The Problem with Costa Rica is That There is No Theme Music 

In fact, the almost complete lack of really loud music in all public spaces was actually disappointing not to mention a little unnerving.  It seemed like something was missing.  In Mexico music was everywhere, it invaded you, slowly until eventually were expecting it; humming along, tapping a foot and even a little miffed when the bus you hopped on wasn’t blaring thumping repetitive tunes so loud that you could barely hear yourself think let alone talk to someone next to you.  But along with music came dancing, singing and playing instruments.  People performed everywhere; on the streets, in the buses, at a restaurant, from the smallest child to the oldest Grandmother.  We didn’t always speak the language but is impossible not to understand that music tells a story, represents the culture, and is part of history.  Music was what Costa Rica obviously lacked, but it went deeper than that.  It was missing the energy and the joy music brings. We had no musical memories to wrap ourselves in.  Sure Costa Rica was pretty and the people pleasant, but we were not sad to be leaving, and we weren’t looking back.

And so, after a few extra days in Golfito so Steve could recover from a head cold, we pulled up anchor and headed towards Panama full of hope that a new country and a new hair cut (Steve is getting sick of the Mohawk I convinced him to sport these last few months) will bring us good luck and better memories.  And even if Panama itself can’t provide some music we were determined to have a theme song to live by for the next few months. I crank up the stereo and blast Van Halen’s song “Panama”, rocking out hard as Golfito slips away behind us, the mood is lighter already.

The passage is only 60 miles but with light winds and pushing current we plan on an over nighter.  The weather is good and the seas calm but after sitting in the big, flat, protected bay of Golfito for the past three weeks the movement of the boat seems strange and I quickly notice that there are a few things I forgot to put away!  We make good time and by morning light we are approaching Isla Parida. Before breakfast we have found a nice cove, weighed anchor and are sipping tea in the cockpit.  This is our first planned stop in Panama, a small island chain away from everything to rest and relax and decompress.  Our social calendar was full in Golfito as there were 4-5 other boats at LandSea ( the anchorage/mooring business run by former “cruisers”) not to mention the general stress and complication from the engine repairs we had to complete.  Although it was handy to have a safe dock to leave the dingy at, good internet, a fridge of cold beer and knowledgeable people ashore, it was also very exhausting to have planned social obligations, seemingly no quiet time and always someone on the boat next door watching.  We are happy it is just the two of us again; there is an unspoken contentment that wraps around us like a blanket.  Steve tries to catch a few hours sleep, he had the 2am to 6am watch, and I settle down with a book and a pot of coffee in the cockpit.  Only a few hours pass when I look up to see two boats approaching the anchorage.  I know immediately from there hull shapes and sail plan that it is “Savannah” and “Sidewinder” who had left Golfito a few days ahead of us. They are fast tracking it to Ecuador; we didn’t think we’d catch up with them until they doubled back to Panama in the New Year, let alone get ahead of them.  They are surprised as us to see us anchored here and throw the pick close by in our little cove.  Dave and Suzi on Sidewinder invite us over for drinks that evening and we have a lovely time chatting over future plans and destinations. 

The next afternoon, after we’d all moved around the corner, Mike and Jodie invite us all over for dinner.  They had good luck fishing down from Golfito and have more tuna, Dorado and mackerel then they want to eat themselves, a perfect excuse for a dinner party!  Before we head over to Savannah the “Mar Vida”, sort of marine park rangers, show up to let us know that we’ve anchored in a National Marine Park and that there are fees for doing so.  There had been rumours about these fees being enforced recently but no one seemed to know if it was a scam or not. The three men in the Panga are legit, and don’t mind at all that we ask to see their ID to prove it.  They have a proper schedule of tariffs according to boat size, a nice coloured brochure outlining the park boundaries and regulations as well as what the fees go toward maintaining.  It is a little steep, $50 a day for a forty foot boat, but he says we can pay the $25 a day applied to a smaller vessel, and to sweeten the deal if we pay for two nights we can stay three.  Fair enough, if he’s willing to extend a deal then why not take it? We’ve been here one night already and haven’t paid and after all, it is all above board and goes to supporting and saving piece of our oceans.  If we had bothered to do any research (even opening a Lonely Planet) we would have found out that the park was defined in 1992, we should have expected some park fees. We pay, get a proper receipt and I give them a few sliced of Banana Coconut Lime Cake as a gesture of good will. I know this will be a big topic of conversation at dinner as not everyone agrees with have to pay to play out on the water, regardless of being a visitor in the community or country. I promise Steve to play nice tonight and follow the general rule of polite conversation; no politics, no religion, and take a big mouth full of my drink if I feel like saying something I shouldn’t! I am looking forward to option three.

The dinner is lovely and the company enjoyable. Jodie treats us all to a yummy dessert of baked apples; everyone is full and satisfied as we sitting around and chats over our last drinks.  The other two boats are leaving in the morning and this is really nice goodbye for all of us, a better ending then our staggered departure from Golfito last week.  As we climb back on Kate I can’t help but be happy to be home.  The more we are invited onto other boats the more I fall in love with our Kate. She might not be the biggest or have all the bells and whistles some boats have, but she is perfect for the two of us and feels more like “home” everyday, and it is always nice to come home.

