10-07-2017 – Panama City, Panama

How quickly time can pass by when you aren’t paying attention. ๐Ÿ™‚ We’ve been in Panama City for more than a month – so it’s time for me to update those of you “out there” who are interested in the happenings of our Lungta Life.

Panama City is the largest city in the country, and (as often seems to be the case in smaller countries) more than half of the population lives here. It’s situated on the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, which opens up near a small group of tiny islands (Flamingo, Parrot, and um, Naos) that have been connected together by a causeway. This causeway basically forms a 3-mile-long peninsula which is covered with tourist places (restaurants, souvenir shops, bicycle rental) and maritime businesses (marinas, chandleries, and a naval substation). The marinas mostly cater to a fleet of sport-fishing boats and are mostly full (and universally expensive!). There are also a couple of anchorages nestled alongside this peninsula. One is right along the path followed by boats entering and exiting the Panama Canal, so it’s pretty turbulent with all the comings and goings. The other is on the other side of the causeway, still within sight of that entrance but far enough away to miss out on much of the noise, wakes from boats, and general hustle and bustle. This is where we’ve chosen to hang out for the better part of this last month. We have a spectacular view of the city to the north of us, which sparkles with lights (and a couple of brilliant and gi-normous LCD screens). There’s a nice public dock nearby which is open to cruisers and our dinghies for no charge. It’s run by the navy who keep an eye on it 24/7.

Las Brisas Anchorageย ย Cruise Ship Going By

PC (as we’ve started to call Panama City) is a very cosmopolitan city with a huge and well-run public transportation network. They have a card-key system that works on all of the buses and the one subway line. You just touch the card to a panel as you board and it deducts your $.25 fare and shows you your balance. It’s easy and efficient. (It is a little challenging figuring out how to get a card before you board your first bus!) It’s been nice to see quite a few people just click someone else in who’s having trouble finding their card or whose balance is low; because the fares are so cheap it’s not a big deal. We had a card given to us by a boat we met a few months ago in Costa Rica, which really made it easy to get jump-started! There’s a bus that runs down the causeway about every 20 minutes, and a bus stop just at the end of the driveway at the top of the dock’s ramp. Easy-cheesey! This bus takes us directly to one of the city’s major hubs, and (at least so far) we’ve always been able to get wherever we want with another bus that comes to that hub. The hub is at the Albrook Mall, one of the largest malls either of us have ever been in. It includes three food courts, a grocery store, an office store and 2 hardware stores – often we don’t even need to go any further. We’ve branched out a bit further a few times, for a fresh produce market, Pricesmart, a dentist, and a specialty plumbing shop. We haven’t done any sight-seeing yet, but the bus into town passes the port’s facilities where containers are stored and loaded onto ships transiting the Canal, the neighborhood where Panama’s president lives, and a couple of interesting monuments.

PC in the Sunshineย ย PC in the Cloudsย  PC at Dusk

Shortly after we arrived here, our two shipments that we had arranged for in Puerto Mutis arrived. First, our new dinghy – hooray! It’s a little bit smaller – and a lot lighter – than our old one. It rides a little differently, but we’re getting used to it and are thrilled at having a dinghy again that holds in the air and holds out the water! Kathy has already made up a new set of chaps to protect it from the sun, in the hopes that this one may last us a decade or two. Woo-hoo!

New Dinghy & Chaps

Our second shipment was an assortment of mostly Amazon purchases that we had sent to a Florida warehouse where they were bundled onto a pallet and put on a ship to arrive in PC a week later. It’s worked so well that we’re already planning a second shipment. Whenever we make a big purchase, it’s almost always associated with a boat project, and this time was certainly no exception. One of the projects that we were able to complete after this shipment was the installation of a saltwater faucet in our galley, alongside the normal fresh water one. Now we’re washing our dishes in saltwater with only a rinse in fresh – should save us a significant amount of energy in desalinating water. It’s still a novelty to us, and we have been known to elbow each other out of the way to do the dishes. ๐Ÿ™‚ We also installed our new wind gauge. Our previous one was damaged by lightning in Costa Rica after only a few short weeks. Hopefully this one will serve us a good bit longer! We also got some repair parts for our power system and are now able to manage our battery charger much better. Another project that is queued up now is to replace our lifelines. The current set is steel cables which are beginning to show signs of serious rust. We’re replacing them with a synthetic fiber that is even stronger and will never rust. Installation will require some effort because they support 4 of our solar panels, but we should have it done by the end of the year. Our watermaker is still being restored to its full functionality after losing its electronics in the “near sinking” last year. With the contents of this shipment, we were able to make one more improvement to that system that makes it easier to control the watermaker manually, and without having to pull up the floorboards and move a hose from one place to another. It’s cool to see all of these upgrades to our home, and also to realize that the scale of our improvements is changing from “critical” to simple “replacement” or “improvement to existing”. Even though our watermaker is functional and getting better, we are still frequently making use of our water catchment systems on both the back awning and the boom in front of the pilothouse.

