Update # 22 – Hanging out in Costa Rica

My apologies for taking so long between updates. I’ve been somewhat lazy here in Costa Rica.

The day after our arrival at Los Suenos our crew flew home to Seattle. During the prior two weeks we had run from Ixtapa Mexico to Los Suenos in Costa Rica, a distance of nearly 1,500 miles. The last few days, along the coast of Nicaragua, had been particularly stressful.


As soon as the crew was off the boat, Roberta and I went into total-relaxation mode. For almost a week, we did nothing except play with our computers, and try out the different restaurants in the area. We had lots of plans to drive around and explore, and we did rent a car, but the farthest we reached was the little town of Jaco, about 4 miles away.







Jaco, and its’ beach, Play Herradura, have long been a popular surfing destination, appealing to a very young crowd. On our way to Jaco we noted several surf schools, and as we drove through Jaco we saw a number of bars. Were I twenty years younger (and single) this could be a great little town.

My goal for the day was to find a water-front restaurant that would accept both us, and Shelby. We’ve grown accustomed to Mexico, where Shelby is welcome at most restaurants. We stopped at several outdoor restaurants, and were rejected. Apparently, part of being eco-aware means not sharing your outdoor restaurant with a dog. Finally we found a fancy lobster-restaurant, on the beach, where we could sit at a table bordering the beach, with Shelby across the wall, on the sand, technically not inside the restaurant, but next to us. To our disappointment, the beach was quite littered, and kind of a dark mud-sand, not the pretty white sand beach I had been seeking. Also disappointingly, there aren’t really many restaurants on the beach. The town itself sits a block back from the beach, and the beach doesn’t really have anything on it. Although, signs were everywhere of condos being built on the beach. The next time I see Jaco, it is likely to be wall to wall condos. Whether or not that is progress, I’ll leave up to you to decide…

Just as we were finally getting over being lazy, I suddenly started feeling ill. For three days I felt too sick to move. High fever, achy joints, and more (which I shall not describe).

As much as I like Los Suenos, I must admit that there is a lot of surge in the marina. Perhaps it is smoother deeper in the marina, but at our slip, on the “big boat” dock, the surge is never-ending. Inside Sans Souci you hardly feel it, but outside, you can watch the boats, even the giant Feadships, in constant motion. After about three days a local, who we had hired to wash the boat, called my attention to our lines. He pointed at one that was worn almost through! I have always heard about checking your dock lines, and using anti-chafing gear, but until now, I’ve never experienced a problem I was looking at a line that had been fine just days before, and was now ruined. Macho, the boat washer said he had a friend who could repair the line for $20. We retied the lines, with the assistance of Macho, and a bit of backseat driving from crew on surrounding boats, only to discover that every day or two, another line would be worn through. Macho’s friend is now $60 richer, and I’m much smarter on the whole topic of anti chafing gear (see the “email” section after my update).

There was a bright spot in the midst of this. Patrick and Susan Coonan, with their seven year old son Jonathon, and their Nordhavn 43, came into the Los Suenos Marina for a few days. It was Patrick and Susan’s anniversary and they wanted to be at Los Suenos to celebrate. We were able to enjoy their company for a dinner. They are headed to Golfito Costa Rica to load their boat on the same north bound freighter as we are.

As good as this dinner was, I probably shouldn’t (but, will) mention another that was remarkable for a completely different reason. Roberta and I wanted to celebrate our arrival in Costa Rica and made dinner reservations at a fancy hotel, outside Los Suenos. When seated, we were disappointed that the dining room had no view, but decided “we see the water every day,” and ordered a nice bottle of wine. We then were brought stale bread, and tiny, unappetizing appetizers. Each of us had ordered a shrimp dish as our main course. It arrived before we could finish our appetizers, and the shrimp had the rubbery raw, translucent, appearance that neither of us likes. We started to send back the main courses, but the dinner was just not going well, and I had doubts that the shrimp would taste good raw or cooked. In a complete first for us, Roberta went to the car, while I explained that my wife wasn’t feeling well, and we had to leave. $160 dolllars later I joined her in the car, where we drove to an ice cream parlor, and had a very delicious, but cold, dinner.