The next morning Sidewinder and Savannah head to the Secas Islands.  Left to our own devices again we move around the next corner to find Isla Gamez, an idealic palm fringed little island with a stretch of white sandy beach and clear blue waters, perfectly positioned to protect us from the swell.  It is the kind of place that you read about in books and see on postcards, and it is ours to enjoy alone.  I have caught the head cold Steve suffered with in Golfito so I am feeling a little like being left alone myself but Steve convinces me to hop in the dingy and go for a ride, see what we can see.  I am miserable, finding every reason to be uncomfortable and grouchy but Steve ignores me, chats away, enjoying the afternoon, trying to lift me out of my fog.  We land the dingy on the beach and find a pile of coconut husks and a sharpened stick in the ground next to a tree.  Steve pokes around for a older nut on the ground, shaking one until he decided it sounds just right then proceeds to show me how to husk it on the stake, breaks on the rocks and gives me a chunk of fresh coconut.  It is sweet and delicious; the fog is starting to clear.  He hunts around a little more and finds one for me to try.  It is slow going at first, then I figure out the trick and before you know it I have one done and am asking for another.  While concentrating on husking coconuts and not impaling myself on the sharp stick I am bashing them against I forgotten my cold and have found a smile, thank goodness for Steve’s persistence.

We spend a few more nights exploring anchorages, managing to tuck in and avoid most of the predominant southerly swell and there is not much wind so things are relatively quiet through the nights.  On the last day we head 10 miles out to Isla Bolanos, reported to be a very pretty spot with a couple of anchorages, clear water and good snorkelling.  It is all it promises it to be, the water is so clear that I am startled when I see big rocks under us as we pull in, thankfully we are in 14 meters of water, the first time in months the visibility has been this good!  Packing a picnic lunch we head to the beach to enjoy the view only to notice a foreboding stack of clouds starting to build on the horizon. Still a long way off in the western sky, and this anchorage is completely open to the west.  By midafternoon we both decide the clouds are looking rather grim and although the wind seems to be keeping them at bay, being caught out here if the weather turns bad would be a rather uncomfortable night.  We head back to the other islands, throwing the pick in front of a nice beach tucked in a corner behind a nice rock that providing protection from the swell.  The sun dips low as we start the bbq for dinner, the sky is still clear as we discuss our plans to depart tomorrow morning and head north towards the mainland.  Then the wind shifts and rain starts so we snuggle on the sofa and try and enjoy a bit of “TV” while keeping an eye out as the seas get progressively bigger.  We are rocking and rolling, it is starting to be apparent that sleep may be difficult tonight and anchor watch might be necessary.   As the wind increases and the seas pick up so does our hobby horse movement, every rise and fall of the bow pulling at the anchor chain, raising the potential to drag.   At 10 pm we decide we have indeed dragged anchor and with an out going tide we are starting to get into uncomfortable shallow water. Our calm harbour had suddenly become dangerous, the strong winds and growing seas have put us on a lee shore, and we need to re-set the anchor.  I put on my rain coat and head forward; Steve turns on the radar and sparks up the engine.  I didn’t think we were pitching this much, moving forward I hold on and stay low.  While bringing up the anchor the bow suddenly dips a few times and I am up to my knees in water while standing on deck. Shit, I think to myself, this was a bit stupid, why didn’t I put my lifejacket and tether on?  We’ve already discussed our plan and I think Steve can hear me as I shout back that the anchor is secure because we begin to move forward.  I kneel on the foredeck, gripping the pulpit rails, head down to avoid a face full of spray as the waves break over the bow. No sense moving now, I think to myself, I am already wet, thank goodness the water is warm.  Just stay low and stable, hang on and be ready to drop anchor as soon as he drops it out of gear. I hear the engine stop; wait a few seconds and then drop the anchor again and payout 50 meters of chain.  Once it seems to bite I shimmy back to the cockpit, peel off my jacket and grab my life vest and tether, putting them and my soggy jacket back on.  That went well but Steve tells me he can’t hear a thing and not only that, he can barely hold the bow into the wind and waves.  The anchor won’t bite, the weather won’t abate; it’s time to move.  We decide to head back to Isla Gamez only a half a mile away. We know the island will afford a little reprieve from the waves and more importantly we know the anchorage, making navigating it at night a little easier.  This time I also grab my head lamp, we will replace our usual hand signals with light flashes: one white flash means we have 10 meters of chain left in the water, two red means the anchor is secure and we are ready to move.  We have to be quick, as soon as the anchor comes off the bottom the bow immediately gets pushed sideways in the wind and swell. Steve fears that if it goes too far we won’t have enough room to turn around or enough power to push it back through the eye of the wind, which would mean big trouble.  I have to get the chain up and the anchor secured fast and let him know it.  Fortunately it all goes fine, the anchor chain doesn’t jam as per usual, everything is secured, I flash Steve the okay and we head towards Gamez. As we turn a gust of wind hits the starboard side it picks up our dingy that is in its usual night time spot (up on the “hip”: raised on the spinnaker halyard up forward to deck height and then tied to the stanchions so it does bang against the hull if we roll a little) twisting it on its lifting sling so that it is almost vertical.  I shimmy forward again as Steve slows down. I untie the bow and stern lines on the stanchions then head to the mast to ease the halyard and drop the dingy down into the water. After securing the halyard on deck I untie the tow bridle from the forward cleat and walk it backwards tying it off aft so we are towing it.  With that out of the way we make our way over to Isla Gamez and drop the hook for the third time that night beside a few other local fishing boats that were seeking shelter from the weather as well.  It is considerably calmer here, looks like we made the right decision.  It is well past eleven, we are wet and cold, and with the boat secured and our “debriefing” over I head to bed. Steve wants to stay up a few hours to keep an eye on things, he’ll wake me up for anchor watch if he thinks it necessary. In a few hours Steve crawls into bed, everything is holding no need from me to get up. With him beside me I finally fall asleep.

