Voyage of Traveler / Blog

May 8, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Costa Rica

Traveler Postcard From Costa Rica
April 2010


Passage from Panama City to Golfito, Costa Rica.
What a nightmare.  It started out okay, just Brian and me, cruising along.  We knew the anchor windlass had corrosion and needed repair, but everything else seemed to be working. And then the engine started to sound bad.
We have had so many problems with the engine.  A few months ago my sister said to me, “Don’t you wish you could just go for three months or so with no engine problems?”  I replied, “Three months?  I’d be happy with just three consecutive days with no problems!”
I opened the engine hatch to see what was the problem and water was spraying all over everything, including me.  Also, there was a ton of smoke coming from the engine compartment when I opened the door.  I immediately shut the engine down.  It turns out there were two, unrelated problems.  The first was relatively minor: a broken hose clamp.  But it was for a hose that was not easily reached to make the change (I have several spare hose clamps, all sizes.)  The turbo, air filter and the exhaust manifold would first need to be removed just to reach the hose clamp, making it about a two hour job.
The other problem was an exhaust leak, again.  This is the third time we have had this same problem.  One of the three bolts connecting the exhaust elbow to the turbo sheered off from weight and vibration of the elbow allowing raw exhaust to circulate in the engine compartment, with fine, gritty, oily particles.  This soot was then sucked up by the air intake and put back into the engine.  That makes a big problem even worse.  The air cleaner, turbo, exhaust elbow and the inner cooler were all filthy dirty–inside and out–and needed to be removed, cleaned and reinstalled. This was much more than I could do by myself while at sea.  I needed a mechanic and a workshop.  This means sailing the rest of the way in very light wind.  A two day trip turned into four days at sea, bobbing around.
In calm conditions, we lowered the dinghy from the davits and put the outboard engine on it, then side-tied the dinghy to tow Traveler, at 3 knots.  This worked well, but we didn’t have enough gasoline to get us all the way to Golfito.  We stopped the dinghy side tow with a gallon of gas in reserve to help us get the last few miles into the port.  I managed, with great effort, to replace the hose clamp, a filthy job because everything I touched in the engine room was covered in oily soot.  We decided to run the engine with the exhaust leak, at low speed, just to get into the port.  We didn’t want to spend another night bobbing around, drifting in the currents, with no wind.  We finally made it into Golfito, just before dark.  The cold cervezas at the bar of the Banana Bay Marina tasted muy delicioso.

Golfito: Engine repairs and sport fishing.
We were in Golfito for eight days, much of it spent just waiting our turn for the only mechanic to start work on Traveler.
While waiting, we met and made friends with Dan Murphy from Texas on his sportfishing boat (I think it was a 50ft. Hatteras) called the “Last Stall” (he also raises horses.)  We also met his captain, John Teal and crew, Willy.  They invited Brian and me to go out fishing with them.  After about an hour, I caught a nice mahi mahi, then nothing else was caught for more than two hours.  I felt badly because I wanted everyone to catch something, and we were really hopping for a bill fish.  Then, “Hook up!”  It was Brian’s turn, and after a 20 minute fight he reeled in a 110 lbs. beautiful sailfish!  We were using barbless circle hooks and so we were able to cleanly release the fish, which is great.  Then, within just a few minutes after that “Hook up!” again, and it was my turn.  Another sailfish!  We all saw it jump and dance across the water.  What a thrill.  After a fight of about 20 minutes, I brought the fish to the boat and we successfully released it (after getting a couple of photos.)  Mine was a 120 pounder.  Next, big Willy brought in and released a 140 pound sailfish.  (The weights were estimated by the captain.)  We also caught two more mahi mahis.  What a great day.  Since it was the first sailfish for both Brian and me, on the way back to the marina we were pushed overboard, as is the tradition. The swim felt great.
We finally got all the engine repairs done, including the anchor windlass repaired, then filled the fuel tank and water tanks, and departed for Quepos in the middle of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
We arrived at the new Marina Pez Vela (Spanish for sailfish) at dawn.  The marina has been under construction for 10(!) years, including planning and permits, and it is so close to being finished and ready for business that they decided to allow us to tie up.  We were the first cruising sailboat to stay at the new marina, the biggest in Central America.  I had breakfast with Harold, the owner, and Glen, the sales manager.  Harold told me all about what it is like to build a first class, American-style marina in Costa Rica–not easy!
That night we had dinner at El Avion in the upscale beach resort town of Manuel Antonio. The restaurant’s bar is constructed in the body of a 1954 Fairchild C-123 cargo plane, affectionately known as “Ollie’s Folly” (after Col. Oliver North.) The plane was used by the CIA in the 80s for the Nicaraguan Contras, then it was abandoned at the airport in San Jose after the scandal broke the news.
We stopped here primarily to see Costa Rica’s most popular National Park: Manuel Antonio, named after a banana freighter that sank there.  We hired a private guide who had a telescope on a tripod to help see the wildlife, and he was great at spotting the animals.  We saw a few three-toed tree sloths, an amazing animal that moves very slowly and sleeps 20 hours a day–just like Brian.  We also saw a toucan, iguanas, howler monkeys and white-faced campuchion monkeys.
After the park tour, we met up with Dave and Evelyn, a couple of ex-pats from the South Bay, who are good friends of Bill and Marsha Horsfall (our guests on the Panama Canal) and acquaintances of Barbara.  We visited with them for a few hours at their spectacular oceanfront home, much of that time sitting in the Jacuzzi with howler monkeys overhead, drinking beers and taking turns telling stories about each of our travels around the world.

Papagayo and Playa de Coco.
After a couple of nights at Quepos, we motor-sailed up the coast to Papagayo and anchored off the marina after taking on fuel.  We met and had dinner with Brian and Teri from Newport Beach (friends of my good friend Dick Higbie) who, coincidentally, were there on their trawler named Traveller.
We then motored a few miles to Playa de Coco, a port of entry, to clear out.  The process was unnecessarily complicated and time consuming, and a huge run around.  It took a total of five hours over two days!  While here we went on an ATV guided tour of the jungle and ranch land, which was great fun.  Among the many animals we saw was a boa constrictor in a small creek we crossed. We also took a zip-line canopy tour, which was a blast.
During the night a storm came in with heavy rain, so we decided to stay ashore in a hotel.  The next morning as we were departing, a couple of local fisherman motored out in a 20 ft. ponga to tell me that Traveler had dragged and then swung on its anchor during the storm and smashed into his bigger fishing boat that was on a mooring a couple of hundred feet away from us.   Traveler broke a couple of windows on the fishing boat.  The fisherman asked for $100 in compensation, which I thought was very reasonable and quickly paid, with apologies.  There was some minor damage to Traveler from the collision, really more of a fender-bender.

Check out the photos of our wonderful visit to Costa Rica on the website:

The next Postcard will be from Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.

Viviendo el sueno,
Michael with Brian

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress