Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the Papagayos

07:00, Monday, 17 Dec, 2012 Anchored in Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica It is absolutely calm and windless for the first time since we arrived last Friday. The Papagayo winds that buffeted us on the crossing and here at the anchorage had begun to decrease yesterday and suddenly shut down last evening. What we are left with is a beautiful mirror surface broken here and there by surfacing fish and the occasional seabird diving for a meal. Had we been up at sunrise we would have heard the parrots in the trees ashore but we’ll have to wait for sunset to enjoy that again. Fran was up at 02:00 and was amazed at the reflection of the starry sky on the water and the pop of phosphorescent particles, a truly magical scene. Our departure from San Juan Del Sur wasn’t without drama. Our newfound faith in Central American bureaucracy was dashed during our out-routine when both the Port Captain and the immigration official (different individuals from our entry processing) demanded another payment, but, what can you do? Luckily we had enough US cash to cover the extra $75. Funny, that only the cruisers get charged these extra fees. If you drive or fly into the country this never happens. We (with Nauti Moments) motored out of the bay hoping for the predicted decrease in the papagayos but, alas, it continued to blow 25-35 kts all the way across. The 4-hour washing machine-like ride was quickly forgotten when we entered this pristine bay. Our welcoming committee was a large school of rays feeding on the surface as we entered. We anchored in the lee of the northern shore in 25 ft. with a good mud bottom. With the papagayos still gusting up to 30 kts we needed a good holding and this is the best. This peninsula is part of an extensive national park system and is maintained as such. Normally we would be charged for being here but there are no attendants on this side so we get it gratis. Over the past few days we have been limited in our exploration of the bay by the high winds but today should be a much better day to see some of the more distant beaches. Yesterday we hiked up to a waterfall that was described in the cruising guide. It was a short hike mainly along a stream bed but the small waterfall and swimming hole made it all worthwhile. Later on Fran and I went snorkeling in a bay close to the boat but the sand and mud bottom was uninteresting. Earlier we had seen rays and barracuda hunting in the same area. The guidebook claims that there are hundreds of wild and exotic animal and bird species in the park but we only saw a few large cat tracks on our hike to the falls, a few hawks and some green parrots. The parrots only fly overhead at sunset, probably so that the hawks can’t see them clearly enough. They always fly in pairs but there are a few loners who squawk constantly as if to say “wait for me, wait for me”…. Fran wasn’t impressed to see a 3 ft. sea snake beside the boat one morning.
Last night we met a fisherman who took shelter here in his panga for the night. We managed to trade some beer and pop for a few small red snappers and a lobster. His 2 sons got the pop, and a few packages of Halloween red licorice. The fish and lobster were cooked right away. What the treat! We are expecting company later on today. Beverly J and Risk Taker should be on their way from San Juan Del Sur. The weather predictions state that by the weekend the Papagayos will be back to full strength so we will be departing here by Wednesday at the latest. 22:00, 20 Dec, Anchored offshore, Playa de Coco, Costa Rica Another calm and quiet anchorage; well, after 21:00 it is. There must be some kind of ordinance that ensures silence after a set hour. Last night it was closer to 22:00, after some fireworks and loud music coming from one of the shore establishments on the beach. Tonight it was lower key with a live band playing Christmas carols until closing time of about 20:00. Sunset here is about 17:30. We arrived here with Nautimoments, Beverly J and Risk Taker yesterday just before noon. The latter 2 boats had joined us, as expected, in Bahia Santa Elena and we sailed in company very early yesterday morning, hoping to get a respite from the Papagayos. They had been a bit gentler over the past few days and we were hoping the trend continued for this crossing. We had following winds and seas for the first hour but our track then took us south and, just like our trip from San Juan Del Sur, we had the wind on the beam at 12 to 25kts for most of the way. We managed to get some sails up for about an hour near the end of the passage as the wind decreased to 15 kts. As entered the bay we saw a large commercial barquentine, The Star Flyer, anchored off the town. It is a small passenger vessel offering the “sailing” experience to those who want something different in a cruise. When she left last night she was all lit up, a nice sight as she left the bay.