In the morning we leave for the mainland, first stop Boca Chica.  A small little town tucked behind a few large islands and at the bottom of a river.  After reaching the mouth of the estuary we duck behind Isla Ventana, throw the anchor in water that just barely clears the keel and kill a few hours waiting for the tide to turn. The entrance to the bay is shallow in spots and with up to four meter tides and three knots of current it is best to enter on a rising tide as it affords you three things: you can see hazards more easily awash at low water, if you do happen to run aground at least you know the water is rising and you will mostly likely refloat and the incoming tide gives you a little push and counteracts any on coming currents.   Not that we mind the few hours break, it gives us an opportunity to take turns dozing on the couch catching up on a little rest after last nights fiasco.  By mid afternoon we are on our way and within no time safely pulling into the large, spacious bay contained by the mainland and Ilsa Boca Brava, just down river from the township.  There are a couple boats on moorings and a few others anchored but there is lots of space for us to anchor out of the traffic lane.

Steve had gotten a call a few days ago from an old Capitan about some work available on a boat in the yard back in Fort Lauderdale.  This would give the opportunity to pad the cruising kitty a little, but what to do with the boat.  Or rather, what to do with the boat AND me.  We debate heading to Panama City and putting the boat on a mooring, but it is four days sail away and would be another few days after that to check in, taking almost a week of work pay cheque. Hardly seems worth all the effort.  We look into back tracking to Costa Rica and leaving me at a mooring at LandSea, but we have used all of our three months on our VISA and must wait another three months before re-entering the country.  We look at each other and look around the bay; what about Boca Chica?  We have never considered leaving the boat on anchor, at first glance it seems a little too risky. What if we dragged? Would I be able to handle to boat myself? Would the boat be safe and more importantly would I?  Are supplies and provisions available?  Will I die of loneliness? 

We start to ask around and the answers are all positive: the two boats moored here belong to a couple, Jim & Suzi, who have been here two years. They love it and in fact are building a float house and making it a permanent home.  Another two boats have also been here long term and people we met in Golfito spent three weeks here and were quiet happy with the anchorage. Everyone seemed to have glowing reports about Boca Chica: The town is safe, the anchorage is calm, there are a few restaurants around, internet available, potable water and gasoline is in town, the big city of David is a water taxi, bus, bus ride away, and I would have a few people to turn to in case I need help.  Then afternoon while chewing over the decision I found a news article about a 16 year old Aussie girl who had just left on a solo circumnavigation out of Sydney. She is trying to break the world record for youngest solo circumnavigator held by an 18 year old.  Before she even got out of the harbour she collided with a tanker after falling asleep at the wheel.  Luckily she was unharmed and after some repairs to the rigging, she set out anyway, despite the growing number of people voicing concerns about her age and abilities.  Well, I thought, that’s that. If some crazy 16 year old girl thinks she can sail around the world alone I sure as held can manage a few weeks up a river by myself! I have 15 years of life experience on this chick and at least I don’t have to worry about tankers.  Besides, if this was a family emergency and Steve had to get home there wouldn’t be any debate, he’d already be on the plane. The reasoning is a little different but the situation is the same.  I tell Steve, trying to control the tremor in my voice; I had made the decision but was still nervous about it.  He doesn’t seem surprised; he always seems to know what I am going to do before I do it.

With the difficult part over with now the fun begins. Having accepted the job we had to check into the country so he could fly out.  By now we are well versed in the check in dance and my language skills have improved enough that I can hold much of the dealings in Spanish.  However, you have to be prepared. And by that I mean be prepared for it to take all day, be prepared for lots of waiting around even when there seems to be nothing to wait for, be prepared to be very patient and perhaps most importantly be prepared to smile and say hello to just about everyone in the office, it will take you farther than you think.  Jim and Suzi generously offer to drive us to Pedregal just outside David and introduce us to a few people in the Port Capitan’s office.  It all seems to be going well.  They accept our excuse that we haven’t brought the boat all the way up the river because we won’t fit under the power lines that run between the Boca Chica and Ilsa Boca Brava (which is probably true but it is mostly because although it is a fairly short distance it usually takes two days, requires a lot of waiting around for tides and what is referred to as “local knowledge”, which generally reads to me as lots of rocks and hazards that you can run into).   But, they do require seeing the boat, so it looks like we are going on a road trip.  As predicted it does take all day, it does require a lot of sitting around and more patience then I think I have but by 4pm we have checked in, cleared immigration, have our three month cruising permit and somehow didn’t have to pay any extra fees for a car full of officials to drive the hour to and from Boca Chica, just to sit onboard for 12 whole minutes and sign some already filled out forms. All in all, an extremely successful day by Central America standards.

