Daily Archives: August 1, 2014

Time to punt

This morning got a whole lot worse. We made our daily trip to the battery store and found out for sure what I long suspected. There are no batteries coming to Golfito for us. The official story was “the truck went to Guanacaste” but the upshot is there are no batteries in Costa Rica for us. I woke up in the middle of the night with this very thought on my mind and when the clerk told us I wasn’t surprised. Angry, sure, but not surprised.

We left there and walked to the port captain with our official papers hoping he could give us some suggestions on how to proceed with our customs issue. I handed him Jack’s declaration, the story of the dismasting and our subsequent journey to Costa Rica, and how we are not able to go to sea until we are repaired which will take longer than the 90 days allotted to us. He read the letter, and the one from the rigger explaining what’s involved in getting a new rig to us and installed. He seemed sympathetic, then shrugged and said it’s not his problem, it’s a Customs problem. We know, we said, we were just hoping he had some suggestions for us, and we smiled.


He smiled, too, and picked up his phone. He called the Customs office and talked to the dragon lady who told him what she already told us, that at the end of our 90 days we must either leave the country or go into bond at Banana Bay Marina, both of which we know not to be true. We thanked him for trying and went to the Immigration office. We figured if we could get an extension on our visas, maybe we could get an extension on our temporary vehicle importation as well.

I handed the officer Jack’s letter, and the letter from the rigger. He read them through, then took them along with Jack’s passport to what we learned was the bossman, who shrugged and said it’s not his problem, it’s a Customs problem. We know, we said, but we thought if you would extend us an additional 90 days then Customs could also extend us. No, not possible. At least not here.

He called over another officer who has good English and had him relay to us that we have two options: go to San Jose and apply for a visa extension at the Immigration Office there, or leave Costa Rica for three days and re-enter the country to get a brand new 90-day visa. He added that we could do either one and it would be fine with them, but if we went to San Jose then after we got a visa extension we could go to the United States embassy and tell them our problem with customs. You are allowed to stay according to International Maritime Law, he said — this we know — but the local Customs officer will need to be told that by the someone at the embassy. “Because the United States rules the world,” he said. At times like this I almost wish that were true.

I stood there in tears of frustration because I haven’t been told no so many times in one day for as long as I can remember. And I’m up to here with this bureaucratic maze. “You must be happy,” the officer told me.

On the walk back home I got an email from Fabio, Roberto’s lawyer friend. He confirmed that Costa Rican law provides for our situation and told me he needs a couple of specific letters to submit with our request for an extension. One we already have, from the rigger. The other must be from a local repairman explaining that we are waiting for parts and how long it will take to effect the repairs.

Tim called Robert the Hungarian mechanic and asked him to stop by and do a letter for us, something he’s done before for others, and Tim even had a couple of them on file for reference.

While we’re working on that issue we need to solve our immediate battery problem. Our friend Don, who’s working in Medellin for a few months, emailed that we’re welcome to use his batteries until we can source a new bank for ourselves. Tim and Jack pulled the batteries out of Don’s boat and we took them back to Escape Velocity.


An hour later Jack had our four dead ones out, our two still-good ones set aside for emergency use later and Don’s two perfectly new ones hooked up and charging. We changed the settings on the battery monitor and blessed the whole thing, then went ashore to meet with Robert the Hungarian mechanic and cobble together a letter to customs about our plight.

When that was done we asked Robert if he could adapt our anchor windlass so that we’d have both a down as well as an up button. We already have parts on board but three mechanics told us we have the wrong parts and that we need either a new solenoid or a new motor in order to go both directions. We showed Robert the parts and he devised a plan, then said he wanted Jack to take him out to the boat for a look at the motor to be sure. They both came back beaming. Apparently all those other mechanics were wrong and we do have a three-wire motor and next week if all goes well we will be able to let the anchor chain out gracefully instead of the uneven gravity feed we now have that often threatens to take off Jack’s fingers. Our friend Kris will be pleased. She scolded Jack many times about our potentially de-digitizing windlass.