Mother Nature's Faucet

We hung out in this anchorage for about three weeks before the time was right to go visit the Perlas Islands. We’ve heard about these islands for many years and were looking forward to finally seeing them for ourselves. They are an archipelago (isn’t that a fun word! but still not as cool as isthmus ๐Ÿ™‚ ) about 30 miles south of Panama City. A full day’s sail to the closest island, and then a couple hundred islands to choose from. Most of the islands are tiny and uninhabited, a couple dozen have villages, and a few have been developed for tourism. There is a daily ferry that goes to 2 or 3 of the islands. We chose not to visit those on our first excursion. We only had 10 days (because of a dentist appointment, if you can believe that!), so we only scratched the surface. We did visit 3 islands, though! Surprisingly we only found coconuts on one of them. ๐Ÿ™‚ And we came back with a dozen – yum! One afternoon a panga approached us with a hold full of seafood to sell. When we asked how much a fish would cost, he said we could have everything for $80! We didn’t need quite that much, so we settled on 4 lobsters and two snappers for 6 gallons of gasoline. We all came away happy from that deal! Another afternoon we strolled on a white sand beach where the sand was as fine as powdered sugar. We swam in clear turquoise water (while we cleaned our hull, but hey, it started out clear!). We generally relaxed and enjoyed a few days out in nature. There are lots of whales in the area. We saw quite a few spouts and one time we saw a whale breaching up out of the water several times in a row. Wow! We caught a tuna on the way back – it was silvery with beautiful mottled blue stripes. We couldn’t definitively identify which type from our book, but it might have been a bigeye (it’s eyes were really large!). We steaked it and will enjoy it for four meals.

Isla La Minaย ย Isla Pedro Gonzales

A week or two earlier we had met a Kiwi family on a boat in PC that was bound across the Pacific. We had a couple of nice conversations with them and helped them do a last-minute repair on their engine, and then they were gone. Unfortunately this isn’t really the best time of year to cross, and they were unable to make much progress with the winds that they encountered. They changed their plans and returned to Panama. We ran into them again in the Perlas, as they were decompressing from a frustrating week at sea. Coincidentally, they had already reconnected with another boat that they had befriended previously. We spent one very pleasant evening hanging out on deck with all of these folks, while their kids played and watched movies down below. Now we’re back in the anchorage in PC and it seems a little less crowded with strangers. ๐Ÿ™‚

Back in PC, we’re attending to a little business before we head back out to the islands. Dentist appointment, check. Provisioning top-up, check. But before we can head back out, we have to find a weather window. Looks like Monday – no, Wednesday – no, Friday. Tropical Storm Nate put a crimp in our schedule, causing surprisingly strong winds here, sucking all the wind north into the Caribbean from this area. The weather here is quite variable, but generally moderate. We were surprised to have a day with winds in the 20 knot range, followed by a night in the 30’s and then a day with lots of gusts in the 40’s. Our anchor dragged early that first night, because we hadn’t put enough chain out, wanting to “fit” into a slightly tight place between other boats. Just as we started to pull it up in order to relocate back to where we started from, it began to rain. It didn’t just rain, it *poured*, for almost exactly the time it took for us to raise the anchor, motor 100 yards and drop it again. Kathy was drenched to the bone and shivering at the end of that period. ๐Ÿ™‚ Afterwards we spent a nervous night rocking uncomfortably. The next day we generally laid low while the wind played itself out, but there were a few incidents that caught our attention. There are lots of big “work boats” in this area, and quite a few of them anchor in the same area that we do. They all seem to have their stories. ๐Ÿ™‚ One of them is a former US Coast Guard vessel that is in the process of being dismantled. We hear sounds of metal work from that direction most of the day, and we’ve noticed that the pilothouse is no longer there. One day we watched three or four guys try to haul a sunken panga out of the water using a big arm, a crane on the back deck. They were unsuccessful. During the storm this boat was dragging its anchor (or mooring?) frequently, and a tugboat that is usually tied up to it was constantly tugging it back into place. It was like a rodeo. Finally they secured the vessel to a different mooring and it stayed in place the remainder of the time. In the afternoon of the second day we heard a call on the radio for help protecting a cruiser’s sailboat from another unoccupied sailboat that was dragging anchor downwind on a collision course. We hopped in our dinghy and helped push the offending boat away initially and then deploy a second anchor borrowed from another cruiser, to try to stop it from sliding backwards and also to pull it out sideways away from the “target” boat. All this in choppy seas, howling winds and stinging rain. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just another day in the life…