Today was a very busy but rewarding day. We began our in-routine into Costa Rica with a visit to the Port Captain’s office. From there we went to the immigration office, back to the Port captain and lastly to the Aduana (Customs) office near the Liberia airport. We were pleasantly surprised at the efficiency of all of these officials and the lack of any charges, so far. We must return to the Port captain after our stay at marina Papagayo, on the 27th to get our national Zarpe (travelling papers). Fishing licenses on the other hand, were a disappointment. Costa Rica is still working on a system similar to what Mexico was using 6 years ago. Everyone on board has to have a permit and the vessel must be licensed, the total would have been about $375. We can buy a lot of fish for that price so we opted to stow the fishing gear until we leave Costa Rica and hope that Panama doesn’t have any such regulation. We did manage to get money from a bank machine, do some shopping and find an internet cafĂ© where we caught up on a week’s worth of traffic. So far we have found that Costa Rica is the most expensive country we have visited in Central America. Prices are quite similar to what we are used to back home. Even fuel is upwards of $1.35 per litre, beer at happy hour prices is $1.65 and coffee, over $2.00. Their currency trades at 500 to one, so, for $100, we got 50,000 colones. We’ll be watching our pennies more on this part of the trip. 21:00, 26 Dec 2112, alongside marina Papagayo, CR Another crystal clear, moonlit night. We have been in much different surroundings for the past 2 nights. This is relative luxury over what we have experienced for a long time, in fact, since the El Cid marina in Mazatlan a few years ago, but it comes at a price that we haven’t seen since the marina at Cabo San Lucas in 2008. At $2/ft/night this is not our normal choice in a marina but for 3 nights (one night free) we decided to splurge and spoil ourselves for a few days. With unlimited fresh water, power, WIFI, laundry facilities and a pool we are not wanting. The marina is only a few years old and, actually, there are very few boats here. There are 3 super-yachts, Legacy with a helicopter, Sea Wolf with a 35 ft. sailboat and a large powerboat on its stern, Morning Glory, a 165 ft ketch,originally built and, commissioned by Rupert Murdoch and now owned by, non-other than the ex- Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi (rumoured to be hiding out hereabouts) the biggest of all, Pegaso, believed to be owned by a Mexican, telecommunications mogul. (Could that be Cartlos Slim?). It boasts a 9 mtr submarine among other amenities. We feel kind of humble being in the same marina as that kind of talent but, I guess that’s why we are paying the big bucks…..
Yesterday our four boats were joined by August Moon, another Canadian boat that will be accompanying us south. They are longtime friends of Ken and Carol and have been speeding down the coast from Mexico to catch up. Christmas was a blast here. The wide docks were perfect for dock parties for Christmas Eve and another yesterday. If you think we don’t enjoy the same fare, think again. We had Pollo Navidad (marinated chicken), turkey, ham, mashed and fried potatoes, beans and carrots, 2 different types of stuffing and another two of gravy - oh yeah, and rum cake for dessert. We waddled back to our boats.
Gosling's Christmas tree.. The
wind actually blew it over whenwe were setting it up and JG had to dive for the top portion. Luckily the water is only 25 ft deep.... Yesterday as we were setting up for the dinner there was a shriek from Nautimoments. We looked over to see a swarm of bees just above their dodger. We immediately started to spray them with hoses and that resulted in the swarm attaching itself to their yardarm flags. No amount of water could shoo them from there so the call went out to the marina manager, who called the local fire station. They arrived some time later after the bees had migrated to Nautimoments mast and looked like they were going to set up a hive on their deck light fixture. The firemen sprayed it with AFFF foam getting many down but reassured us that they would have to return several times to complete the job. Finally, after the third application and a shot of insecticide by a fireman in a bosn’s chair up the mast we think they are gone. We’ll be able to tell for sure tomorrow morning. Apparently this is a common occurrence and the firemen are the experts. Only Betsy was stung and their boat was the farthest removed of the group.
Tomorrow we will water and fuel up and move back to Playa de Coco. Friday morning we must get our national Zarpe from the port captain before he closes shop for the week. We will then be free to leave and travel anywhere in Costa Rican waters.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nicaragua - another country checked off the list.