We finally decided it was time to head inland and see the country, or go to anchor, and anchoring won. We decided on a week at anchor, after which we’d get serious about inland touring.

We left the marina at 6am. Our goal was Isla Tortugas, a small island a short 25 or so miles across the bay from Los Suenos. Inside the marina conditions had been dead calm, but once in open water, things were a bit rougher. We had 15 knots of wind from the north, hitting us on the starboard side. The seas were 3-4 foot white-capped chop. The boat didn’t seem to notice the chop, so, no problem. What did seem to be a problem was a large freighter which would be crossing in front of us, arriving from the north. I wanted to work my way west, and slightly north. The AIS system was telling me I would easily cross a half mile in front of the freighter. More if I sped up. However, I have a healthy respect for freighters, and decided slowing down to pass behind was the wiser answer. Actually, I would need to slow down too much, so I decided to turn north, to pass behind the freighter. To my north was a large fishing boat, moving west, at about 4 knots. I would need to pass behind him, but how far behind him? From the binoculars it looked like he might be pulling a net. I wish there were a course to take in understanding commercial fishing. My guess is that he did indeed have a net, and that it was being dragged 100-200 feet behind his boat, but guessing is not good. To remove all doubt, I gave him a healthy mile of clearance before passing behind him.

The anchorage at Isla Tortugas is described in the cruising guides as a “stunning” half-mile wide white sand beach. I was looking forward to it! However, as we approached the beach, it was becoming obvious that the north wind was not going to subside, and the anchorage faces north. Anchoring would not be comfortable. Thus, we started studying the guidebooks for an alternate better protected anchorage.

This was easily found, just 10 miles further north, at Islas Muertos. There, we found a large, shallow (mostly around 9’ at low tide) bay which was well protected on almost all sides. The cruising guides refer to a “yatista-friendly Sportfishing resort” that is in the bay, but we couldn’t find it. In fact, we didn’t see much of anything. We had the whole bay to ourselves!



When you find a great anchorage, problems evaporate and life is good. We dropped the tender and the swim ladder. It would have been nice to have clearer water and a white sand beach, but we weren’t complaining. The water was 84 degrees, and the swimming good. We explored various beaches on the tender, barbecued steaks on the back deck, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

We have been told that we should keep an eye on our tender around here; that there have been reports of tenders being stolen. The right answer, if in doubt, is to put the tender back on the deck of the boat at night. This isn’t difficult, but it also isn’t easy. I decided we would be fine to leave the tender in the water, but tie it tightly to the boat. I moved the tender to the side of Sans Souci, and tied it using some line that came with our sea anchor. The line is nearly 1.5 inches thick, and meant to hold Sans Souci in place in gale force wind and waves. I supplemented this with our electronic dog alarm. For those of you who might never have used one of these, it’s kind of cool. It’s slightly bigger than an ipod, and is a motion detector. When it senses movement, it emits a LOUD, very realistic sounding, mean dog barking sound. I figured anyone approaching the tender might be scared away by the dog, and if not, perhaps the giant rope holding the tender would make it more of a challenge than would be worth their while.

The tidal swing here is ten feet. This can make it interesting if you try to land your tender on the beach. Here we see my first experiment with anchoring the tender using a giant bungie cord (the “anchor buddy”). We knew we were on a rising tide, so I dropped anchor, and then motored the tender to shore. Roberta, Shelby and I stepped off, and we watched the bungee cord immediately suck the tender back to deeper water. After a half hour of exploring the beach the tender had moved 50 feet or so further out from shore, but it was just a matter of reeling it in via a long rope.



One thing that was a bit disappointing: The beach was covered with litter.