Stormy Skiesย ย Our Neighbor

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08-26-2017 – Panama City, Panama

We ended up spending more than a month in the gigantic Gulf of Montijo. It turns out to be an undiscovered piece of heaven. As we sailed inland, deeper into the gulf, the water became increasingly calm. We stopped when the depth got down to 14 feet at low tide. By then we had put three islands between us and the sea and we might have been on a protected inland lake. We were in the middle of an enormous, pristine inland bay. The nearest land was at least half a mile away and there was no human habitation for miles. It was as still and peaceful and quiet as anywhere we’ve ever been. It’s surrounded by mangroves, and (not surprisingly) we enjoyed a couple of dinghy trips poking into the mangrove mazes.

Mangroves of Montijo

This large body of water is roughly 10 miles at the mouth and 15 miles up to the “major” port city of Puerto Mutis. There’s a long island at its mouth, restricting flow in and out and making it subject to tidal currents. Similar to when we were in the estuary in El Salvador, we would turn 180ยฐ on our anchor every 6 hours. It’s fed by roughly a dozen rivers that drain the big Veraguas agricultural basin. The water varies from pea-soup green to latte brown from all the runoff. It is definitely not an inviting place for a swim! We are unable to use our watermaker here, because the filters would plug up in just a few minutes. Every few days we would talk about leaving soon, to top off our water tanks.

But we kept putting that departure off because we were able to capture enough rainwater to get by a little longer. We got much more frugal with our water usage, though! We didn’t do any laundry, we bathed on deck in the rain, and we used only a trickle to rinse the dishes. Dan became obsessed with watching the skies to try to predict the day’s likelihood for rain, and spiralled down into despair after a couple of dry days. ๐Ÿ™‚ We also did a few raindances, which seemed to be fairly successful. We are using the awning over our back deck, a piece of canvas roughly 7โ€™ x 7′ secured fairly rigidly to the pilothouse and a roller arm, but loose on the sides. We pull one side out further than the other, causing the water to spill to one side, where we attach a funnel with paper binder clips and clothespins. The funnel goes into a 25′ hose that runs up the side of the boat and into the deck-fill. If the wind is more than about 10 knots, especially if it isn’t directly on our nose, the awning flaps frenetically and the clips pop off. We spend more time supporting it than one might guess. ๐Ÿ™‚ But we keep refining the design, and over time it’s gotten quite effective! We’re working on another one that could be deployed quickly over the boom in front of the pilothouse, and which might be as much as 3 times the size. We had fun in a hardware store one day trying to find a set of plumbing parts that would take water from a hole in the fabric to the hose that fits our deck-fill, starting with a kitchen sink drain. We’re close to deploying this system but can’t yet report back.

We anchored about 5 miles from Puerto Mutis, an international port of entry. There are probably neighborhoods that we didn’t discover, but the town seemed to consist of one road lined with a few bars, a couple of gas pumps and one tiny grocery shop run by a Chinese woman. There is a public dock where the local fishermen (and there are a *lot* of them!) load and unload their boats. Many of them are moored in a big cluster nearby. The area is generally quite shallow, with a shifting sandy bottom. We didn’t dare bring Lungta much closer, although we are now certain it would have been possible. Yemaya, a large live-aboard dive boat, is based out of Puerto Mutis and comes in roughly every two weeks to pick up passengers and re-provision. They *must* be a similar depth to Lungta. (We talked with the owner briefly one afternoon, but oddly he couldn’t tell us what the boat’s draft was.)

