading into Playas del Coco to buy a water softener system.

Don and Elaine not only took us to town – they drove us to the grocery store for some photocopies, the Port Captain’s office, the immigration office, back to the Port Captain and even out to the customs office (the aduana) near the airport. Over a “thanks for driving us around” lunch we learned about their power boat trip along the “circle route” which involves boating across Florida and up a waterway to Illinois – who knew?!

By the time we were dropped at the aduana we were thrilled with how well everything had gone so far. And the lady at the aduana was as pleasant and efficient as the other officials we had met. Until her print/photocopy machine proved unable print the temporary import document she had created online. Sadly, the nice official lady said, we would have to go to the aduana office at the airport. Sadly, we now had no car. Not a problem, she said – it is only 200 meters down the road.

This lady clearly doesn’t walk the weed-choked path between her office and the airport turnoff very often. The distance might feel like 200 meters to someone driving past it in a car – but the turnoff to the airport was at least two kilometers away from her office. And the airport terminal was not perched immediately to the side of the road. Once again the hitch-hiking gods were with us. A hotel shuttle van driver took pity on us and took us the kilometer +/- to the terminal.

Once there everything went just fine. The document disappeared into the right doorway and we were given what we needed. There was even a cell-phone booth with a nice young woman who sold us enough data and cell time to get us on our way. Perfect.

And then it began to rain. Blinding, monsoonal rain. We took a bus to the main road, huddled under the bus stop shelter (at least there was one!) and as soon as we got into the second bus – the rain stopped. We rode into Playas del Coco, bought a few groceries at a very lovely grocery store and decided to spring for a cab (deferring for a second time coming to grips with how to get from Cocos to Playa Panama by bus). Cab to dinghy, dinghy to boat. A very good, but very long day. Total transportation costs (we filed Don and Elaine’s thank you lunch under “entertainment”): $22.

So here we are – legally permitted to be in Costa Rica for three months. Since becoming “legal” we’ve had a second fun lunch with Don and Elaine and a swim in the rain. This is a lovely spot. That said, today we’re sideways to the swell and it’s pouring which is why there are no pictures of Playa Panama for this post! More later when we have a dry moment that will allow us to photo and travel on.

Our next “mission”: getting wet clothes to the laundry and clean and dry clothes back to Abracadabra.  [Side explanation: Don and Elaine’s son has recently served in the military. His observation was that “Getting anything done in Costa Rica is a mission”. And he doesn’t live on a sailboat! Thanks for the good laugh and turn of phrase.]

Hope all is well with all of you – and that if it’s raining, your clothes are dry. 

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