Two days later Jim and Suzi drive us to the airport. I can hardly keep my eyes off Steve, he is sporting a fresh hair cut and a clean shave to impress the airport officials, but it’s the first time in two years he hasn’t had a beard and he looks just like the day we met.  In the back of the car on the way to the city we chat, Steve giving me a pep talk, me jotting downs notes and the few last instructions about things I am suppose to remember to do.  At the airport we have a quick breakfast then its time for him to go.  After we say our goodbyes he walks to the gate and hands his passport to guard for inspection.  I know he won’t turn around and wave before disappearing around the corner so I turn way before he is even out of site. It is an agreement we made years ago after several goodbyes; no tears, no dramatics and no looking back.  The next time I see him will be in a month. Until then is just me and the boat, the count down has just begun.



Departing Panama

We spend our last few weeks in Panama bidding new friends goodbye and watching the anchorage thin out as two or three boats depart daily for all points west.  Our “departure date” approaches week after week, and week after week it gets pushed back. At first we are a little discouraged; although we have lots of time left for a weather window when you miss your deadline you feel like you’ve let yourself down, and it doesn’t help that everyone in the anchorage points out that we’re STILL here.  Our mountain of projects seems to grow instead of shrink, and the provisioning, which will take at least a few full days, is going to have to wait until we get a few more things cleared away.  Suddenly we find a certain calm amid all the hurry up. When people enviably ask, every time you bump into them on the dock, when we are leaving, we just say “when we’re ready”. It may seem flippant but it says everything we need to say, this is our adventure after all and the only schedule we are on is our own.  Finally it seems like we’re making head way.  We manage to start reducing our to do list, partially because Steve tells me to stop writing down things “To Do”.  Projects get ticked off fast and furiously; tiller pilot installed, new cockpit table built, bimini and dodger almost complete, our new to us 15 hp outboard tuned up and the other 6hp primed and stored away, the leak in dingy repaired, health insurance renewed and the list goes on. I even get a head start on the provisioning, picking up a few loads of canned goods every time we hit the grocery store. List are collated, storage spaces organized, plans of attack put into action. In between we have dinners with friends and try and enjoy a bit of Panama when we can.  We go to bed each night spent and wake up with a little more light visible at the end of the tunnel.  But what we really need is to get out of the city; it is doing our heads in and emptying our pockets.  We decide enough’s enough, it is one more week, do or die, then we head to Taboga for a few days of R&R before the trip.  We both pull up or socks and hunker down, it is going to be a long week. 

Two days before we leave, in a stroke of mixed luck, our engine driven hot water heater, which has been leaking for a while, gets considerably worse: a drip has turned into a steady trickle of rusty water emptying into the bilge.  When Steve takes a look at it he finds the whole thing turns in its housing; it is officially fucked.  He spends a couple hours removing it and cleaning up the space as we debate the replacement costs and actual necessity of a hot water heater now that we are traveling further south and chasing summer, so to speak.  We rarely use hot water when we shower these days as it is so warm outside a cool shower at the end of the day is a much needed refreshment, and at a quiet anchorage we shower on deck with a solar shower anyway, (a little hard to do in Panama with 50 other boats around, but that doesn’t discourage some people!). And besides, you need to run the engine to heat the water and with our new solar panels installed we haven’t run the engine to charge the batteries in over two weeks, so there is no hot water anyway. We decide it just isn’t worth the hassle to replace it, not to mention the possibility of being delayed and spending more money, both of which we’ve had quiet enough of lately, thank you.  I know the decision is cemented when I point out that we could probably fit another 6 flats of beer in the unused space; Steve turns around with a grin.

Somehow we manage to get everything accomplished. Steve has stocked all the spares and extras; water, oil and fuel filters, spare belts, impellers and replacement parts.  We are full of fuel, including our five, 5 gallon jerry cans and 40 gallons in the fuel bladder on deck, not to mention the gasoline for the tender (although we don’t carry more than needed of that seeing as it is highly combustible and available everywhere there are local boats with outboards).  Two of our three propane tanks are full the other one being used, we have enough to keep us cooking for months.