There’s a very regular bus that goes from this tiny town to the much more substantial city of Santiago, 18 miles inland (but it takes an hour!). It costs $1.30 each. We found nice grocery stores here, and a couple of reasonable hardware stores. There’s even a big-box store that carries computers, office equipment and home appliances, where we found a replacement laptop for Kathy’s computer that gave up the ghost 3 months earlier – she’s a happy camper! (Her kingdom was shuttered for want of a hard drive.) It’s not a very pretty town, or walkable, but it’s much more functional than we ever expected. We passed by a kiosk outside a stripmall one day with lots of corporate logos (Target, EBay, Ford) that caught our eye. It turned out to be a freight forwarder, like we used in El Salvador. We’re excited to be putting together another shipment of “stuff we can’t live without” coming from the States (mostly Amazon) in the next month or so. We went into town once or twice a week. After the first couple of times we learned that taking a taxi back would allow us to bring back awkward items from the hardware store (like 4 gallons of paint!) and lots of bags from the grocery store, for only about $15.

The weather patterns here seem more predictable than earlier in our travels. Although every day looks quite different from the day before, we learned to recognize which direction our rain would come from. Virtually every day had rain in the area, often quite threatening looking, but most of it skirted around our particular spot. Almost everyone else would have celebrated this fact. ๐Ÿ™‚ This is the rainy season in Panama, and there are terrible stories of intense storms with lots of lightning – and serious damage to boats and even boaters. We were initially nervous about going to Panama, but then met a number of people who hadn’t had any trouble. Now we’re thinking that the troubles are more localized, for example only during the rainy season or only in the Gulf of Panama (the region around Panama City and the Canal). We don’t know why, but we just haven’t had much serious weather here. But the sunsets, oh my!

Panama Sunset

While in this remote little patch of heaven, we accomplished a few major projects. (Don’t forget that cruising is really just boat-work in exotic places. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) Kathy spent many hours putting a new sun-guard strip on the mainsail. This is the last of the sails that was missing the burgundy touch. It’s our newest sail, only about three years old, and the sailmaker put a white strip of UV-resistant dacron on it, so it wasn’t in danger of falling apart. It was a big job for the Sailrite sewing machine, and she ended up finishing it by hand at each of the corners where there are just too many layers for the machine to handle. Dan spent much of this time painting the decks and refinishing the entire caprail. He also polished some bronze fittings that now just gleam! In addition, he did some caulking around windows and various fittings around the boat. This ongoing activity has finally reduced significantly the amount of rainwater that makes it into places in the boat other than our water tanks! Hooray!

Newly Covered Mainsail

New Deck Paint

One day Dan noticed that the surface underneath the floorboards in the office was wet, and the next day it was even wetter. We removed all of the stuff that is stored underneath the 5 boards – mostly spare materials (wire, hose, stainless steel, aluminum, rubber, gasketing, etc), and our backup propeller and starter motor. The room was a total shambles, as were the galley and forward head areas, which absorbed the overflow! Kathy sponged up the water, flooded the area again with SaltAway, sponged it up again, and painted the whole area. This all took a bit longer than it might sound because all this time the leak was still happening and we were trying to track down the source. It turned out to be a *tiny* crack in the cement bulkhead near the main door to this room. We think, but haven’t been able to fully confirm, that it is leaking rainwater from somewhere above. We’ve made it more difficult to confirm by drilling a hole through that cracked spot, to allow the water to drain the opposite direction, down into a bilge rather than onto the top surface of our steel water tanks. This volunteer project caused quite a bit of consternation when we thought that we might have a serious leak (the room is below sea level, and contains several thru-hulls and lots of hoses). We also ended up cleaning up the bilge, testing its pump and replacing a stuck valve that was preventing the pump from fully emptying the bilge. We are pleased at having the area clean and painted, the materials reorganized and stowed more neatly, and the sense that the water management in that area is quite improved.

Eventually, however, we decided that we had done enough work and it was time to move on. ๐Ÿ™‚ I almost forgot to mention that we have ordered a new dinghy from a distributor in Panama City. Our old one was quite old when we bought it from a fellow cruiser and the fabric has become leaky from too much sun exposure (before the set of chaps that we added a couple of years ago). We have to pump it up daily and have patched it a few times in the last month. We haven’t ever had a new dinghy before, and it’s exciting to think that soon we won’t be dealing with the consequences of someone else’s choices. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s due to arrive in Panama City the last week of August, so we need to get that last couple of hundred miles soon. The time has come! We’re on our way…

