Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

Hi, and welcome to the adventures of "Triton", a 45' Robertson & Caine Leopard catamaran we purchased in July of 2007, in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed her back to Emeryville, California, located in the lovely San Francisco East Bay area, worked a few more years, then set off cruising in the fall of 2014. This journal is the story of our ongoing adventure, the folks we've met along the way, and the hardships and joys of that journey. Please read along and let us know what you think!

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here to start from the very beginning of the entire adventure. You can navigate from post to post simply by clicking the NEXT or PREVIOUS phrases at the top or bottom of each page. To find out what we've been fixing, changing, upgrading, click on the Triton Boat Work link under Related Websites. If you want to subscribe to this blog (and get emails letting you know whenever we update it) just click on the icon that says "subscribe to: posts (atom)" at the bottom of each page.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Arriving at Puesto Del Sol, Nicaragua


Well, we made it so far!! Safe and sound in Marina Puesta Del Sol and not a single crew member lost overboard, captured by pirates or tempted away by the song of the sirens, although Jeff did disappear for several weeks in Cartagena, but he came back eventually, only to leave us once we'd made it through the Panama Canal and up to Golfito. It was still a great adventure and we mostly had fun, and when we didn't, it made for great stories later on.

This leg has been relatively easy, compared to the previous ones. Of course, that doesn't really include the fact that I had to fight off several mutinies, a Nicaraguan Gun Boat, and the combined forces of the Costa Rican Customs and Immigration Services, but that was nothing compared to the long days at sea, the hardships of a high fat/strong rum diet and the complete lack of any really decent cigarettes anywhere in the tropics.

For the most part the trip along the coast was uneventful, although both Jacob and Roxanne weren't feeling that well. We mostly motored, catching a little wind on our beam for a bit as we neared a harbor entrance just south of the marina. Anchored about a mile or so West of the harbor entrance was one of the U.S. Mercy Ships. If you've never seen one before, its a massive Panamax ships that has been converted into a giant floating hospital, with several hundred beds, many operating theaters and a significant amount of support services for things like eye care, dentistry, medical checkups, etc.. Its still part of our tax dollars, and run by the good folks of the US Military (smile when you say that, boy) and travels around the world providing medical care for the citizens of poor or impoverished countries who couldn't otherwise get access to decent doctors. It is really quite an impressive boat, with helicopter pads, yacht launches, marine escorts and such.

We didn't pay it much attention to it as we cruised, it was anchored far outside of the harbor entrance, at least a mile off shore, and our vessel was maybe only a hundred yards from the coast line as we motored along past it. Our course would bring us in between the harbor entrance and the ship, but we were no where near it and didn't think much about it until a Nicaraguan Coast Guard Gunboat came racing up along our port side. There were six very, very, very young crew members, one of which was manning a very large cannon at the front of the boat. The others were all holding automatic weapons of one flavor or another, and all of them were looking directly at us and gesturing. Now, I've been in a few odd situations before, and have had various loaded weapons pointed at me, but nothing quite compares with sight of looking down the barrel a large bore cannon. You suddenly become very attentive. They pulled up along our port side and began hailing us in Spanish on the VHF radio. I immediately cut the engines and yelled to Robinson, asking him to get on the radio and see if he could figure out what they wanted and what we should do next. As we drifted to a halt they positioned themselves just a few feet away and a bit behind us, with their weapons ready. It was clear that they were not at all happy.

Here is a bit of nautical advice that I've picked up along the way, and will pass along to all you folks for free: If the crew of a well armed gunboat are not happy, and they are very close by, then no one else near them will be happy. This is actually one of the few nautical sayings that turns out to be true in all cases. There was this very tense moment while Robinson tried to figure out what they were saying as they came along side us. Suddenly they stopped communicating on the radio. None of us knew what to do, but that didn't seem like a good thing.