We had planned only a single night, but when you are having fun, why be in a hurry? And, for our second night, we were finally able to anchor alongside a Nordhavn 40, Alanui, with Scott and Marian Bulger. Both Paloma and Alanui were participants in the Fubar (San Diego to La Paz Rally). We left San Diego together on Nov 7th, but haven’t seen each other since Cabo. Scott will be traveling through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean, and then up the east coast of the US. I was looking forward to hanging out and hearing about Scott and Marion’s adventures, but this was not to be. Marion apparently had the same crud as I had just gotten over, so Scott and I swapped quick visits to each other’s boat, but that was it. He left the next morning to go into Los Suenos for a couple nights and then to head for the canal.






Whatever it was that I had, and that Marion had, it suddenly decided to attack Roberta. On the morning we were to leave our anchorage, Roberta was suddenly too sick to get out of bed. I spent the day playing with my computer and had far more fun than her. I used the little laptop-sized satellite internet bgan unit that gives me decent speed internet, at a cost that is a tenth of what I’d pay on my Fleet 77. I’m not looking forward to seeing the bill, but the bgan unit has definitely earned its keep on this trip. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have satellite coverage in Alaska, so I’ll be back to running slow and expensive. Oh well… The good news is that although Roberta’s crud was worse than mine, it ended much faster. After a day resting, she was ready to move on.

The Coonans (Paloma) had said that one of their favorite anchorages was at Naranjo, just 10 miles north of us. The whole weeks forecast is for winds from the north. This was yesterday, and the forecast called for 18 knot winds. The anchorage at Naranjo is open to the north, but 5 miles away there is another anchorage which is shielded from north winds, on the southern side of the island of Caballo. It was so calm at Muertos that we decided “Let’s just try for Naranjo, and if we don’t like the wind when we get there, we’ll hide out at Caballo.”

This is exactly how it played out, with a couple of added surprises. Between Muertos and Naranjo there was an endless stream of nets in the water. Or, at least we think they were nets. All we ever saw were floating bleach bottles, some black, and some white, black flags, and red flags. Sometimes, the patterns were obvious, and it was possible to guess at which markers were linked, but not always. We did our best zigzagging, and went miles out of the way. We successfully traversed the mine field with no ropes on our props.

As we reached the main east-west channel just south of Puntarenas (the big town around here), the wind did indeed pickup. It was only 15 to 18 knots from the north, and the “fetch” was only a mile or two, so one wouldn’t think there would be much in the way of waves. Maybe it is just the shallow water, but we were suddenly in four foot white-capped waves, once again on our starboard side. The stabilizers handled it just fine. I’ve been watching the stabilizers closely. My hydraulic system normally runs 125 degrees. All seems fine, but the temperature lately has been running 142 degrees. There are no leaks, and the fluid level is fine. Perhaps it is just the high water temperature (85 degrees), or perhaps something more sinister? I don’t know. I’d like to blame the water temperature, but we’ve been in warm water for weeks. Without the stabilizers this particular run would be a lot less fun.

As we approached Naranjo, it did look like a good anchorage, but not in a north wind. We were going to need our backup anchorage. To reach it we just needed to go 5 miles north across a shallow 25 foot deep shoal. It felt a little strange to run so far, in such shallow water, with such rough water. As we arrived, the water flattened completely. Yay! We had to tuck in a little tighter to the island than I liked, anchoring just 500 feet off shore. Also, we were dropping anchor in a very fast current. I have no way of guessing the speed but would guess it as 3-5 knots.



The water was 20 feet deep, at low tide, and with the current and wind, I decided to drop 150 feet of chain. The current was strong enough that the chain, which normally hangs straight down, was taut and stretched. The wind was still registering as 10-15 knots, so I was curious to see which would have more “pull” – the current or the wind. This was no competition. Current trumps wind. The boat would generally turn to face the wind, but our physical location was determined by the current. I mention this only because it put me to thinking. In terms of pounds of pressure on an anchor: Which is more? Three knots of current, or 15 knots of wind? Here, I was watching it play out, and clearly, the current wins, and it isn’t close. At times, the wind was directly counter to the current, and it still wasn’t a contest. I’m not sure what the math is, but my guess is that the strain on the anchor was more what one might see in a 30-40 knot wind.

