Update #23 – Monkey Quest

Greetings all!

At the end of my last update we were anchored off Isla Caballo, surrounded by fishing nets. Once we pulled anchor, we weren’t sure what to do, so we pointed the boat at the nearest panga, and slowly worked our way his direction. We were thinking we could get close and shout to him to ask which way to go. Roberta was driving, and I was up on the bow. This was a little backwards, in that Roberta speaks Spanish, and I don’t, but Roberta is shy about speaking with strangers. I asked her what I should say, and she said “Just look confused.” That would be easy. As we approached, the panga started retreating. The closer we came the faster he hauled in net and backed up. I signaled for Roberta to stop. This wasn’t working. We weren’t really close enough for him to hear me, but I shouted anyhow “BUENO?” and pointed the direction we wanted to go. He gave me a thumbs up, and a smile. Back underway, we convinced ourselves that we had deciphered the pattern. All we needed to do was to look for a black flag, and it would be at one end of a line (or, a net) that stretches about a quarter mile away to a panga. Recognizing this pattern it was easy to work our way out of the fishing zone. We used one other strategy: I used the binoculars to watch the face of the guy in the nearest panga. If he looked worried then we were on track to run over his net. If he looked bored, we were probably safe.

Our goal the previous day had been Playa Naranajo, an anchorage on the south side of the bay. We thought about heading there, but we were in a north wind, and we didn’t think the anchorage would be comfortable. With all the current the prior evening, we hadn’t been able to sleep. Our #1 goal for the day was to find a nice calm secure anchorage. I suggested just heading south (20 miles) to Islas Tortugas, and Roberta agreed.

Isla Tortugas has been described as one of the prettiest beaches in the area, and as a popular anchorage. On our arrival, we discovered that the anchoring was far more challenging than expected.

Charlie’s Charts (one of the only two good cruising guides we’ve found for Costa Rica), says “Anchorage is in 4 to 5 fathoms, sand, and may be taken off the beach on the northern side of [the island]” The guide goes on to describe two rock pillars which mark the best place to anchor.

As we approached, we quickly spotted the two rock pillars. However, at about 500 feet off the beach, we were still in 90 feet of water. We decided to back the boat towards the pillars until we reached the “4 to 5 fathoms” promised (24-30 foot depth). Roberta backed up the boat as I stood on the stern to monitor the distance to shore. By the time she said “30 feet”, I was afraid we were going to beach the boat! We had the stern no more than 50 feet from shore. At most, we had three feet of water under the stern. This wasn’t going to work. We pulled forward to a safe distance, and the depth was 75 feet, and falling fast. I decided that we must be looking at the wrong rock pillars, but we weren’t. My theory is that Charlie’s Charts was written for sail boats, mostly around 30 foot length, and that their anchoring requirements are quite different than mine. There are places they can go that I can’t. Argh.

We decided to compromise. By dropping at 45 foot depth, with 150 foot of chain out, my stern could potentially be within 100 feet of shore. This should put us where the boat would still have 10 to 15 foot depth in the worst possible case (a wind blowing us straight at shore). My first preference would have been for an alternate anchoring location. However, to our west, there was a shoal of only 13’ depth, and it was littered with mooring buoys. There were a few places we could have anchored, but small commercial fishing boats were taking up all the space. To our east, there wasn’t room. It was here, or find an alternate anchorage. Deep down, I assumed it was a non-issue. The tides here run eight to ten feet. I figured there would be non-stop current running east or west, which would easily keep me away from shore (to our south).

Murphy’s Law must have been written by a boater. No sooner had the sun set than the wind switched around to the north. To my surprise, the tidal flow wasn’t moving the boat. The wind pushed the back of the boat towards the beach, and suddenly that 100 foot gap between the boat and shore was looking tighter than I liked. The primary thing bugging me was that we had dropped anchor on a fairly steep incline. I have confidence in our Rocna anchor on a flat bottom, but had no experience with anchoring on an incline. This was clearly going to be a night of “anchor watch”. Exactly what I didn’t want.

At low tide I was regularly measuring the depth, at the stern, by dipping the boat hook in the water. We always had 10’ of water under us, which did make me feel a bit better.

Aside from the anchoring situation, it was a wonderful anchorage! The water was suddenly clean and clear, and we were on a very pretty white sand beach. The cruising guides discuss it as being a half-mile long beach, which I doubt, but it is definitely beautiful

Have I ever mentioned that we have stern lights on Sans Souci? These were something I hadn’t really planned on, and was even a little embarrassed to have ordered. They seemed totally useless. I was wrong. Now, I would strongly recommend them to anyone building a boat. They have been fantastic, and make dinners fun. Our primary dining location is the table behind the pilot house on the upper aft deck. It’s like having a ring-side seat at one of the world’s greatest aquariums. Every anchorage has a different personality. At some anchorages, we see only a few fish, but at others it can be amazing. Isla Tortugas ranks in the top five. We’ve never seen such a wide variety of fish. We even saw a Barracuda, and had a large shark (>5’) that hung out the entire evening at the stern of the boat. The only downside is that in cases like this, it can tend to ruin any swimming you may have thought you were going to do.

