Sailing Out Of Willits (Part 2)
by Jim Gibbons, November 9, 2016
Feb. 3 Wed. 4pm — Just woke up from a short siesta in my bunk where the air is so stale and still it rubs against my body when I move…cruising feels like this constant state of recovering from the flu. It can make you feel so lethargic, and I’m spending too much time on my back, not to mention my ass!
While laying here I’m picturing the bumper sticker I used to see back in California, “I’d Rather Be Sailing!” My bumper sticker would be “I’d Rather Be Running!” Or maybe if I had a boat it would be on the transom and say, “I’d Rather Be Driving!”
Last night we had 35 to 40 knot winds (according to the Illusion, a boat a few miles behind us), and we were flying at 8 knots even though the hulls cruising speed is only seven, and both mainsail and foresail were reefed!
Feb. 4 Thursday — Chris just did a fix and figures we’re 48 miles from Puerto Madero, where the captain on the Francis L promised to have a few cold beers waiting for us. We don’t even know the guy, but he heard on the ham that we’ve been out of beer for two days and feels for us.
Chris and Donna have been really accurate with their “fixes,” thanks to the Sat-Nav System A-310, which gives the longitude and latitude by receiving a satellite signal.
“Pretty cool, huh? A little introduction to the space-age navigation,” he says after showing me some of the stuff it can do.
While stripped down and relaxing on deck with the Walkman in my ear, Chris tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Put your pants on,” and pointed at a panga approaching with two fishermen indicating they wanted a tow because they were low on fuel. They threw us a line and we towed them for about an hour before they gestured to be let loose.
I untied them and they came along side and gave us a 3-ft long, 20 lb. shark we later identified in the Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes of North America as a Dusky shark. They also gave us a Pequena Biblia (little bible) and some green fish line with a small hook. I took a few photos as they putted away, and then took my clothes back off.
Chris was pleased with his little 271 Jimmy diesel that hardly showed any strain during the tow, and says, “It’s been doing this kind of work for forty years!”
Feb.5 Friday — We made it into Puerto Madero last night before dark, and before we finished setting our anchor Ron on the Francis L rowed over with three cold beers. Nice guy. He and his wife will be leaving Monday, like most of us, when we get our papers.
Then a guy from the Annie Lyon dropped over with his 4-year old and gave us a lot of “negative information.” When he left we all looked at each other, feeling a bit bummed, so I said, “Hey, let’s get a second opinion, as we might do if we didn’t like a doctor’s diagnosis.”
Sure enough, turns out he has a reputation for conflicting, negative information. So we took his info with a grain (chunk?) of salt.
After visiting our new boat buddies we got back feeling tired and hungry and a little tipsy. I cooked some rice, steamed some beans (the last of our fresh greens) and Chris cooked up some shark steaks in soy sauce and ginger. Delicious! In fact, I just ate the last steak for breakfast before he fed it to Bella (their dog). Sorry Bella.
Chris and I just got back from shore to get ice and clear our papers with the Port Capitan. A frustrating experience because we don’t speak Spanish, and Donna, our interpreter, stayed on board. Thanks to an official named Elias who didn’t know how to smile, we were tied up so long we missed the Coca Cola truck for ice, and still won’t get our papers until Monday because today’s a Mexican holiday (don’t ask me which one).
Getting to know these yates around us is sometimes a little weird. It’s like we may have nothing in common except we’re all stuck here in this smelly little Puerto Madero through the weekend. I say smelly because of the foul brown water, and the dead fish about fifty yards up the beach where the vultures are criss-crossing.
Last night we thought Pat and Delores on the Illusion were a bit “la-de-da”—the boat brand new and perfectly clean and varnished to the max. Then today just before going to shore they call us on the ham and ask if we’d do them a favor. Would we take their garbage in for them?
We all sort of look at each other, thinking maybe they were joking, so Chris says, “Sure.” We row over there and they hand us this 55-gallon plastic garbage bag that weighs about 25 pounds.
Unbelievable! So later, as I was doing my daily “meditation” I asked Chris if he’d call them and ask if they wouldn’t mind rowing over and emptying my shit bucket and maybe wiping my ass? Har har har
Feb. 6 Saturday — Nine of us pooled our pesos and hired Gonzalo Santos to take us to Tapachula for a shopping trip. Tapachula is about 15 miles inland on the Guatemala border that’s not a tourista city like most along the coast, but we had our fearless interpreter so no worries.
