7-15-2017 – Costa Rica to Panama

Our last week in Costa Rica we spent in Golfo Dulce, the large body of water in the south of the country, between the Osa Peninsula and the mainland to the southeast. We made a circuit, visiting several anchorages in turn. We left the hidey hole of Golfito and traveled north to a corner where an American expat couple established a botanical garden over twenty years ago. Although it’s called Casa Orchideas, they also grow lots of other types of plants, including fruit trees and other trees, landscaping plants like ginger and birds of paradise, medicinal plants, etc. They had a couple of volunteers working for them the week we visited, and we chatted with them about their travels and their volunteering experiences. They told us about seeing snakes in the gardens and enjoying the bounty of the gardens, especially fruits. We came home with a fresh coconut and an armload of mangosteens, a dark globe of sweet, tangy joy. Kathy also got a fruit that we thought smelled like passionfruit but they called a Brazilian guava, which she used to flavor drinking water for a week. The coconut was the beginning of a love affair that we’ve developed. We have since purchased and scavenged coconuts from the beach, and we’ve been learning how to process them into their water, milk, cream, meat and flour. We’re putting coconut milk on breakfast cereal and using the flour in pancakes and sweetbreads. Our latest endeavor was a batch of chocolate ice cream – vegan style.

Casa Orchidea

It turns out that Eduardo is a “flexible vegan”, by which I mean that he prefers to eat in a vegan way, but isn’t rigid with those preferences – and certainly doesn’t impose them on others. Over the last two months while he’s been with us, our diets have drifted in that direction. We are enjoying different foods (like yuca, aka cassava and manioc) and flavor combinations (like avocado with sugar and cinnamon). Dan & Kathy are both intrigued at the idea of continuing along this path, but are not really interested in being card-carrying vegans. We’ll see what the future holds, but for now you can picture us enjoying rice&beans, hummus & homemade tortilla chips, or curried butternut squash on pasta. Our diets seem to change wherever we go and with whoever we invite into our lives, and that’s been one of the unexpected pleasures of taking on crew these last few months.

After visiting Casa Orchideas, we went to the northwestern corner of the gulf, dropped our anchor and headed ashore, hoping we could find a good hike into the hills. It turned out to be less of a coherent town and more like a wide spot in the road – with a surprising amoung of road noise! We walked up the road in search of a shop with produce and found that we had missed the veggie truck by a day. Although we spent an hour or so watching the locals working in their incredibly tiny fishing launches, we decided to move on.

We went south to Puerto Jimenez, the biggest town on the gulf. Although the guidebook said it could be difficult to anchor here because the bottom was uneven, we quickly found a perfectly suitable place. The next morning we went into town to explore and reprovision. We were tickled to find scarlet macaws squawking overhead in the power lines and monkeys frolicking in the trees on the edges of town. We found a nice grocery store and bought enough food to keep us fed for the next few weeks. We were loaded down for the walk back to the dinghy, but made it back to Lungta just moments before a deluge hit. Whew!

Kingfisher on the Pulpit

The next few days were a little crazy because of some timing issues. Our three-month visas were running out in a week, and there was a big swell coming into Pavones that would make for some good surfing for Eduardo. We decided to hop over to Pavones for a couple of days immediately, return to Puerto Jimenez for a day of hiking and then go back to Golfito to check out of the country. (This meant criss-crossing the gulf a couple extra times, not a big deal but a little silly on the map.) When we got to Pavones in the afternoon the swell was indeed large, making for an uncomfortable time on the anchor. By dinnertime we changed our plans again; the swell was just too big, both for surfing and sleeping comfortably. We started the motor and returned to Puerto Jimenez (in the dark).

We had a harder time finding an anchor spot than the first day; each time we thought we had found a good place the bottom came up too quickly. On the third (or fourth?) try, we ran aground. Ugh! It was almost low tide, and the water wouldn’t come up for a few hours. The bottom was soft, so we weren’t worried; it was just inconvenient. So we dropped our anchor and let out a bunch of chain, went to bed and planned to get up at 4am to reposition. When we awoke at 4am we didn’t find the conditions we expected. There was a strong wind which had pushed us off of the shallow spot that we had been stuck on earlier. We were now in deep water, without enough chain to keep us stationary. And we were moving towards a few other boats that were moored, unoccupied and unlighted. We started the motor and tried to raise the anchor, but then things took a turn for the worse. The windlass motor got a gremlin and wouldn’t pull the anchor up, so we spent a couple of hair-raising hours using the motor to avoid hitting the nearby boats but not being able to move far from where the anchor was rubbing along the bottom. Double-ugh! Once dawn arrived we pulled up the anchor manually, by hooking a line onto the chain and winching that line in, 15′ at a time. Eduardo did most of the hauling, Kathy managed the hook, and Dan kept the boat pointing in the right direction so that there was no additional force on the anchor. Then we moved the boat to a new location and tried to lower the anchor. This time the gremlin ran the motor in the wrong direction and wouldn’t stop when we let off the button – even when power was disconnected by removing the fuse! It ended up snapping a metal “key” that connects the motor to the shaft and provides a “weakest” point in the system, thereby preventing damage to other parts that would be even more difficult to replace. Triple-ugh! We quickly rigged up our secondary anchor and dropped it so that the boat was secured. Then we spent the better part of the day disassembling the windlass to replace that key. In the process we found that the roller chain that turns the shaft had broken, perhaps part of the original failure. We had to piece together a new section from spare links. Eventually we got it all back together again and the main anchor deployed before dark. It was a very long day! We never did identify the gremlin, but have a hunch that it might have been related to all of the rain that we had been getting; perhaps some water got into the electrical system and caused a short between the windlass and another device (most likely the bowthruster, which has its own battery bank).

The next day we went back to Golfito so we could decompress a bit and check out of Costa Rica before our visas expired. While we were there, an unusual ship came to town. It is a transporter of other boats. Although they are necessarily “smaller” boats, they are not all “small”; many of them were bigger than Lungta! We dinghied out to see them load a 40′ sailboat, but the process took longer than we were willing to wait. They already had at least 15 boats on deck, and they were preparing a spot to put another one. The cranes were huge, and so were the lines they were preparing! The boat that was being loaded was going to Vancouver, Canada.

A Boatload of Boats

Checking out of the county was a breeze. We had to stop at the Immigration office, the Customs office, and the Port Captain’s office, but everyone knew what they were doing and did it in a competent and friendly manner. (We’d heard some negative stories about checking in and out of Golfito, so were just a little nervous about what our experience would be like.) Before we left on our circuit of the gulf, we had given our friends on Freya some parts to use to repair their autopilot. They were thrilled when it all finally worked; so the next morning Rafa made a Spanish specialty dish for brunch: tortilla de patate. It’s kinda like an omelette with hearty chunks of potato and onion. It’s so nice to have friends! They’re almost ready to cross the Pacific to French Polynesia. We were torn between wanting to join them and wanting them to delay and go with us next year. :-)

Very early the next day, Eduardo lowered his surfboard in the water and paddled over to Freya. They all motored down to Pavones for a day of autopilot testing and celebratory surfing. A couple of  hours later, after the sun and wind had  come up, we also pulled our anchor and put up our sails. We had a pleasant day’s sail down to Pavones and arrived in the early afternoon. We easily found Freya anchored a couple hundred yards from the surf break, and soon saw Eduardo – and both Marta and Rafa – paddling towards us. It was sad to wave one last goodbye to Freya, but perhaps we will catch up with them in the South Pacific next year. We did, however, manage to keep Eduardo! :-)

The three of us sailed overnight, south to the end of a long narrow point and around to the other side – into Panama! We had a rollicking night, with frisky winds and choppy seas. We were all glad to drop anchor in Puerto Armuelles late in the afternoon, and we slept well. The next morning we checked in to Panama. Although the official charges were less than we’d expected – because they have recently allowed cruisers to get a regular (free) tourist visa instead of a special $100 cruising visa – we paid roughly $20 to 4 different officials that we later learned were improperly assessed, essentially charging us overtime service fees during normal business hours. They even wrote us official receipts for these charges. We have encountered very little graft in our travels to date, so our “radar” was not on.

We were hoping that Puerto Armuelles would be a population center where we could find some repair parts, especially a 24V inverter to replace the one that was damaged by lightning back in Quepos. It turned out to be a much smaller town than we’d expected, but many people pointed us to a nearby border town that they said carried many items at great prices. So the next day we caught a bus to Paso Canoas and went to see what we could find. The hour-long bus ride was unremarkable, but it was fun to be on the road for a change. The town was like your usual border town, except ever-so-much-more-so. In addition to the plethora of auto repair shops, barber shops and hole-in-the-wall eateries, there were malls, yes malls, with clothing, furniture, electronics, etc. Many of the stores straddled the border,and with entrances in both countries (and no officials checking paperwork). It seemed an odd arrangement. We looked hard for a 24V inverter, and managed to find one at the very end of the day. Yay! There was a crowd waiting for the same bus as us and there was some impatient jostling to get on, so there was standing room only, but we made it back before dark. It felt like a successful outing!

The weather in Panama seemed immediately distinctly different than that of Costa Rica, even though we were less than 50 miles away. We’ve read that the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce have a climate of their own, and our experience sure seems to support that. Although it’s the rainy season in both places, the amount of rain in Costa Rica is dramatically higher. We were getting significant rain almost every day, and ever since we crossed into Panama we have only had rain for an hour or two at a time, and roughly every few days. There is some lightning during most of these showers, but not much. We had actually gotten happy with being able to capture rain into our water tanks and are now a bit disappointed that we aren’t getting that much any more. Poor Mother Nature, she just can’t please everyone!

