May 28, 2010
After six marvelous weeks of hopping between islands and bays we have finally made our way to Golfito in Costa Rica. After safe but very lumpy motoring into the wind and swells (and after attempting one hour of slow sailing) from Isla Gamez around the north end of Isla Parida, we passed south of Punta Burica around 3 am on Thursday (May 27th). Punta Burica is a narrow, unlit, and sparsely inhabited peninsula that is bisected by the national border, and while it does not share the reputation for strong currents and winds that Punta Mala has, the waves were especially large (8 – 13 ft) around it and the wind remained stubbornly on our nose even as we turned from a SW to NW heading. Randall was also startled to discover it can be a night-fishing spot for tiny wooden pangas that have no lights, do not show up on the radar, and are only visible when within 50 ft. One assumes that they will get out of our well-lit path if the fisher is awake but if not…
The messy seas (much more reminiscent of a sloppy Atlantic than I had been lead to expect by a certain Pacificophile) were presumably the result of stronger winds to our west and although sleeping was a bit of a challenge with the occasional wild rolls, at least the winds stayed below 20 knots most of the time, minimizing the hard slamming with which wind-whipped chop can punish a boat. Still, as we entered the aptly named Golfo Dulce and greeted the dawn, slowly following the navigation aids (shore-mounted range-finders and red and green channel buoys) into the entrance of Golfito harbor, the peace of increasingly calmer waters was positively exquisite.
Armed with knowledge from our previous visit by land and with the aid of our excellent cruising guides (Charlie’s Charts of Costa Rica and the Pat Rains’ Cruising Ports – it was odd not to be using Bauhaus after nearly a year in Panama) we felt as though we were coming home rather than bringing Tregoning into a new country for the first time. This sensation was further emphasized when we recognized Joss anchored near the Land and Sea Marina and as we maneuvered to drop the anchor near them, Harry hailed us on the VHF from Vahana in the nearby Banana Bay Marina. Dede came out on deck to welcome us and we recognized the names of two or three other sailboats from Panamá City or the SSB network. The three small marinas looked fairly busy but the anchorage was not crowded giving the place an intimate and friendly feel. The small, waterside town (population about 4,000) was already a hive of morning activities as we dropped anchor around 7:30am and the sounds of chickens, dogs, motor vehicles, and water taxis were reflected out to us by the steep, forest-covered backdrop.
We quickly got the dinghy in the water, put on the sail-cover and tidied up the decks before it got too hot and then rowed over to Joss to greet our long-lost friends and to learn from them the rituals of the Golfito check-in. Having been over 11 months since we last checked-in to a new country it did not hurt to be reminded of all the formalities, although the experience in Golfito was anything but formal. As Dede and Mike warned, however, it was a scavenger hunt of tiny, obscure offices that without their helpful map and directions could have been quite frustrating and took us five hours to complete as it was.
We rowed to the dinghy dock at the cruiser-friendly Land and Sea Marina (who charge $6 a day for use of their dock, showers, TV, local phone, garbage, water, common rooms, and wireless internet) and then stretched our legs walking into town to identify some of our intended destinations. We then used a taxi driver, Manuel, for three hours of roaming between offices before we sent him on his way and returned to the marina by foot and bus. The paperwork cha-cha involved: Port Captain’s office; photocopier shop for copies of our Panama zarpe; back to the Port Captain; Quarantine office; Immigration office; Customs office (in the duty-free zone at the far end of town) to find the relevant personnel were in a meeting for another 45 minutes; bank to deposit $55 for our non-existent quarantine inspection and fumigation; back to Customs to wait for the meeting to end (this is where we let Manuel leave us); back to the Port Captain’s office; and finally back to the Quarantine office. We arrived at the latter office five minutes after the friendly inspector had told us she would break for lunch but she was kind enough to help us anyway or it would have been stretched to a six-hour process. So it was time-consuming but really not very expensive (oddly, we gather that more fees are charged on leaving).
Randall, who had not slept well during his 10pm to 2 am or 6 am to 7am off-watches was distinctly dragging by the end but was substantially revived by a good afternoon nap. After putting the outboard on the dinghy (and chaining it in place securely, Golfito has a slightly unexpected reputation for dinghy/outboard theft) we joined Dede, Mike, Judith, and Harry for drinks and dinner at Banana Bay.
Harry and Judith had expected to be loading their sailboat the next day, on a ship for transport to Vancouver but the date had already been set-back twice to June 8th, apparently because their ship was delayed in Tampa Bay, Florida (perhaps related to the terrible oil-well emergency in the Gulf of Mexico). The stories that Mike and Dede had to tell of other boats in Golfito that had already been waiting for several weeks did not encourage them, especially as Harry had to return to Canada within a few days and would have to leave Judith on her own. On the other hand, Dede and Mike had wonderful stories about visiting various local nature reserves that got us all excited so that once we get ourselves a bit more settled, Judith may come with us for some inland tours on the Peninsula de Osa (on the ocean side of Golfo Dulce) where scarlet macaws, numerous other birds, and mammals can be seen.
We slept exceptionally well that night in the flat-calm conditions and look forward to the three weeks or so that we will stay in Costa Rica before heading back to Taboga. Whether we will venture very much further in Tregoning or will let her rest while we explore inland remains to be seen but knowing that we will return in the fall certainly allows us to feel more relaxed and flexible and not compelled to try to see everything that this beautiful country has to offer all at once.