welcome to our blog!

This blog tells the story of our 22-month sailing journey from Oakland, California, to Bristol, Rhode Island, aboard our beloved Bristol 32 sailboat, Ute. Please feel free to browse through the archives (partway down the sidebar to your left) to see pics and read stories of our adventures in North America and Central America . (Sorry the first 3 months of the trip are missing - they vanished somewhere in an internet cafe in Mexico - but all you're missing is CA, Baja and Western Mex).

If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

got canal crew?

we got crew, we got crew, WE GOT CREW! this just gets more and more fun by the day.....

Danny and Gabby (Bay area pals for those of you that don´t know ´em) are booked and ready to rock, arriving the 13th. we´re ecstatic.

Rick Carey (allen´s dad) and Bill Green (Allen´s brother´s father-in-law aka Cally´s dad) are THIS close to being in. hopefully we´ll know in the next coupla days.



forgot to thank Ariel & Tim for the photos - the ones posted below are pics they took on our jungle walk. thanks guys for sharing!

the ball is rolling...

...and every day we are closer to our transit...they gave us a date - May 18! of course this will probably change a couple days either way, several times before we go, but it´s a good start.

our neighbors who have already waited a couple weeks tell us we have to call the ACP (canal authority) every two days or so to rattle their cages and make sure our date doesn´t change too radically...

the process continues to be smoother, more fun, and easier than we had expected. the admeasurer showed up right on time the other day...his visit was hilarious. the ACP launch boat that brought him out to our boat was bigger than our boat. too funny. His name was Spencer..Panamanian....he worked for the US gov´t for 20 years, is collecting retirement, and now works for Panama. cool guy. he normally measures and checks in the superhuge container ships and only measures about 1 or 2 small boats a year, so he was, at turns, nearly as confused as we. it was quite an experience. they have to ask questions like, "how many dead bodies are stowed aboard, and how are they preserved?"..."how many anchors do you have on either side of the boat?"...."how many engines and bow thrusters do you have?"...."how much exotic timber are you carrying?"...."where is your rudder angle display?"...that last one was a good one. allen pointed at the tiller and said, "right there, sir. you just look at the tiller, and you know what angle the rudder is at." Spencer nodded and said "right, right" and left that box blank on his form. "How much diesel do you carry?", he asked. "37" I said. "37 what?" "gallons." "37....gallons?" "yes sir". (bewildered look) then he asked how we carry the diesel, followed by a question about how many containers we carry on deck. "Just two, sir" I said, thinking he meant our diesel jerry cans. Spencer stifled a giggle. "Two containers, ma´am? you´re sure?" "Um, yeah, two...right babe?" I looked over and Allen was cracking up too. I didn´t understand that the joke was on me until Spencer said, "So would those be twenty or forty foot containers then?"

right...shipping containers. oh, no, i guess we don´t carry any of those. oops.

Spencer was done with us inside of an hour and, after a pocket-emptying trip to the ACP´s preferred bank, we got to call the hotline and find our our date, officially. May 18th! so exciting.

more updates soon. now to arrange for crew....

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Leaf cutter Ants

spot the monkey

Panama City, Panama

We made it! Unreal! We’re in the Canal Zone and it’s so much more exciting, amazing, exhilarating than even I imagined. To be at this crossroads and watch colossal ships and teeny yachts go in and out all day….to meet people from all over the world and hear their stories and their plans…it’s unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. There was a point when we were in southern Mexico where we said, you know, anyone with half a brain and a sense of responsibility would turn back now and head for California and get a job. And we thought about it. But we decided to go for broke and get here – and now that we’re here I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Seriously, I told Allen today that if we have to sell organs on the other side of the canal to put food on the table, it will have been worth it. It’s so, so great to finally be here!

We left Isla Otoque yesterday morning around 5….and were delighted to find a WNW wind that was just perfect to get us into Panama City. Even with the good weather it was a stressful ride though…..at one point as we entered the shipping lanes I counted 86 container ships on the radar within a three-mile radius…normally just having 3 or 4 in that range would have us soiling ourselves so it was a pretty interesting passage. The Gulf of Panama is dotted with dozens of islands large and small which makes things even more fun because there are all these dots on your radar and some of the ships are bigger than some of the islands! But we made it through with no problems and when the time came for me to get on the radio and announce the presence of our itty bitty boat to the canal authority and get permission to anchor, I was so happy and so proud I nearly cried.