Santos has a Dodge flatbed with stakes supporting plywood sheets that we held on to as we stood the entire trip, mostly because when he isn’t hauling tourists he fills the bed with sharks and hauls them to Mexico City.
On the way back we were stopped by the Federales and Santos had to pay them 10,000 pesos because he did not have a license to taxi people, only sharks.
Feb. 7 Sunday — Mosquitoes attached last night for the first time, so I had to pull the sheet over my head, but a breeze came up this morning and now it’s pretty comfy. I helped Donna tidy up a bit while Chris went over to the new boat that just got in from the Canal, and should be back soon with some interesting news.
Now Donna’s on the ham talking to someone on a boat that just finished a circumnavigation of the planet, beginning and ending in Acapulco. The ham is a really interesting, handy device. We’ve picked up people from New England, Japan, just all over the world. When people are travelling in the same direction or anchored in the same harbor, they start a “net.” Ours are with those going through the Panama Canal we call the “Class of ’88.”
Chris returned to report that Rod and Robin on the Amiga are “real people” and want to party with us after we meet with other Class of ’88 boaters about to venture down to our next rough crossing before arriving in Costa Rica, the Gulf of Papagayo. Rod and Robin were held up for a week by the gale force winds in that Gulf known to the locals as Papagayos, winds that are strongest in January and February.
Wed. Feb.10 Sunday — The night was fun but I overdid it having three shots of tequila with my beers, and smoked some pot that just appeared. Next day we left at noon and by evening I was seasick and it hung on until last night when I finally puked for the last time.
Back to Sunday night. Rod and Robin have been “gunk-holing” for seven years! Gunk-holing is hopping from anchorage to anchorage, port to port, often heading out again the very next day.
“Every day is a memory,” Rod said more than once, while entertaining us with his many cruising experiences.
“Some guy in the United States can work some 9-to-5 shift, come home watch TV and suddenly 5 years goes by.” He says this as if maybe that happened to him once. “But when you’re cruising on your boat, every day is a memory.”
“Tonight,” he went on, “we’re sitting here drinking beer and sharing our experiences and tomorrow we will be out at sea and may never meet again.”
He goes on and on, so I turn to Robin and find out she and I both graduated from Sonoma State the same year. Why is it the folks who don’t talk so much are often more interesting than those who can’t shut up? There’s a lesson for me.
Anyhow, back to the present where we’ve been hitting some pretty lumpy seas, making it hard to write. We haven’t seen another ship the past few days, which is good news, but the ham reported two boats got in trouble in the Gulf of Papagayo where we’re headed.
“Negative” Dave on the Annie Lyon went too far out and had to fight the current, which he decided was a better trade-off than staying close to shore and taking a chance of being boarded by the Nicaraguan rebels or the El Salvadorian military, not to mention the drug cartels.
Monday was a low point so far, besides my hangover, the wind died and the engine’s cooling system went out--almost simultaneously! So we’re flopping around with Chris in the hot engine room, me a worthless wreck, and Donna under the weather too.
Chris has been our hero, really patient and helpful, fixing the engine, trimming the sails, taking fixes to plot our course, cooking food, you name it, and all the while me and Donna feel like shit.
Today Chris caught a white shark about 3 feet long, but couldn’t get the hook out of its mouth without risking a few fingers. When he held it up for me to take a photo the line snapped and the shark swam away with the hook in its mouth. But later he caught a yellow fin tuna, a beautiful fish and good eating too.
Thursday Feb. 11 — We made it to Costa Rica! We’re anchored off Cabo de Santa Elena. What a relief. The last few days have been a little hairy, but mostly uncomfortable. This spot we found is protected from the fetch (big waves), but the wind has been very gusty, maybe 25 to 30 knots. We have 30 fathoms (180 feet) of chain on an 85-pound plow anchor so we should hold.
The two boats that left Puerto Madero before us--the Annie Lyon and the Francis L—are still out there bucking the big seas, current, and wino. We heard on the ham that the Annie Lyon got hit by something and is taking on 10 gallons of water every time a big wave hits, and there are plenty of big waves out there!