Roberta and I wanted to monitor the anchor through a complete tide cycle, which meant staying up until 3am. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds, in that we’re watching the final season of Sopranos, and it meant watching four episodes in a row, sitting in the pilot house. At 3am we shifted to once an hour monitoring. The anchor never shifted, and we never moved an inch closer to shore.

As daylight came, so did the tourists. Boat load, after boat load, after boat load, after boat load.

Roberta thought it ruined the experience, and twisted my arm to move on to another anchorage. I wanted to go to shore, but we were both worn out, and it made sense to move to the next anchorage early in the day. I wanted somewhere “restful” with lots of depth and room to swing.

When we dined with the Coonan’s (Paloma, Nordhavn 43) last week they mentioned anchoring overnight at Curu, which was a wildlife refuge only a few miles away. Neither of our guidebooks listed it as an anchorage. Charlie’s charts “sort of” mentioned it, but the text ends, in their guide, half-way through describing Curu. The last four words on page 46 of the guide are: “Day anchorage may be” and then the sentence never finishes. Roberta and I debated what the rest of the sentence might be. On the chart it looked a nice wide anchorage, so we decided “Let’s get there early, and if we like it we’ll stay, and if not we have time to go elsewhere.”

The bay in front of the Curu wildlife refuge is awesome. I can see why it isn’t listed as an anchorage, because it is open to the south and east. With the wrong wind there can be a lot of swell. But, compared to some of the swell we’ve seen in other anchorages, it was acceptable. And besides, I was happy to trade a little swell for a nice wide bay with plenty of depth and nothing to bump into.

In 40 minutes Roberta and I put the flopper stoppers out, and had an entire bay, with a mile long beach, all to ourselves. Depths throughout most the bay seemed to be a steady 13 feet at low tide. This meant 22 feet at high tide. We always like to enter new bays at low tide, as it gives us a sense of what the “worst” looks like.

This gave me a chance to experiment with the Sonar. I wouldn’t say it was of zero value, but it hasn’t been as useful as I had hoped for in these situations. What I really want is something that will look for a 500 foot radius in all directions, and tell me if anything comes under about 15 feet of depth. This sounds simple, but isn’t. The Sonar seemed useless in water so shallow, if trying to look over about 50 feet from the boat. I have a phone number for one of the Sonar trainers at Furuno and called him on the sat phone. No luck. I then called David Sidbury, owner of the second N68, and discussed what I was trying to accomplish. David really hasn’t had time to experiment with his unit yet, but felt that in such shallow water, I wasn’t going to be able to do what I wanted. Thus, I did it the old fashioned way. I jumped in the tender, and circled the boat many times looking for shallow spots or rocks. As I had already been 99.9% certain, we were fine.


We wanted to go to shore to explore the wildlife refuge. We had now been in Costa Rica for nearly two weeks and not seen a monkey! This had to change.


Getting to shore was easy. Here you can see that we anchored the tender with Sans Souci in the background. One thing worth noting about this picture is how much beach is revealed. Although the tide is only down by 10’, the shoreline is showing 150’ of sand. As we were wading to shore, I was reminding myself that I might have a 150 foot swim back to the tender. I wasn’t as worried about Roberta or I, as I was about Shelby (our dog). She doesn’t like water, and thinks she looks dumb in her dog lifejacket.


Once on shore, it was a quick hike to the entrance to the wildlife refuge. The girl at the gate took one look at Shelby and shook her head “no.” She said Shelby was fine with her, but that there are monkeys and Coyotes who would want to eat Shelby. We would need to return the next day Shelby-less.


Back on Sans Souci, the swell had gotten worse. I remembered seeing a large boat in Ixtapa that had used a stern anchor to keep their nose pointed into the swell. I had time to kill, so I decided I’d experiment. I’ve never put out a stern anchor. In this situation I was fairly certain it wouldn’t work. The tide swing was going to want to rotate me 180 degrees at some point. If I put the stern anchor out, I would have my stern to the incoming tide at some point, and I didn’t think that would work. But, with time to kill, why not give it a try? Step 1 was to find the stern anchor and figure how to deploy it. My stern anchor is hidden at the back of a locker in the portugese bridge. Getting it out meant removing all the junk stored in front of it, and then putting it together. I have a disassembled Fortress which I carry as a backup to our primary anchor. Once I found it, I realized that it was a 110 pound anchor, and not something I could drop, or retrieve, by hand. My vision had been to use the tender to drop the stern anchor. Even if I got the anchor down, I’d never pull it back up by hand. Obviously I need to buy a much smaller anchor to use as a stern anchor…. Maybe 50 pounds? Oh well, the swell would be annoying, but we’ve seen much worse.