We had enough of civilization, and decided to move on to a beautiful spot to play. The Secas Islands were just the ticket! We sailed overnight and dropped anchor first thing in the morning right near a pretty white sand beach. There were palm trees and craggy corners where the waves crashed majestically. We took the dinghy for a short “explore” of the area and were pleased to see lots of coral heads scattered around the white sand bottom. Our view included a land bridge between two small islands which disappeared during high tide. Eduardo was thrilled at the opportunity to bring his new drone ashore and fly it in a remote tropical setting, and got some very nice footage of the anchorage with Lungta and us snorkeling in it. Hopefully he’ll put together a fun video of our time together that we can share here. We spent a couple of idyllic days here, but were starting to feel the end of Eduardo’s time with us approaching so we moved on a little further south (actually, closer to east at this point).

Catching Some Dinner

We pulled into Bahia Honda, which is a fairly large bay with two areas that boaters anchor. One anchorage is near an island with a town of about 150 people, and the other is near the home of a family whose patriarch has been greeting cruisers for many years – you could call it Town & Country. :-) We arrived as evening was descending, and decided to anchor near the town first. Just after we got our anchor down, a panga driven by a surprisingly beautiful young man pulled alongside Lungta. He had a few fruits for sale and we happily purchased a bunch of bananas and a papaya from him. Before that transaction was done a second panga arrived on the other side of Lungta carrying a man, two children and another batch of fruit. We also bought some fruit from this guy and he stuck around for quite a while, chatting and periodically asking for various items that he needed. Before we cut him off, he had asked for some shoes, a hank of line, some gasoline, some AA batteries, children’s clothing, some cookies for the kids and some pencils for their school. During his stay the first guy left and a third panga arrived with a man and woman and two children. Again we bought some fruit and shared some cookies with the kids. This man was the son of Domingo, the patriarch that we had heard about from our guidebook and a few other cruisers. This last couple was curious to see the boat so we showed them around and they stayed to chat another half hour. We learned that almost all of the land surrounding the bay had been bought about a decade ago by a wealthy American. All of the landowners walked away with a fantastic sum of money, tens of thousands of dollars in hand at one time – except for Domingo, who felt his land was more important to him than money. Today it appears that most of that money has been spent. Everyone has a nice panga and a fairly new outboard. All three men had commented on our outboard motor, including asking how much it was worth, which had made us just a little bit uncomfortable, but this helped to explain that behavior. Apparently some people drank away much of their fortune and a few even spent it on drugs for a while. We didn’t see obvious signs of home improvements, but there was almost certainly a building boom in town for a while.

The next morning we visited the island and the town. There wasn’t that much to see. :-) It has a high point, perhaps 200 feet above sea level, which we walked up to, just because we could. There is a school there, but nobody there that Tuesday. We also visited the one store in town to get some veggies; all we came away with was a bag of potatos, a few tomatoes and a root that had an unfamiliar name. We spent the next week laughing about whether it was “yamay”, “maya”, “yuma”, “mama”, etc. (Later we found it again in a grocery store and learned that it’s “ñame”.) With nothing much to recommend it, we relocated to the spot on the other side of the bay, going around the island the long way to avoid uncharted and potentially shallow ground. As we arrived, Domingo came out in his kayak to greet us, and told us where we could anchor safely. (We had to go back out and around another islet to get to a deeper section with a flatter bottom.) Domingo had purchased a used generator unit which died after just a few hours of run-time. He was hopeful that we could help him figure out what went wrong. We spent 3 or 4 hours altogether (over 3 visits) opening it up, measuring voltages, and installing some spare parts that his friend had suggested might be the culprit, all to no avail. We were sad to disappoint Domingo, who is a very sweet man in his 80’s, with a crooked grin, a ready laugh, and a warm sense of companionship. Later the first afternoon a boat came to visit, and we met Domingo’s daughter Rosalin and her husband and 9-year-old son, both named Edwin. They invited Euardo out fishing in the morning. Although Eduardo didn’t catch any fish that day, he learned a lot about how to spear-fish. They gave us a few lobsters and we enjoyed a magnificent meal. We all went out fishing with them the next two days, with only marginal success, but the personal connection that was formed was much appreciated. We invited them to have dinner with us one night, and Edwin Jr was delighted to have an ice cream cone for dessert.

Rosalin & 2 Edwins

Just as we were returning from our last day’s fishing expedition with them, a fream storm kicked up. The wind howled, the rain came down in a torrent, the main sail somehow came partially unfurled and was banging and clanging in the strong gusts. At some point we realized that we were not exactly stationary, our anchor was dragging slowly but surely towards the far shore. We started up the motor and kept the boat in place for 15 minutes or so until the storm blew itself out. Whew! Rosalin said that she’d never seen anything like that before, and we learned later that Domingo’s corn had been flattened. We spent a few days here getting a couple of boat projects done (some more sail repairs and a new attempt to address the long-standing issue with our cuffs on the mizzen mast slipping down as the mast has shrunk over time), and then prepared to move on. It was hard to say goodbye to this sweet family, since it’s unlikely we’ll ever hear from them again. As we were pulling away, Edwin and Rosalin drove up in their boat to wave goodbye – and ask for a roll of toilet paper! What a different cultural norm than we are used to!

From Bahia Honda we made a short hop to the island of Santa Catalina. Eduardo was happy to visit another famous site, one where his father had actually visited many years ago (and broke a surfboard in two)! We tucked inside the island and found a nice place to settle in for a few days. There was already another sailboat there, but it appeared to be unoccupied. We dinghied out to give Eduardo a look at the site and figure out which break was likely to be the right one. It appeared that the most likely candidate was more than half a mile away. The swell was quite large, exciting but also a little intimidating. There was no one surfing, which was a bit surprising. The next morning we returned and eventually saw some surfers, so we dropped him off and went back a few hours later to pick him (and his happy smile) up. The swell for the rest of the forecast period was too big for his comfort level, so we only stayed a couple of days. One afternoon there was another freak wind-storm, similar to the one that we’d experienced in Bahia Honda. Again our anchor dragged under the forces of the sudden winds and we ran the motor to keep the boat in place until the storm blew over. This time there was so much rain that we couldn’t see the island for reference, and we were in a somewhat narrow channel so we didn’t have a lot of latitude. We felt for a moment as if we were driving blind, but quickly realized that our radar and compass told us all we needed to know. We ended up less than a quarter mile from where we began, but the nearby boat ended up in the channel more than half a mile from his original location. We were considering what we could do for him, but an hour or so later a panga with 3 men came out and towed the boat back to its spot. It was good to know that the owner had someone looking after the boat while he/they were away.

Santa Catalina Weather

Later that afternoon we visited the nearby beach on the little island and came away with 8 fresh coconuts that had fallen. We tried several techniques to remove the husks and eventually got them all down to the hard shell. We’ve been enjoying those coconuts for a couple of weeks now, opening one or two at a time, draining the sweet water and cutting out the meat. Often we blend a handful of the meat together with about the same amount of water, producing coconut milk that is good in most places that we had been using dairy milk before. We even made a batch of chocolate coconut ice cream, although admittedly we need to tweak the recipe a bit; although it’s quite tasty, the texture is not as creamy as we had hoped for. This is exciting, though, because it means that we can continue to enjoy (homemade) ice cream next year when we are in the islands of the South Pacific far from any dairies. (We’re spending more of our time anticipating that trip!)

Removing Husks

... is Hard Work

Our next stop came in a few hops, the first just 8 miles away. We’ve arrived in the Gulf of Montijo, which is a big body of water to the west of the last big peninsula before the Gulf of Panama. We stopped one night just inside the gulf, and motored the next day further “up-stream”. There was a strong current coming out, so we motored most of the way. We were just about a mile short of where we were headed when we hit a rock, hard, and came to a sudden, lurching stop. Ouch! Our chart showed us in 50 feet of water, but our depth sounder showed us in 9. There was a “reported” rock .15 miles away from where we sat unable to move – which was from 1953, long before the accuracy of GPS was available. It was scary as we checked all around the boat for water coming in, but fortunately found nothing. Also fortunate was that we were at nearly the lowest point in the tide for the month. In almost no time, we began to bob around (which made painful crunching, scratching sounds on the hull below). Within an hour we were floated up a few inches and were able to back up off the rocks and limp with our tail between our legs to the anchorage where we stopped for the night. It was still early in the afternoon, and we had time to pull out our dive gear and the snuba compressor so that we could jump in and inspect the damage to the hull. It isn’t pretty, and a fiberglass or wooden boat would probably have been ruined, but Lungta’s strong cement hull has once again come through wonderfully. There are many feet of scratched off paint – our newly applied bottom paint :-( – and perhaps 25 feet of the outer edge of the keel has scraped off cement as much as an inch deep and two inches wide. We may end up hauling out again in the Panama City area if we can find a place that can accomodate us (although a previous search when we were in Costa Rica didn’t look very promising). For now we are safe and dry. But we will have to continue cleaning the bottom more frequently because the damaged areas will be interesting to the critters who like to attach themselves to boat bottoms. The next day we again motored up-river as far as we thought we could go without bumping the (sandy) bottom. We’ve been anchored here for the last couple of weeks.