About that time we noticed that the Mercy Ship had dispatched a large, high speed inflatable with two U.S. marines on board. They were headed directly for the Nicaraguan gunboat and pulled up along side them, leaving us on the far side. As they got closer to us we realized that the Nicaraguans stance completely changed. They lowered the weapons, turned their backs on us and walked over to the other side of their boat to talk to the marines. Whatever threat we might have been, we were longer any concern of theirs. It was then that I remembered to breath again.

The Nicaraguan Coasties conferred with the marines, and with much smiling and waving they motored off. Then the marines came up along side us. I asked them if they wanted to board us, but they just shook their heads and said that we were too close to their ship and to stay further away. It wasn't clear just exactly how far off we needed to be, since the shore was about 100 yards to our right, but since we needed to head north, and they were due west, we just smiled and thanked them for the heads up, then continued on our way. Apparently the U.S. military is getting very touchy about keeping a secure perimeter around their assets, and the Nicaraguan Coast Guard was an active part of that effort as well. No harm, no foul, but it was the first time in my entire life I was ever glad to see an American military vessel coming at me at high speed.

Not long after that we rounded the shallow point just South of Marine Puesta Del Sol. We could see a giant triangular palapa from miles off shore, jutting out from behind the tree line, so we knew we were close, but the harbor entrance wasn't obvious. Their website gives pretty detailed instructions for entering the channel, but it doesn't mention the fact that the channel entrance isn't visible from the South until you are almost completely past it, and that there is a reef extending out quite a ways and you need to go pretty far off to the West before rounding the corner and heading in. As we motored up we noticed the depth gauge warning us of a shallow bottom, and we could see some very large breakers almost dead ahead. We changed course a bit, headed out into deeper water and after going much further than we thought we needed to, spotted the marker leading into the harbor. We made a sharp right towards the channels and heading in.

Since it was getting on towards quiting time, we tried raising the marina on the VHF, and managed to get a few brief comments through, but they were having radio problems. Apparently their power goes out regularly and their VHF radio wasn't charged enough to broadcast. We would hear the first few words, then a blaring sound. We at least got enough information threw to let them know that we'd be arriving momentarily. The channel is quite well marked, surrounded on each side with lush vegetation, but snakes around a bit, and unless you stay directly inside it, you can easily end up aground. After a few minutes we pulled up to the marina docks and set foot in Nicaraguan soil.

The marina itself is brand new, with room for about fifty boats, plus a gas dock, swimming pool, restaurant, and a very classy hotel. It is surrounded by jungle on three sides, and ocean on the fourth. Not ten seconds after we pulled up a few of the resident cruisers came up to greet us and offered to show us around. Not long after that the harbor manager arrived and got us situated, plugged into shore power and water, and pointed at the restuarant. Everyone was warm, gracious and very helpful, what a change from some of our previous marinas. Within minutes we were all sitting on a beautiful deck overlooking the harbor and sipping drinks with umbrellas in them. Life was good, and everyone was happy to be here. We ordered dinner, but Roxanne still wasn't feeling well, and Jacob became very sick. That night he seemed to be better, but Rox was getting worse, vomitting most of the night. By morning she looked terrible, was clearly dehydrated and miserable. Her concern was that their flight was leaving in a day, and they were worried that they might be too sick to make it. It didn't take much to convince her that she go into the local town and see a medic. We packed her and Jacob up into a cab and they went off, returning several hours later. The nurse pumped her up with saline, gave her some antibiotics and sent her home. When she returned she looked one hundred percent better and was clearly on the mend. We longed around the pool for a bit, and had one last meal together, but this time on dry land!

Well, not the most spectacular of endings, but everyone arrived in one piece, and packed up to leave for the airport the next day, leaving me on my own for the next few days. I spent a day or two just relaxing, making friends with the other cruisers, especially Ron & Di from "Batwing" and getting to know some of the other folks in the marina, then started packing up Triton. We made one excursion off to a local "restaurant" that consisted of an open sided brick hut, but the food was delicious and cheap.