We moved to a place along the north shore of Isla Cebaco, the island that caps the mouth of the gulf. We spent a couple of days running the watermaker, doing laundry, replacing a chock to support the dinghy on deck while we’re traveling on the ocean, and knocking out a number of small house projects. We intended to clean the boat’s bottom, but somehow didn’t manage to find a good time when the tidal current would allow it. One day a local fishing boat with 3 men stopped by to chat for a bit. We had a confusing conversation where we ended up thinking we’d been invited to come out to the house of one of the guys that afternoon at 4, after they got done fishing. We made some hummus to share and got ready to go. At 4:00 they were still fishing nearby. At 4:30 we hopped in the dinghy and zipped out to see what the plan was. There were six people happily fishing with hand lines, and they had quite a number of smallish fish – a successful outing. We talked about the types of fish they were catching and their techniques, but nothing was said about getting together later. In retrospect, we decided that they were probably inviting us to join them fishing rather than afterwards. Just before dark, the original 3 men stopped by again, while returning from tending their nets. They gave us a couple of corvina fish that they’d caught – very generous! We were so disappointed to have misunderstood what they were trying to communicate earlier! (But we have been enjoying the hummus!)

We moved on again, hoping that the next anchorage would be a better place to clean the hull, since it should have less current. Although the day began as usual with patchy cloud cover, the clouds got heavier as afternoon approached (not unusual). Unfortunately, a rain storm settled over the little bay that we intended to anchor in. With somewhat limited visibility, we were watching carefully for the rock hazards in the area. Dan pointed out an area where he thought he was seeing something uncharted breaking the surface. It turned out to be a small pod of whales, at least 4 of them coming up and spouting then descending for a couple of minutes. These were the first whales we’ve seen in quite a while! We’ve since seen several more pods. Here’s a photo that shows another obstacle we often have to watch out for: fishing nets. Fishermen who use small boats who use nets for fishing often mark the two ends of the net with floats that have flags sticking up for visibility. They don’t want a power boat with a sharp propeller to drive right over the nets! And the boater certainly doesn’t want the monofilament line tangled around his prop shaft! The flags are typically made of black plastic garbage bags. This is a good example of a pair of markers on a clear, calm day, when they are “most” visible. (Admittedly, sometimes at night they also include a small strobe light for visibility.)

Fishing Net FloatsWe arrived in the late afternoon, and dropped the anchor in a brief break in the rain. The bay looked mostly uninhabited, although there were two anchored pangas, one of which had some crew moving around, presumably getting ready for the night’s fishing. As they left, they made a big circle and came back to visit us. It turned out that they wereย the Panamanian Coast Guard, the Aeronaval. They were polite and friendly, asking us the routine questions of where we were from, where we were going, etc. Three of the five men came aboard to look at our paperwork, passports, and navigation equipment. They told us that they worked 15 day periods, and that they patrolled the northern half of the country, all the way from here to the boarder with Costa Rica. Five men in a 25 foot open boat! They left, and we had the bay to ourselves for a while. The rain persisted and got much heavier, and they ended up not being gone for long. It rained heavily all night, and we found that we rolled a lot because we were in the ocean swell. At 4:30am (after a short night of somewhat fitfull sleep), we were woken up by the sounds of voices in a very close panga trying to catch our attention. We threw on some clothes and went up on deck, to find that it was the same group of military men. They said that there was a problem with the anchor, and we were concerned that they were saying our anchor was dragging in the storm. However, they actually said that they had lost their own anchor, and needed some help! We rafted their boat up to our side and invited them onboard.

Two hours, six towels, 4 cups of coffee (and 1 hot chocolate), two apples, two packages of cookies, and a chess lesson later… another naval boat arrived and our team quickly departed. The two boats, along with a panga full of jerry jugs, tied up together for more than an hour and busily went about their business while drifting around the small bay. But it kept on raining and the group stuck around another night. A couple of hours later, the panga returned to Lungta and asked for a lighter to light a fire on shore to make some dinner. What would these guys do without us cruisers? ๐Ÿ™‚

It rained all that night and the next day. We took a down day and did nothing but hang around home reading and playing chess. The bay turned a very muddy color with all of the runoff, and we decided once again to defer cleaning the bottom until better conditions. The bay of Ensenada Naranjo is very pretty, and it’s a shame that we didn’t spend more time there, when the weather was more cooperative. There were a couple of pretty black sand beaches, lots of coconut palms bearing fruit, and howler monkeys making their usual noises. ๐Ÿ™‚ The bay is named after the orange trees that have gone native. It would have been fun to collect a few oranges for breakfast! But we’re enthusiastic to make it to Panama City, so we won’t be dawdling any more.

Ensenada Naranjo

We took off the next morning and went another 45 miles to Punta Guanico, a quiet little corner of the coast with a beautiful community of houses nestled in the hills. We saw lots of waterfalls on the cliffs along the way. Although the rains had cleared up, the winds had been sucked away. We ended up motoring most of the day and arrived late at night. Here we stayed long enough to make a first pass at cleaning the bottom. It was both better and worse than we had hoped. The sides were slightly coated in a dusty or slimy layer with only the occasional barnacle – all of which wiped off with a sponge! Wow – the first impression of our new bottom paint was exciting! Unfortunately, the entire bottom of the keel, where we have scraped off the new bottom paint on a reef, was completely covered with barnacles, growing in clumps on top of one another like condominiums! Although much of them came off in clusters, they needed to be scraped off with a tool. And many others needed some hard work to break them free of the surface. We worried that it would be difficult where the paint had been scraped from the surface, but this was far more coverage than expected. It seems that these barnacles are different than those we’ve encountered before, and that they might get in under the paint once they find an edge. This may turn out to be a significant problem that requires us to haul out again much sooner than we had planned. ๐Ÿ™

From there, we moved a short distance to Ensenada Benao. There was another threatening storm that we chose to wait out. But the next day we made the leap around the corner into the Gulf of Panama. Punta Mala (“Bad Point”) is known for strong winds and contrary currents. There’s lots of advice to choose a good weather window and give it a wide berth. But we got lucky; we had a beautiful day of sailing around the point. As we rounded into the gulf, a pod of dolphins greeted us. Shortly afterwards, Dan looked up and saw a whale in mid-breach. Wow! The water got smoother too. We’d been dealing with a swell from the south that was often directly on our beam, causing the boat to rock uncomfortably – and knock things around. Once we entered the gulf, Punta Mala generously blocked that swell, making travel that much more comfortable. Over the course of the day, we caught a good size tuna (it was delicious!), and we were visited by several more pods of dolphins and a few curious booby birds. While there seems to be a good bit of wildlife, a pleasant surprise, we were appalled to see as much plastic floating in the Gulf as we did. We spent 30 minutes together on the bowsprit just watching a stream of bottle caps, detergent bottles, shoes, labels, even toys go by. The largest item we identified was a full-size refrigerator, floating its way out to sea. Ugh! We sailed the better part of 36 hours before stopping for a break at Isla Otoque.

Dolphin Greetings

We spent a surprisingly restless night at Isla Otoque. The north winds made a racket and kicked up a choppy uncomfortable sea. We were anchored in a place that was a little steeper than ideal and the wind was headed on shore. This means that if our anchor did drag even a little bit, we could end up touching bottom – not something we wanted! So we set an anchor alarm and a depth alarm and kept an ear open all night through the noisy wind and waves. We got up when the depth alarm said we were getting close, but watched until the tide turned and things got deeper. This was a beautiful little island but we were very glad to leave it behind in the morning. ๐Ÿ™‚

We had a good day’s sail into Panama City. We had strong northerly winds to begin with, and traveled quickly for the first 4 hours. About the time we were approaching the Vessel Traffic lanes for the approach to the Panama Canal, the winds died back and we motored for a while. Pretty suddenly we went from having the whole horizon to ourselves – to being in a crowded area. There were a couple dozen ocean-going freighters and tankers anchored in between three or four small islands. There were a few pleasure boats, both sail and power, moving around in between them. We saw a ferry and a dredge and a huge workboat that appeared to do work on underwater cables. The radio traffic went from nonexistent to frequent (but professional). We are beginning to feel the culture shock! As we approached our anchorage, we passed a whale playing at the surface. We watched for a while and realized that it was two, but couldn’t figure out if it was a mother/child or coupling behavior. We both heard some whale song through the hull, so these were almost certainly humpbacks. It was an odd juxtaposition to find this natural wildlife display in what seemed to us to be an industrial area!

Whale PlaySo we’ve dropped our anchor, andย we’ll change gears again to get acquainted with a new place. We’re safe and happy; we’re having fun traveling; we’re excited to be getting a new dinghy; does life get any better?

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ย hours later, after the sun and wind had ย 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 “รฑame”.) 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 andย 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 ๐Ÿ™ – 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


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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 pressureโ€“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? ๐Ÿ™ 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 Caรฑo. 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


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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

So life has been full of friends, exploration and repairs; just another month in our lives. ๐Ÿ™‚

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 Josรฉ, 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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? ๐Ÿ™‚

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 Adriรกn, Elena and Felipe on the beach. We had a lovely “tipico” breakfast along with Adriรกn’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 Adriรกn 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 Isleรฑa, 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 Isleรฑa, 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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). ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚ ) 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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