22:00, 11 Dec 2012, at anchor in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua It is still HOT. If it wasn’t for the brisk, Papagayo winds blowing across the bay it would be unbearable in the salon. We have been here since yesterday morning after a comfortable, albeit, mostly windless 2-day motorboat ride from Bahia Del Sol. Our departure wasn’t nearly as exciting as the entry 8 months ago. Fran really enjoyed her early birthday present, a ride out on the back of the jet-ski that the guide, Rogelio, uses to lead the boats in and out. Fran was his radio operator for the morning, escorting our 3 boats out and 2 others into the bay. She hasn’t stopped talking about how much fun it was since we left.
Once settled in, sails up and heading in the right direction J-G had quite the chore, repairing one of the springs on the aft cabin door. This entails a disassembly of the entire door assembly. It definitely is not a good design and one wonders why the builders went that route. We now have used up the last spring, and will have to order more from the UK on our return home. Last night we experienced some stronger headwinds and saw some lightning inland, but, apart from the wind and a few light showers in the early morning we were spared anything serious. One of the highlights of the passage was seeing the dolphins during the night watches. The waters along the coast are rich in plankton and the dolphins leave a phosphorescent wake as they swim. On the first night the phosphorescence trail was in bright bursts of light rather than the normal wake-type trail. The other was catching a 6 lb wahoo, our first, and, for an ugly fish, he tasted really good.
We entered the bay just after sunrise to a light mist giving us fleeting memories of the Pacific Northwest. The bay has a large population of fishing pangas and some charter fishing boats but there are a few visiting sailboats, a German, Danish and another American sailboat. Beverly J is also here. This truly a picture perfect coastal town, complete with a giant statue of San Juan on the top of the hill on the north side of the bay, a long sandy beachfront and a new Japanese built fishing plant. There is a small pier adjacent to a boatyard and the Port captain’s office where passengers are off-loaded from cruise ships that stops in on a regular schedule.
Yesterday was Fran’s birthday so, along with Ken and Carol, as soon as we completed our check-in to the country, we did an afternoon Mojito run ashore. There are a number of little bars and restaurants along the waterfront where drink specials are the norm. We found a few good mojito places but none meet the standard we have set back home with the mint from our own garden. This evening we celebrated Fran’s birthday again with a wonderful dinner at the Colibri (hummingbird) restaurant. We have been in communication with our friends back home who are taking care of Rosie. All is well with and she is walking them regularly. …. We miss our guard dog but we feel better knowing she is in good hands. 20:30, Thursday, 13 Dec, Still at anchor in San Juan del Sur The wind has finally let up for the past few hours. Since we arrived the Papagayo winds have been ranging between 15 and 30 kts. The anchor is holding well and, because we are so close to shore, the waves are not a consideration, however, going ashore in the dinghy can be a wet ride. Yesterday the Star Princess anchored offshore for the afternoon. The ship is on a 30 day cruise that began in San Francisco and will end in Argentina after sailing around the horn and including a short visit to Antarctica. As is the routine, the ship disgorged hundreds of passengers to the shore trinket stands, to waiting busses and many found their way to some of the shore establishments. We met quite a few of them in a restaurant where we were testing out yet another source of mojitos. All were in high spirits about their adventure but were very curious about our lifestyle choice. We even got an invitation to stay at one couple’s place in Huatulco or Vera Cruz, Mexico. She is an ex-nurse from Bathurst NB and he is a Mexican ophthalmologist. This evening, under similar circumstances (restaurant) we met a young family who invited us to a party on the weekend (had to decline as we leave tomorrow) The parents are in the medical field as consultants and have decided to live here in SJDS for the next 6 months with their 3 children (under the age of 10). We went to Grenada today. One of the main cities in Nicaragua, it is located on the great inland lake about 1.5 hours away by road. In many ways it resembled the colonial towns we have visited further north. The museum offered a rich history of a country that went through centuries of turmoil Spanish Conquistadores, marauding pirates, JP Vanderbuilt and his shortcut to the Goldrush, the many revolutions and the still extant plan to build another Canal through the country. One of the features of Grenada is the large population of horse-drawn carriages, representative of a mode of transport that is still very much in use all over the country. We have seen many ox and horse drawn “daily drivers” on the roads.