Eventually it was my time to leave, and I arranged for a taxi ride to the airport. The road out of the airport is pretty bad in sections, and the ride takes about two hours and costs around $110US. It should have cost a few bucks less, but I didn't realize I needed to book this way in advance, so by the time we'd figured it out, we were being charged "premium" prices. About half way there the cab driver stopped for gas and demanded I give him $30.00 to pay for it. I didn't understand him at first, and he became quite belligerent and agitated as I tried to make sense of what he was saying. I think he thought I wasn't willing to pay him at all. I gave him the money, and we got back in the car and headed off, but a few minutes later he quickly pulled off to the side of the road, got out, and pee'ed on the side of the road. It's still better than the Trinidad Cab Ride From Hell, but certainly more surreal.

The trip threw Managua itself was a bit shocking. Nicaragua is poor. Very poor. But the capital is a pit. A really scary, dirty, ugly pit. There were sections that looked worse than any ghettos I'd seen in Panama, or for that matter, Harlem during the '70s. I was glad once we'd made it across town and had arrived at the airport. I was three hours early, and there was no one at the counter yet, the airport was almost deserted except for one other man, and the automatic check in machine didn't seem to be working, so I asked him if there were any restaurants nearby. "Oh, no, don't leave just yet!" he said, "Stand in this line until they open the counters. In about twenty minutes there will be about a hundred people here, and it pays to be first in line if you want to get a seat." He was absolutely right. In just a few moments there was a queue behind me that stretched out the door. Eventually I checked in, got my ticket and we both grabbed a bite to eat.

He turned out to be a missionary, working in Nicaragua. Apparently you can't swing a cat without hitting a Christian Fundamentalist in this country. The airport was swarming with teams of youths wearing identical shirts with logos that said things like "Walk for Jesus" or "Youth Prayer Council". Several different people waved hello to him as we sat there talking, and I counted at least twenty different denominations proudly displayed on various luggage throughout the airport. Apparently, Nicaragua imports missionaries, and they are doing a booming business.

Eventually my flight boarded, and I winged my way back to the lovely S.F. Bay Area, where the lovely AnnMarie was waiting at the gate. It was good to be home, and I think I spent the next two days just sitting quietly and staring at the wall. I'm only back for a few weeks, just enough time to attend this year's Burning Man Arts Festival, go to my good friends Ted & Suzanne's wedding, and drive up to a fabulous camp out called "Fortuna" in Willits. Then I'm headed back to Nicaragua to sail Triton onward and upward.

In the meantime, we will be rounding up crew for the next leg, which will be Nicaragua to San Francisco, California, via Alcapulco, Cabo San Lucas, San Diego, and probably a few other points in between, at the very end of October (most likely the first week in November) so if you know anyone interested, send us a post at the email address listed up at the very top of this page in red & orange font. In the meantime I wish you all well, and hope your days are filled with adventure and your evenings with passion.




Friday, July 20, 2007

Leaving Cocobeach, Enroute to Nicaragua


There are many breathtaking moments at sea. Mental snapshots that will live with you forever, a slice of natures stunning beauty and amazing versatility that are often impossible to convey with words. I've watched sunsets so overwhelming they made me cry, storms so severe I cowered at their power, giant manta rays leaping ten feet out of the sea, one after the other, then slapping back down with a splash, thousands upon thousands of phosphorescent jellyfish, that flashed in eerily green explosions beneath the water's surface as we passed them by. I've swam with sharks the size of small torpedoes, gliding lazily around past me, and watched chameleon like octopus changing colors as they moved about. I've floated with barracuda hanging just off my peripheral vision, that would dart up and back as if to challenge me, their teeth arranged in a menacing smile; I've seen eagle rays and turtles so close I could pet them, seen whales not far off in the distance breaking the water's surface and listened to their sound beneath it. Best of all, I've had the pleasure of watching my friends and crew mates as they too enjoyed many of these moments along side me, but nothing has come close to this evenings spectacle.