Prior to this trip, I swapped my anchor to an unusual choice; the Rocna anchor. It was a bit of a controversial decision, in that I gave away my Nordhavn-recommended CQR anchor to swap to a funny-looking anchor that few have heard of. People are always asking me how it is working out, and I’ve always said the same thing: “I don’t know.” You really don’t know what you have, or I least I don’t know what I have, with an anchor until it has been tested in tough conditions a few times. We have a fair amount of experience with anchoring in ugly conditions. During our three summers in the Med, we often anchored in 30+ knot winds, and even had a night with sustained winds over 55, and gusts to 75 knots. I’m proud to say that we never dragged once our anchor was properly set. There were times it took us a few tries to get the anchor properly good and stuck, but once stuck, it stayed stuck.



I selected the Rocna based on its reputation for easy setting, and its ability to reset itself quickly if it drags. My initial interest came from reading an article about the Dashews (popular boating authors) using it on their boat, and then another Nordhavn owner, Scott Strickland, mentioned that the “roll bar” anchors had suddenly become quite popular in the Med. After a bit of research, I decided to give it a try.



Until now, we’ve been lucky at anchor, and none of the conditions we’ve been in have “tested” the anchor. Last night, I would consider as the first night where we were able to give the Rocna a bit of a work out, and the results are far from conclusive. The confusing looking diagram above is a picture taken from our Nobeltec navigation screen. The red lines show the path traversed by our boat. The current is flowing left and right in this diagram, and you can see here several tide cycles, as the boat was pushed to the left by the current, and then to the right. Land is 500 feet to the north, and the circular mark shows where I dropped the anchor. At first, the boat was sitting to the far left on this diagram, weaving back and forth normally, 110 feet from where I dropped anchor. As the tide reversed, and started running left to right (in this diagram), you can see where we started weaving back and forth on the far right. The bad news is that the far right tracks are 190 feet from where I dropped anchor. I doubt my 150 foot of chain stretched. My interpretation is that the Rocna broke anchor, dragged about 30 feet, and reset itself. It is possible that I had more chain out than I thought, but I don’t think so. The good news in this is that the Rocna did what it was supposed to do. It dragged, and reset. I’ve watched boats drag anchor, and watched them dragged onto the beach. This is only one incident, and it is inconclusive, but it is encouraging. Assuming I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, I’m disappointed it didn’t stick (this is a mud bottom, so it has a good excuse), but very happy that it reset itself so neatly.

One more story from our night here at Caballo. Yesterday when we arrived, this was a deserted island. We saw no one, and couldn’t imagine boats other than us crazy enough to be running around in the wind and chop. Thus, I was a little sloppy with the tender. I tied it alongside, but with a normal-sized line, and I didn’t turn on the electric dog. Because of the strong current, Roberta and I decided that we should check the anchor every couple of hours all night. At midnight, Roberta was looking out the window, and noticed a panga, with only a flashlight for light, circling our boat. They were clearly checking us out. Roberta woke me, and we watched together as the panga made another circle. Through the binoculars I could see that the panga had only a single man. Roberta wanted to send a message that we were onboard and awake, so she lit the cockpit, and took Shelby out for a minute to “use the restroom.” A few minutes after she re-entered the boat, the panga went around behind us, backed off about 200 feet, shut off all lights, and just sat there. Was it anchored? Was he waiting for us to fall asleep? If it was indeed a tender thief, did I really want to try to stop him? After discussing these questions, we decided it was just a curious fisherman, who like us, wanted protection from the wind.

After watching (on the radar, and with night vision) for a while, it became obvious that the fisherman had dropped anchor and gone to sleep. According to my math he was outside my swing circle, but given the uncertain holding of my anchor, I wasn’t absolutely positive. At 1am, the tide was changing, and I knew we were going to be shifting his way, and would be establishing a much closer relationship. Exactly how close was yet to be determined, and he clearly wasn’t worried about it. He was happily asleep, in a completely dark tender. For the next hour, as the current started moving, I watched as we drifted his direction, but the anchor held, and he was fine.

