From Isla Medidor the wind showed itself a favorable 15 knots westerly, and enabled us to sail full and by throughout much of the day. That afternoon Debborah landed a dorado measuring 41 inches in length.
Watching the dolphins.
After motoring throughout the night we arrived in Golfito, Costa Rica at noon the following day. There, we made fast to a large pier, directly astern a freighter being loaded with parts of the recently dismantled Chiquita Banana works. Debborah and I walked the short distance into town, and after paying a brief visit to immigration we stopped at a bank to exchange a small amount of spending money. Back at the wharf we filled Suka's fresh water tanks, then motored a few miles farther into the capacious bay, and anchored among half a dozen yachts fronting a hotel.
Map: Golfito, Costa Rica
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Golfito was our port of entry into Costa Rica, so here we were required to obtain pratique. Yachtees we had met in Panama had told us how best to play the customs and immigration game in Costa Rica. From the anchorage Debborah and I walked to the offices and filled out the forms. The señor stamped all three passports, and officially checked us in. Playing the role of "capitana" I then requested visas for myself, Debborah my crew, and Ray - the owner of the vessel. After more paper shuffling and form filling, the señor handed me visas for the three of us. Next, we wished to check out. With the help of Debborah's fluent Spanish, we convinced the delgado that Suka would be leaving Costa Rica early the following morning. He shrugged his shoulders, and stamped the passports again, this time as "Salida". Debborah and I thanked the man, and left the offices quickly before he had time to change his mind. Suka and crew were now cleared for Mexico. In this way we hoped to avoid dealing with the notoriously corrupt officials in Puntarenas, our next intended port.
The United Fruit Company of Golfito had closed its operations a year previously, and the port and town had since taken on the appearance of a living ghost town. Most houses stood in various states of disrepair; some were sadly dilapidated. Piles of trash bordered the roads and filled the gullies. We saw one man repairing a bicycle, but most of the locals appeared listless. As Debborah and I walked along the road leading out of town I could feel a torpidity about the people, one born of indifference, perhaps.
We lingered in Golfito three days. Despite the lush tropical surroundings and the hotel's fine hospitality and food, we would not have rated the place among our favorites. Because of the United Fruit Company had employed practically the entire local populace, and because it then had shut down, everywhere we went the indigenous people showed themselves miserably lethargic. Golfito was not a happy place.
During the winter months the crews of many sailboats from Canada and the west coast of the US migrate south to warmer climes. Most travel only as far as northern Mexico, but the more adventurous gunkhole all the way to Panama and points beyond, albeit taking a year or five to do so. As Suka travels north, mental north, we were encountering some of these hardy folks. Bucking the traffic was a new experience for us, and we capitalized on the opportunities to glean current information about the territories ahead. The yachts in Golfito had come mostly from the north, and with some of their crews we enjoyed long gab sessions over beers at the hotel or at homes afloat. We even swapped a few charts.
We always asked how these folks had found the sailing en route from California, and rarely were their comments positive. One fellow remarked acerbically: "God doesn't like sailors," suggesting he had not found the sailing pleasant.
After a leisurely hotel breakfast we departed Golfito. A ten knot wind wafted from the sou'-west, requiring that we tack back and forth throughout the afternoon in order to withdraw from the immense Golfo Dulce. By the time we reached open ocean and had resumed our former course, darkness had fallen and I hardly felt that the giant detour into Golfito had been worthwhile, especially as we were feeling the ever-present urge to advance northwestward. But of course our meeting the friendly yachtees there had indeed been a memorable occasion.
Headwinds and rain beset Suka throughout the night, and continued to do so for the ensuing two days. Our next anchorage was near the mouth of the great bay Golfo de Nicoya, in a secluded and pretty pocket called Leona Bay. Then after a well-slept night I worked through much of the morning re-addressing Perkins' miscreant behavior, once again unsuccessfully.
We set sail with a wind cracking over the port beam, and crossed the gulf in two hours, arriving at the tranquil anchorage of Jesusitas (Hey-su-see'-tas), where a handful of yachts lay placidly at anchor.
Map: Anchorage of Isla Jesusita.
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After setting the anchor we quickly pitched the sun awning-rain catcher in time for the next deluge. We were grateful for this rain, as our water tanks were nearly empty, but with the incessant moisture, our wet clothes and rain gear were mildewing. This was a minor problem, though, and would be easily remedied by a day of sunshine. Of genuine concern was Perkins. As soon as the engine had cooled sufficiently, Ray set to work in its compartment once again.