We had been sailing through rough seas in blustery weather, when we noticed that the phosphorescence was particularly strong this evening. Perhaps it was due to the new moon and heavy cloud cover, leaving the sky almost black and the water's surface a charcoal gray, but we could see everything clearly outlined in light. We were leaving twin greenish trails in our wake and everywhere the whitecaps were glistening with a whitish blue foam that seemed to glow from within. As we sailed along I heard the popping/sucking noise of a dolphin breaking the surface, and then saw this magnificent animal just off our bow. It was a ghost, completely outlined in a brilliant phosphorescent glow, streaking through the water around the boat, completely visible and starkly outlined in the dark waters, leaving a shimmering trail behind that lasted for minutes. Soon, many more of his kind arrived and we watched, mesmerized, as they flowed around our boat, danced in our bow wake, played amongst themselves and darted off, only to rejoin us seconds later. We could track each dolphin's path as they wove around us and each other--all of them outlined perfectly in thousands of pinpoints of green-blue light that blurred and faded as they sped along.

On every leg we've been presented with some new treat, each one amazing in its own right, but this has been the best to date, and I'm glad my friends got to witness this with me. These pictures just don't capture the incredible beauty of the moment, but we were there, and saw it, and we will always treasure that time, standing on the deck, watching these graceful creatures streak and blur around us, all the while being able to follow their phosphorescent contrails as the shot away, spun or dove, and eventually returned. It was a very special moment for us all.

The next morning was blustery, and the previous night's entertainment had started to fade a bit. It was colder, but still warm by San Francisco standards. By the mid day we decided to stop for a swim and jumped in, only to discover that even now we were still plagued with jellyfish. We worked on scraping the hull a bit more, and got off most all of the barnacles, then had lunch and relaxed as we motored on. Towards the afternoon the wind was picking up a bit and seemed to be veering around to our starboard. As it did we unfurled the headsail and began to pick up speed. The cat sliced through the water and soon we were moving along at eight, nine, then ten knots, in rough chop that we barely felt. It was smooth as silk, with only the occasional bump from a rogue wave against our hull. Nice weather, if only it would last.

It didn't of course, as the day wore on the thermals that generated it were dying off, and the wind faded. We motored some more, eventually arriving at the Nothern most headlands of Costa Rica around 4PM, long before the sun would set and with plenty of time to find the anchorage. At least we thought. As we approached the coast, using an older chart book whose GPS coordinates for the beach didn't match it's description, we found ourselves a bit confused as to exactly where we should land. There appeared to be several possibilities, and we all disagreed about which one was most likely. We decided to head inland and Eastward, but after a few miles the area seemed less and less likely to be what we were looking for. As we did, the wind picked up, and the waves began to grow. The various chart books we'd read had warned that there were many unexpected shallow areas and that the charts weren't always correct. "Beware of the reefs!" it said, and we could see large expanses nearer the shore that developed breakers as the waves picked up. I positioned Jacob and Robinson up on the bow as lookouts, put Ian at the helm. and asked Roxanne to monitor the depth gage as we approached closer. In an odd moment, we realized that more terrifying than the reefs, was the distracting sight of two butt cracks off the bow. "Roxanne", I said as the cockpit crew chuckled at the butts off our bow, "go get your camera!" Without even hesitating, she disappeared below, then surreptitiously began taking shots as she walked forward. Ah, good times, good times. If either of these two ever decide to run for office, the black mail money alone should cover the cost of my trip.

As we motored along, trying to determine our position but still quite lost, a fishing ponga came by and we hailed the three young men fishing from it, asking them for directions to the harbor. They assured us we'd overshot our mark and pointed us back to the original headlands we'd passed by on the way in. We motored quickly back, keeping an eye on the depth sounder until we found what we assumed was the entrance. A large mono-hull motor-sailor was making fast time for it as well, coming in from the North West. So, doing what any two boats must do if their paths are even slightly parallel, we raced along with them, entering from the East, trying to beat their speed and be first into harbor. To our dismay and shame, they had the advantage of wind, current and waves, plus a bigger motor, faster boat and better captain, and eventually we had to admit defeat and bear off, tipping our hats and waving as they went past our bow.