Lake Nicaragua with volcanic Island and typical wind waves..... Nicaragua has been a very pleasant surprise for all of us. We had been told not to expect much and that the severe unemployment and lowest per capita income of all of the Americas would make this a more hazardous and bureaucratic country. On the contrary we have found the people to be very warm and cheerful and we have certainly experienced worse bureaucratic nightmares in Mexico. Although the Sandinista candidate just won the latest national election there doesn’t appear to be the political intrigue that many were expecting. We found that the country is much cleaner (trash wise) than its neighbors to the north. Also it is blessed with a large supply of fresh water so crops are diverse and plentiful. On our way to Grenada today we witnessed the considerable investment in giant wind turbines that the country has made to harness the power of the steady winds passing over the country from the Caribbean. A positive side of the low per capita income is that this is a very cheap country to live in so there are many American and some Canadian ex-pats here enjoying the simple life. Off to Costa Rica tomorrow.
Check out the top of the bus. Yes, that is a man laying on the matresses while the bus is speeding down the highway; it just passed us. Don't think they would allow that back home.....

Friday, December 7, 2012

We're finally off, well.... tomorrow

21:00, 6 December, 2012, Alongside Bahia del Sol Marina Another few days and we’ll be off and away from this backwater. If it wasn’t for the efforts of Bill and Jean, the El Salvador rally organizers, there wouldn’t be anyone here, and for good reason. It is a barely decent place to leave a boat and, as of this year, the choices are diminishing. Island Marine is up for sale and who knows what will become of the buoy field opportunities there. The buoys at the Santos facility are of poor quality and he doesn’t offer much in the way of preventative maintenance during the summer months. That leaves the marina docks. After the storm last April and observing the way the docks lost most of their flotation, cleats ripped out and decking washed away and the lack of commitment by the owner we realize that the marina is not a priority. Naughti Moments had quite a bit of gel coat damage when a cleat let go and she rubbed against the dock and Ken was told that he was lucky the hotel didn’t pursue him for ripping out the cleat….. The repairs to the facility were only superficial and it is a disaster waiting to happen…. again. But, people will keep coming, attracted by the $1 cervesas, discounts on food and mooring, but is it enough when you consider the ride in over the bar, the crappy facilities, filthy river water, and the 1 ½ hour, $90 taxi ride to El Salvador to get decent groceries and supplies? Yup, I’m ready to go. Gail and Mark (Mangareva) arrived this afternoon with the dinghy parts so that item is crossed out. While Fran went to San Salvador with a number of others for last minute shopping I stayed and tended to some last minute items. Yesterday I decided that the water-maker re-build kit had taken up enough space in the bilge so the water-maker was broken down and rebuilt with new seals. It was re-installed today and it seems to be working much better and with less leaks. All fuel tanks are full and tomorrow we top up our water tanks and check everything for departing. Fran will be busy with Immigration and Customs in the morning and tomorrow night we have a dock party. We have heard from Alan (Beverly J) a few days ago. They had gone into the Gulf of Fonseca, where El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua share the waterfront. They were boarded 3 times by the 3 different nations and finally chased out of an anchorage by the Nicaraguan navy. They motored down the coast to Corinto and didn’t find much so they are now on their way to San Juan Del Sur. After their story the 3 boats leaving Saturday have revised our plans and will most likely follow them to that port. The guides indicate that it is a pleasant anchorage with good facilities. 2100, Friday, 7 December It was a really nice pot luck dock party. The food and company were great. The work is done and the 3 boats are ready for sea. We leave on the full tide tomorrow morning. Fran will try to hitch a ride on the jet-ski that guides us out of the surf line. She’s been itching for that since we first crossed in March. @ boats have announced that they will be arriving tomorrow, Rathscallion and Precious Metal. We’ll be boats passing in the morning…. Next stop will be San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, but first we have to cross the infamous Papagayo region where the gap winds from the Caribbean pick up quickly and can blow up to 50-60 kts. We’ll tell you how it went in the next blog.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Almost ready.