We do a few major shopping outings together and suddenly we have a freezer so jammed full of vacuumed packed meat I almost have to sit on the lid to get it closed: it is hopefully enough to last 6 months, there will have be a ban of fishing for at least a month until we’ve eaten enough to make some room.  The dry stores are over flowing to the point that I have reclaimed yet another hidey hole under the sea berth for extra flour and grains all tidily vacuum packed, labeled and dated.  All the canned goods have been meticulously labeled with marker on the top for easy identification and split into four groups each with roughly the same staple items; peas, corn, beets, tomatoes, tomatoes paste, beans, chipotle peppers, jalapenos, mushrooms, tuna, anchovies, mussels, calamari and octopus, and I hate to admit it Spam (a recent convert it does make a good bacon substitute when sliced and fried for breakfast). These are to be stored in three increasingly hard to get places (including under the vee berth, a mission unto itself to access) for later use and fill the hold under the galley counter to the brim.  I found bulk supplies of good Soya sauce, dish liquid, unscented clothes detergent, pancake syrup, dried raisins and cranberries, oxy clean, and spices, all easily stored and decanted into smaller containers for use.   I even found a Kosher Super Market and pick up some specialty and hard to find treats for when moral is low, cupboards are bare and provisioning limited (yep, I found a new stock of good peanut butter!).  I have ticked almost everything off the list. We get a few looks on the dock, especially when we bring home the beer. We approximate 15 flats (cases, slabs or 24’s depending where you are from) to get us from Panama City to Galapagos for a month, and then onto the Marquesas.  Now this may seem excessive but, we don’t waste money or space on pop, juice or bottled water as neither of us care much for them. For the next four months we will be visiting island nations where everything has to be flown or shipped in, for visitors and locals alike, and as I mentioned we are hardly the only boat visiting.  How would you feel if you went to buy beer at the local store and some “rich guy” (because if you own a boat you’re rich don’t ya know) has bought the last can on the island.  Moreover when beer is 46 CENTS a can in Panama and upwards of 3 DOLLARS a can in the Galapagos and the Marquesas it only seems logical, if not economical, to stock as much as we can now.  And in a couple of heavily laden dingy trips from the dock we do.  On Friday night we hit the super market for a few last minute items (just one more bag of powdered soya milk, another packet of TP and maybe a bottle or two of PB) and enough fresh veggies to feed a small country for a week. That night as we sit in the cockpit, enjoy a beer and access the state of our situation. The mantra of the last week, “Buy as much as we can fit and probably a few more just for good measure”, has put a bit of a dent in the coffers but we estimate have enough food to keep us healthy and variety to keep us interested for six months.  And if we are carefully the rum might last that long too!  We finally feel ready to bid goodbye to Panama City in the morning; even if we are only going 8 miles to Taboga.

On Saturday morning I wake early to be the net controller of the local 8 am “Cruisers Net”, something I started doing on a whim over a month ago but found I really enjoyed.  We’ve never been one’s to “check in” on morning row calls or “check out” when leaving port so I end my session by letting everyone know that next weeks Saturday morning space will be available if anyone is interested, we are pulling up anchor shortly after I am finished; it feels good to finally say it out loud.  There is no wind, which is good because we are hardly stowed for sailing anyway, so we motor for a few hours arriving in time for lunch before settling in for an afternoon of work organizing and putting things away. 

Again our departure gets delayed, well not really. I was hopeful to leave on Monday but we’ve just got too many little things to do before we leave and the northerlies are still picking up in the afternoon making the anchorage quiet rough and work onboard hard.  We take advantage of the forced rest periods by catching up with some friends on shore, those not heading to the Pacific this year and in reality we may never see again. When we head to bed on Monday we are feeling like we’ve ticked almost everything off the list, well everything that is of utmost importance, we leave a few things undone, more hopes than necessaries.

We depart Toboga on Tuesday around noon.  It is hot and still and flat.  We both squeeze into the small square of shade thrown by the bimini as we motor away from land and hope for wind.  We were rewarded several hours later when the seas increased behind us bringing with it the breeze.  The Purvian Current that we fought so hard against to get to Panama City was now happily flowing with us giving us an extra two knots and pushing our speed over ground to settle steadily around 7.5kts, sometimes seeing 8 and 9kts as we surfed down the face of waves.  We round Punta Mala late that night almost eight hours ahead of our estimated time.  Our wind lasts all the next day and into the third, until it finally subsides leaving behind a lumpy sea.  We gybe hoping that the motion of the boat will calm on the other tack, even if we are just barely inching along.  It doesn’t work. We’ve gone from a sprint to a virtual standstill and the boat is rolling in the swell.   Afraid of breaking something, we are rolling so violently, we spark up the engine and motor hoping to find a little wind further along.  The seas calm to a smooth glass and the last faint remnants of breeze disappear.  We have entered the dreaded Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ); the shifting equatorial doldrums where the prevailing north and south airflows met and collide. It can be fifty miles or three hundred miles wide and is as infamous for its windlessness as its violent storms.  Our plan is to cut across the ITCZ hoping that we’ve found a narrow spot.  We run the engine gingerly, making only 3-4 knots. The night comes and goes and before you know it we have beat our personal best for motoring having logged 17 consecutive engine hours before we are both tired of listening the funny rhythm of our three cylinder engine. We drift for the afternoon on calm seas straining our eyes to see the tell tales of wind on the surface until finally it fills in and we are making 4.5kts of headway with just the headsail up. We are even on course.

Having seemed to have passed through the worst of the windlass zone we enter the band of “high atmospheric activity” that we’ve been hearing about on the radio.   During night watches the clear starry sky gets blotted out by clouds and the low rumble of thunder is heard in the distance.  The storms don’t move much, just isolated pockets of volatile air colliding together in the distance.  I spend my night watch feeling like I am being followed by celestial paparazzi; the lightening pops and flashes all around me as I chase a small patch of stars in an otherwise blacken sky.  Finally the wind picks up on the sixth day and we make up a little ground, watching the boat icon on the chart plotter inch ever closer to Isla Coco’s until we can finally make it out as a shadow on the horizon.