So with the letters send to Fabio the lawyer, the late afternoon sun throwing some charge into our substitute batteries, a plan to improve anchoring safety in the works, and happy hour fast approaching, we’re determined to end this emotional roller coaster of a day on a high note.


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Angels in the anchorage

About an hour after my tearful, angry post about our current frustrations I heard a familiar pfooooof and looked up from my coffee in time to see two dolphins making their languid way toward the mouth of the bay. I forget sometimes, locked up in my own headspace, what a gift it is to live so close to nature, what a privilege to witness life outside human constructs.

I’m chastened for whining.



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Dog days

We are in a fugue state. What was supposed to be a lovely interlude of touring and exploring while we wait for our new rig has become a stressful nightmare of bureaucracy and stasis. We get conflicting information whenever we try to resolve the situation, and given the stone wall that is the local customs agent, we can’t even go to the source.

Exacerbating our plight is that our battery bank died. Yes, it had to choose here and now, in the most expensive place we’ve ever been, to go south on us. We found a store that said they had what we need at another of their locations and they could have them here in Golfito — for three times what they should cost — in three days. That was ten days ago. And the net effect is that instead of trying to find batteries nearby and for cheaper, we make daily pilgrimages to the store only to be told “they’re on the truck” or “I’m waiting for the driver to call.” At this point I call bullshit and want to tear his head off.

Our batteries no longer take a charge at all. We have to run an engine several times a day to keep the refrigeration going; there isn’t even enough charge to start the generator. The main engines have their own start batteries. We can’t run the watermaker and of course for the first time since we’ve been here we’ve been rain free all week. With barely any water in the tank we have to haul buckets of seawater to flush the toilets. This is not fun.

So as always, our real problem is the immigration/customs thing. We had such high hopes that we could leave the boat and go touring, especially to Peru and Machu Picchu, but that’s starting to look less likely as time goes on, only because Costa Rica has decided to treat yachts like undesirables.

Our first delay was because they insist on seeing the original Coast Guard documentation — the only country we’ve ever been to that does, and a problem for many yachts that come here. So between the initial first month of dealing with the insurance claim, then the second month of trying to get our renewal document so we could get permission to stay here, we lost two lonely months mouldering in Golfito, not the paradise of crystal clear water I’d hoped for.

After presenting our new papers to customs, we were only granted another three weeks. So now, in addition to tiptoeing around waiting for our extorsion-priced batteries to arrive so we can actually leave the boat for more than a few hours at a time, we have to launch into a full court press of trying to get permission to remain in Costa Rica long enough to get the new rig shipped and installed. The attorney we spoke to never called us back, and last night we learned from a delivery skipper that we have to present ourselves to the main customs office in San Jose to apply for an extension. Why are we just learning this now???

Of course we can’t go anywhere with dead batteries, unless we discard the food in the fridge and freezer and shut the boat down and hope there’s no need for a bilge pump while we’re gone.

I am, as you can tell, furious. I’m mad that Costa Rica has been a disappointment to us so far, with the exception of my wonderful family. I’m mad that we may lose this opportunity to travel to Machu Picchu; we can’t even make plans or reservations because we don’t know from week to week how long we will be able to stay in the country. I’m mad because I’d like to learn to dive but there’s no place nearby and we can’t leave the boat. I’m mad that we aren’t getting any exercise because it’s too hot to do most things, and the water here is filthy so we can’t swim. I’m mad because the new battery bank puts a serious unexpected dent in our budget and we’re being completely ripped off. I’m mad because Costa Rica has stupid, stupid rules about yachts. I’m mad at the rude woman at the customs office who is notorious in cruising circles for making it as hard as possible for yachts to visit this country, and yet she still has a job. And I’m mad that I’m mad. I wish I could just chill and read and do little projects around the boat and be happy with that. But we’ve been doing that for two months and I’m bored to tears. We’re lonely for cruiser company.

We’re in purgatory.


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