June 18, 2013
Passage Note #49: Golfito, Costa Rica to Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
Part I: Nautical Rodeo
We are in the Nautical Rodeo to Ecuador - and it seems we have entered the Bronco Bull Riding Event.
For 6 days we have been pounding into large confused seas with a 1 1/2 knot Humboldt Current against us, battling squall after squall after squall with their concomitant wind shifts and rain (necessitating constant reefing, unreefing the sails). For 6 days we have been living at a 20 degree angle with the bounce - cooking, doing dishes, eating, sleeping, showering (when possible), moving around the boat. We are safe enough - it’s just that it has not been a fun trip - it has been slow and uncomfortable. I am not wearing my “Best Day of My Life” T-shirt and don’t intend to.
The range meter (distance to go) never seems to change whenever I look at it - we are often doing 3 knots and I can walk faster than this. Whenever I glance at it, it is the watched pot that never boils. I look at the numbers and softly hum “Bottles of Beer on the Wall” to myself but that does not help (today is “119 bottles of beer on the wall…”). We are both a bit frustrated.......at the slow pace of the trip, at the bodily exhaustion of living with one leg shorter than the other, of flailing out for handholds to move around and therefore doing everything one-handed, and most of all, at not being able to lay our course the way we want due to the conditions. Even the smallest of things present a challenge, like positioning yourself on the toilet......and last night I made pasta shells and overcooked them when I got distracted by going out in the cockpit and almost lost it when Chuck asked if we were having gnocchi for dinner!
Last night our autopilot, Wet Willie, died (named after its manufacturer, Wilhelm). This could have been a total disaster. Thank goodness we have enough wind to use the wind vane. Hand steering in these conditions, which may still be required at some point, is onerous and very very grueling. Oh yes, radar crapped out too!
Chuck is disheartened. At this point he thanks me for the positivism I bring to his life. Hey - we have warm temperatures, the sun is out now most of the day, we have not had blinding downpours with the squalls that would necessitate using a mask and snorkel outside, but rather gentle rain, the AIS makes it easy to track the big boy dangers heading toward the Panama Canal (like “Spike”, the 3 football-field-long freighter going to New Orleans)...... and most of all, we are sailing. (We do not carry enough fuel to motor very much so we must be judicious in using the engine, saving it for when we really need it). Both of us have no appetite so there is still lots of food I precooked and froze, and I’ll lose some weight. Silver linings!!!
Could be worse I sing out to him. We learned this morning that another sailboat just made it into Bahia de Caraquez in Ecuador (our destination too) - we heard them calling on one of the nets for a tow - not a “full-on tow”, they said, but still a tow. We learned they left Panama and took 26 days --- 26 days!! It is a more difficult angle to sail from there than from Costa Rica and they lost their engine and a shroud parted along the way. They got pushed down too close to shore near the Ecuadorian coast by the wind and stronger currents that exist there. We are fully aware of this hazard and that is why we are steering such a high course - as high into the wind as possible to earn us “money in the bank” as we say - to get us extra miles upwind in order to be able to fall off.
We are expecting maybe about 2 more days of this since our range meter now reads 118 (well, well...it does move!!). We started off with 575. More than 2/3 the way there!!! Nagging in my mind is our friend Andrew’s comment: “Why are you sailing there? Why don’t you just fly to Ecuador?” Why not indeed!! “It’s just what we do” I had answered him.
Anyway, at this point, that French Canal Boat is looking better and better. Just sayin’.......
Part 2: A New Continent, a New Hemisphere, a New Posture!
What a difference a day makes!
We rode the Bronco Bull for another 24 hours and then, at 2:30 p.m. on June 19, we put the hook down at Punto Pasado, an open roadstead protected from the swell by an extended reef, just a short 14 miles north of our destination of Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. We had sailed about 630 miles all close-hauled on a starboard tack. Anchoring never felt so good! We were finally standing vertical once again!!!! And what a great night’s sleep we had in a horizontal position!