Suka's galley was in need of fresh provisions, and Ray wanted to replace a few of Perkins' parts, so the next morning Debborah and I walked in a drizzle to meet the ferry, which then carried us across the gulf to the city of Puntarenas. Our shopping time was limited by the return ferry schedule, so without lingering we paced the congested streets in search of ship chandlers and engine parts stores. Sidetracked a couple of time by bakeries and sweet shops, we located the chandlers and parts stores, but the parts we needed were not available. Adjacent the ferry dock was the Mercado Central, the town market, and there Debborah and I wandered along the maze of stalls, inspecting the attractive displays of fruits and vegetables. Although the dollar at that time was worth 52-1/2 colones, we were surprised to find that prices were high. We bought the food we needed, including fresh bread and prawns, then returned to the ferry terminal. After another wet ride across the gulf in a rainstorm, we stepped ashore at the Paquera ferry landing on the Nicoya Peninsula. Most of the Costa Rican, or Tico, passengers boarded a waiting bus that would return them to their villages. The bus was not going our way though, so we hitched a dinghy ride with a gentleman headed for Jesusitas Island. He was one of the retired Americans, or Pensionados, who had relinquished the hectic life stateside and had settled in the tropical solitude of Costa Rica.
Back aboard, Debborah and I found the galley once again converted to an engine shop. Ray had worked all day on the Perkins problem, and declared that we needed a new heat exchanger, and possibly a new water pump.
So the following day Ray and I left Debborah to watch Suka, and we traveled to the capital city of San Jose. There we found a Perkins dealer, but unfortunately he did not stock the parts we needed. We made the best of our holiday, though, and enjoyed window shopping, stopping for café con leches and churros, and strolling through parks adorned with flowers. But two days of the crowds, noise, and fumes were enough.
My parents had scheduled a flight from California to visit us in Costa Rica, and I telephoned them requesting they visit a stateside Perkins dealer, and obtain the needed parts. And this my Dad tried to do, but he was unsuccessful.
Suka's engine had been overheating progressively more since our leaving Panama, and her maximum motoring speed was now down to a mere three knots. No doubt the warmer seawater was exacerbating the problem; nevertheless, my finding the actual cause was now imperative. I poured over various diesel engine repair reference books, and indeed, these books provided many suggestions, but none proved successful. After trying some possible solution or another, I would start the engine, engage reverse gear, and nudge the throttle a little past operating rpm, backing the yacht against its ground tackle. As the minutes passed, the temperature gauge would climb discouragingly toward the boiling point, indicating that my work was not ameliorating the enigma.
Many an armchair purist has scoffed at the sailboat engine with its inherent drawbacks. Ideally the ocean voyager in our position might instead hoist sail, and set a course for Hawaii, thence north and east around the Pacific High. The thought had certainly crossed our minds, but we were not eager for another long, open passages, but wished to see as much of the Central American coast as possible, even if the journey proved a long, upwind struggle. This required that I repair the engine.
With persistence born of necessity I set my resolve. After trying the standard procedures, I was now at the stage of improvising, and here I finally discovered and remedied the conundrum. I had run the heat exchanger tubes through with a wooden dowel to remove most of the scale, and the tubes appeared reasonably clean inside. But perhaps this was not enough. So I placed the heat exchanger in a large pot of oxalic acid solution, and put this on the stove to boil for half an hour.
Reassembling the components, I started the engine, and to my immense relief the engine temperature gauge now read normal, and regardless of how high I nudged the rpm, the engine no longer became too hot. I had finally solved the problem that plagued us for months.
By way of explanation, this engine is cooled with an antifreeze solution circulating through a heat exchanger, where it, in turn, is cooled by sea water. Of course the two fluids are not allowed to mix. Over the passage of time, the sea water had left a thin mineral deposit coating the heat exchanger's internal tubes. In this instance, although the sea water was flowing freely through the tubes, it was insulated by the thin mineral scale, which had reduced the necessary transfer of engine heat.
I suspect it was a souvenir of Medidor Island that finally caught up with me, for I began feeling poorly one afternoon. By nightfall I was taken with fever, dreadful chills, and muscular convulsions. The worst passed during the night, and a few days later I was feeling a little better and able to move around the cabin, albeit weakly.