We are within reach of the anchorage so of course the wind drops out. It is either spend the night drifting and rolling or put our foot down, turn on the engine and just make it in by dusk; not a hard decision.  Steve drives as I put away the sails that are flopping in the two meter swell.  As we pull in and start the survey of the anchorage we are surprised to find three sail boats here on moorings, nothing was mentioned in the guide books about moorings. The anchorage is deep, plus twenty meters, and reported to be rocky, which makes for a loud night as you listen to every meter of your anchor chain you just paid out drag and scraping along, catching on all the rocks.  Thankfully, just as we deciding where to throw the pick, we are approached by a local boat who tells us to take the last mooring for the night. It is the Ranger he tells us he’ll be around in the morning to give us the details of the park (Isla Coco’s is a National Park under Costa Rica’s jurisdiction) and, of course, collect fees. The mooring lines are huge, much too big to fit through our fairleads, so I tie a bowline to each and cleat the line off on the bow smiling at the idea that we will sleep soundly tonight rocking gently on a mooring not worrying about dragging anchor.  Steve cuts the engine, turns off the instruments and meets me on the foredeck to take in the scene. The abrupt high peaks in an otherwise sea level landscape hold the clouds above the island, the mist swirling and falling though the dense trees.  Small waterfalls dot the adjacent lush green hills and cascade into the icy blue water below. Birds reel and flit all around us filling the air with their songs.  The mooring block, over twenty meters beneath us, is easy to see on the bottom through the thicket of fish now congregating in the shade under Kate.  We deeply breathe in the moist dusky air full of the smell of dirt and vegetation. To our backs is the vast expense of ocean and the sun melting into a fiery horizon.  There couldn’t be a more dramatic or satisfying way to end a trip. It is absolutely breath taking, and worth sailing every mile in what everyone liked to tell us was the “wrong” direction to get here.


Tales from the Crypt

Historically, sailors are a notoriously superstitious bunch. There are whole books written about all the do’s and dont’s at sea; don’t say the word rabbits onboard, bananas on a boat means bad luck for fishing, women on a boat are bad luck, unless they are bare breasted of course and you must making an offering to Neptune when crossing the equator, just to name a few.  Now most of these superstitions have all but gone by the wayside, ignored if not totally forgotten.  There a few rules however that are still adhered to, even by the non believers; those people who walk under ladders, step on cracks and sneeze with out saying “bless you” on land. That leaving port on a Friday is bad luck happens to be one of them.  Perhaps the only one most everyone still believes in.  The morning we were getting ready to drop the mooring lines at Isla Cocos I vaguely acknowledge that is a Friday but I say nothing to Steve.  Maybe if I don’t actually say it aloud then I can pretend I really didn’t look at the calendar this morning and nothing will happen. Besides, this is not TECHNICALLY a port, I mean we didn’t REALLY check back into Costa Rica, the governing authority for the island.  Standing on the bow I scan the skies for ominous looking clouds, give Steve the all clear signal, tell myself things will be fine and, just incase, I cross my fingers. Like I  said, we’re a superstitious bunch.

We sail out of the anchorage under sunny skies and find a nice wind to start the trip. A few miles off the island we throw out the fishing line and I settle in for my afternoon watch while Steve grabs a nap.  Somewhere around 4 o’clock the reel goes off with a fury, I quickly turn and watch for the jumping performance but there is none, not a mahi or a sail fish.  Mean while I’ve called “FISH ON!” upped the drag on the line and started furling the headsail to slow the boat.  When Steve groggily joins me up on deck (he just got to sleep, but unfortunately reeling in a fish while under sail is a two person job) I tell him the rod is his, I am happy to drive the boat this time.  He takes a few turns on the reel to set the hook and test the strength of the fish; it seems like a big one, then carefully lifts the rod out of the holder, unclips the lanyard and starts to walk forward to sit on the coach house. Since it takes both hands and a fair amount of balance to maneuver into position with a mega fish pulling on the rod I follow and clip the lanyard back on the life line as he sits down to fight.  Next I head into the breeze and back the headsail so that we hove to and essentially hold the boat in one place.  Steve starts the fight in earnest, pumping and reeling, forwards and backwards, gaining a little line then losing it and more.  Forty five minutes go by and he takes a rest, the reel straining in his grip he catches his breath, grunts a few times then returns to the fight.  He seems to gain a lot of line, “It’s a BIG one!” he declares and I peer over the side hoping to catch a glimpse but just as I think I see a shape the fish dives again, taking with it all Steve’s hard work.  Another forty five minutes pass but Steve can hardly believe it when I tell him he’s been at it for and hour and a half. I bring him a glass of water, politely ask him if he’d like a break (he can barely hold the rod, I surely won’t be able to) and give him a few encouraging words as I settle back down at the wheel.  We try putting the boat in gear and dragging the fish hoping to tire it out, with no avail.  When I tell Steve two hours have gone by he digs in and gains so much line that I actually see a quick flash of silvery blue before the fish dives in a spiral decent. Besides the spectacular show I have also been watching the horizon, dark clouds are quickly pilling up as the light begins to fade, we are in for some weather and have lost some precious miles fighting the fish. Its raining lightly now and the swell has picked up. A sudden tug from the fish and the rod slips from Steve’s hands and over the side, thankfully the lanyard pulls taut and he grabs it back on board. I suggest our last resort; cut the line.  Losing a fish is bad but it happens to be our lucky lure so we are both hesitant to bring out the knife. Steve rallies one more time, if he can get the fish up enough I can reach down, grab the squid lure and cut the line, we will only lose the hook. Steve is now exhausted, his hands are blistered, bleeding and cramped so that he can barely even hold the rod and once again the rod slips over board. I retrieve it and hand it back to Steve as I pull my rigging knife from my life vest, count to three and PING cut the line: better to loose our lucky lure then our best fishing rod! To this day we still don’t know what it was, and didn’t have enough space in the freezer for a monster like that anyway.