Bahia de Montijo

Mangroves

Subsistence Fishing

We’ve made a few excursions into the mangroves and the nearby town, but since this posting is getting long, I’ll wait until next time to tell you about this area. We expect to be here a while. This last month was exceptionally full of more extreme events, and I report them here because they’re part of the fabric of our lives. Rest assured that we are happy and healthy, and that the good things far outweigh the bad for us. I hope that each of you feels the same about your life – and if not, then it’s time to think about making some changes! :-)

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6-20-2017 – Golfito, Costa Rica

We ended our last posting from Quepos, Costa Rica, losing hope that we would be able to haul Lungta out for a long-overdue repaint, because we couldn’t find an insurance company that would write us a short-term liability only policy. As it turned out, a proactive woman at the marina was able to find an agent at the national insurance company who could do it. Although we had already talked with an agent at that company who told us it wouldn’t be possible if we only had a temporary permit for using the boat in the country, somehow that hurdle was not a problem for the new agent. Unfortunately it was quite an expensive policy; we were quoted $550 for one month. After gritting our teeth, we accepted – and then they raised the rate to $850. Ouch! But we did a little research into other options further south and coudn’t find anything significantly cheaper (and would run into the same issue with finding insurance if the boatyard required coverage). So once again we gritted our teeth and agreed.

The Marina Pez Vela in Quepos is a real class act! Their boatyard is only a couple of years old and all of their equipment is virtually new. All of the employees we met were conscientious and knew what they were doing. It was a real pleasure to haul out there. Although it was roughly twice the cost that we had previously paid for a haulout, it was a pleasant surprise to find that they did not under-quote and then pile on additional charges at the end. Our bill was just slightly LESS than we expected.

We spent 10 days with five of us (including our crew Justin, Leigh Anna & Eduardo) working diligently on the boat. The marina would not allow us to spend the night on the boat, so we stayed in the Wide Mouth Frog Hostel in town, a ten minute walk away. Although it added expense to the overall project, it also gave us a clear ending time each day, time for a dip in their swimming pool and a warm shower before dinner out. This was the first time since leaving Portland 6 years ago that Dan and Kathy had help with a haulout, and we could certainly get used to it! The boatyard pressure–washed most of the sea life that had accumulated on the hull, but there was still a lot of sanding required before it was ready to be painted. The first four days were mostly spent sanding. The remainder of our time there was spent on applying two coats of primer and three coats of paint, after which we had the marina reposition the boat on the supports so that we could sand and paint the sections that were initially covered up by the stands. In between coats of paint we squeezed in a few other projects. We installed a new transducer for our depth sounder, using the same hole in the hull as the previous one – although we did have to enlarge it, which is not a trivial task in a boat made of cement! We also put in a new hole (and installed a thru-hull fitting and ball-valve to close it off) for future use by a foot-pump that will provide seawater to the kitchen sink for washing dishes. It may reduce our total water consumption by as much as 25-30% once we complete that project! As we always seem to say after a haulout, it was a lot of work but we’re very glad we’ve done it! Many thanks to our three hard-working crew!

Bunny Suits!

 

Painting the Hull

Removing the Masking Tape

Lungta & Her Team

We went back into the water on a Friday evening, topped off our fuel tanks and drove around the corner to a guest dock where we could leave the boat for an hour while we visited the weekend produce market. We dawdled a little longer than we should have, and it was nearly dark when we motored out of the marina and back to the anchorage a couple of miles away. By the time we got there we had to anchor in the dark. Although we had spent plenty of time in this anchorage before, none of us could remember exactly where the clusters of rocks were and they weren’t all shown on our charts. Can you tell where this is going? :-( We all were happy to be sleeping back on the water again, and to be heading back out to play in and on the water! In the early morning some of us were sitting in the pilothouse before breakfast when we heard a disturbing sound – our newly painted keel bumped against some submerged rocks, crunching a few times as we spun around on the anchor chain. Ouch! We quickly started the engine and relocated 100 yards away. Later we dove to inspect the hull and found three or four small patches with the paint and a bit of cement chipped away. Our anguish was similar to someone driving a new car off the lot and getting a ding in the door during a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home! Of course, it would have been a much more serious event if Lungta was made of fiberglass.

We spent a day putting the boat back in order and relaxing, and the next day we headed south again. Since none of our crew had done an overnight passage before, they were anxious to see what it was like. It was a relatively uneventful passage, but the two of us split the night’s shifts pretty much like usual, while our crew faded away late in the night.

We stopped at an anchorage about 50 miles away, on the northern corner of the Osa Peninsula. Drake Bay is one of the places that caters to tourists interested in hiking in the Corcovado National Park or diving at nearby Isla del Caño. But when we asked around the town, we learned that the entrance fees were significant; the parks are not really set up for self-guided access. We didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for a guide, so we settled on a hike along the coastline towards the park entrance but not that far. We enjoyed several close sightings of small monkey troops and spent a bit of time snorkeling at a pretty beach (along with a few tourists that came in on tour boats). We also spent a couple of hours exploring a river estuary by dinghy. We’ve done this sort of thing several times in Mexico and El Salvador, but this is the first one we’ve done in a jungle rather than a mangrove forest. The jungle of this region is lush and nearly pristine! We turned around when we got to a section of rapids that a small group of tourists had just tubed down.

San Josecito Beach

Capuchin Monkeys

Smile!

Justin and Leigh Anna had plane tickets back to Texas in two weeks, though, so they were interested in moving further south and seeing a few more places. We did another overnight passage to Pavones, a surfing spot on the mainland just beyond the peninsula. This time all of our crew took a turn at doing a night shift. It’s not unusual for the wind to die down at night on a coastal passage like this, and when it does the sails often “flog” back and forth when the boat rolls in the swell. It can be hard on the rigging, and we had some damage on both Leigh Anna and Justin’s shifts. The first was “just” a line that chafed through and was fairly easily replaced. (The attachment point for the blocks holding the sheet to the end of the boom for one of the staysails had broken earlier and we had temporarily rigged it with a line, but it needed tweaking.) However the second failure was much more significant; as Justin summarized it when he came to our room to get some help, “the mizzen sail is in the water, but the mast is still up”. Yikes! It took a few moments to figure out what had happened, but the roller furling system had parted and the top of the sail fell into the water while the bottom stayed attached in place. The four of us spent somewhere around 30 minutes tugging the assembly back onto the boat and securing it for more attention in the morning. We spent the rest of the passage without our aft-most sail, causing steering to be a bit more difficult. Eduardo slept in the fore-most cabin, and heard none of the excitement. He was quite surprised when he came up for his shift later in the night to learn of the problems. Fortunately his shift was uneventful!

We stopped in Pavones because there’s a world-class wave there that Eduardo and Justin were both enthusiastic about spending some time surfing on – and a larger than usual swell was coming through for a couple of days. We anchored in the rolly anchorage near town and took the dinghy ashore to find some surfboards to rent. We explored the small town and managed to find a couple of longboards that suited us. Eduardo already had his own shortboard with him. The next morning Eduardo hopped out of bed just as the sun rose and paddled out to the waves for a surf session that made him dance. After he rested for a couple of hours, he went out again with Justin, Kathy & Dan to give us pointers (Justin) and instruction (Kathy & Dan). It was a fun session – but we have a lot to learn. :-) Kathy managed to stand up on a moving surfboard for perhaps more than a second – perhaps. We’ll give it another try soon! Eduardo and Justin went back out the next morning, but the peak of the big swell had passed and left somewhat unsettled seas behind. We turned in our rental boards and moved on to Golfito, where Leigh Anna and Justin could catch a bus to the capital city and its airport for their trip back to the States. It’s been fun having them with us as we learn how to live in a larger community. They brought aboard a different set of interests and perspectives, knowledge and abilities. They made the place lively with their enthusiastic love of the water, from playing in Ziji the sailing dinghy, to jumping off of the big boat, movies and TV programs on demand from Justin’s hard drive, Leigh Anna’s cooking and her new ukelele (which was enjoyed by more than just her). The place will feel a bit empty for a while without them around.

Golfito is a bay within a gulf, offering super-flat water that is really useful for getting boat projects done. The town is strung out for perhaps three miles along the shore with jungle-clad hills just behind. We took a short hike with Leigh Anna & Justin before they took off, and another longer one after we finished our major projects. The jungle is beautiful and full of birds and butterflies. This area seems to have lots of scarlet macaws, which are frequently heard screeching as they fly in pairs overhead. We saw a pair of toucans on the second hike, sitting high in a tree and repeatedly making a clear-toned high-pitched call. Although monkeys are not unusual to find once you get slightly away from the town, they are still a novelty for us.

Golfito Vista

Toucans in Profile

In addition to the shoreline (dotted with 4 small marinas and a fancy new one) and the jungle, the town’s main attraction seems to be a duty-free mall – which we spent the better part of a day in. It’s a little confusing navigating this place because of the complicated rules established in order to retain the duty-free status. Each individual has a certain limit that they can purchase per day (or per week?). You have to register before purchasing anything, but the day we went we didn’t happen to have our passports with us. However it turns out there are plenty of people willing to “sell” their quota just waiting for the opportunity. So the process was to “pre-pay” for the item and then come back later with the person whose quota it was to be applied towards. After all the purchases are picked up, there’s one final check-out station where they make sure that the quota hasn’t been overspent. We were hoping to find an inverter to replace the one that we use for our daily household devices (as opposed to the “big” one that also can handle cooking, vacuuming, and power tools); this “small” inverter was damaged by a lightning strike one night while we were in the boatyard in Quepos. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a 24V inverter, only 12V ones. We didn’t come away empty-handed, though; we found a 4-slice toaster and a big 14″ pan with a cover, both of which will prove very useful in our larger household.