The next morning, Roberta and I tendered back to the beach, this time without Shelby, and paid our $10 each to visit the wildlife refuge. Within seconds of paying, we saw a little girl playing with a monkey.

Being naturally cynical, I assumed it was a pet monkey, but after people started gathering around to watch, the monkey wandered off into the woods.

We then came to a sign offering us a selection of walks through the jungle, ranging from a gentle 45 minute stroll to an “all day” strenuous climb. Easy decision: 45 minutes….

On our entire stroll with saw exactly zero wildlife. It was very scenic, and a nice walk, but the closest we came to a monkey was seeing a moving shadow in a tree that we thought might be a monkey. We did hear howler monkeys, as we were promised we would. The howling, plus the constant “Beware of crocodile” signs gave the walk a spooky feel.

Keeping with the theme of recycling, the trash cans, along the path, were coded for recycling.



As our walk ended, we were trying to decide if we hadn’t seen any wildlife because we picked the “wimpy-walk” or if the one monkey was all there was. We walked back to the little store where we’d bought our tickets, and while in front of it, I sighted a monkey in a tree!


Monkeys are smart little critters. I should have known that they would want to stick close to where they are most likely to get fed. After seeing this one monkey, we were suddenly surrounded by dozens of the little critters! I could have saved $20, and 45 minutes, just by hanging out in front of the entry gate!

The last picture above is a very happy Roberta shaking hands with a real-live Costa Rica monkey. She said its’ paw was much softer than expected, and it didn’t want to let go…

Meanwhile, a Windstar cruiseship had dropped anchor next to Sans Souci, and a sail boat. We weren’t alone anymore! – Time to move on.

Our next destination: Punta Leona, a well-protected anchorage, 25 miles back across the bay. The beach there is called “Playa Manta” because of all the sting rays. There is a fancy beach club that dominates the beach, and some lack of clarity as to whether or not we’d be welcomed ashore. Our two reference books are the Rain’s Guide to Central America, and Charlie’s Charts of Central America. One book says “Don’t try to go ashore. They will not serve you, and will charge you $20 to land.” The other book says “Yatistas are welcome as long as they spend lots of money at the restaurant and pay $20 (each) to land.” This to me meant we should give it a try, but Roberta didn’t feel like trying. She blamed the confusion over whether or not we were welcome, but I know the truth: Wading through sting rays didn’t sound fun to her. We stayed at anchor for the night and enjoyed the view, which was beautiful! As always, we dined on the upper aft deck of Sans Souci, with the underwater lights going, hundreds of fish dropping by to visit, the barbecue grilling steaks, and a nice bottle of wine. Life, as always, is good on Sans Souci.

Whenever we move from one anchorage to another, we keep the flopper stoppers out, but bring in the metal plates that do the actual stabilization.

In the picture above you see that we had a surprise when lifting the plates aboard – THE LINE WAS COVERED WITH HUNDREDS OF LITTLE CRABS!!! I was worried that if they got aboard ship they’d multiply and we’d have a total mess. Roberta said they’d die immediately when out of the water. I still didn’t want them on the boat, and we hosed the lines off as they were brought aboard.

Our last night at anchor was spent anchored in front of Los Suenos. We arrived late, and weren’t quite ready to go back to the slip yet. We don’t know if we’ll take the boat out again here in Costa Rica. Therefore, we were in no hurry.

The bay in front of Los Suenos is a little funny in that it is used by the ships that are too large to get into the marina. My guess is that no boats over 150 feet can fit in the marina, and yet this is THE PLACE to be in Central America. Therefore, it becomes a megayacht parking lot in front of the marina entrance. Roberta and I proudly wedged our little (by comparison) boat between two giant yachts (Ice Bear and Arctic Eagle), and dropped anchor.

This morning we came into the marina, at slack tide, with no wind – my favorite conditions. We’re now tied up at the dock, and a local guy is already washing the boat.

Barring unexpected events, this concludes my blog updates from this trip. We have discussed taking the boat out again, but probably won’t. Roberta and I will spend the next couple of weeks touring, and exploring Costa Rica, by car. If anything interesting happens, I’ll send out a blog, but there are 100s of writers who write about land tours. I can’t imagine I could add anything interesting to the mix.