It is now morning, and our friend has been joined by MANY more pangas. And, all the pangas have NETS! I’ve been watching panga after panga set their nets around me. From where I’m sitting it appears we are boxed in. I can count 12 pangas within the square mile around me. One panga guy was close enough I could say “Buenos Dias”, to which he pointed at his net, and said “Camarones”, the Spanish word for shrimp. This confused me as I always thought shrimp crawled along the bottom. Perhaps the net is dragging the bottom, and moving with the current? Does this mean I can drive over it? So many questions….



Time to start thinking about pulling anchor. That said, the wind is back to 14 knots. It looks calm here, but I doubt Naranjo would be good for anchoring. It’s time for Roberta and I to talk about “Where next?”

Thank you,

Ken Williams Sans Souci,
www.nordavn68.com

_________________________________________________________________________
Your Email (send questions to me, at: kenw @ seanet.com ) My responses are preceded by +++


I’m getting the Kaleidescape put into our boat!! My question though is, did you take any special precautions in to protect your unit? What I’m afraid of is any possible accidental spikes sent from times when I switch from Genset to shore, etc.. Being a computer geek(Unix, SAN, and Cisco admin) I know to not push my luck but I’m wondering.. Should I put a line filter or small battery backup on the other side of this?? What did you do, and how is working out for you.

John F
 

+++ You’ll love the Kaleidescape! It’s expensive, but VERY popular on our boat. We did a small APC, which sits next to the Kaleidescape. I looked for a model number, but could just find the text: “S20 Power Conditioner and Battery Backup”.
[Note: The Kaleidescape is a DVD jukebox. It’s super-easy to use, and holds a thousand DVDs, and many thousands of audio CDs. As I said – it is VERY popular onn Sans Souci.

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On the Tender issue I have a Large Nautica Wide Body 15′ Tender with 90 HP engine, teak interior, navigation system, dive tank storage, and on on on, very tricked out for long exploration trips and having fun, but also a small 3.5 meter (11.5′) AB with Aluminum bottom and 15 HP Yamaha 2 stroke. Its very light – tender is 130 lbs., engine is 79 lbs plus the small fuel tank. Although its small it holds 6 people, will plane off with 2-4 people, is relatively dry, is good in waves, and easy to beach. Its used by the crew for washing the hull and getting supplies etc. two people can easily drag it up or down a beach. Only issue with it is that the Aluminum bottom requires it to be painted about 2x a yr. Its perfect for beaching. Anything smaller is just too small.

Richard A


+++ I still haven’t decided what we’re going to do, other than “something different”. As soon as I get to Seattle, this will be a priority

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+++ The following comments are excerpted from emails from friends; John Henrichs, a Nordhavn 64, and David Sidbury, who has the second Nordhavn 68, in response to my commenting to them about the surge at Los Suenos, and the line damage.


Ken,

Do you have any old garden hose? Cut it in 3 foot pieces and run your lines thru it so the cleat and rub areas are in contact with the hose. You may need to change it out dependent on surge and the thickness and quality of the hose.
How are the Aere Fenders doing? Have you had to put a little more air in them? Any abrasion of the fender on the dock? Does it ever settle down or is this surge typical?
DS


+++ I don’t know what is “typical” at Los Suenos. One theory is that we are starting to get late in the season, and the weather is starting to be a bit more unsettled. This is the time of years when boats start heading elsewhere to avoid hurricane season. As to the Fenders, I am using inflatable fenders, from www.praktek.com. I have their extreme duty fenders, and they have been awesome. They are much lighter than normal fenders and can be easily deflated when not needed.

————-


Ken,

Here is what the owner of our old boat has done to help with the surge. He has wrapped the line with small diameter fire hose. He got it from a firefighter. Not sure of the diameter. Next he attached a length of chain to the dock cleat and I think used a anchor large anchor thimble through the chain and not sure about more fire hose. I will get the exact way he set it up, but it did stop the chaffing. Check to see if any of the boats have chain on the cleats and how they attached it. I haven’t seen the setup, but only listened and thought it was a good idea.