We managed to repair our mizzen sail and rebuild the furling system, replace an injector which had been leaking exhaust whenever we ran our main engine and replace a damaged battery in our main bank: three major projects that were seriously impacting our capabiliity. Our power situation had been pretty challenged for the last couple of weeks, because we had temporarily taken one of the three battery banks out of service when the one battery died. We had been running the generator 2 or 3 times each day for several hours to compensate and to make sure that the fridge and freezer had enough juice to keep running. In addition to the bad battery our power system has been struggling under an as-yet not understood issue with the solar panels not producing as much power as expected and a small component in the charging system that was damaged in the same lightning strike that took out our inverter (this component measures the current going in and out, helping us manage the power, but doesn’t affect the actual charging of the batteries). We’ll get it straightened out, but don’t know when; it’s part of the fabric of our lives. And of course there’s the old saw, “cruising is doing boat repairs in exotic places”!

A couple of days after we arrived in Golfito, we heard a familiar voice paging us on the radio. Our friends on Georgia B had ended up in Golfito rather than Panama. Elizabeth had to go back to Chile quickly and John had stayed back to secure the boat so it could be left unattended for six months. We got together a couple of times before moving on again. We also met a wonderful couple on a boat called Freya. Marta and Rafa first stopped by to see if we could help them with programming their new auto-pilot. We were not able to be of much help there, but we did have a nice conversation and enjoyed several enjoyable hours together over the next few days. (In fact, we’re having dinner with them again tonight!)

This is the wet season for Central America, and they say that the Osa Peninsula’s two seasons are “wet” and “wetter”. Well apparently this “wetter” season is even wetter than most! We have had strong rain most days in the last month, and some of them have been real torrents. Every day is different, and we can’t tell in the morning what the afternoon will be like; the clouds roll in quickly and a clear morning can turn into a downpour with just a few minutes warning. We’ve rigged a water-collection setup on the awning over our back deck and have been putting some of it in our tanks, relieving some of the pressure on our watermaker. We’re scheming up an even better setup for our mid-ship deck. It should provide almost twice the water and also be less troubled by wind. Our to-do list will never run short! :-)

So life has been full of friends, exploration and repairs; just another month in our lives. :-)

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05-11-2017 – Quepos, Costa Rica

We’ve spent the better part of a month on the Nicoya Peninsula in northern Costa Rica. It’s a highly touristed region, with numerous small towns packed with hostels, cafes and surfing waves. We enjoy that scene in small doses, but tend to seek out the less visited corners.

At the beginning of the month we met our new crew, Leigh Anna and Justin, in Tamarindo, one of the busy towns. Their bus broke down an hour before arriving, so they shared a taxi with a couple of other stranded passengers. They arrived just at sunset – whew! We got a ride from a tour boat tender out to our anchored dinghy and made it home just before dark. We chose to reverse our course for the week, so that we could spend our time together relaxing and playing in places we already knew. We spent 4 nights in Bahia Guacamaya, where the snorkeling was very nice (much better than our first visit!). Justin and Dan spent an afternoon playing with the windsurfer, and came home exhausted! We swam to a nice beach one day, where we thought we might have a bonfire, but never got around to it. It was one of those lazy times where you recharge your batteries but don’t have much to say for yourself. :-) We ate well, we slept well. The end of the week loomed quickly, so we moved to Bahia Culebra, a large bay near the town where they would leave us, and made the short hop the next morning with a marvelous sail. They had a scheduled family visit, and made plans to join usJustin & Leigh Anna

After they left, we resumed our southward travel. We made a long jump, including an all-nighter, around the bottom of the peninsula to a big bay called Bahia Ballena. As we sailed into the bay in the late afternoon, we noticed some splashes nearby that turned out to be the small manta rays that we saw throughout Mexico. These guys jump frequently and apparently joyously. We once experienced a magical morning near Isla San Francisco, north of La Paz, when hundreds of them were leaping all around the bay. It was somewhere between watching a ballet and watching a pot of popcorn. :-) The more recent event was the most well-attended that we’ve seen in more than five years! There were dozens of them leaping in small groups, all around the entrance to the bay, but not inside. A wonderful sight to behold!

As we approached the anchorage in the Eastern corner of the bay, we noticed that there were already four boats there. We sailed in behind them, dropped our anchor and went to bed. :-) The next morning we saw a lot of activity on the closest beach. We went ashore later in the day, and met a Costa Rican man from one of the sailboats and his 9-year-old son. Adrian and his wife Elena live in the capital city, San José, but keep their boat, Pura Vela, in Puntarenas. His mother was also with them for the holiday week. We had a pleasant conversation before helping him launch his dinghy. Shortly afterwards we met an American ex-pat who owns some land at that end of the bay. He and his wife had a lot of family visiting for the Easter weekend, so he didn’t spend a lot of time with us, but promised to come by later in the week. We enjoyed both of these encounters and suddenly felt part of a transitory community again. That night, we heard music wafting over the water that came from an electric keyboard mounted in a mini amphitheater halfway up the hillside. It was a one-man concert, and it was very good!

A couple of days after we arrived, the Easter holiday was over and the crowds dissipated. :-) We heard that one of the nearby boats, Estrella, housed a Dutch couple and their 1-year-old son, and that they were preparing to cross the Pacific in the next few days. We stopped by one evening to wish them well, and had yet another very nice hit from the conversation. The next day they relocated to the other side of the bay in order to be closer to the town where provisioning would be easier. We were alone in our anchorage, and remained that way for the rest of our stay, another week!

Bahia Ballena Sky

We slept on deck most of that time, enjoying the cool night air and waking up to the odd calls of the howler monkeys. These guys inhabit the treetops throughout most of Costa Rica, communicating with other troops with throaty cries that sound like something between the rumble
of thunder and a Wookie (from Star Wars). We haven’t seen them here yet, but we saw them last year in Peru’s Amazon jungle and two years ago in Guatemala’s Tikal ruins. We continue to hear them most evenings as we head further down the coast.

There is a small town on the other side of the bay – about 8 miles away! We dinghied over there several times and left our dinghy tied up to a big pier that is primarily used by the fishing pangas. It doesn’t float with the tides, so after being gone for a couple of hours we had to figure out how to get in the dinghy that was now 3 or 4 feet lower than when we had arrived! One time the boat had swung around to the other side of the pier and was completely out of view – we were very nervous as we walked back along the shore that it had gone missing. What a relief to finally see it as we reached the pier! On Saturdays there is a wonderful organic market in this town. We dinghied over first thing and wandered through the rows of boxes, oohing and aahing over the basil, dill weed, kale, squash – what variety! We’ve made pesto and frozen it for many future meals, and started some dill pickles that didn’t last nearly as long. :-) We also took a bus to the next larger town, Cobano, several times. We ended up making three trips in to get a replacement inner tube for our dinghy’s wheel. It’s been sometimes inconvenient to be unable to bring our dinghy up the beach away from breaking waves and rising (or falling) tides! We thought that the hardware store had special ordered the right size for us. The first time we tried to pick it up, the bus was much later than we expected. We were told that it runs every 40 minutes, but in fact it’s about 2 hours in between – you don’t want to miss it by just a few minutes! By the time we arrived, the hardware store had closed, after their short Saturday hours. When we returned on Monday, we realized that there had been a miscommunication – the tubes they had were 2″ too big for our wheels. Isn’t life hard? :-)

We also took the bus one day to another beach town a bit further away, called Montezuma. This town is known for having a nice series of waterfalls nearby, with one that has a cliff that adventurous tourists jump off! We started to walk there, but one of Dan’s flip-flops broke only a quarter mile down the trail. He limped back to the road while Kathy went ahead to see the the first of the falls. It was a nice enough trail and a pretty cascade, but much more crowded than we would have hoped for. There will be others down the road… On one of our trips into Cobano, we ran into the folks from Estrella, doing their final provisioning before crossing to the Marquesas Islands. We had a heart-felt conversation together on the way back to the bay, and expect to meet up with them again next year in New Zealand.Montezuma Waterfall

A Basilisk on the Trail!

When we went to the Saturday market, we met the woman who owns the land at our end of the bay. When we mentioned that we were thinking of moving on to the next bay because we wanted to do some hiking, she invited us to use the trails on her property. The world is full of kind and generous people; we are lucky to have met quite a few of them! We spent a great morning wandering on the trails and roads behind their home. Some of it looked over the rocky coast beyond our bay, some of it out towards a jungle valley, and some out over our own bay. We saw lots of pretty birds, including a motmot, which has a tail with feathers that narrow down to a thread before flaring out again to form a distinctive round marker. We saw more iguanas and lizards than we could count, and one skinny snake that wasn’t happy to be seen. We were pleasantly exhausted when we returned home – we haven’t been hiking much lately, and we’d like to correct that situation!

