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Greetings from the Cross Roads of the World
Panamá City, Republicá de Panamá

YES! We finally left northern Costa Rica when Mom’s package finally arrived! It had been 5 weeks since posting and we were ready to leave without it. But one last visit to the post office . . and there it was! Mom, you did a heck of a job filling out that customs form. We didn’t even have to pay duty.

The next day we were off and just a few hours later we caught a 42 inch Wahoo. (This one was a real Wahoo, Wolfgang, not one of those Mexican Bonitos masquerading as a Wahoo).

Costa Rica has three major gulfs. We were leaving Golfo de Papagayo. Next was Golfo de Nicoya.

Costa Rica’s major cruising spots are located within the gulfs. On the Pacific coastline there are few protected anchorages and, typically, the large Pacific Ocean swell creates heavy surf. Makes for great surfing beaches but not for comfortable sailing or anchoring. After three days on the Pacific Coast, we were really looking forward to calmer waters when we rounded Cabo Blanca to enter Golfo de Nicoya.

Our first stop in the Golfo de Nicoya was Bahia Balleña; an eco-tourism center living side-by-side with a small fishing community.

The fishermen work out of fiberglass boats about 20 feet long with outboard motors. Each afternoon, the women collect on the pier to monitor the catch and to get a piece of cleaned fish for that night’s dinner.

The majority of the day’s catch is stored in locked freezers and further protected by an on-site guard. The quantity of fish (dorado, tuna, etc.) was amazing.

Once every few days, the full freezers were driven away on big trucks with two armed guards riding shotgun on the truck bed. Clearly, each freezer represented a whole lot of money!

This is a working wharf and busy all day. But it is also the cruiser’s dinghy dock,

and the after school playground.

When Max and Myer went to shore, we landed on the beach. With a 12 foot tidal range, sometimes we had a spacious beach and other times barely enough room to get Senility (the dinghy) on sand.

We were in Bahia Balleña for about a month.

But don’t try to buy alcohol at a Costa Rica grocery store on a Sunday!

Our internet café catered to the American and Gringo vacationers:

One day, our bartender paddled out to visit us.

The Golfo de Nicoya has numerous islands on its western side. Most of them very close together.

Some, like Islas Tortugas, are populated by tourists..

Some islands remain small fishing communities or are uninhabited.

Other islands, as well as some areas of the Nicoya Peninsula itself are protected as ecological preserves. We spent one day at the preserve of Curú.

We arrived by dinghy on the shore and were met by the sweeper of the trails, cook and chief bottle washer. She scrambled us up some eggs and gave us an overview of the established hiking trails.

We picked a route which promised us sightings of crocodiles as well as howler monkeys.

Our path took us through tropical rainforest vegetation.

For hours we followed the howl of the monkeys. But every time we approached their sounds, they would move further away. It wasn’t until we were back at our starting point that we got to see a brief glimpse of howlers up in the trees!

Maybe there’s a reason those monkeys spent that day howling and running away . . .

Guess this guy thought Paul looked safe enough.

We found the Costa Rican equivalent of Alcatraz at Isla San Lucas in the northern end of the gulf.

The prison has been abandoned. The buildings, left open and unattended, are rotting away and filled with bats.

Next to the admin building, was the church which, by the smell of it, had been converted for use as a stable at one point in time.

The circular exercise yard with barracks radiating off.


The barrack interiors were covered with inmate artwork.

We celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary at Bahia Luminosa. The first time our wine has come from a “sand cellar.”

Nicoya’s western islands are easy day sails. A typical travel day: up at dawn, to the beach for a swim and puppy play time,

Back to Serenity, to set Senility (the dinghy) in tow, up anchor and off to the next island.

One benefit to anchoring in quiet coves and bays: you can get boat chores done. This time, it was Debi’s turn to go up the mast to repair the spreader light.

Of course, Journeyman Paul still had to direct operations.

Myer just couldn’t figure out where Debi was, he heard her calling and went searching, but never thought to look UP.

Max, in the meantime, was busy protecting us from this old geezer who paddled around the boat for quite a while, evidently looking for a handout. Drove that poor dog nuts!

Although the waters are calm, one down side to Golfo de Nicoya are the “deadheads” (floating debris) in the water. The gulf is surrounded by tropical rain forest. When it rains, the creeks and rivers become engorged and spill out debris into the gulf. Until they get washed back ashore this flotsam is a constant navigational hazard.

One other problem: outdated charts. Between Isla Cedros and Isla Jesusita, we almost had a major mishap. Prior to dropping the hook we decided to check out the anchorage on the west side of the island.