When we pulled into the anchorage we were happy to spot a handful of boats we already knew, some from El Sal, some from Nicaragua, some from Costa Rica…..and we got to know our other neighbors fairly quickly when a 20-ton Danish sailboat off our bow suddenly started dragging its anchor and missed crashing into our boat by about 5 feet. Miraculously, it didn’t catch our anchor on the way back, but it kept moving and picking up speed in the afternoon wind. Since we didn’t have the dinghy out yet, Allen ended up diving in, swimming to the boat and boarding it, and deploying a second anchor he found there with the help of another neighbor that kayaked over. A pretty exciting way to kick off our stay in Panama City….

Our anchorage is right next to the canal entrance so we get to watch everybody come and go all day long. In fact we hadn’t been here an hour yesterday when a big boat full of smiling, exhausted Aussies rolled in and dropped anchor next to us – they’d just done the transit. They’ve been cruising for nearly 16 years so I think we were more excited for them than they were, but they were happy to have it behind them. They were nice enough to give us the eight trash-bag-wrapped tires they’d used as fenders, so we got to check something off our enormous Canal Prep To-Do List on our first day here, which felt great.

It’s funny because I was so excited to get here but somehow I didn’t think through the fact that it would be a giant city with a real downtown, freeways, a twinkling skyline, the works. We haven’t experienced anything like this since San Diego…it’s only been six months but it’s a little overhwhelming. Pretty though. Feels a lot like Miami, just more Latin and more jungley. Funny to see Kwik E Marts and McDonalds and TGI Friday’s and such after months of rice and beans joints and beach palapas.

Many of our neighbors smile or chuckle when we talk about being proud to get this far or how long it’s been since we were home; most of them have been on the road for 2 or 3 or 4 years – in some cases as many as 10 or 15 years. So we’re like the new kids on the block. Sometime we even run into cruising sailors that seem to feel sorry for us because we’re only on the “one year plan”. All I can do is crack up when I hear that….are you kidding me? Feel sorry for ourselves because we only get to do this for a year? I wake up and pinch myself every day. If our trip had ended after two months it would have already been one of the most worthwhile things I’d ever done. I’m determined to not let these people warp our thinking….I appreciate what we have so much.

We spent most of this morning taxi-ing around to the various offices and officials that will make our transit a reality – immigration, customs, more immigration, maritime authority, canal authority, blah blah blah. Heaps of paperwork. All around it was remarkably quick, painless and efficient – way easier than we’d anticipated. The next step is the admeasurer’s visit tomorrow morning. Once our boat is measured and approved for transit (not a sure thing but probable), we’ll head to the bank to sign away our life savings and firstborn child (all told, the transit will probably cost us what is normally two months’ cruising budget), and then hopefully, hopefully, the canal authority will offically give us our transit date tomorrow afternoon. IF everything goes smoothly.

Anyhoo, enough babble out of me, thanks fam and friends for putting up with our tooting our own horn here. Appreciate all your support. Updates soon. Cheers, CC

Isla Otoque

April 24, 2006

Hi all….we’re parked at another tiny island for the night (Isla Otoque), still working our way towards the canal zone. When we left the Perlas yesterday, we only had 50 miles to go, which you would think would be a day trip, but in this season of burly northerly storms all bets are off….if we’d pulled into the canal zone today it would have been after dark, and trying to navigate an unfamiliar anchorage, dozens of buoys, tiny islands, and one of the world’s busiest set of shipping lanes at night sounded like a nightmare. So..we’ll leave nice and early in the morning to cover the last 18 miles or so. This is a beautiful place to be for the night, anyway – we’ve got the whole place to ourselves, except for the thousands of pelicans, frigates and boobies that nest on the island. What a sight!

We’re finding out that we sort of pulled a Bill in getting around the notorious Punta Mala without any hassle – we learned via the shortwave this morning that bigger, faster, way more experienced boats than us have been waiting on the other side for the last couple days, hoping a weather window will open up to make a run for it. I guess we lucked out when we putt-putted around it the other night in moderate winds.

It’s hard to believe we’re this close to the Canal after so many years of dreaming about getting here….and on our own boat – our home! – at that. I feel like even if for some reason the transit itself doesn’t pan out, just getting here has fulfilled a dream of mine that’s been evolving for years and years. Not sure how I became so obsessed with Panama and the canal – it just happened that way. My Grandma Greene – a seasoned world traveler who bequeathed her wanderlust to me – went through the canal in the late 30´s with my grandfather, although they weren’t yet even engaged at the time. (separate cabins, of course…but still quite scandalous. Go grandma). So maybe the canal seed was planted in my head awhile back as Grandma was always ready to share a travel story. Actually, just to be in Panama at all feels really exotic for some reason…more so than the rest of Central America….maybe it’s the potent combination of its turbulent political history, the allure of the canal, and the natural history appeal – how could I not be seduced by the skinny bridge of land with the big job of joining North and South America? What other landform has that on its resume? The crazy part is the isthmus rose out of the sea just a few million years ago – 3 or 5 or something like that if I remember correctly (Google, how I miss you) – whereas the South American continent had broken off from what is now Africa something like 165 million years ago. So South America was an island for most of its formative years, completely isolated – hence the rainbow of weird critters and plants found only there. Like a really big Galapagos – what any PBS documentary worth its salt would call a “living laboratory” (you have to say it with the Attenborough accent).

Speaking of the Galapagos, they’re damn close. Every morning on the shortwave radio net, we hear from boats that are on their way to the islands or hanging out there. Needless to say it’s a pretty tempting detour – they lay less than 500 miles south of here – but that’s a trip for another time. (Believe me, I am tempted). Mainland Ecuador is Option 3 or 4 as a summering locale if we don’t make it through the canal – but hell, we’d never get home if I got sucked back into South America’s vortex, so Buster had better hope we don’t end up doing that. As if our dog even remembers we exist as he romps around the farm with two other dogs and three horses, getting spoiled rotten by my mom.

Anyway…..dinner’s ready (home fries, tomoatoes and Tang) so more later. CC

Las Perlas

April 23

Greetings all…as I write this, we’re relaxing at anchor, enjoying a misty, refeshingly cool morning in the Perlas Islands, some 50 miles southeast of the Panama Canal…..we pulled in here last night to catch our breath after rounding Punta Mala. Now it’s time to tackle the nitty gritty of entering the canal zone and actually being legal and legit about it….we’ll each have plenty of homework to keep us busy on our watch shifts when we get underway again.

Allen is busy in the cockpit, cleaning the still-flopping red snapper we just bought off some fisherman for a small bottle of rum (we bought a carton of cheap rum at the duty-free in Golfito so we’d have plenty of bartering currency). With the rosemary bread that just came out of the oven, today’s lunch will be a welcome departure from the pasta with red sauce and PBJ’s that we eat nearly every other day when we’re sailing…..

We’re tucked into a mid-size cove, surrounded by jungle, white sand beach, and rocky tidepools. Spent some quality time with the binocs checking out the squawking parrots and frigates flying overhead, and a cathedral-size wall of green jungle moss on shore, cascading from the tops of 5 or 6 trees that have melded together to buttress this furry green spectacle. After about 12 hours of dodging thunder and lightning at sea, we were sure we’d fall asleep the second the anchor dug in, but there’s just too much to look at here.

Speaking of jungle, you wouldn’t believe the place we spent our birthdays unless you saw it with your own eyes. We left Quepos, Costa Rica, on April 11th, after finding out (to our dismay, although it later turned out to be serendipitous) that we couldn’t check out of Costa Rica there because of some obscure Customs regulation. Frustrated, and feeling in a hurry to get to the canal, we set out for Golfito, further south, to give it another try. As we left Quepos, we were treated to a tropical downpour, washing down both our grimy selves and our grimy decks. Looking back towards land as we motored out of the harbor, I thought it might be the prettiest coastline I’d ever seen. Rolling hills and towering volcanoes covered in a moist carpet of pure jungle, with little puffy clouds nestled into every nook and cranny to the horizon. Stretches of white beach broken up by tree-topped rocks and mossy islets. Little did I know that it would only get more beautiful as we headed south…..Costa Rica is funny that way - by the time you get there you’ve heard so much hype about it that you don’t think it could ever live up to it – and then it blows your mind.

So there we were, headed south with a great air of productivity about us, determined to just blow right on by Drake’s Bay and Isla del Cano, two very appealing stops where both Hebe and Que Onda were planning to spend the weekend, in the interest of hustling towards Panama. Much like real grown-ups (we do actually give it a try now and then), we discussed the fact that we knew when we left Oakland that, in setting our sights on getting through the canal this season, we would eventually have to make some hard choices that involved skipping some stops along the way. After reassuring each other that spending our birthdays underway instead of frolicking in the forest was indeed the right thing to do, it dawned on us that, were we to steam ahead to Golfito as planned, we would land there just as all government offices shut down for a long weekend of drinking, er, I mean, celebrating Jesus’s resurrection. Well, this tasty morsel of insight led to a feast of fun decision making: hell, we could spend the whole weekend in the jungle and still be in Golfito the second all the big shot offices opened up again! Spirits lightened, we jumped aboard the birthday fun train.