Disappointed we pull out the headsail and getting going again, heading directly into the dark clouds that now fill the horizon. The rain started as a drizzle, just enough to get everything wet and make the cockpit uncomfortable for the person on watch, and brings with it increasing winds.  We decide to reef the main before dark, easier to shake out then tuck it in in the dead of night, and soon we are furling some headsail away too as the rain, wind and seas all increase. The boat is riding the wind and weather well but the starboard tack makes the best bunk in the house underway, the main cabin sofa, impossible not to fall out of.  I venture forward to crawl into the vee berth, my least favorite spot under way, only to discover that the forward hatch above our bunk, after two years and 3000 miles at sea, has suddenly developed a slow leak, just a drip really, but most of the bed is wet with salt water. This is more annoying than a fresh water leak because unless it is thoroughly rinsed, the salt will permeate everything it touches, never dry and will attract moisture, meaning everything will always be damp and clammy.  Thankfully the mattress isn’t wet so I pull up the sheets, lay down a towel, try to tighten the hatch down and decide to deal with it when the weather calms a bit.  What is left for sleeping is the 18” wide bench wedged in behind dinning table. I carefully maneuver myself behind the table after laying down a sheet and pillows and try to get comfortable.  This proves to be more challenging than making up the bunk. You have only two positions to choose from: lying on your side facing out with the corner of the table within inches of your face and the boat heaving in a confused sea OR laying prone on your back with your arms folded across your chest. Neither are particularly sleep inducing and after what seems hours of just laying there and only a few minutes actual sleep the alarm goes off.  Getting out is a feat of pure abdominal strength; doing a full sit up with your legs straight and nothing to pull yourself up with. It quickly gets nicknamed “The Coffin”, and by day two we are both short on sleep and feeling like vampire zombies anyway so it seems rather appropriate.  Watch is a torturous cold four hours in the cockpit and despite our very good rain gear, we are soaked through within the first half an hour.  After your watch you go below, peel off your foulies and hang them in the head (shower room) where they fester and drip but never dry out.  Then you crawl into the coffin for a couple of restless hours trying to warm up and wait for the alarm to go off so you can get up put your wet, wet weather clothes back on and head out for another four hours of fun.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat. We have two full straight days of rain and heavy weather. The sails stay reefed, the boat stays closed and we remain damp, tired and a little cranky.

The morning of day three things really pick up. The wind starting to gust 30-35kts and the seas are bigger and more confused due a wind shift.  The boat still seems to be fine but I start to feel like we are a little over canvassed and after rolling away even more headsail I think it is time to put the second reef in the main. We really need two people to reef the main; one to drive and the other to go up to the mast and work the lines. Steve had a long night so I wait and wait and wait a little more until I hear him rustling downstairs getting ready to come on watch.  This is my first mistake of the morning. The rule is; reef when you first think about it, don’t wait or it will be too late.  I know the rule but I want to give Steve as much down time as possible, not that either of us ever complains about being brought up on deck when we are off watch but I am trying to be nice. He gets his gear on, takes the wheel and heads to wind while I crank on the main sheet then head forward.  I let off the main halyard, secure the reef point at the gooseneck and start to winch in the second reef line.  Since the boat is pitching I sit on the cabin top below the boom and crank the winch half a turn at a time while tailing with my other hand.  I get an override on the winch; the line has overlapped itself under tension.  I make the worse and most amateur mistake you can make; instead of easing the line immediately I try and give the winch a few more cranks hoping I can work the tangle through. Of course all that happens is that I make the override tighter, locking the line on the winch. The sail is not full secured and I need to untangle my mess. SHIT!!!  Steve sees what I’ve done, my heart sinks.  “What should I do now?” I wonder aloud and we both respond “Ease the halyard!!!” I scuttle forward and ease the halyard, which should take the tension off the reef line so I can release it from the winch and start again.  Suddenly the boat rolls and the boom swings to port and lies at a strange angle.  Immediately my eyes go to the boom vang, the end is cocked at an unnatural angle and cracked. On Kate we have a rigid boom vang and no topping lift. This means without tension on the halyard the vang is the only thing keeping the 5 meter boom from falling to the deck. Without much tension on the main sheet or main halyard the boom is dead weight and free swinging, but I need to unwrap the winch before I tension the halyard again. Before I can do anything the boat gets picked up by a bigger wave and rolls to the other side. The force of the swinging boom snaps the already cracked vang and within a blink of an eye the vang is laying broken on the deck and the end of the boom is lying to starboard and dragging in the water.  I try and lift it out but since we are still making 4kts there is too much drag and it is too heavy. I quickly unhook my tether line and switch places with Steve who makes his way forward and with a single heave has the boom back on deck.  While I keep the wind over my left shoulder and the boat steady in the swell Steve lets down the rest of the sail, collects it on deck and ties everything down safely and securely.  Without the vang we have no choice but to sail with just a headsail until the weather eases and we can try and hoist the main again.  We sit silently for a while in the cockpit as Steve gets us back on course and the motion of the boat returns to some sort of rhythm.  Steve is, to say the least, anything but happy and I feel horrible. When I am told to go below and get some sleep I don’t both trying to say anything in response, there is nothing to say. I made a very stupid mistake that resulted in us ONLY breaking the vang. The possibilities of other more serious damage and consequences, including serious personal injuries, are not lost on either of us.  I go below and curl up in the coffin, squeezing my eyes shut and hoping for sleep to come quickly, somehow I manage a few hours. When I wake up it is one of the few times in my life that I have laid there with my eyes shut hoping it had all been just a bad dream, but I am not so lucky.  The weather has started to ease but we sail under only the headsail until the wind and sea have decreased significantly.  When we hoist the mainsail we tuck in the second reef, it will have to remain there until we reach the Galapagos regardless of the wind as we can’t risk having to reef it back down, it would be difficult and dangerous without the vang in place. 