Spending a few months in the Golfo de Nicoya meant we had used up almost all of Serenity’s 6 months of legal time in Costa Rica. So we had to hustle down to Golfito to check out of the country before Serenity’s visa expired. (We could have renewed our visas, but Serenity could only remain in Costa Rica if we were willing to “import” her and pay a duty tax on her value as determined by the Costa Rican government.)

Golfito, the southernmost port in Costa Rica, is in the 3rd major gulf – Golfo Dolce. Golfito was built on an economy centered around the banana trade. When the banana market collapsed, so did Golfito. All around you can see evidence of the old days.

To save the town from total loss, the government created a major duty free zone.

We arrived in Golfito just in time to say “hasta luego” (until later) to Charles and Sandra of Right Galah. They had just loaded Right Galah onto the Dockwise boat for delivery to Florida for a few years vacation from cruising.

Golfito has two marinas. But they are small and EXPENSIVE! (In fact, there are only 3 marinas in all of Costa Rica and they are all expensive.)

While in Golfito, we anchored close to “Land Sea Services” a business owned by the ex-pats Katy and Tim. For cruisers, Land Sea provides a dinghy dock, laundry services, shower and a fridge full of beer and sodas available cruisers on the honor system (take a beer mark it on the white board next to the fridge and settle up later).

Then, with just days to spare, we rushed around town loading up on provisions and visiting the various offices required for a legal check-out (immigration, customs, port captain).

We had an overnight sail from Golfito to Panama.

Our first stop, beautiful Isla Parida.

After those frantic last days in Golfito and a long night sail, the pups had a ball swimming, running and doing what they each do best on a beach:

For Debi, Panama’s western islands offered something new: hundreds of stunning bromeliads and orchids.

Christmas found us anchored with four other boats off Isla Catalina.

And what do cruisers do while waiting for the turkey to cook?

We wanted to spend more time in Panama’s Western Islands, but Paul needed to get to the U.S. so we were on a fast track to Panama City. We WILL go back.

Now we were on our most challenging journey: rounding the infamous Punta Mala.

Punta Mala (“Bad Point”), lived up to its name for us. The effects of this major headland reach more than 35 miles away from the point itself. Additionally, when rounding eastward, one must contend with the up to 5 knot adverse Humboldt current. Some excerpts from our ship’s log:

0615 Near dawn. Wind N18kts in the anchorage.
0630 Anchor up (by hand) 165 feet of chain, 22 feet of water. Wind N 20 kts.
0830 Wind N 18kts. Sails up. We are making 5kts SOG.
0930 3.9nm SE Punta Mala. Wind N 25kts on the beam. Making 7.6 kts SOG.
1115 Wind has shifted NW 18 kts. Have decided we will head to Las Perlas.
2100 As day has progressed, wind has shifted, degree by degree further NW and we’ve altered course with it. Wind consistent 20kts with gusts to high 20s. Main double reefed and genoa only ½ furled.
2300 The tide traveling against the Humboldt current has created a toilet bowl of seas. Wind a steady NW 25+kts. Pulled genoa in to see if it would help us point higher for greater speed and a more comfortable ride. Didn’t help. And worse yet, heard it tear when we released it again. We are motor sailing now, making less than 1kt SOG.

0900 Wind NW 22kts. We continue to slog through heavy, confused seas. Avg 2kts SOG.
1500 Arrive south end of Isla San Jose. Since 1200, wind has calmed as have seas. But still battling against the current, making just 3kts headway.

Final stats:
112.5 nm
33.5 hours
Average speed 3.3 kts
Lowest speed: less than 1 kt (for 5 excruciating hours in the dark of the night in a toilet bowel of seas)
Highest speed 7.6kts (for a while there, it was a glorious sail!)

At dawn’s light, we saw that we had collected a few refugees during the night’s rough journey.

There is nothing better than pulling into a calm anchorage after a difficult passage. For the next two days the wind continued to blow over 20 knots, but the waters at Ensenada Grande were smooth making for a delightful rest for us!

For two days we rested, relaxed and took care of some clean up work.

And then we were heading north to Panama City. Entering the canal shipping zone was a whole lot different than approaching an island.

While in Panama City, we’ve been on a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club, just south of the Bridge of Americas, marking the entry to the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

We can sit in Serenity’s cockpit and watch the traffic go by, day and night.

This has been a safe location for Paul to leave Serenity, Debi, Max and Myer while he has returned to the U.S.

While Paul’s been away, Debi and the pups have been taking care of boat chores.

We’ve also been exploring the nearby countryside. Land that used to be a naval and army base and part of the United States’ Canal territory, it was turned over to the Panamanians with the transfer of canal operations.

And there is a great big city to discover as well.

We will be returning to the US for the summer. So this will be our last update for a while. We will return!

Not all who wander are lost.

Copyright © 2007 Shaimas. All rights reserved. Last updated 30 April, 2007