Friday, 30 November, 2012, still at the buoy. It is pitch black out. The moon is just starting to rise behind some heavy clouds and we have had a bit of light rain in the past few hours. The bay is flat calm and the fish are jumping all around the boat. Friday night brings the weekenders to the beach so there is a bit more music playing from the western shore and most of the properties are lit up, some with Christmas lights. The eastern shore is mostly dark. They rely on generators and batteries there and few can afford such luxuries. Apart from the barking dogs and an occasional flash of a flashlight glow there is very little activity. Before I start the new chapter I must add a PS to the last one. While in Antigua we discovered something everyone from our generation would appreciate. Remember the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto? Well, we had found out a few years ago that Tonto means stupid in Spanish. Fran was mortified and I was a bit disappointed that Hollywood would show that kind of blatant discrimination. Well last week we discovered that Tonto name for the Lone Ranger was Kimosabe. OK, close but no cigar. It was actually Quien no sabe, or, loosely translated, he who knows nothing…. Who knew all those years ago that the two were passing insults back and forth. I have to watch a few episodes again. We just got back from having supper at Mary Sol’s restaurant with Colette a little while ago. We had the best fried whole fish ever! Colette’s guidance really helped since we gringos didn’t have a clue where to start. It was a 2-3 lb red snapper baked crispy, just the right size for the 3 of us. Who knew that you can eat the skin and tail…. Colette is leaving Sunday and this was one of the last chances we had to have a nice quiet time with her. She has been the ideal landlady as we have occupied one of her buoys and we certainly hope we’ll see her again in Canada during our summer’s home. Our ranks are beginning to thin out. Last week Beverly J left and today Whiteshell (Comox) departed for points south. Naughti Moments has gone to the marina dock for a few days and we’ll be following soon for a few days of last minute preps alongside. It will be nice to have shore power for a change and lots of water to wash the decks and hull before we depart. It looks like we are on schedule, so far. It has been a busy week. The lines are all where they are supposed to be, thanks to some help from Ken who helped me get to the masthead to sort out broken messenger lines and a loose steaming light. The sails are bent on and the forward head is back in operation….. The last item was an unexpected one. The smell of sewage was beginning to get strong in the Vee-berth and we discovered that the holding tank was full and overflowing something we had experienced on our maiden voyage. We still haven’t figured out how the Y-valve was in that position but it was making quite a mess. Once we had all the valves back in order we had to pump the tank out with the hand operated pump and it broke on the first pump. I was not looking forward to this repair but I had most of the day as Fran was going shopping. The job wasn’t as messy as I had anticipated. The poopy water wasn’t up to the pump so I was able to remove it and do a jury rig repair with a screw and some 5200, the cruiser’s best friend when a difficult gluing job presents itself. The pump held together while I pumped out the tank and, hopefully, will last for the next few years as we don’t expect to use it much. The cleanup was a bit more daunting but was completed by the time Fran arrived back. Steve and Linda (Warren Peace) are still adding up the list of items that they will have to replace due to their lightning strike. It looks like most of their electronics have been fried. Thank goodness that they were insured. There are so many cruisers who do not have any insurance. They will be delayed but they will leave here with a complete fit of up-to-date electronics. There is a silver lining to their cloud…. We are now convinced that the problem with our inverter/charger was caused by the same strike. Warren Peace was only about 75 ft. away from us at the time. Lightning is very unpredictable and will cause the weirdest types of damage. After some investigation we have counted out the microphone problem on the VHF radio as lightning caused. Looks like the repairs we had done to the radio last summer caused the issue so we are now discussing the problem with ICOM. If and when we replace the radio we’ll be looking for another brand. Way too many issues with ICOM products. Monday, 2 Dec, alongside the marina dock. We moved Gosling to the dock yesterday. A few days before I removed the bags that we had wrapped the prop blades with and cleaned the bottom as best I could. The bag idea worked well. There was very little to scrape off and the hull has survived the summer remarkably well. There are a few barnacles but, overall, it is not bad. The extra copper we put in the bottom paint in Guaymas has paid off. We shouldn’t have to do another paint job till Cartagena. We have had a minor problem with the dinghy. There has been a slow leak and we narrowed it down to one of the valves. When we tried to fix it the inevitable occurred; it broke, so we scrambled to find a way to get parts delivered from the US. We found out that Gail and Mark (Mangareva) are arriving Friday so we ordered the parts and had them shipped by the fastest means to their place. Hopefully everything will fall in place and we’ll be ready to depart on Saturday. Saturday we attended a pig roast on the Island. Ian (Blyth Spirit) had bought a piglet s few weeks ago for the event, a benefit for one of the young men on the Island who is trying to make his mark on the local boat maintenance scene. The proceedings are to purchase a VHF radio so he can communicate with the cruisers. It was turned into a potluck at Jan’s place, a local gringo lady who has lived here for some years. The pig was slowly cooked over a coconut fueled fire and was absolutely delicious.