And thus we came to find ourselves anchored off of Isla del Cano on the morning of Allen’s birthday. This little uninhabitated island, just off the Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula, is a national park, and looks like something Disney created for a Robinson Crusoe-type movie. More shades of green than you can count, turquoise water, palm trees blowing in the breeze. When we jumped in to snorkel I was astonished to see our anchor – 45 feet below us! I didn’t know that kind of visibility existed. Then again, I spent the last 7 years living in water that probably drifted right down to Emeryville from the Chevron refineries, so I may be easily wowed on this one. The underwater landscape there was so, well, Pacific – I know it sounds silly but it’s just so different than the Atlantic and Caribbean. Jagged underwater hills, dramatic cliffs, deep dark canyons. So beautiful. And we had the place to ourselves – not another sailboat in sight.

After our salty romp among the fishes we sailed over to Drake’s Bay to join Hebe and Que Onda for a birthday celebration. Let me tell you, Drake’s Bay is something else. Isla del Cano was stunning – but Drake’s Bay was over the top. I think I’m gonna have to Google a picture of it and put it on the blog – I know that’s cheating and really cheesy but I may just have to do it (I’m dyin’ down here without a camera!). Imagine a bay surrounded by hilly jungle, but not just any jungle: the kind of jungle you imagine when you’re a kid, where everything is colorful and light and birds are chirping and all the woodland animals are right there to greet you. Kind of like Snow White. Or maybe the Jungle Book? Within an hour of dropping the hook, a flock of scarlet macaws flew overhead. Yellow and green parrots quarreled in the trees on the shore nearby, and we even heard howler monkeys……our first wild monkeys of the whole trip.

Needless to say, we felt we had made the right decision…how could we spend our birthdays anywhere but here? That night we birthday-partied for Allen not only with our usual buddy boats, but also two other boats we’ve been sort of leapfrogging with down the coast ever since northern Nicaragua. It’s funny because when we were in Mexico, where every port had hundreds of boats passing through each season, the prospect of hanging out with other cruising sailboats didn’t excite us – it seemed like one giant senior citizen bus trip to the bingo hall. Yeesh. But as we’ve headed south, it seems we’ve left Mexico boat culture behind – and most of the boats too. The route we’ve covered since we left Mexico is only covered by a handful of boats each season – so we keep running into the same 8 or 10 boats along the way – which is really fun. There are some pretty interesting people doing this circuit, including a number of boats that have already done a complete circumnavigation, or are close to completing it. Can’t imagine taking that on – we’ve only covered 3200 or so miles and even that feels like a major achievement!

The next day we set out on a little day hike. Now, if you’ve ever been to the rainforest, you know that while there may be oodles of colorful birds, mammals, bugs and flowers, you’re certainly not going to actually see them within an hour of starting a hike, right? Wrong, says Costa Rica. By lunch, we’d already spotted agoutis, a coatimundi, and a noisy troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys playing in a cashew tree. I thought I might faint by the time we spotted a three-toed sloth hanging out high overhead. A SLOTH! And it was my first time in a rainforest right next to the ocean….I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t just a dream. Imagine dozens of tidepools…with white and pink orchids growing off the rocks just above your head. Toucans flying above while crabs sidewind through the leaf litter at your feet. It was absolutely incredible.

As if the whole thing weren’t already a birthday fantasy world, the whole jungle smelled like sweet, fruity jasmine. It’s been my experience that the tropical rainforest, in all its fascinating organic glory, generally smells like an old pair of Tevas, so this whole smell-pretty business was over the top. For an hour or so I thought we might actually be trapped in some stupid air freshener or bubble bath commercial or something where a chore-weary hausfrau is whisked away to a magical perfume jungle through the magic of Dupont’s chemists. But no, it was real.

We stumbled back to our kayak after sunset with sore feet and big smiles. As we paddled home, the full moon glistened off the dolphins (magic birthday dolphins?) that swam into the anchorage to greet us, and the sweet jungle smell wafted out to our boat.

