Update # 24 – Winding down in Costa Rica

[Los Suenos, Costa Rica, 9 38.981N, 84 39.857W]

Greetings all!

I mentioned in my last update that I’d send a “trip summary.”

I started writing something with “Favorite marina” (Barra) and “Favorite anchorage” (Tenacatita), but decided just to summarize it all with just the most important statistics:

Serious Mechanical Problems: ZERO
Days Lost to Weather: ZERO
Miles Run: Approx. 3,500
Fun Had: Lots

We did have a period of time when we couldn’t use shore power, but that didn’t slow us down; we just ran the generator.

While on the topic of mechanical issues, we did have a problem that could have been quite serious, that didn’t show up until AFTER we were safely in our slip here at Los Suenos, in Costa Rica.

Some of you might recall that I mentioned that the hydraulic system (stabilizers, thrusters, windlasses, anchor wash) was running warmer than normal. This turned out to be a hint of bigger problems. Surprisingly, our first clue as to what was happening came when the air conditioning suddenly stopped and refused to run. The error message indicated that it was having trouble with the cooling system.

I checked the sea chest, and to my surprise, it was empty! The sea chest, for those not familiar with the sea chest, is literally a box, slightly bigger than a shoe box, that has a glass top. It sits in the floor of the engine room, and all seawater that comes into the boat, except the sea water used to cool the main engines, flows through the sea chest. Why would we want sea water into the boat? There are a couple reasons: Sea water is used to cool equipment on the boat, such as the hydraulics, the generators and the air conditioning. It is also used to provide water to the water makers. Each of these items could have its own hole in the bottom of the boat, to take in water. But, in order to reduce the number of holes in the bottom of the boat, Nordhavn uses a common sea chest on their larger boats. The sea chest has two large hoses that take in water from beneath the boat, and then any device on the boat that needs cooled simply has to attach to the sea chest.

The sea chest should always be full of water! There was obviously some problem getting water into the sea chest. None of the things that need cooling water, or the water makers, can run without the sea chest full of water!

There are strainers that are supposed to clean any crud out of the water before it gets to the sea chest. My first thought was that the strainers were dirty. This didn’t seem right, in that they had just been cleaned. And, they were indeed clean, as expected. My next step was to send down a diver, to inspect the actual holes in the hull. They were unobstructed.

The next step was a little trickier. We had to remove the hoses between the strainers and the through-hulls, and inspect them. When removing the hoses (there are two that the sea chest uses to take in water) we discovered that the inside of the through-hulls were completely clogged by barnacles. There is a 90 degree elbow in the brass through-hull and apparently the diver hadn’t been able to see the obstruction. We then looked at the hoses themselves, and found several surprises within them. One hose had half a fairly good sized fish in it! The other had a plastic bag. It was amazing we had been running at all.

The sea chest provides the cooling water for so many different things that if this had happened while at anchor or underway I would have had a real mess. I still don’t know if the hoses had been slowly getting worse for months, or if this just happened recently.

As a result of this I posted a message on the Nordhavn owners group asking what regular maintenance I should be doing that I’m not. I’ve never had this happen before, and always thought that having a diver check the thru-hulls periodically, and regular checking of the strainers, was all that was needed. I learned three things:

1) I need to install exterior strainers, to help avoid sucking fish and plastic bags into the sea chest.
2) When in extremely warm water (the water temp is 86 here in Costa Rica), I need to take off the hoses and check them for growth at least every couple of months
3) I should periodically put some sort of anti-barnacle solution into the sea chest and strainers to kill any growth in them and the hoses.

What a pain in the tail! Actually, my sense is that I won’t have this problem in the future. The strainers will keep fish out, and I think the barnacle growth may have started when the boat was in Cabo San Lucas. We were in a slip for a month with the generator running, and only a couple of feet of water under the boat. I suspect that the close proximity of the bottom to the sea chest intakes may have been the start of my problem.

There aren’t a lot of “single points of failure” on a Nordhavn, but the sea chest is one of them. It needs carefully looked after.

And, on a completely different topic….

Over the past few weeks we’ve been dealing with “the surge” (movement of the water) here at Los Suenos. Sans Souci (our boat) is moored directly at the entrance to the marina. We’re in the section reserved for the larger boats, and most of the boats around us are 80 to 120 feet. My theory is that they put the big boats right at the entrance to the marina, because there is a huge amount of surge here. The boats are in constant motion, and need daily attention. It’s amazing to see these huge heavy boats thrown about by the surge. Last week, one of the largest boats, on the end tie, snapped a stern line, and started swinging out into the channel. Without some quick action by the crew it could have been a disaster.

During our first week here we wore completely through three dock lines, and popped a fender. During our second week, a line came loose during the night causing us to do some minor fiberglass damage to the swim step on the boat. Since then I’ve gotten much smarter at tying the boat, and am now feeling much better about how we are tied. We’re still moving, as are all the boats around us, but I now feel secure.

One technique that has worked for me is to avoid short lines. Originally, I was running a fairly short, perhaps six foot, line from each of the stern quarters, to the cleats on the dock. These are the lines that wore through the fastest. Now, I focus on long lines criss-crossed on the side of the boat, and at the stern.


Yesterday, the captain of a neighboring boat, John on Anne Marie, a large Burger, showed me a technique I thought worked well. We used the power of the boat to get the lines as tight as possible. By working on one line at a time, I used the power of Sans Souci’s engines to provide as much slack in each line as possible, and then the line was tied off. John was much braver than me at really throttling up, to create slack in the lines. The goal was to remove any tension from any line, so that I was solidly in place. Even with this, I noticed this morning that the lines have already stretched and that by tomorrow I may have to fire the engines and repeat the process.

As to exploring Costa Rica:

Roberta and I drove south about 60 miles to a national park: Manuel Antonio. We wanted to see how it looked as an anchorage. It’s a popular surfing beach, and looked tight as an anchorage, but we’ve heard from others that it was their favorite anchorage.

Our original plan had been to leave the boat here at Los Suenos, and let a delivery crew move the boat to Golfito, 200 miles south for loading on Yachtpath, a freighter which will take the boat to Victoria Canada, in a few weeks. However, we’re ready for something new. Los Suenos is great, but we would like to see more of Costa Rica.

We also visited the city of Quepos where they are building a new marina. Quepos is a cute little town, and we enjoyed exploring it. The marina looked well into construction, but I would guess it is at least a year away. There are a lot of nice restaurants, and nice beaches, in the Quepos and Manuel Antonio area.

As I type this, we’re 50/50 on running the boat south ourselves. If we do, I’ll certainly do another update, otherwise – this may be it. We depart for Alaska sometime around the end of May, and will begin a whole new adventure!

Anyway, that’s it for today. Make sure you read the email section that follows. The first couple of emails are not really emails to me. The first was sent to me third hand, and is a letter that appears to have been written for the US Coast Guard. The second is a message board posting by Scott Bulger, a Nordhavn owner, who talks about his experiences with fishing lines here in Central America.

Thank you, and happy cruising!

Ken Williams
Sans Souci www.kensblog.com

PS If you missed any updates, they are all on my website: http://www.kensblog.com – just click the large link on the left that says “BLOG”.


Send me email at: kenw @ seanet.com – NOTE – when writing me, DO NOT include my own email. I have slow and expensive internet most of the time, and it creates problems.

My comments are included below, preceded by +++

+++ The email that follows was sent to me second hand. I pass it along as an example of the one thing that makes me the most nervous about cruising this far south. The boat mentioned, Besame, was anchored next to us at Tenacatita, and we also overheard suspicious radio broadcasts that may or may not have been Mexican Military.
Incident Report
M/Y BESAME – Incline Village, NV

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 – 10:30, BESAME departed the port of Zihuatanejo in transit to Tenacatita, approximately 230 NM. BESAME proceeded offshore approximately 25 miles and lowered speed to 8 knots to set fishing lines. After sunset, BESAME resumed speed of 10 knots and proceeded on a course of 315 degrees magnetic.

At approximately 18:50 a call was received on channel 16 from “Mexican Navy Ship”, to which BESAME responded. The “Mexican Navy Ship” requested that BESAME go to VHF channel 17 which BESAME did. The “Mexican Navy Ship” asked the questions, “How many persons onboard?” “Where is the vessel registered?” “What is the name of the vessel?” “Where was the last port the vessel was located?” “Where is the vessels next destination?” All of these questions were properly answered by the captain of BESAME. Following communications determined that the “Mexican Navy Ship” wanted to board BESAME for a “routine inspection”

Both the owner and captain of BESAME repeatedly asked the “Mexican Navy Ship” to identify itself. The response was “that is secret”, but the ship demanded that BESAME stop all engines for a routine boarding and inspection. At this time, BESAME was in international waters at 17’43N 102’55.6W at 19:15 hours. BESAME slowed engines and awaited the boarding party. Visually the crew of BESAME had identified the hull number of the “Mexican Navy Ship” as P-103. Being cautious of the refusal of the “Mexican Navy Ship” to identify itself, a call was placed to the 11th District United States Coast Guard in Southern California (510-437-3700) for consultation and instructions via satellite phone. Before contact was made with the 11th District Coast Guard, the launch boat of the “Mexican Navy Ship” was approaching without running lights. At approximately 19:20 hours they were approaching the stern platform of BESAME in what was now total darkness except for the running lights and interior lights on BESAME. The owners, guests, crew and captain were on the aft deck when the prospective boarders arrived to tie up on the stern of BESAME.

However, as they almost arrived on the stern, it was apparent that the six people in their launch were armed with automatic weapons, the person in front pointing a belt fed automatic weapon directly at the crew of BESAME. The people were also wearing black wool (or cotton) masks which covered their entire heads and faces. The owner and captain of BESAME called to them “to remove their masks and show proper identification if you want to board BESAME, otherwise we assume, given the attire and lack of identification, that you to be terrorists!”

No identification was presented or offered but one individual uncovered a portion of his face (not fully removing his mask) and claimed he was an officer. No other person abided to our request. The captain and owner unanimously decided to go full ahead on BESAME until the situation was clarified. The captain and owner of BESAME hailed the “Mexican Navy Ship” P-103 on the radio and emphasized that we were receptive to boarding for inspection but without masks on the boarding party and with identification of P-103 and the boarding party. In the meantime, BESAME resumed speed at 12 knots on a course of 305magnetic heading to Tenacatita.

By this point, BESAME had contacted via satellite phone the 11th Coast Guard District to report the incident and to await any instructions. In conversations with Coast Guard Personal at the 11th District, Captain Tejera, and later with Captain Delgatta, it was their instruction to proceed to BESAME’s next port which was the bay of Tenacatita and NOT allow anyone from P-103 to board BESAME. If communications were lost in an emergency, the emergency locator (E-PIRB) was to be activated. Also, BESAME reported her position to the 11th Coast Guard District several times, while P-103 was following 5-6 miles astern, before sighing off with the Coast Guard at approximately 21:10. With no further communication with P-103 “Mexican Navy Ship” or the United States Coast Guard, BESAME proceeded on her course of 305magnetic at a speed of 10 knots to her destination of Tenacatita. BESAME arrived at 09:30 on Thursday, March 6, 2008.

The 11th Coast Guard personnel were very professional and helpful in their instructions to BESAME and provided a good measure of comfort in a very tense situation. Armed persons with black face masks are not conducive to “routine inspections”.

In conclusion, BESAME was more than twenty miles offshore in total darkness and in sea swells of 12 to 15 feet when the boarding was attempted and thankfully nobody was injured nor any property damage or damage to BESAME occurred. Recommendations: 1) Notice to U.S. mariners regarding what should be expected from the Mexican Navy as standard protocol when requesting a boarding or inspection; 2) Notice to U.S. mariners regarding a protocol for communication to the USCG regarding non conformity with those protocols; and 3) communication of same to the Mexican Navy.

We should all be working together to fight terrorism and the drug trade; however an attempted boarding in international waters, with arms, with masks, and without identification is not a way to advance this effort.