Ian Tending to the piggy that didn't go to the market....
Ready to dish out. We are spinning our wheels as we wait for the dinghy parts. There should be at least 3 boats leaving on Saturday. We are in most respects ready to go, although we are a bit low on propane but we should have enough for the next few weeks. It is very difficult to get bottles filled here. The locals rely on a tank exchange system. Cruisers with our fancy aluminum tanks that need a special adaptor must go to the other side of San Salvador for fill-ups. We missed the last propane run two weeks ago while we were away on our Spanish lessons. The Sarana Guide indicates that San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua should be a much easier place to fill up. The following photo is of the group at lunch in a small fishing town of Herradura in the mangroves.
A look at the early morning sky is revealing what the Olmec (pre-Mayan) astronomers had predicted way back when they were the dominant people of Mexico and Central America. The sun and all the planets are lining up so that on the 21st of December they will all be on a flat plane, much like the planetary models we were shown in grade school. Little did we know then that this phenomenon occurs only every 28,500 years? Jim Papp explains it this way in an internet article: This rare astronomical event, foretold in the Mayan creation story of the Hero Twins, and calculated empirically by them, will happen for many of us in our lifetime. The Sun has not conjoined the Milky Way and the plane of the ecliptic since some 25,800 years ago, long before the Mayans arrived on the scene and long before their predecessors the Olmec’s arrived. What does this mean? Due to a phenomenon called the precession of the equinoxes, caused by the Earth's wobble that lasts almost 26,000 years, the apparent location of the Winter Solstice sunrise has been ever so slowly moving toward the Galactic Center. Precession may be understood by watching a spinning top. Over many revolutions the top will rise and dip on its axis, not unlike how the Earth does over an extremely long period of time. One complete rise and dip constitutes the cycle of precession. The Mayans noticed the relative slippage of the positions of stars in the night sky over long periods of observation, indicative of precession, and foretold this great coming attraction. By using an invention called the Long Count, the Mayans fast-forwarded to anchor December 21, 2012 as the end of their Great Cycle and then counted backwards to decide where the calendar would begin. Thus the Great Cycle we are currently in began on August 11, 3114 B.C. But there's more. The Great Cycle, lasting 1,872,000 days and equivalent to 5,125.36 years, is but one fifth of the Great Cycle, known scientifically as the Great Year or the Platonic Year - the length of the precession of the equinoxes. To use a metaphor from the modern industrial world, on Winter Solstice A.D. 2012 it is as if the Giant Odometer of Humanity on Earth hits 100,000 miles and all the cycles big and small turn over to begin anew. The present world age will end and a new world age will begin. Over a year's time the Sun transits through the twelve houses of the zodiac. Many of us know this by what "Sun sign" is associated with our birthday. Upping the scale to the Platonic Year - the 26,000 year long cycle - we are shifting, astrologically, from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The Mayan calendar does not really "end" in 2012, but rather, all the cycles turn over and start again, vibrating to a new era. It is as if humanity and the Earth will graduate in the eyes of the Father Sun and Grandmother Milky Way. So now you know the facts. Celebrate the new era, if you will, but don’t bury your head in the sand. This is a time for a new beginning not the end of it all….