My actual birthday was the next day, and I almost didn’t want to wake up because I couldn’t imagine a better day than we’d had the day before. But being able to get up and jump right into warm turquoise water and swim to your friends’ boat, and then spend two hours just splashing around, is pretty serious birthday fun too. Later I was presented with a giant EeWee cake by Allen…but I’ll let him explain that one. Suffice to say it was a great birthday…maybe the best ever? Thanks Hebe and Que Onda for being a part of our jungle birthday extravaganza – we’d never have ended up at Drake’s Bay if it weren’t for you guys.

When Saturday rolled around it was time to leave jungle fantasy land and head for Golfito, which turned out to be quite a nice place in its own right. A gritty yet charming frontier town kind of feel with the skeletons of United Fruit warehouses, cranes and trains lurking around every corner (shipping bananas was all Golfito did until the dreaded Panama disease struck the banana crops there. Back when a banana republic was a country, not a Gap subsidiary). Did some great provisioning, took care of all our proper paperwork, and even went to an Easter party. Wednesday began with sad and sweaty good-byes to Tim and Ariel – they’re staying in Golfito to go backpacking and wait for some engine parts while we keep heading south. They may meet up with us again after we transit the canal – or they might head even farther south and leave their boat in Ecuador while they do nine months of land travel around South America. So kickass! This has been their plan from the start – nine months of sailing (Tim’s passion) and nine months of backpacking (Ariel’s passion)- but even so it snuck up on us. I knew we’d probably have to part ways with them in April or May, I just didn’t realize it was already April or May, really. They may end up transiting the canal this spring to leave their boat on the other side (their ultimate destination being Florida) so we may see them briefly in May or June, but their plan are as up in the air as ours are. What they do know is that for nine months starting around the end of May or June, Hebe will be safely parked somewhere as they make the transition to traveling overland again.

For that matter, we still don’t know for sure that we can get through the canal this spring before hurricane season sets in. And even if we do, it’s unlikely we’d be able to make it all the way to Florida before the window closes…so the question is, where will spend the summer? Wherever is is we are going to have to buckle down and work, that much is for sure, since we’ll have about 7 dollars left in the kitty after we part with the two grand or so that the canal will cost. So it has to be somewhere out of the hurricane path, with either boaters or gringo land tourists, or both – that’s where the cash jobs are (if there are any to be had, that is). The strongest contenders right now are the Bocas del Toro islands, on the north coast of Panama, or Roatan, if we can get that far. But I’m jumping the gun – we’re not even in the canal zone yet and heaven knows how things will go when we get there. But I’ve babbled on enough for now, anyway – just checked the clock – it’s time to get our slimy friend Red on the grill before our afternoon swim.

Thanks for all the warm birthday wishes….we really appreciate it. Hopefully we’ll be safely moored in Panama City by the end of the week, and will post a little more then when we can. Our love to all, CC

Monday, April 17, 2006


Happy Easter!
WE are in Golfito, checking out of the country. We think we should leave on Wednesday and then check into panama the next day. We will post more tomorrow, regarding birthdays and sloths!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

southbound again

hi everyone - just wanted to let you know we´re outta Playa del Coco today and headed for central/southern CR....hoping to spend our birthdays either at a secluded beach or en route to the Panama border (both options are exciting, for different reasons!). neither scenario involves internet access, but we probably won´t be offline for too long - we´ll have to check out of the country someplace and there will undoubtedly be an internet cafe there.

The weather is beautiful here, and while the gales of Nicaragua made for fun and speedy sailing ground, we´re enjoying the gentle breezes we´re getting here right now. can´t complain.

more soon!!! cheers, CC

Thursday, April 06, 2006

nautiluses rock

so check this out...here's a nautilus...the shell looks like it should be a snail right? but really it's a cephalopod....like squids, octopus, and cuttlefish.

paper nautiluses are extra cool...the scientific name is Argonauta argo...it was once believed that they used their tentacles as a sail.

blowing Hebe's doors off

Playa del Coco

It’s hard to believe we’re finally in Costa Rica! And the even greater news is, the flotilla has been reunited…..Hebe, Que Onda and Ute are together again (reunited and it feeeeeels so gooood). Our buddies caught up with us in Puesta del Sol and whisked us away with them to points South. You can only imagine our excitement at finally having our partners in crime back after such a long hiatus, especially since Hebe’s was spent engine wrestling in Zihuatanejo for the last two months!

I laugh now to read back over the blog and see that we thought we’d make it here in 2 or 3 days from El Salvador. Of all the scheduling and routing miscalculations we’ve made thus far on the trip, this one is a solid win. What we know now is that nobody cuts right across on the rhumb line from El Sal to Costa Rica – at least not small boats. And the concept of a good weather window on that stretch of coast is so elusive as to be a myth, really.

Nicaragua had us in her grips for a good three weeks. And I mean really in her grips – she had no intention of letting us go for awhile there. But it wasn’t really a bad experience at all– it was more like one of those cartoons where somebody gets swallowed by a whale (bad!) but then they hang out in the whale’s tummy and get to swing on the ribs and learn about whale anatomy and go on krill rides and then in the end they get spat out no worse for the wear. And they know way more about whales than they did before. That’s how Nicaragua was for us….we both agree we learned more about sailing in the last two weeks than we did in three months in Mexico.

I’ll try to keep the details in check, but in a nutshell, Hebe and Que Onda picked us up in Puesta del Sol on their way down Nicaragua (they were making their way hugging the coast – I guess we were the guinea pigs on that one) and thus we set out on our fourth attempt on Costa Rica. A complex chain of events involving a near-broken foot (Allen’s right heel– and it’s basically OK now), some rigging tuning issues, furler problems, too much growth on the hull, a very uncooperative wind direction, and (the coup de grace) a tremendous and inexplicable eruption in the engine compartment led to our limping (in a couple different senses of the word) into a small bay called Astillero, part way down Nicaragua’s coast. We were joined by Hebe, who had been making better progress than we as their boat points to weather a hair better than Ute (much as I hate to admit it, it’s time we did) but were willing to backtrack and keep us company (thank you Hebe!). Bill, in the meantime, pulled a typical Billy stunt: slept through his alarm clock, woke up ten miles offshore, couldn’t point high enough to get back in, so decided to just bite the bullet and shoot straight south to Costa Rica – against the odds and conventional wisdom – and sailed into Playa del Coco the very next day, happy as a clam. If we didn’t love Bill so much we would have to throttle him for continually making us look bad like this. Seriously, Bill does this stuff every day – we’ll be out sailing and he’ll breeze on by us and we’ll radio him to ask how he did it and he’ll say something like, “I don’t know, I was sleeping and then I just woke up and poked my head outside and ate a saltine and stood on one foot and somehow that made me pick up two knots.” He is truly an incredible sailor.

After catching our breath in Astillero we discovered (to our great joy) that the engine was not actually totally f&$@ed as we had suspected, but was just having some oil pressure issues again. Anticlimactic, I know, but if you had seen the eruption you too would have been certain that ol’ Kiki was a goner. Perhaps she was just jealous of all the attention we were showering on Nicargua’s volcanoes? After fixing the engine (at least for now), cleaning the bottom, addressing our forestay problems, and other constructive puttering, it was just a matter of finding the right day to leave. And that was the funny part about Astillero – the weather. There were 35+ knot winds blowing all day and all night, gusting up to 50 knots. Now, we have never been anchored in anything close to this type of wind. It really was a learning experience to be parked in a gale, day and night. We had to rig a zip line to kayak back and forth between Hebe, parked a mere 200 feet to our stern. The transit required a spotter working the lines! It was crazy. And fun. Getting to shore was out of the question, but we contracted friendly local fishermen to go on beer and red snapper runs for us – tasty. It was the perfect weather for our umpteenth viewing of Master and Commander, Pirates of the Caribbean, and White Squall – the howling wind and creaking boat joints added sort of a surround sound feel. We thought we were exaggerating the wind speeds, but another cruising boat joined us midway through our week there and confirmed our estimates with a more accurate anemometer than ours. The really funny thing was, we’d all diligently tune into the weather forecast on the shortwave each and every morning – and the weather dude insisted that the southern coast of Nicaragua was experiencing a gentle 15 knot wind with possible gusts to 20 knots. Yeah, right. Apparently we had picked the most consistently windy anchorage for hundreds of miles either way. (We’ve since had a good and sympathetic laugh on a couple of occasions when we’ve heard other boats call into the morning weather net from Astillero and report gale force winds that defy prediction. The weather guy finally started making disclaimers in his Nicaragua forecast to except this particular anchorage from his generalizations).