Feeling more than a little guilty about leaving Ray to recuperate alone, I traveled with Debborah to meet my parents at the Airport in San Jose. Debborah then returned to Ray and Jesusitas, and I joined my parents for five days of sight seeing. Mom, Dad and I spent a day in San Jose strolling through parks and market places window shopping and sampling Tico style foods. Then after an overdose of bus rides we arrived in Monteverde, well-known for its delicate cloud forests, fascinating bird life, and the Quaker community that has been tending dairies there for decades. We hiked through the Biological Reserve, our eyes and ears alert for the unique fauna that inhabits Costa Rica's tropical cloud forests, like the tapir, the quetzal bird, and the tiny, orange and black poisonous frogs. We walked the back roads of Santa Elena, observing the simple lifestyle of the highlanders. Through binoculars we watched a half dozen rainbow colored toucans fly overhead and land in a nearby tree top.
In Santa Elena we met a retired couple who invited us to their home to see their gardens and their pet sloth. I held the sloth for a few minutes and found it surprisingly cuddly, like an overgrown teddy bear. She was nearly 3 feet long, rather large around, covered with a dense but soft mat of hair, and heavy. Her face reminded me of the koala I had held in Brisbane; the sloth had tiny button eyes and a hard, hairless nose that looked pasted-on, but she was not as cute. I moved closer to a tree, and the creature extended and arm, clasped a branch, and resumed her customary upside-down repose.
After a two day stay in the cloud forests of Monteverde we returned to sea level via the typical crowded buses. In Puntarenas we bought fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and prawns, then we climbed aboard the ferry, bound across the gulf for Paquera and Suka.
On the fourth day of my illness, when Jenny and Debborah had gone to San Jose, a systemic relapse struck far worse than the initial onset. I lay in the bunk incapacitated for 24 hours. Then in the next few days the illness slowly moderated. Subsequent relapses were to reoccur, and although I did not consult a physician, I felt the disease was most likely a strain of malaria.
“Peering out a portal I saw a neighboring yachtsman brandishing a pistol in the direction of another neighbor who was shouting imprecations at the top of his voice. ...Californians.”
Once, as I lay alone in my bunk debating whether I should be dying instead in a hospital, I heard a violent quarreling outside. Rising and peering out a portal I saw a neighboring yachtsman brandishing a pistol in the direction of another neighbor who was shouting imprecations at the top of his voice. "...Californians," I thought. But next I saw the crazed neighbor point his gun at a native family (Ticos) padding their small boat through the anchorage. At that, the good neighbor then went and called the police who speedily carted the gun toting neighbor off to jail.
Back aboard Suka, we had a nice reunion with Ray and Debborah, while other neighboring yachtees joined us for drinks and conversation, fresh prawns from the market, and Monteverde cheese. I wanted to show my parents some of the jungle on Jesusitas Island, so we dinghied ashore and walked along the narrow paths, watching howler monkeys swinging in the overhead canopy, and flocks of parrots flying by in blazes of green and red. We visited a couple pensionados, and exchanged greetings with the Ticos living at the creekside.
That night Mom and Dad stayed aboard, sleeping under the awning in the cockpit. Then the following morning we treated them to a sail aboard Suka, out and back in the flat, protected waters. Then Mom, Dad and I piled into the dink, and I motored us to the ferry dock where we wished each other teary but cheerful good-byes, as they departed for San Jose and its airport.
Before Jenny and I had met her, Debborah had been traveling in South America for two years. She was now generally traveling to California intent on visiting her family. Suka was about to depart for Mexico, and would be bypassing politically sensitive Nicaragua and El Salvador. But Debborah wanted to visit these countries, so just prior to our departure she bid us farewell and headed for the bus station in San Jose. It was a sad moment for us all.
Map: Potrero Bay.
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Suka set sail from Nicoya in early morning, and 24 hours later arrived at what was to be her final Costa Rican port of call, Potrero Bay. Here, Jenny and I refueled by lightering jerry jugs ashore many times. Then Jenny jumped overboard and scrubbed the hull below the waterline. We finally removed the aging, stretched-out-of-shape mainsail, and replaced it with the new one, stowed in reserve since South Africa. Later, we were astounded to find that with this, Suka would point a whopping 10 degrees closer to the apparent wind.
The next morning as we were preparing to depart, Jenny noticed a stowaway poking its head from one of the hollow pipes of the self-steering mount. After a great deal of persuasion on my part, the venomous sea snake slithered out of the tube and returned to the sea.
I asked a long-time local resident how one might predict the strong, off-shore wind known as the Papagayo (pa-pa-guy'-yo). He related that the gales are impossible to predict, as they strike suddenly and without warning, but that we needn't worry, because the onset of Papagayo season was at least two to four weeks away. So feeling confident, we departed that morning and sailed out of the bay on an early-morning off-shore breeze.