Pistachio Fruits (with Nuts Below)

We stayed in contact with the family on Pura Vela, and arranged to meet them for the weekend at another bay about 15 miles away. We had a wonderful day’s sail across the Gulf of Nicoya to Punta Leona, where their family owns a beautiful house with an astounding view of the bay. We dinghied ashore in the morning and met Adrián, Elena and Felipe on the beach. We had a lovely “tipico” breakfast along with Adrián’s father and brother. Delightfully warm people! After breakfast, the five of us piled into the dinghy (along with a surprising amount of baggage!) and headed out to Lungta to begin our weekend adventure, sailing 40 miles south, to Quepos. This was the first time the family had done an overnight passage together (although Adrián had done one before, when he relocated the boat a year ago). They have owned their boat for about three years, but knew absolutely nothing about sailing when they got it. They spent every weekend for the first year just figuring it out. And they continue to figure it out, just at a higher level. (Isn’t that what we all do, throughout life?) We sailed through Saturday and Saturday night, and arrived mid-morning Sunday. Overall, it was a pleasant passage, with many hours of perfect sailing winds, but also a reasonable number of hours where there wasn’t as much wind as we would have liked or not coming from the right direction. :-)

When we arrived in Quepos, we anchored out in the very rolly anchorage outside the entrance to the fancy marina. We tried to find a way to get to town, but had a frustrating experience – both the marina and the “public pier” told us that we couldn’t use their dock to come ashore with our dinghy. The coast along this area is mostly rocky, even cliff-like. And the beach near town has waves breaking a long way – with surfers enjoying the ride! We learned that there is an estuary where the town’s fishing boats are kept, but it took a while for us to figure out how to get in! There’s a deep channel running along the beach inside the breaking waves, which heads right into the estuary entrance. To get to that channel, small boats can sneak along the breakwater of the marina which runs perpendicular to the beach and roughly forty-five degrees off of the “usual” swell, creating a shadow of sorts. In the right swell and tide conditions, we can hug the breakwater, take a sharp left to follow the channel along the rocky coast into the estuary. There is no formal place to leave a dinghy, but we’ve tried tying off to a boat in a small boatyard and paying the workers to watch it for us, and also tying to a barricade near a stairway that’s been carved into the 15′ cliff along the roadcliff and leaving the dinghy floating in the channel at the entrance to the estuary. Both techniques have worked for us, but both feel a little insecure. Before we figured this out, though, we were a bit discouraged.

Quepos Channel

Quepos Stairway

We decided that the rolly anchorage wasn’t a place we wanted to hang out with our friends, so we moved a mile down the coast to another anchorage that was snuggled into the crook of a point. This nook is reportedly inaccessible by road, but lots of tourist boats bring visitors daily to snorkel, kayak or sunbathe on a small beach. And we have the place all to ourselves in the evenings. On Sunday we spent a couple of hours playing in the waves along one small beach. It was really sweet watching Adrian toss his boy over the waves that were breaking onto the beach behind them. Adrian decided he wanted to jump off the boat, from the tip of the bowsprit, and he invited Felipe to join him. It was very cute watching the two of them jump, then climb out on the swim ladder, only to go back to the sprit and jump again! Felipe is a bit shy, so it was particularly endearing to see him enjoy himself unabashedly. Elena donned a windsurfing jacket and floated nearby, watching her two boys leap and squeal (well, one of her boys squealed anyhow), and calling encouraging support. Elena brought plenty of food along to feed all of us, and offered snacks at just the right moments. She also brought all the towels and bedding that her family would need; we teased her about bringing so much baggage, but her thoughtfulness was certainly appreciated.

Monday morning we picked up our crew Justin & Leigh Anna again. (The “public” pier denied us the privilege of allowing them to walk down to the dinghy, and we had to figure out the channel into the estuary and have them walk to meet us. Sheesh!) After they got settled on the boat again, all seven of us spent some time playing in the water near the boat, including some fun time pulling the windsurfer behind the dinghy and trying to surf. Late that afternoon, Dan repeated the trip to the estuary channel, carrying Adrian and family and their luggage back to town to meet Adrian’s father for the ride back home. We had such a nice time with them that it was sad to see them go.

Since their departure we’ve spent another week near Quepos. Since the anchorage has a swell rolling in pretty continuously, we’ve set out a stern anchor, a smaller anchor attached to our stern to keep us pointed in the direction of the swell, instead of allowing us to swing sideways which makes for a rolly night. Unfortunately, the anchor seems to have ideas of its own. It’s because the bottom of the anchorage is soft sand, and the anchor isn’t catching hold. The anchor is being dragged back and forth following the boat as it swings according to the current and wind. It’s actually pretty funny. We’ve tried three times to reseat the anchor, but so far no luck. Sometimes we say that sleeping on Lungta is like being a baby rocked to sleep, but this is a little more dramatic. :-)

May 1st marks the “official” start to the rainy season, and the weather has indeed changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Right now, regardless of the morning’s weather (which varies widely from day to day), we’re getting rain – often *lots* of rain – every afternoon beginning at 4. Sometimes it only drizzles, most of the time it’s a downpour, and sometimes it lasts all night! It kinda reminds us of Portland! :-) We’ve still got a few leaks in our ceilings, but we’re quickly tracking them down!

Rainy Season Arrives

We’ve been looking for a place to haul our boat out of the water, in order to paint the bottom, since before we even arrived in El Salvador. We were excited to learn that the marina here in Quepos has a brand new boatyard, with a huge TravelLift – rated at 200 tons! That’s more than enough to haul Lungta’s 64 tons, and the largest we’ve ever seen. We’re looking into hauling out here, but have not yet got all the details sorted out. The final sticking point seems to be finding a liability insurance policy, which is required by the marina. Most of the companies we’ve talked with in the last week will only sell liability insurance as a package along with full insurance, but they don’t want to insure this big old boat (mostly because it is a one-off cement hull, which is difficult to assess, and it’s not part of a population of boats with a similar history). We have a few more leads, but it’s starting to look less and less likely. While it would be wonderful to have a newly painted hull, it will certainly not disappoint us to be able to move a bit further south to where there are a couple of national parks that sound amazing… It’s all good!

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04-05-2017 – Tamarindo, Costa Rica

It’s hard to believe that we spent almost two years in one place (Bahia del Sol, El Salvador) – but we filled that time full! We made good use of the car that we bought early on, and saw many places in Central America while our boat safely rested in the Jaltepeque Estuary. We also enjoyed our longest trip away from the boat, almost two months traveling in South America. Bahia del Sol was a good place for us to accomplish many of our boat projects – short of hauling out or re-powering. We were able to have some large items shipped to us from the States, and it was quite convenient to have friends and family visit. We lived there long enough that we created our own network of “go-to” vendors, from a top-notch machine shop (Moldtrok) to a diesel lab (Manasa) to a repair shop for electric motors (Remesa). We got a custom-built propane stove from Imperial and lots of stainless steel parts from La Palma. We developed relationships with a couple of local men who refinished our cap rail (Reymundo), filled our water tanks (Deny), and cleaned the barnacles from our boat’s bottom (both of them, with helpers!). There is a small community of expats and boaters that we enjoyed socializing with while we were there, and a fairly regular stream of new faces coming in (and leaving again!).

Bill and Jean are the tireless force behind this community, organizing the El Salvador Rally to get the word out about this place as a cruiser’s destination. They not only arrange for cruising boaters to be guided safely across the entrance bar, and provide loads of advice and assistance to this community, but are also a huge boon to the local community living on the undeveloped island where they are putting together their own home. They are the focal point for many charitable activities to help the very poor families living there, including building cisterns to collect and store rainwater, acquiring the supplies and equipment needed to spray for mosquitoes that carry zika and chikungunya, providing ecologically sensitive stoves to reduce the need for firewood for cooking, and training several people in services that can provide a good living (like cleaning boats and sewing canvas). This couple has made an incredible mark on the lives of these people! Many thanks to them both!

We were very busy up to the last day, getting ready for our next adventure. It was nice to have Jonnie aboard for a few weeks before we left, so that she could settle into her new space and learn her way around. In this period, we decided to do a 5-day diet that we’ve been doing quarterly for the last year or so. Jonnie joined us on this Fasting Mimicking Diet, which leaves one very hungry – and occasionally grumpy. :-) Although it wasn’t the intent, it also turned out to be a good way to form a bond, sharing a bit of hardship, even though it was intentional. She was a real trooper! We sold our car to our friends on Isleña, who graciously shared the use of the car with us during the last week or two, even taking Jonnie to the dentist with them. On our last trip to town we were topping off our provisions when a local couple stopped us, saying that they recognized us from our boat. They introduced themselves as Luis and Lorena, and we had a short but pleasant chat in the canned foods aisle (almost made us sad to be leaving…). They have a small boat that they enjoy on weekends and have shared friendly smiles and waves across the water for the last few weeks. We were tickled that they recognized us, and also surprised to run into someone from one context in such a different one!

Sadly, SaM and David, our friends and neighbors on Isleña, who crossed the bar the same day as we did two years ago and had been planning to join us on this trip down to Panama, had a change of plans at the last minute which led them to stay behind when we left – with only three people on board a boat provisioned for five. :-) No one needs to worry about us going hungry! We added a food hammock to store some of our produce in the pantry. Jonnie has done a phenomenal job of monitoring all of the fresh produce, assuring that we enjoy all the fruits and vegetables in their prime, and introducing new foods into our routine diet. We’ve never had so much papaya, cabbage, jicama or cucumber; and we’ve been reveling in the bounty of avocados, tomatos, and in-season mangos that we “over-bought” before we left (as if that’s possible). :-)

We set a date for our departure, based on an appropriately high tide, and got one last delivery of water and one last cleaning of the boat’s bottom. Then, two days before we were to leave, it became apparent that the weather gods were not going to play along. A seasonal pattern of very high winds, beginning in the Gulf of Mexico and funneling over the Central American isthmus (how often do you get to use *that* word!?) meant that traveling conditions would be very uncomfortable for the coming week. These winds occur in a few places, most notably Costa Rica’s Gulf of Papagayo, and are often referred to by cruising sailors as “Papagayos”. We got a taste of them when we crossed Mexico’s Gulf of Tehuantepec on the way down to El Salvador (here, they’re sometimes called “Tehuantepecers”), and we were not enthusiastic about experiencing them again. So we consulted our tide tables and chose another date, 10 days out. It was a little bit disappointing, but also a bit of a relief, because we were able to do a much better job of getting the “house” ready for the rocking and rolling of the ocean’s waves. Lots of things needed to be stashed and stowed and lashed down. This is SOP when we’re underway, but when we sit in one place for a long time things have a way of finding a new resting place. It was good to have a little more time to get everything ready to go!

On the morning of Saturday the 11th, we visited the Immigration official and the Port Captain, to officially check out of the country. In the early afternoon, we placed the dinghy onto the new chocks that were built as part of our skylight project – and promptly cracked one of them in two! They will still do the job for now, but the dinghy won’t sit as securely as we’d originally intended. :-( After lashing the dinghy down, we started the motor and raised the anchor (yes, the anchor, we’d moved from our mooring ball a few days in advance, to give SaM & Dave an opportunity to settle in on our mooring ball and to make sure that our anchoring system was still in working order). We headed towards the dreaded bar, following Bill and the local pilot in a panga. We were delighted to be greeted shortly before we reached the mouth of the estuary by two people in a dinghy offering a gift bottle of wine up to us – they were the same two people that we’d met the week before in the grocery store, Luis & Lorena! How very friendly and thoughtful! We were really touched!

Going over the bar, the conditions were not as tranquil as when we’d arrived, but they were perfectly manageable. We continued to follow the pilot boat always heading for waves that looked scary, but never really encountering them ourselves. We were nervous, but all turned out well. The least depth we saw was 14 feet, which compares favorably with the 11 feet we saw on the way in – we didn’t need to furrow a channel for our deep boat. :-) We were also pleased that there were no big crashes coming from down below as we rocked from side to side, in a manner probably not described as “gentle”, but also probably not as rough as most of our peers. We had done a good job of preparing for this crossing, securing loose items that had accumulated on shelves and counters. It was a successful crossing, and we breathed a big sigh of relief as we said our goodbyes to Bill (and he turned his attention to the other boats crossing that day who also needed his attention) and made the big turn to the left.
Following Pilot Boat Over the Bar

It was wonderful to be back on the water, sailing only under Mother Nature’s powers. We knew we were really on our way when the cell towers disappeared and we lost our internet connection. :-) We sailed through the night and into the next day. The winds were pretty steady and we made consistent progress, but the seas were a bit choppy and even confused for much of the time. Jonnie was excited and nervous, and had taken some Bonine to make sure that seasickness would not cause her to be miserable. It worked, but also made her very sleepy. Dan and Kathy traded watches through the night, although not much needed to be done. We encountered a few pods of dolphins that came to say hi, and had a couple of booby birds sit on our bow pulput for a while, taking a break from their time on the wing.

The sailing was good, but a little bit hard on us and the boat. After so long away from actually sailing, both the boat and us needed some time to get back in the swing of things. We had several equipment failures that were disappointing, including our new depth display, our old radar, and our newly-repaired autopilot. The new water jacket that we put on our engine’s exhaust stack to help keep the heat from the engine’s exhaust from turning the boat’s living space into a sauna ended up putting more pressure on the water system, so that there was less water circulating through the engine. The result was a nearly over-heated engine. We were able to repair the autopilot underway (it turned out to simply be a loose connection between the motor and the hydraulic pump, so reseating the set screw at the shaft fixed the problem), but learned to live with the other issues until we could stop for a while.

We sailed through another two days (and a night), and stopped in Corinto, Nicaragua’s largest port. We arrived just after sunset and night descended as we worked our way in through the channel that was well-marked with many buoys with flashing lights. It was a challenging entry, that kept all three of us carefully watching to make sure that we stayed on course. Corinto has a constant stream of freighters stopping at the two commercial docks and off-loading containers full of cargo. When ships come in, the city’s streets fill up with semi trucks ready to carry the goods away. When we came ashore in the morning we noticed that there was not a lot of other traffic in town, except that there were quite a few pedicabs trying to drum up business by taking us to the beach or around town. But we were on a mission to get ourselves checked into the country (and get a sim-card for our hotspot so we could get connected to the internet again – it had been more than 72 hours, after all!) It was nice to have an extra crew-mate, because Jonnie was able to tend the dinghy while Dan & Kathy took care of the official formalities. We parked our dinghy in a shallow area where there were a number of small pangas and other fishing boats tied up, but realized that the falling tide would leave the dinghy up high and dry by the time we got back. Over the 90 minutes we were gone, Jonnie moved the dinghy periodically as the water retreated.

Meanwhile, Dan and Kathy found the Port Captain’s office, and waited while he rounded up officials from four different offices to process us into the country. We were seated in the lobby of the Capitania, while the officials pushed papers around behind closed doors. From time to time, one of them would emerge to ask a question, ask for a signature, or send us to the bank to pay a fee and return with the receipt. Altogether it cost us about $65 to check in. Finally they told us that we were almost clear, only needing to have a brief inspection by the immigration team. These two men, in long pants and shiny leather shoes, walked back to the dinghy with us to be transported out to the boat. There was some confusion as they contemplated wading through 9″ of mud, and eventually negotiated with a guard at the neighboring commercial docks for us to pass the gate and bring the dinghy to a ramp inside their purvue. They got things done pretty quickly, but then called their boss to sign off on things. Unfortunately the boss was busy (or somehow delayed) and it took about an hour to get that approval. The Migracion officials wrote up a long report, summarizing their wide-ranging conversation with Dan, including our careers, the original cost of the boat, the observation that we had a friend we hoped to look up in San Juan del Sur, and our future travel plans. Eventually the phone-call from the main office came in, and we got the green light. We took the officials back to the dock and moved on with life. Checking out was only slightly less officious. :-)

Corinto Commercial Docks

While in Corinto, we visited a Claro office and got a new sim-card with a Nicaraguan number for slightly more than $1 and a week’s internet package for about $8. Happy campers! We spent a couple of days catching up on our sleep and cooking some fresh meals. Dan also added a bypass to the water going through the exhaust stack, so that the pressure was reduced enough to avoid the engine over-heating problem. We wandered through the town’s streets one afternoon, and enjoyed chatting with a pedicab driver who took us back to the dinghy for less than $2. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. It has a lot of natural bounty and promise, but is still developing. The people seem generally content and kind-hearted, but also subdued and burdened.

We spent the next three days sailing down the coast. Even though we had tried to choose a good weather window, the Papagayo winds were blowing pretty consistently during this passage. We frequently had winds above 20 knots and choppy seas of up to a meter. One night just before sunset we had a challenging but somewhat laughable situation arise. The sheets controlling the jib caused both of the kayaks to pop out of their generally-secure grip between the life-lines and trail along with Lungta by their skinny painter lines. Since Lungta was moving pretty quickly at this point, over 5 knots, it was exciting to try to pull them back up onto the boat. One of the kayaks had flipped upside down and scooped up a good bit of water, so it was quite heavy. We ended up tying a halyard (a rope going to the top of the mast) to the kayak’s handle and using a winch to pull it up, hoping that the handle was strong enough to support all the extra weight. Once it was high enough, we bailed out as much water as we could and swung it over the deck where we were able to lash it down for the rest of the trip. It’s unlikely that this retelling comes anywhere close to conveying the tense moments we had as we dealt with this unexpected situation, trying to bring the kayaks on board without anyone getting hurt, and wondering if we were going to lose one or both of them! We’ve never had one pop off before, and it was surprising for both of them to jump off at the same time. We decided that it was likely because we had changed the angle of the jib sheets when we disassembled that space in order to varnish the caprail more than a year ago! Sitting unused has caused things on Lungta to work differently than before, both because of the inactivity and because of things that we (intentionally) changed.

Fishing Vessel with Bird Cloud

When we arrived in San Juan del Sur, the souternmost port in Nicaragua, we were glad to duck out of the strong winds. We were also pleased to see a familiar name: we met Elizabeth and John on the sailboat Georgia B when they visited Bahia del Sol and left a few days before us. They had already been here for four days, and hadn’t been off their boat because of the winds. As soon as we arrived the winds moderated, but were still more than we usually see in an a harbor! We were able to get to the Port Captain’s office to check in, and we spent a little bit of time wandering the town in search of a market, partially to stock up on some fresh veggies and partially just to stretch our legs. The first night there was a Saturday, and the whole town was hopping, kind of like we imagine Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale. There were several stages set up around the bay, and the music lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Sunday there was also a lot of music, much of it featuring drumming; at different times of the day we thought we were hearing Japanese Taiko drummers and high school marching bands. Fortunately it was a special fiesta, and the town was a lot tamer after the weekend. We stayed for about four days ourselves, catching up on some projects, relaxing, and waiting for a weather window to proceed on down the coast.