After a handful of blustery days in Astillero (dunno how many – I think our calendar fell in the bilge) we set out with Hebe on what could be called our fifth attempt on Costa Rica (maybe just a continuation of our fourth since we hadn’t actually been forced to backtrack this time?). This time we were ready: clean hull, properly tuned rigging, everything tied down, leech line tight, four working feet on the crew. And you know what? It worked! And it was fun. REALLY fun. I had sort of a sailing breakthrough….prior to Nicaragua it made me just a bit edgy if we were heeled over so far that the cockpit winches were in the water..but now I don’t even feel like we’re moving unless we’re over that far. Racing Hebe in 35-45 knots of wind was a blast.

We decided to work our way down in short jaunts, as the problem on that coast isn’t the wind force so much as the fact that it’s almost always blowing out of the southeast, which is the direction you need to go if you’re going to hug the coast. So we had to do some short tacking to stay inshore but all in all it went splendidly.

After a short night in San Juan del Sur we finally got to cross into Costa Rican waters, to our great joy. Another gorgeous day of FAST sailing took us along breathtakingly beautiful mountainous coastline to the top of Cabo Santa Elena (the four of us later concluded it may have been the best day of sailing in our entire trip to date). We stopped in Bahia Santa Elena for the night as we’d heard it was pure unadulterated jungle (we know now that if we’d pushed through that night at headed for Playa del Coco, we would have seen Neil before he headed back north, but we weren’t clear on the dates, and thought we had already missed him). Bahia Santa Elena lived up to the hype: we rolled in around noon and spent a lazy, sunny afternoon diving off the boom, huzzah-ing into the water on the spinnaker halyard, and swimming to shore for a phenomenal little nature walk. Picture a tiny bay, tucked away in a bight of a jagged, rocky shoreline, ringed by red and black mangroves and white sand beaches, with lush mountains towering at the horizon all around. The shore walk was a treasure trove – we spotted parrots, cactuses that grew like climbing vines, enormous limpets, humingbirds, noisy kingfishers, dozens of pufferfish, lots of funny bugs, thousands of hermit crabs, giant bromeliads, and, to my delight, a couple of paper nautilus shells (very rare). I can remember saving up my allowance and sending away for a paper nautilus shell to add to my shell collection when I was a much smaller nerd than I am now, so this was a very exciting find. This catalyzed a major geek-out with Hebe about just how cool nautiluses are, so I may just have to find a picture of a nautilus to post and indulge the science teacher in me (it was only a matter of time ’til I turned the blog into a science lecture – I have been exercising self restraint).

We were ready to swim back to the boats until Allen spotted a crocodile (gulp). We somehow talked Tim and Ariel into swimming back to Hebe, launching their dinghy, and then coming back to pick us up. In retrospect I guess that makes us really lousy friends, but I think it had something to do with the fact that they had swim fins with them and we didn’t. hmmmm. Anyway they dodged death and managed to pick us up, and we got to try their dinghy sailing rig for the first time – very fun.

The next day we got a nice early start to round Cabo Santa Elena, which has something of a bad reputation. In what’s becoming a trademark ironic twist, the cape wasn’t very hairy at all and we actually got to do some great 7-knot surfing down wind waves around the tip. From there it was a speedy close reach for the last 25 miles into Playa del Coco. At one point we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins that were insanely playful even by dolphin standards – they found a ball of driftwood and started doing tricks with it, bouncing it around on their noses – and we spotted dozens of sea turtles lazily swimming about. We even saw half a dozen birdles – that’s a turtle with a bird riding on its back – one of my favorite sights.

We pulled into Playa del Coco just in time for happy hour – and celebrated by drinking the cold beverages we’d been talking about for days. We were bummed to find out we’d missed Neil and Courtney by a matter of hours, but we could only conclude it wasn’t meant to be. Neil, sorry again that we missed you, and thanks for your efforts to get the new camera to us. This is a nice stop, and provisioning is good, so we’ll likely stay through around Saturday, then head South again. We’re getting down to the wire on making it through the Canal this season, due to our recent delays, but that’s a topic for another day – as I write this, Allen is swearing a blue streak at our broken galley faucet (another small casualty of Nicaragua) so I had better go help the hubby. More later. Thanks Cally and Rick for being our phone tree. Love to all…CC

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Here we are in Playa Del Coco! Finally. After three unsuccessful attempts at the crossing, we are here. We will update tomorrow or the next day. We missed Big Daddy by one day. Sorry. Oh well the life of a sailor......