One other thing I have done which has helped in a surge is to run 2 or even 3 lines from the same cleat to the same cleat on the boat. That might help share the load.

Good luck with the chaffing and let me know what you see with the other boats.

John


+++ We’re at anchor now, but heading back to Los Suenos sometime in the next few days. Towards the end of being there before, I was much better at tying to counter the surge. We’ll see what happens when I tie up this time, but I abandoned the short lines at the corner on the stern, in favor of a two “V” lines going from the center of the stern to the corners of the slip. This seemed to keep me stable with less chafing. I also put much longer spring lines, and a lot of them. I probably had four lines on each side of the boat. There’s one very cool thing I should mention that Los Suenos has. The cleats can easily be repositioned. They are mounted on rails, and can be slid to any position easily. Once I understood this, I could move the cleats to where they worked best. Perhaps I’m just kidding myself, but I think things will be much better this time around.


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Ken,
I think I remember that Roberta said she did not want to go to the Carib because “that is what everyone does”. She is correct, but there must be a good reason for so many people heading that way. In all seriousness, we really loved it and most of all everything on that side is about the water.

Stay safe.

P.S. – Tell her it is the greatest place for dogs!

Larry Biggs
Motor Vessel NEXUS Nexus47.com


+++ Roberta and I have a bit of a battle going over “what comes next after Alaska.” Roberta is an Indiana-Jones wannabee and excited by the idea of circumnavigating, whereas I usually don’t like any idea that sounds too wild and crazy. We’ve been discussing going to Japan via the Aleutians, along with another Nordhavn 62 (Grey Pearl), and that idea has the most momentum at this point. This would position us nicely for an Indonesia rally that both Roberta and I want to do. We’ll be seeing Grey Pearl soon and will start making decisions.

+++ Larry and I swapped a couple of emails on the topic of “why Sans Souci should head to the Caribbean”. Larry is further north now, working his way south to the canal. Here’s an excerpt from another of his emails:


Ken:

We are in tenacatita bay and will go to zwah in a day or two. Hope all is well.

Surfing to the beach is just one of the reasons we are heading to the carib. We were surprisingly impressed with Panama as a cruising destination. (We originally only thought of it as the canal location) We ended up spending months in Panama at places like the Perles islands, San Blas islands, Bocas del Toro, and Panama City.

Others reasons we are heading back to the carib:

• 100 foot visibility
• 80 degree water
•  80 degree air year round
• Every island a different culture
• Great food
• Dingy docks everywhere
• Sand no mud
• Short legs
• Lots of kids for Isabella
• Great cruising community
• Restaurants on the beach everywhere
• Cell and internet almost everywhere
• Easy flights in and out.
• Most of all – cruising island to island beats cruising the mainland

Tell Roberta we said hey!

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I read your post and thought I should mention – beware of “Logs” near rivers in Costa Rica – there are crocodiles. You should check with locals to see what areas to avoid.

Dan


+++ We haven’t seen any crocodiles yet. In fact, we haven’t seen a monkey yet. There’s a lot of Costa Rica we still need to see! As you said though, we have seen a lot of branches in the water. We haven’t yet seen any serious logs floating, and hope not too. Yesterday, we kept having to dodge to hit various floating broken chairs and table parts. I don’t know why.


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Ken:
Make sure if you get a rental car to drive to the “Alligator Bridge”. Everyone knows Where it is so just ask. At the risk of being politically incorrect, I suggest buying some raw chicken parts with you and some fishing line. Tie the parts LOOSELY to the line and dangle them over the alligators. They will go crazy and snap them up. They have to be loose so the chicken comes off easily.

Steve A



+++ Roberta already fed the alligators at the marina in Ixtapa. I’m thinking we’ve “scratched that off our list.” Grin.

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