We repaired tears in three of our sails, including the jib, which needed to be slipped out of its 60′ track during a calm moment and slipped back in again during another calm. We gave up on that latter point before leaving, instead travelling down to our next stop without a jib. We had a great sail from San Juan del Sur into a beautiful bay in the very north of Costa Rica, Santa Elena, where we once again ran into Georgia B. We had a lovely dinner with John & Elizabeth, and also went for an afternoon hike with them. We’re not quite travelling together, but it’s been fun playing leapfrog! We enjoyed three nights in this bay that we had all to ourselves. The night we had dinner on their boat we were thrilled to see the wake from our dinghy was completely aglow – the Jetsons have nothing on us! After we got home we stayed on deck and watched lots of fish creating luminescent splashes and trails alongside Lungta. Then we noticed something a little different and got the flashlight. It turned out to be a sea snake sinuously winding its way next to the boat. Before long, we had discovered 4 of them! One of them was coiling up like a stereotypical rattlesnake, and then unwinding. Kathy thinks this might have been a mating display. We haven’t seen these snakes since that night, so perhaps there’s something to that.

Cliffs of Bahia Potrero Grande

Just around the next corner we checked into Costa Rica in the town of Playas del Coco. This is an interesting combination of tourist destination and sleepy beach town. In contrast to the check-in in Nicaragua, but true to the info in our guidebook, it took an entire day to check in. We still had four stops to make, but we had to walk from one office to the next (first the Port Captain, who gave us something to take to immigration down the road, then to immigration who gave us something to bring back to the Port Captain, and finally to customs who were located a 30-minute bus ride away at the airport). We had half a dozen taxi drivers anxious to take us to the airport for $40-60, we opted to take a local bus for just over $1 apiece (that would be 695 colones). Our information about where to find customs seems to have been outdated, and we asked a tourist information guy and a security guard before we managed to get a customs official to come out from the secured area where they process arriving airline passengers. Once we got the attention of the right person, he easily understood what we needed and quickly processed our paperwork. While we were out we also tracked down a new sim-card for our phone and internet hotspot, since we are in a new country. Hooray, internet!

We spent the next 4 or 5 days moving from one sweet bay to another. We were looking for good snorkeling and few people. I’m not sure that our search is complete, but we found a few good candidates. We snorkeled at three different places, and walked one beach. We found quite a nice variety of fishes in the latest stop, Bahia Brasilito. The water in this area is very clear, and we’ve enjoyed being able to see our anchor again from on deck. The weather is quite calm, but there is a persistent swell coming in from the south. When the winds die down in the evening, the boat turns sideways to the swell and rolls from side to side, sometimes becoming annoying. So add to the criteria a bay that is protected from this swell! We’ve stopped every night, and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets. One morning, a small pod of dolphins was seen chasing a school of needle fish, perhaps 24″ each, in towards the beach. The needlefish were skipping along the water’s surface on the tips of their tails as they tried to escape. It was a dramatic show!

Dolphins under our Sprit

Our time with Jonnie has been fun. She has really participated in the galley, more than any other guest/crew we’ve had to date. She did a lot of the final provisioning, and then took the lead in managing what produce was getting near it’s useful life. She also participated in meal planning, preparation and cleanup – all much appreciated! We eat pretty well on Lungta, and Jonnie has certainly helped to maintain that standard! Kathy has particularly enjoyed doing yoga many mornings with her. Jonnie is a yoga instructor, and encouraged Kathy to give teaching a try. So the two have been trading off leading yoga sessions on the deck most mornings this last week. It’s been a real treat! Jonnie also brought a couple of books with her that we’ve been reading aloud, as a group. It’s a slower way to read, but we’ve all found it to be very enjoyable. (Future crew, take note! :-) ) The first book is called “The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You”, a rather obscure book that Jonnie has listed among her favorites for many years, and Dan & Kathy now include it on our lists as well! After we finished that book, we were enthusiastic about doing another. She happened to have picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna”, which is a very long book, but well worth the read. Dan has even declared it his new favorite book. We finished it the night before Jonnie’s departure, after a few “marathon” sessions of reading!

Jonnie in Bahia Guacamaya

At the moment we are in the town of Tamarindo, where we have just dropped Jonnie off for her return to the States. We expect to pick up our next guests, Justin and Leigh Anna. This anchorage has the strongest surf beach we’ve visited yet, and we may end up swimming out to our dinghy rather than run it up and over the breaking waves. Always something new… It’s a good life!

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03-05-2017 – Jaltepeque Estuary, El Salvador

We’re in a busy place in time these days, and a lot has happened since our last blog update. It seems that we’re often opening our blog postings with apologies for long delays between posts. Difficult though it is, I’m resisting apologizing yet again. :-) We’re still in El Salvador, but getting close to heading out of the estuary. We’ve been immersed in our project to-do list, getting ready for our passage down to Panama and then across the Pacific. We’ve been talking with some other boaters (esp. Henry and Pamela on Rapscullion) who have been telling us wonderful things about visiting the islands on Panama’s Pacific coastline. So much so that we’ve been considering spending an entire season there, and delaying our Pacific crossing until 2018. All three of our friends who we’re hoping will join us on that trip sighed a big sigh of relief – or even did a happy dance! As we’re constantly reminded, plans in this life are always provisional, and we’re tentatively changing ours again. We’re now thinking that we’ll leave this coming weekend, cross the bar and make our way slowly down the coast to Panama. We’ll spend a few months there and then probably move on to Ecuador, where the turbulent weather of the wet season is much milder. This choice reduces the pressure to get our projects done on a specific schedule, which is much appreciated! As a matter of fact, we were intending to leave this past week when the tides got high, but strong winds made us decide to wait another 10 days or so until the next cycle of high high tides.

Our stay at the Paradise Marina lasted significantly longer than we originally expected. The rudder repair/rebuild project stretched out quite a while when we realized how much our welding equipment had degraded during the “flood” of last spring. We needed to replace many of the parts, and they were included in the freight forwarding experience that we described in the last posting. We started out tacking one edge of a piece of sheet-metal to the trailing edge of the rudder, cutting it to size/shape, and wrapping it over the top of the shaft. Then we clamped it as tight as we could and tacked it in place with the welder. Once the rest of the parts arrived, Dan went to town welding all of the edges and making sure there were no holes left. Once he got going, this last part went quickly. We painted the whole thing four times, once with a primer, and three times with bottom paint (where we used two different colors, hoping that when we see the color change that it will provide a warning/reminder that it’s time to start looking into repainting).

Painting our "New" Rudder

Installing the rudder was a whole project of its own. We had the marina team help us get the rudder into the water. Five strong men hoisted it up onto a trailer and pushed the trailer to a boat ramp next door. Dan had the brilliant idea of tying some big fenders to each end of the rudder’s shaft, just in case it was too heavy to float – we had added nearly two full sheets of sheet-metal, which weighed around 80lbs. The rudder with its two big fenders just barely floated, but “barely” was sufficient for us to tow it from the boat ramp to Lungta’s stern, perhaps 50 yards away. Once it was close enough, we tied on a halyard and hung the rudder (in the water) vertically from the top of our mizzen mast. We opened up the fill port and poured in 25 gallons of cooking oil that we’d gotten from PriceSmart, a Central American CostCo equivalent. When that ran out we jumped in the car and went looking for a local shop that could sell us some more. We got 6 more gallons, which the rudder swallowed up. As we returned from our second outing with another 5 gallons, the marina’s manager Willie produced yet another 5-gallon jug of used oil from a local restaurant that he knew. Finally the rudder was full – and we have 4 gallons of unused cooking oil sitting on our deck! :-) We put the cap back on the opening and moved on to the process of installing the rudder. Although straightforward, it turned out to be much more recalcitrant than expected. We tied lines to the top and bottom of the shaft, some pulling to the left and some to the right. We lowered the rudder until the top of the shaft was just poking into the hole in the boat’s hull, and then tried to align it with the skeg at the end of the keel. We pushed it and tugged it, manually and with ropes from all directions. We used halyards and sideways-pulling ropes from the winches and cleats on the dock. We grunted and moaned and schemed and struggled and *finally* the shaft slid up and into the hole that it belongs in. Then we were able to slip on the “boot” and secure it to the skeg. Hooray!

Moving Rudder Back Home

We had hoped to have our projects done and be back in our “usual” spot on the mooring by the time our series of visitors arrived, but it didn’t play out that way. Michael and Cate arrived the day after the rudder clicked into place. We picked them up at the airport and were all happy at how easily the relationship picked up right where it had left off. Their faces and voices were as familiar to us as if we’d seen them only a few weeks ago, when in fact it had been very close to a year. We met them on the cruise boat that we took around Cape Horn, and have stayed in contact over the last 11 months. They stayed with us for a month, testing the water so to speak, to determine whether they might be interested in joining us on our trip across the Pacific. They settled in easily and we all enjoyed our time together, although Dan & Kathy continued to spend a lot of our time working on our boat projects. These two are voracious readers, and we were surprised to find a number of books back on board that we had recently put into the book exchange. :-) We enjoyed many great conversations together, mostly in the evenings over dinner or under the stars. Michael, Cate and Dan all enjoy playing the guitar, and they spent hours teaching one another songs or techniques. We spent one afternoon at Lynn & Lou’s Sunday pool and barbecue gathering, where they had the opportunity to meet more than a dozen other cruisers. Another half day was spent poking around the mangroves on the other side of the island nearest our boat. There were lots of birds and very few people. :-) The four of us spent almost two weeks on a roadtrip to Guatemala, where we did a whirlwind tour of Antigua, San Antonio on Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Todo Santos and Semuc Champey. These were five of our top six favorite places that we’ve already visited (only missing Tikal), and provided a broad overview of what the country has to offer a traveler. Unfortunately we took turns getting sick, so most days there was *somebody* not feeling well. Our time together passed quickly, and it was a shock when the day printed on their return tickets arrived. They have gone back home to do a short contract and replenish their travel kitty, and to think about when they will be back and for how long.

