Monthly Archives: August 2014

The hits just keep on coming

We took the bus to the Panama border the other day to do some shopping. It’s a very weird setup. You can go through passport control and check yourself into the country or you can walk right past some heavily armed guards and shop in a free zone all along the border. We had some shopping tips from Katie at Tierra Mar and as soon as we got off the bus Jack and I entered the zone and walked toward the Jerusalem Mall — not the kind of mall you’re thinking of — where we hoped to find some of the food items we miss that aren’t available here in Golfito.

Within ten minutes I missed my footing stepping down into a dark alleyway, rolled my ankle and did a face plant on the concrete. Ouch!! My ankle hurt so bad I saw stars and I sat on the step for many minutes waiting for the pain to subside. Eventually I stood up and put my weight on it and it didn’t seem too bad, so we very slowly walked through a couple of stores to see what they had. We felt like we were in wonderland with foods we haven’t seen since Puerto Rico, shelves and shelves of them, and not dusty and shopworn like so much in Golfito. We wished we had a car that we could load up but it was enough to see what’s available for next time. We did buy some dried fruit so I can make granola again, and some honey and blue cheese, among other things.

After a few minutes of walking my ankle started swelling up and it got more and more painful. I told Jack we’d have to park me somewhere and he’d have to do the rest of the shopping, but as we were making our way back to the bus station I saw a sign for Clinica Shalom Adonai and a sign in the window said they were open.

The girl at the desk got me an ice pack and said the doctor would be back in a half hour.


An hour later the doctor finally came back from lunch and though he said he had a little English he spoke to me in rapid-fire Spanish (is there any other kind?) Using mostly sign language and a notepad passed back and forth, he assured me that my ankle isn’t broken (yay!) but that I had “torn some fibers of the tendon.” I guess that means a sprain.


He made motions indicating that it will swell up quite a bit (it did) and he gave me a shot in the hip that he said was an anti-inflammatory. He also gave me a prescription for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory but when we checked at the pharmacy the 15 pills cost $80. Huh. I’ll take Advil. The consultation and injection cost $18.50.

We got home ok on the bus and I’ve been icing my ankle and trying to stay off it, tough to do on a catamaran where any fetch involves steps. The singlehander who came through here this week is an ER nurse and he reminded me to wrap it, too, and that has helped. So maybe in a week I’ll be back to form.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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Down, too, then left

Robert the Hungarian mechanic spent a couple of hours aboard installing a down button on our anchor windlass.


For two years Jack had to allow gravity to drop the chain. Lots of people do, but you have little control over how much and how fast the chain goes out. It’s best to lay the chain out as the boat drifts back in the wind, but sometimes the chain would drop too fast and end up in a pile on the bottom, not good for holding. With a down button, the chain will be paid out slowly and under control. Even better, if the chain gets jammed in the hawsepipe Jack will just use the other button to clear the jam. That’s the theory, anyway. We’ll test it out next time we venture off our mooring ball and anchor out.



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Rincon ride

I rousted Jack as early as I dared because we planned to ride the dinghy into the mangroves at Rincon. The place seemed so out of the way and we were hoping to see monkeys and macaws and such.


We were surprised to hear traffic noises and the binoculars revealed a road just at the water’s edge. We checked our map on Pocket Earth (a great app where you can download local maps for offline use) and saw that this is the main road to access the Osa Peninsula from the mainland. So much for wilderness.


Still, we launched the dinghy and putted up a little river that didn’t appear on our nautical chart at all but looked on the Pocket Earth map like it went under the road and carried on inland.


This is one of those times we wish we had a handheld depth sounder, but of course an oar in the water works just as well. And it was close to high tide so we had enough water beneath us that we weren’t too worried.


We didn’t get very far before the mangrove closed in on us and we couldn’t get around them. We just sat for a while and listened for wildlife. We heard an owl-like bird sound, but didn’t see anything, and most of what we heard was cars on the road which at this point we couldn’t see. Still, it was beautiful.


Back at the anchorage we beached the dinghy and walked the road about a half mile east, then turned around and went back to the only business we saw, a restaurant that appeared to be closed. When we got there a woman was outside and we asked about breakfast. Sure, she said, just give me a few minutes.



After breakfast we returned to Escape Velocity for a short run to see if a nearby reef was snorkelable.


We motored about an hour and a half to where the reef was marked on the chart, but as we’d heard from people who’d been there recently, the water wasn’t clear enough for snorkeling. Still, it was a nice spot and away from the road traffic so we dropped the hook for lunch and enjoyed the scenery.


We had a long run back to Golfito so after lunch we weighed anchored and started out. The day was clear and the water calm but along about three o’clock the clouds started rolling in and we knew we wouldn’t make it back before the rain came. But we’re sailors, we said, we get wet. No problem.


We just about got to the entrance to a Golfito Bay when the heavens opened up and visibility went to nearly nothing. Jack was cursing the worn window in the cockpit enclosure that makes seeing out a challenge, and I suggested we just wait it out for a few minutes before heading in.


We circled for a while until the rain let up enough that we could roll up the window and the skipper could see well enough to steer us into the pass. We picked up our mooring in pouring rain but we were all buttoned up within a few minutes, back inside and dry again.

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The view from the back porch

Another rainy day.


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Sunday gardening

We had a nasty squall at anchor Saturday night that bounced us around so much we didn’t even cook dinner but just lay in bed and read until it was calm enough to sleep.


Sunday dawned quiet and beautiful and we launched the dinghy and beached it at the entrance to Casa Orchidea, a private botanical garden. We thought we had timed it to exactly high tide but even after staying by the dinghy for a while to be sure it was secure, occasional big breakers swamped the poor thing and we realized we need to rethink our beaching strategy.


Eventually we entered the garden and were greeted by the owners, Ron and Trudy. We were disappointed to learn they don’t give their personal tour during the green season and they handed us a set of laminated cards for a self-guided tour.


It’s a beautiful place and they’ve amassed an impressive collection of native and imported species, but a lot of the labels were deteriorated and hard to read. I guess this is the season when they do all their maintenance and we just happened to be here before everything’s spiffed up for the tourists.



We followed the cards as well as we could and recognized many of the plants we saw in the Eastern Caribbean, like nutmeg and cinnamon, cacao and starfruit. The garden is very formal, if you can call a garden in the rainforest formal, and the owners have obviously poured a lot of love into it.





Most of the orchids were not blooming but there was still lots to see, like the various bamboos.




We were particularly delighted by a toucan having breakfast in a banana tree.




After a couple of hours it got too hot and we thanked Ron and Trudy and walked back to the beach to find Catnip totally swamped and the gas tank upended.


We relaunched and jumped in and she started right up but within a few minutes the engine sputtered and died. Damn. Water in the fuel. We paddled like crazy but it was a long way back to EV.


After a few minutes Jack tried the engine again and again it started right up, ran for a while then sputtered and died. At least we were closer, and we paddled the rest of the way. Jack cleaned out the water separator and added dry gas to the tank but while he was doing that he found a kink in the fuel line. Aha! No water in the tank, all fixed.

We hauled Catnip up, weighed anchor and motored a couple of hours to Rincon in the far northwest corner of Golfo Dulce, escorted for the last 45 minutes or so by 30 or 40 dolphins leaping and playing in our bow waves. Sorry, no photos. They’re much too fast for my old trigger finger.

We got the anchor down in a quiet cove just in time for sundowners on the front porch.



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Getting out of Dodge

It seemed so important. True, the whales were running, at least the rumors were flying around Golfito and during happy hour, which lasts for two hours at the Banana Bay Bar. Chama, with a faraway look in his eyes said his brother saw a large pod up close just outside of Golfito. That was all it took. The plan, if it could be called a plan, would be to do a quick morning grocery run and get out of Dodge. You could think of it as a vacation from stasis. We’d check out the whales, anchor at some of the hot spots on the bay and find some cleaner water for a swim.

It’s a big bay…a really big bay. We’d never even seen a whale. I know, I know, the cruising dream includes long intimate interludes of spiritual affirmation while the whale swims along platonically staring into the eyes of a watery friend with a similar philosophy.

Golfo Dulce is found only after executing a ninety degree turn, kind of a large L-shape which kills the famous Pacific swell. Once out of Golfito we chose to turn left towards the the mouth of the bay and the Pacific Ocean. Nothing. Not even a bird. It was great to be moving again but this was not going to be as easy as planned, well there was no hard and fast plan but, well you know.

All of you dear Escapees know we on EV are a resolute crew and we just assumed that we’d have to keep heading out into the Pacific…that’s just what one does, and like our good friends on Macushla always say, “keep calm and carry on” but they’re hanging out in Bonaire in the bosom of fellow friendly cruisers and French bread.

Finally the micro weather system at play here in Golfito which habitually includes copious amounts of rain asserted itself and the thunderheads began to stack up with a general darkening of the sky, which could only mean it was time for our daily thunderstorm. Ok, we here on EV know when it’s time to beat a tactical retreat. The wheel was spun and with no sails to worry about we were on a reciprocal course in no time. The rain came in sheets and with such a large open expanse we could see each individual rain cell trailing a veil of falling rain, some off in the distance and some on top of us.


The new goal was a rolly but interesting anchorage near Punta Copaiba which has a private botanical wonderland nearby specializing in orchids. With little to do we settled into passage mode which featured Marce curled up in the watchkeeper’s resting area and me keeping a loose watch.

You develop a sixth sense about these things aboard a boat. Suddenly I was aware that something had changed. I hopped out on the side deck not knowing what I was even looking for and was met with a huge exhalation and smelled a large plume of fishy water right beside EV’s starboard side. In my best stage whisper I confess I said, “MARCE! WHALES!”


I’m disappointed I’d not had the presence of mind to call out “Thar she blows!” I mean how often does one have the opportunity? I mean did I think I’d scare the thing? It’s twice as large as Escape Velocity. Marce does not wake up happily or quickly from a dead sleep but she immediately headed for the camera while I tracked the small pod. They crossed in front of us and slowly headed off into the stormy sea. Pure magic.


Then the skies opened up with a biblical deluge which made finding the anchorage a serious problem, not to mention the actual anchoring with our semi dangerous, not-quite-right windlass. We closed with the shoreline…at least we thought we were near the shore as the chart plotter had us 500 feet on the land. The charts are none too accurate down here and this shoreline featured a reef notated in the margins, so the heavy rain was obscuring the only thing I trust…my eyes. The water shoaled fast, going from hundreds of feet to sixteen in what felt like a heart beat. Marce gave the command to let go the anchor and 150 feet rattled out of the chain locker only arrested by your humble servant and my trusty heavy neoprene gloves. The rain was still pelting down obscuring the shoreline but I always get a good feeling when our anchor bites into the bottom. Engine off.



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The view from the back porch

We’re on a short ‘vacation’ from Golfito, out in Golfo Dulce to see orchids and whales. Here’s the view from our anchorage.


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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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