Edward Persichetti, Captain M/Y Besame M.
Keith Huzyak, Owner M/Y Besame
Capt. Biz Olbey, USN (Ret.) Guest on M/Y Besame


+++ The following is an email another Nordhavn owner, Scott Bulger, posted on one of the cruising message boards, as a response to a question about long line fishing.

long lines are probably THE most troublesome aspect of traveling at night along the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America. To start, the fisherman that put these out are in small fiberglass boats called Pangas. They are 20 to 26 feet long w ith a tiller controlled outboard motor, often 100 to 150HP. There are usually two or three fishermen in the boat and they leave for the fishing grounds about sunset, returning at dawn. We figure they fish at night because it s cooler and they can do more hard work than if it was during the heat of the day? Anyway above Costa Rica these boats and their lines are completely unlit. More often than not they do not show up on RADAR, I don t know why? If I can see flocks of birds, why can t I see a Panga with a huge chunk of outboard and 3 guys onboard?

So these guys run anywhere from 5 to 100 miles off shore and lay out the lines made of 3/8ths inch poly. Every 10 feet or so a 5 or 10 foot fishing line with hook and bait is attached. Every 50 or 100 feet there might be an old milk bottle or pop bottle as a float. Don t ask how we know so much about the line, you only have to pull one or two out of your stabilizer fin to get REAL familiar with them. Funny, but the two or three we have snared didn t have any fish on them? Anyway, the tricky part is these lines seem to be about a mile long. At one end is a small buoy or if your really lucky a buoy with flag about 6 feet off the water. Mexico seemed to favor red or orange while Costa Rica and Panama seemed to favor an old black GLAD bag. At the other end is the panga and the fishermen. 99 percent of the time there are NO lights of any sort. In Costa Rica they pretty much had lights at least on the panga and even on the end of the fishing line, however the middle of the line was never lit.

Now you would think these guys would stay clear of things like the rhumb line from La Paz to Mazatlan, or the entrance to major marinas or harbors, but no, they seem to concentrate their efforts in these locations. Also imagine these long lines are run out in all different directions. It wasn t unusual to come across a line and follow it along to find the black flag, you go around it and in a few hundred yards you run into another. It can be really frustrating, again, especially at night. We hung two at night and got really lucky that they didn t snare our prop. When we caught them I d run to the back of the boat and pick up the line with a boat hook, then I d cut it and let one end go first, and then the other, praying it didn t hang on the fin. Each time they went free. Oh, you would also think the panga fisherman would come and help you miss the line. Well about 60 percent of the time the panga would race out to guide you around and the other 40 percent of the time they would just watch. We did have one instance where we think we went over a line and didn t hang it, but it s really hard to know. Also, it s possible that we ran a few down at night and the spurs cut them. I seem to remember a boat hung a lobster pot line off baja and had it stop his engine. They were able to fix it in Mag bay by going over the side and cutting it loose.

Anyway, thats the story about long lines. We really hate them and there really isn t much we can do about it. Oh, a story worth telling, one night a group of 3 or 4 boats were going across the Sea of Cortez ( I think) anyway about 2:00am Linda was at the helm of Wayward Wind when I noticed a small radar blip in front of us about a mile ahead. We had the practice of communicating amongst our little fleet and keeping an eye out for each other. Well no one else had their radar tuned so they could see this guy, but I clearly had a real target. About = mile before we got to him he started to move very fast (25 knots) right at Linda. I started an almost continuous dialog with her advising where he was and how fast he was coming. She actually went out on the bridge and could hear him coming, but couldn t even see him. As I watched he closed on the boat, slowed down and followed less than a hundred feet off her stern. I immediately started heading in her direction and eventually the boat broke away and headed off. It was either a panga or a drug enforcement boat. We never saw a light and never got a response to our attempts to hail the boat. If it hadn t been for the fact Linda actually heard the outboard motors I wouldn t have had any proof there was anything even there.

After hearing stories about other boaters being approached from behind at night I m pretty convinced these are drug enforcement officials. You can see them in the marinas and they seem to spend most of their patrol hours out at night. I can tell you this, it makes it really hard to think about having a firearm onboard. This is exactly the situation you would be tempted to go to the back of the boat and unload a few slugs as a warning shot. I can assure you if those are drug enforcement officials your going to find yourself boarded in a heartbeat and having to explain why you have a firearm on board. Anyway, just one of those random thoughts.

Sorry for the rambling note, but it was nice to capture these thoughts while anchored in Benao Cove preparing for a rounding of Punta Mala at first light!

