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