Swimming at Semuc Champey Chichicastenango Market

Although we were sad to see Cate and Michael leave, we were excited that Kathy’s sister Jean was arriving two days later, with her new boyfriend James. We had a full day in between, trying to make good progress on our project list while there was no one else around who might tempt us to dawdle. :-) During this period we put our mizzen sail back up, with a new strip of sunguard in place, we replaced a leaky valve in the house water system that was causing the pump to lose its prime frequently, we secured the new skylight to the pilothouse roof, and we made progress on a half dozen other larger projects. While Jean and James were with us, we continued to work daily but also spent plenty of time visiting (but never enough!) One afternoon we again puttered around the mangroves behind the nearby island, enjoying the many birds nesting and flying overhead. These two are enjoying their new relationship, and are experimenting with new foods, new activities, learning what the other likes and what makes them tick. It’s always nice to be around a couple in love. James spent the last afternoon with us dangling a line in the water, trying to tempt a fish to play along. Although he couldn’t entice a finned friend to dance with him, he enjoyed himself and Kathy enjoyed some sister-time with Jean. Our last night together we had dinner at a restaurant with seating on a dock over the water about a mile up the estuary from Lungta – it was fun to see our boat from our table.

Family Photo

Two busy days after Jean and James left, our next crew-mate Jonnie arrived. Jonnie is also a sailing novice, and is excited but nervous about the adventure ahead of us. She’s been with us about 2 weeks now, and seems to be fitting in well. Kathy is thrilled to have a yoga partner, and we’re all enjoying the conversations and meals together. She’s been taking lots of photos and posting them to FaceBook, so those who are our FaceBook friends have already seen some of her impressions of El Salvador and our life on Lungta. A couple of nights ago we watched the sunset – and then noticed that there was a volcano erupting about 50 miles north of us! We’ve installed a handhold and an additional step to the “trapeze ladder” on Lungta’s transom, so that Jonnie (who is quite a bit shorter than either of us) can climb aboard from the dinghy more easily.

Welcome Aboard, Jonnie!

Our two biggest projects have just about been completed (at least to the level of being seaworthy). The big skylight in the middle of the boat has been replaced with a beautiful new sheet of plexiglass, and framed in a hardwood frame that Dan has crafted almost single-handedly. It doesn’t yet have the hardware that we dreamed up: latches, pneumatic shocks and a hinge. We have also rebuilt our watermaker, building and programming a control panel similar (but still not full-featured) to the original – at a significantly reduced price! Woo-hoo!

Final Touches to Skylight

We’re enjoying ourselves with Jonnie here in El Salvador, but also really looking forward to moving into the next phase of our travels. Hopefully the next post will be from somewhere beautiful a bit south of here!

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12-22-2016 – Paradise Marina, El Salvador

It’s been a busy month, filled mostly with boat projects. We did take a small break to celebrate Kathy’s birthday, driving up into the mountains for the night, we stayed in a big town called Berlin. There are some nice overlooks nearby and a hike to a lake in an old caldera that we didn’t end up doing. :-) We sat for a while in the town’s square, which was just beginning to be decorated for Christmas. Lots of people passing through, living their lives and surprised to see that there were tourists in town. We had a relaxing evening, and came back the next day feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work.

Where's Lungta?

Our ship has (finally) come in! We moved into this marina almost two months ago, intending to only stay one month. As it turns out, though, our freight shipment was delayed, both in getting it ordered and then again in its tortured progress through the customs office. We ordered quite a few items, having them shipped to a warehouse in Florida that collected our boxes until we said we were done. Our new generator was the gating item, because it turned out they build to order rather than keeping some in inventory. Once it arrived, the container was loaded and put on a ship the next weekend. Four days later it arrived in Guatemala and was trucked across the border into El Salvador. We spent more than a week after that working our way through customs, driving the 90 minutes into San Salvador four times to meet with our agent and the customs officials to keep the wheels rolling. We really saw the “sausage-making” process in action! Usually these shipments are processed under the name of the freight forwarding agent, but for various reasons he suggested that it would be a good idea to do this one under one of our names. (One reason was the size of the order, but another reason had something to do with a previous shipment having been flagged with fines, which might cause delays in subsequent shipments under the same name.) Fortunately for us, we already had the necessary identification card that we had acquired when we decided to buy a car last year. On our first trip into town, we visited three locations to try to get an account set up using this id card, but had troubles because of various people being out of the office. On the second trip into town, we went through the entire list of purchases, making sure that the agent (and his team) understood what they were so that they could categorize them correctly for the customs process. At this point, we thought we were done, but then the actual customs assessment began. A randomized “green-light/red-light” process determines the degree of inspection required for each shipment, and we unfortunately got the “red light”, the more rigorous inspection. The customs official looked through the paperwork and expressed concern that we might be trying to sell the items (illegally, since we just have tourist visas). So our third trip was to meet with her and show her that we were just a couple living on a boat which needed a lot equipment in order to continue on our way. After the morning’s review of the paperwork, we stuck around for the afternoon inspection of all the goods. In the quarantine area of the warehouse, our agent opened all of the boxes and laid the items out in the same order as they were listed on the import papers. When the customs official came by, we walked through all of the items, explaining what they did, why we needed them, and confirmed that the quantity was what had been declared. She had several questions, and suspiciously eyed the tub of thermal paste that we wanted for our electronic components that get hot enough to require heat-sinks. Ultimately she fined us $190 for the mis-classification of one of the items as a gasket instead of a belt. It seemed that she wasn’t satisfied until she found something that was out of order. After that long day, we again thought that we were done. But again we were called in the next morning to participate in the processing of the paperwork. We needed to sign the document that levied the fine, in triplicate, and then take it to a manager at another location for approval (because the manager of the location we were at was out that day). The papers were brought to three more desks for additional copies, signatures and stamps. Finally we had our clearance and the truck was called to bring our stuff out to the boat. It was after dark by the time they arrived at the marina, and the local team of workers stayed late to help unload the truck. We couldn’t have unloaded the almost 600-pound generator by ourselves! We left the three biggest items on the lawn near the marina office, and brought all of the boxes down the dock to the boat.

Still in El Salvador

The next morning was like Christmas for us! We opened all 37 of our packages, stowing electrical components here, kitchen stuff there, and parts for the welder in that box over there. We installed our replacement solar panel and got the generator placed into the newly painted hold. We had spent a week preparing the hold, including installing our bowthruster once again. This *big* motor gets installed in a hole in the floor, connected to a pair of sideways propellers that can turn the boat more quickly than the rudder when needed. Unfortunately it has gotten flooded with salt water several times over the years, when our old generator had problems related to the cooling system. Each time we vow that it will never happen again, but somehow it does. Now we are hopeful that it really will not happen again, because we are installing a new generator which should not have the same problems as the old one. (Hope really springs eternal, doesn’t it? :-) ) We have also installed a new switch which will ring a loud alarm if there is water in the hold. We are very excited about all the updates to this area of the boat! Now the cover to the lower area is on, and we are working on getting the generator installed: fuel, exhaust, cooling water, battery connections, control panel – it’s a couple of days’ work, but we’re happy that it’s all coming together. Dan is getting the welder all put together with lots of new parts, to finish up the work on our rudder. Kathy is putting a new sun-guard cover on another sail. And in between we’re catching up on lots of other smaller projects.

New Generator

Our freezer motor gave up the ghost this last month. It’s been having troubles for a few months now, so we weren’t completely surprised. We had a new motor coming in our big shipment, but it couldn’t hold out that long. We tracked down a shop to see if it could be rebuilt, but the news was not good. The commutator was completely worn down and would cost more to replace than the motor was worth. So we swapped our fridge motor in to the freezer’s place, and have been using the fridge as an ice box for the last 10 days or so. Two or three times a day we move 3 or 4 containers of ice from the freezer into the fridge and 3 or 4 different containers of water the other way. The freezer is running almost continuously (with the fridge’s motor), but it’s making ice – and we’re not short on power, because we’re at the marina. We will swap the new motor into the freezer now that it’s arrived, but we have to adapt a few parts – which necessitates another trip into San Salvador!

Clamping in the Tropics

The other major activity going on with us this month is the search for companions on our travels next year. We’ve had several people contact us and express interest. We’re still exploring the fit with some of these people, but aren’t “full” yet! If you know anyone who might be interested in joining us as we travel to the South Pacific, please refer them to our web-site, www.lungtalife.com, and have them contact us. We’re not always as nose-to-the-grindstone as these last few months! :-)

We’d like to take this moment to wish all of our friends and loved ones (those two categories are not necessarily different!) a wonderful holiday season, taking time to be grateful for the people in your lives and the bounty that we all happen to have as citizens of the 21st century. I know that there are many people on this planet who have not been blessed with as much opportunity and resources, and I feel very fortunate to be living the life I am! Thanks to each of you for supporting us and encouraging us along the way! Here’s to a wonderful New Year – 2017, here we come!

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