Scott Bulger,
Alanui, N40II,
Seattle WA


Hello Ken, Regarding Monkey Quest:

I thought you may be interested. I took your shots of the Monkeys to my Primate Professor, he is a primatologist, here at the University of Arizona. He gave me a couple of names and I thought I would send them to you. Thank you for all the fabulous Photos, I fell like I am on a little tropical vacation from Arizona, every time I receive your latest update.

The Monkey in the trees with its tail wrapped around the branch is a Alouatta (Howler Monkey), found in a variety of forests in southern Mexico, throughout most of Central America, slow-moving and use their prehensile tails and bodies to help bridge gaps in the canopy so the younger individuals can cross.

Howlers generally favor the higher parts of the canapy. The Monkey running across the road is a Capuchin (Cebus Apella), they are clever and are also called organ-grinder monkeys. The most remarkable distinction is its agility and tool-using abilities they are able to open tough palm-fruits by smashing them against a tree. Located across northern and central South America, tufted capuchins may be the most widespread species of any nonhuman neotropical primate.


Eileen Z

+++ Thank you!


Hey Capt. Remember us working folks are living through you. Don’t abandon us entirely, thank you for taking me with you and yours. I also would like your opinion of the landscape for enterprising boaters who are looking for new opportunities.

Thank you
Troy L.

+++ Thank you!

+++ As to your question about opportunities: All I can say is that investing always comes with a certain amount of risk. I suspect there are both good and bad investments to be had in virtually every town we’ve visited. Most of the cities do seem to be in growth mode. For instance, there are two new marinas in development here in Costa Rica, and you can see huge condo projects in development along most of the coast. One thing you may want to research if you are serious about working, or investing, in another country is to research the rules on foreigners working or investing. I have a home in the Los Cabos (Mexico) area, and after 10 years there I may finally qualify next year to have a job. I don’t know about the Central American countries, but my sense is that the system is not completely open to foreigners. The word amongst the few business people I’ve met here in Costa Rica is that it can be a difficult environment to run a business. Some countries are very open to entrepreneurial enterprise, and some are somewhat anti-business. I barely know this country (Costa Rica) but my gut says that it is not an easy place to run a company. You also may want to investigate the tax situation. For instance, in Mexico, the citizens get tax breaks that are not available to foreigners. I had one Mexico investment that went well, but then taxes and surprise costs ate up a MUCH larger chunk of the profit than anticipated.

++ OK – one more comment. Recently, I printed my blog for another boater who was heading north to Mexico. To my surprise it consumed 300+ pages!!! No wonder my fingers are sore.


A few things from your email:

1) Your flopper stoppers look too small for your boat. Are they the ones from West Marine As a quick fix you need to put more than one on a line two feet below the first. If the ones you have are from West Marine they are way too small for a 64!!!!

2) Do you have a Fuerno display in your master stateroom. We have this so we have NEVER had to stand an anchor watch. We set the circle about where we set the anchor then it will tell us if we are dragging better than an eye can. We set the depth alarm just to make sure we do not drag in shallow water or in the PNW if I mis calculated the tides?

3) Do you have distance measuring binoculars?

4) Stern anchoring is not easy and generally not recommended in a boat of your size.

5) You should run a line from shore to the stern of your boat in that situation. If there is no tree or rock You can manually set the fortress in the sand above the high water mark!

Scott S

+++ All good questions. As you noted, our flopper stoppers are slightly undersized. They do an “OK” job, but bigger would be better. Unfortunately, bigger also means heavier, and harder to stow. We may stick with what we have because it works the majority of the time, and is a convenient, if not optimal, size. As to the Furuno display in the master stateroom – we do have the display, but can’t sleep with it on. The audible alarm when you venture outside your swing circle is the critical item – and, we don’t have this. It’s on my list for when the boat is sitting still long enough to get some work done. As to distance measuring binoculars: I don’t have them, but have gotten very good at using the radar to measure the distance to shore and other boats. If I see a pair of the binoculars, I’ll give them a try. I’ve also heard of binoculars that have a compass built in. That would be handy! As to stern anchoring – I need to buy a smaller fortress. I’m not sure what size. Anything over about 35 pounds would be unwieldy for lifting by hand, and that may not be large enough to hold my stern.

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