We were now in Ecuador, in South America and in the Southern Hemisphere. Speaking of which, I did end up wearing my “Best Day of My Life” T-shirt after all - earlier in the day - 10:33 a.m. to be exact - when I became a “Shellback”, crossing the equator by boat for the first time!!! No longer a “Pollywog”!! King Neptune was very accommodating!!
As we left Punto Pasado the next morning, seeing nature once again also lifted our spirits! Humpback whales were spouting on the horizon and one breached near us, swimming parallel for a while. I was also a bit preoccupied this morning - you see I had to make sure that Jack Sparrow was comfortable and had enough to drink. Jack Sparrow, as I named him, was the little black webfooted storm petrel who flew into the cockpit last night at 2:30 a.m. when I was on my last watch. I heard some frantic flapping in the dark that night and looked down to see the little guy in the corner on the floor. He kept me company and then crawled into the instrument panel compartment and slept all night long, snuggled up for a good long rest. Poor thing being out there at sea!
Poor thing? Not at all! That’s what storm petrels do, being pelagic and all. These smallest of seabirds live on the open sea, feeding on crustaceans and small fish plucked from the surface, only returning to land to breed. Flying low, whirring over the waves, and ducking into the troughs, they are wake dwellers. Some of them, like the Black Storm Petrel (I think that’s what Jack was) is known to sometimes follow ships. “Petrel” is a reference to St. Peter and comes from the birds’ appearance of walking on water when they skim for food. The “storm” part is from their habit of hiding in the lee of ships during storms.
Chuck knows them as “Mother Carey’s Chickens”, the name given them by early sailors who thought they warned of oncoming storms. In other folklore they are thought to be the spirits of sea-captains who mistreated their crew, doomed to spend eternity flying over the sea, or also to be the souls of drowned sailors.
The next day, Jack awoke, took a drink of water from my eye dropper, stretched his wings, and flew away back to the open sea...after leaving a couple of small yellow ThankYou post-it notes on the cockpit floor. And that frantic flapping I heard on my night watch was not Jack at all, but a rather large flying fish we found later in the cockpit.
The short hop from Punta Pasado to Bahia de Caraquez was “pan cocida” - a piece of cake. We rendezvoused with the port pilot at the entrance to the Bay promptly at high tide at 12:30 pm. Pedro came aboard while the driver of his panga escorted us through the sinuous course of the Chone River’s outlet, avoiding the shifting sand bars. A short time later we tied to one of Puerto Amistad’s moorings in front of the restaurant/yacht club at the edge of the small town of “Bahia” as it’s known, in front of the new fancy bridge illuminated neon green at night. Puerto Amistad, run by Tripp Martin (originally from Alabama) and his Columbian wife, Maye, is a comfortable spot for cruisers, providing all the amenities with a beautiful facility and great food. Puerto Amistad coordinated the check-in to the country - which is expensive (about $185) - including the port pilot, port captain, customs, immigration, and health inspection. The health inspector came aboard, asked us about what medications, meat, bread, fruit we had, did a quick look around below, but didn’t confiscate anything.
We have been settling into Bahia, Jacaranda’s new home for the next few months - exploring the town, buying “river shrimp” (giant crawdads) in the market, going to the very fine archeological Museum, taking spanish lessons, attending a folklore musical concert, meeting some of the ex-pat community, and of course getting underway with our ever present boat projects. Puerto Amistad put on a great pig roast for the 4th of July.
We’re awaiting the arrival of Chuck’ s sister and brother-in-law on their boat, s/v Encore, who are coming in from Panama any day now. We’re hoping we will be here when they tie up to the mooring in back of us but we just might miss them. We leave for our inland trip to Peru on Sunday - meeting sons David and Joe, nephews Gary and Evan, and friend Adam to go to Lima, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca. Sure to be a lot of fun with this young group!!
Thanks for all the cheers and support during our Rodeo Event!!! ...and empathy from cruising friends who have “been there”! Our friend Andrew wrote to ask us if we won the event. We did - just by finishing it!! Turns out it was just a qualifying event for the next Nautical Rodeo. We already know that our selective memories have kicked in, like the post-partum amnesia that new mothers get, and the recollection of our discomfort has evaporated into thin air now that we have arrived in Bahia.
Stay tuned for our report from Peru!