Later that afternoon I have a bird bath, filling the bathroom sink with water and splash around to get clean. The water seems to feel a little salty so I take a mouth full and sure enough it is.  The only possibility is that the tank vent on deck has failed and when we bury the rail salt water backs into the valve and fills the tank.  Thankfully don’t drink our tank water but carry 2 X 22 litre water jugs for drinking so we are not in any danger. I don’t say anything, too defeated to bother and besides I will be wetter and saltier when I am sitting on watch.  I am beginning to dislike Fridays.

Five days after departing Isla Cocos we are approaching the equator.  The wind has dropped off so much that we are averaging 3 kts instead of 6kts but this also brings clearer skies and a chance to dry out so we enjoy a slow day in the sun shine and make plans for the equatorial crossing.  We have both crossed the equator on boats before, Steve several times, so a little of the excitement is lost on us.  But that we made it here on our own boat feels like quite an accomplishment and so a little celebration is called for.  As the afternoon slips by it is becomes painfully obvious that with the ever decreasing wind we will be celebrating sometime in the middle of the night and someone will be pulled out of a warm, dry, comfortable bunk (the first time since we left) to do so.  But when midnight rolls around and I give Steve a shake to tell him it’s half a mile to the equator he doesn’t complain. I set up the camera, pour a little Rum for Steve and a little Cognac for me and we watch the GPS go 00.00N to 00.00S (yes we were actually going that slow!) then toast to Kate and enjoy the stillness of the night and our accomplishments for a few minutes before Steve crawled back into the bunk. I tip a little Cognac into the sea to appease Neptune; I figure it can’t hurt considering the last couple of days. We are only 56 miles from San Cristobel, our first port of call in the Galapagos, hopefully we will be there by dusk.

In the morning the wind picks up a little but is coming directly from San Cristobal, along with 3 kts of current.  We are now beating to windward, unable to sail directly to our destination we will have to tack back and forth across the rhum line. Kate sails to windward well so I am confident that if the wind holds we will still make landfall today so I strip the bunks and pack up the dirty laundry in preparation of our arrival at San Cristobal. Since everything is wet with salt water we will hopefully be treating ourselves to laundry ashore rather then spending two days and 50 gallons of water doing it onboard.  I image a lovely calm anchorage tonight where we will enjoy a meal served on plates, a shower, a dry bed and a long sleep.  But it seems that although the early bird may get the worm the eager beaver jinx’s the boat.  Our usual tack angle is about 110*. This means when sailing hard on the breeze and we tack, bringing the bow through the eye of the wind, our heading will change by about 110*.  Today, with the current working against us the gap widens to 160*. For every three miles we sail in one direction we lose almost two when we tack. By mid afternoon it is apparent we will not make the harbour before nightfall and entering an unknown anchorage, although not impossible, is never a fun event.  I have heart set on being at anchor tonight and sulk for most of the afternoon before Steve brings me out of my funk and we enjoy a hot supper in the cockpit and watch another day end in a beautiful sunset.  By 4 am the wind has all but died and even Steve is getting tired of drifting and listening to what little headsail we have up flap around so we turn on the engine and motor the last 20 miles to the anchorage.  After finding a spot in the surprisingly busy anchorage we sit on the bow and enjoy a hot cup of tea together sharing the excitement of finally arriving in the Galapagos Islands.  We are fairly sleep deprived but it will be a busy day checking in with the agent (pretty much a necessity when entering the Galapagos) and getting the boat cleaned and reorganized, so best to enjoy a few minutes of calm while you can. We talk about plans for tomorrow’s exploration ashore as we are definitely not moving the boat….did I mention tomorrow is Friday?