Hopefully, we won’t have to go rescue anybody. Chris has gotten less sleep than me and Donna combined. During my 4-hour watch he was up taking fixes and making sure we were on course. Thanks to him we’re not out there right now.
Friday, Feb.12, 5:30 am — Couldn’t sleep anymore after a big gust of wind just hit us broadside and shook the boat, making me wonder why we aren’t swinging more on our anchor. Unfortunately, the wind has picked up and is now howling through the rigging. Chris is slightly concerned because if we dragged anchor we could wind up against those rocks downwind of us.
Now Donna’s scurrying around putting things together in case we have to make a run for it. Chris tells me if I hear the Jimmy start up he will need me on deck A.S.A.P. I’m lying down here on my bunk writing this down.
Saturday, Feb.13 — Left Cabo de Santa Elena this morning at ten and found some pretty rough seas. We were flying up to 8.2 knots with only the storm jib and reefed mizzen. Lots of white caps!
Then realized we overshot our destination, Playo del Cocos, and had to motor into the wind for over an hour to get there. Ah, but the beach looked great, palm trees and civilization—but then negative Dave and his wife Rosemary and their 4-year old rowed over to tell us what an awful time they had getting here from Puerto Madero. It took them eight days!
They hit something that crunched their bow and opened their stem and water started coming in above the floorboards. They finally left after 3 hours of complaining and now it was too late to go to shore. Oh well, we couldn’t go buy anything anyway because we don’t have any colones (Costa Rican money: One calone=90 cents).
Tomorrow we see a guy named Maury, the money changer, who came here in his sailboat twenty-three years ago and is still here, which gives you an idea how nice it is. After that we get ice, beer, veggies, and a good restaurant meal. I must add, however, that Donna has slapped together some superb dishes, so it’s more just getting on terra firma and walking and running around that I look forward to.
Sunday, Feb.14 — Woke up to the sound of surf, a great sound if you’re already anchored and not sailing too close to shore at night. We’ve had a rough week, and all Class of ’88 boats going through canal together made it except the Illusion, but Chris and Donna are on the ham right now giving them some pointers on how to get here.
We discussed negative Dave’s situation this morning, and although we’d like to help, we don’t want to take him, his wife and child and two dogs (one pregnant) to Panama or anywhere!
Donna’s concerned about her weight, says she hasn’t gained any weight in 3-4 weeks, and she’s supposed to gain at least one pound a week. She knows the baby is alive and kicking, but she realizes going into her 7th month she’s taking too many risks and must leave the boat, but doesn’t want to and Chris doesn’t want her to.
Yesterday, with the wind honking about 40-50 knots we went up to the bow to pull in the storm jib. She started to go for it and I said, “I’ll get it!”
She said, “Okay,” but only because she was pregnant. I’m slowly getting to know the boat and where all the lines and halyards go without following them with my eyes to make sure, and they’re both starting to trust me more as I do more without asking questions.
We haven’t really discussed where we’re going next. The way I feel I could stay here a week. Our papers have to go to San Jose (the capitol), a 5-hour bus ride, and that’s also where the airport out of Costa Rica is located. Donna wants to fly out of San Jose back to New York to have her baby and be pampered by her family…but when?
This cruising life is anything but dull. You get great highs, but mostly because of the low lows.
Yesterday coming across the Bay of Papagayo trying to point into that 40-50 knot wind, with white water spraying us, I was feeling tired until Chris pointed to a spray of water and sure enough it was a whale off our port bow. I went up forward with the glasses to get a better look and when I looked back Chris was reeling in a bonita. For some reason that perked me up for the remainder of the leg.
Just got back from shore, first time on foot in Costa Rica. Playo del Cocos is a resort town mostly visited by Costa Ricans from San Jose. There were at least ten buses parked just on the other side of the row of beach restaurants, hotels, and bars.
Going to the post office was a real slow experience. We had four letters between us and it took two post office employees 15 minutes to put two stamps on each letter.
Chris and I stood there dumbfounded as one man stood watching as the other wetted each stamp and carefully placed them on the letter. It was a super slow motion display of exactness, and patience on our part.
Then he carefully weighed each one on a triple-beam scale, as if it were a gram of cocaine. Locating the correct stamps involved a discussion, and finally one man took my 500 colones note and disappeared.
When he finally returned with my change, I said to Chris as we walked out, “Gee, I’d hate to be in line at Christmas time.”