That said, I am working on one last update that I’ll send out tomorrow (or, the next day), summarizing the high and low points of the voyage. I’ve been thinking about it all morning, and can’t wait to start writing. It’s a trip worth remembering… I’ll resume normal updates around May 15th when we start preparing for Alaska. In the meantime, I’ll be updating my website (http://www.kensblog.com) , so watch the “What’s New” page for my random postings.

Thank you, and I hope you are somewhere great doing your own cruising!

Ken Williams


You may email me at: kenw @ seanet.com – Note: When writing me – DO NOT send my own update back. My internet connection is usually SLOW and EXPENSIVE. Be gentle on it…

PS – My responses below are preceded by +++


As I sit here reading your blog from Costa Rica, we are comfortable in Costa Baja Marina, LaPaz. I want to thank you for the wonderful and colorful insights on boating from from great distances from the Pacific Coastal securities, and far from home. AS the “Sweeper Boat” in the Fubar Odyssey, we welcome the creative genius of the internet email to keep us entertained as well as educated. Thank you Ken.

Thank you again.
Larenzo T,
Midnight Voyage Captain to Admiral Susan

We thank you so so much. Keep the blogs a coming.

+++ Thank you! I wonder if anyone has done any survey to see what happened to all the Fubar boats? I think we left San Diego with 60 boats, and I only know about three that are going through the Panama Canal.

+++ I’ve heard nothing but glowing reports about the Costa Baja Marina in La Paz. It sounds like you are in a great place!


Hi Ken,
I am interested in your chaffing problem. Are you still experiencing the chaffing of your mooring lines? Which lines showed the most wear and what have you done to help the problem? We are going to keep our boat at Coral in Ensenada for a while and I have heard that there is a surge in the harbor and appreciate any ideas/

Thanks, John

+++ I really don’t have a solution yet. We just re-entered the marina at Los Suenos, and I tied the lines much differently. The lines that cut through were the short lines in the corners at the stern. I’ve removed those lines completely now, and am using a “V” line going from the center of the stern to two widely spaced cleats. We need to leave the boat here unattended for a couple weeks (at Los Suenos in Costa Rica), so I’m thinking I’ll speak with the local marine store about what they might offer. I’ll let you know what I find that works. I was hoping the surge would have stopped, but it is still as bad as I remember it.


I am sensing from your blog and emails that you all are having fun together since the crew departed and getting more and more into what we refer to as the cruise-mellow mode. It is important to have some of that time. Although you have not mentioned it I can visualize you all in the hot tub at anchor with no boat in sight – stars out – a little tub/vino edge on – we are really happy for you all.


+++ Hey! You must have been peeking. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing.


Ken – I have a new Outer Reef 80 which displaces about 180,000 # and originally had specified two CQRs. I, like you, read about the Rocna and replaced my main anchor with the Rocna Model # 70 which weighs 154 #. I have been so impressed with how quickly she sets that I am considering replacing my “lunch hook” CQR (105 #) but have not done this as of yet. After many, many years of cruising with my other boats using the CQR, this is quite a change in my thoughts. I have always liked the CQR but have on certain occasions had to dive on them to get them to set. Sometimes they will lie on their sides and just slowly drag. In your message you did not mention the weight of your anchor. Also I compliment Outer Reef for designing excellent anchor roller system which easily handles both of my anchors and I do like having two to place at 45 degrees of each other if I expect a particularly strong blow. The good thing about the Rocna is it has an attachment spot where you can add another anchor in tandem which some people feel is superior to two anchors set in a V. I enjoy your blogs very much – Jeff

+++ I have the Rocna 110, which weighs about 250 pounds. We’ve anchor probably 50 times over the past four months, and never had the Rocna fell to set on the first try. It’s an amazing anchor! My biggest fear was that it would be difficult to lift, but it has never gotten stuck. Today was a bit of a headache, in that the anchor came up completely caked in mud. The mud was so thick the anchor wash wouldn’t clean it. I had to use a combination of a boat hook, raising and dropping the anchor several times, and the anchor wash to finally get it clean.

+++ I’ve read about using Tandem anchors, and always been nervous to try it. If you have set tandem anchors, email me with the approach you used. I’d like to give it a shot!

+++ One last comment: I have a dual anchor setup, which needs refined. I can’t seem to get two anchors to co-exist. That said, I am not disappointed. The anchor lockers on this boat are large enough to park a car in. The port side locker has a chain in it, and all the gear to launch an anchor if I should ever lose my primary anchor, but for now, I’m using it to store all my bulky dive gear, and for fender storage. When we sit still for a bit (some day I hope..) I plan to install shelving in the anchor locker. There’s plenty of room for shelves to co-exist with the anchor chain. Currently all the dive gear is just laying at the bottom of the locker, and if we ever get tossed around in heavy seas, I don’t want anyhing heavy banging around.

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