Eventually we found our way into the harbor, and dropped anchor a bit west of the main area. The bottom was sandy and seemed to hold on the first try, even after backing down on the anchor pretty hard. The harbor isn't much to speak of, with a few main roads that run along side it, and a small town of limited tourist attractions. There is no dinghy dock or wharf, and any going ashore must brave a beach landing. Fortuately the shore is pretty forgiving, and the waves moderately short and small.

Since it was late in the day we decided we'd wait until morning before attempting to check out, postponing the inevitable ordeal of Customs and Immigration. The rest of the crew were anxious to see the sights and grab a meal, so I ferried them into to shore, and then picked them up later that evening. They'd eaten at what was considered to be the best restaurant in town, and came back pretty unimpressed. It was expensive, with poor service and only mediocre food. Even Robinson, who tends to be pretty gracious about just about everything, was pretty down about it.

The next morning we set about checking out, which was a convoluted process that involved first going to the Port Captain's office (he wasn't there but his secretary was, and she was incredibly helpful) then next buying some sort of stamps, then going to Immigration, then over to the bank (where we waited on line for over two hours before being able to pay to leave the country) then back to the Port Captain's office. All in all it took over five hours, and although everyone was quite nice and very helpful, by the end of it we realized that we'd actually have been better off waiting in Golfito until Monday and just checking out of there directly. If I had to do this over again, given the better shelter, ease of entry and better amenities, I'd definitely make Golfito my first or last stop between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and avoid Playa Del Coco entirely.

We are leaving this evening and will head straight up the coast for Nicaragua. There is more distance between us than we want, we're all a bit tired and just want to get home now. This is certainly beginning to feel like work instead of fun, and I hope that Puesto Del Sol turns out to be worth the effort.

That's all for now!



Thursday, July 19, 2007

En route to Playa De Coco


Well, we've left the harbor and are heading out to sea. If you look carefully, you can see the storm clouds building up ahead of us. As we turned out into the open ocean, the skies darkened and the rain began. We were running on only the starboard engine, so our speed wasn't great, but it seemed like we were dragging along. No doubt the months of growth on the bottom was really slowing us up.

We decided we'd stay the course, get out to sea and deal with it in the morning, hopefully by then the storm will have passed and we'll have better weather. We should have stayed and cleaned the bottom before we left, but spending even another day in the muggy Golfito weather didn't appeal to anyone.

The last few days have been kind of rough, what with mechanical issues, snafus with customs & immigration, anchor line problems and the tension around our departed crew mate. On the bright side, Ian and Robinson have become fast friends, and are practically inseparable. They have pet names for each other and are continually teasing back and forth, like two school boys. It is really wonderful to see them at it, and everyone else kids them about being an old married couple. Reminds me of the fun Mota, Jeff & I had in the San Blas Islands. Spirits seem better all around, and everyone is just glad to be moving forward, although we are now entering into bigger seas and the first signs of sea sickness are starting to appear on a few faces.

The next morning was a bit nicer, with a beautiful sunrise but the winds is not in our favor. The seas have been relatively flat, but the current seems to be against us. We stopped to go for a swim and scrape the barnacles off the boat. There were far more on the bottom then we realized, and the brand new bottom paint seems to have done absolutely nothing for us. We struggled with masks and fins, getting stung by the occasional jellyfish, and not making much headway cleaning the bottom when I asked Roxanne if she could find something soft and plastic with a wide edge on it. She disappeared into the galley and came out holding a plastic dust pan. "Will this work?" she asked. "I don't know, lets try" I said, not sure if it would really do the trick but willing to give it a go. It worked liked magic, scraping off a ten inch wide swath with each go. I was able to cover more ground in ten minutes than a previous hour with the plastic paint scrappers. We kept at it and made a considerable dent in the barnacles; there were still some here and there, but we probably knocked off ninety five percent of them.

We started up the engine and headed on. With almost no change in the wind, current or waves, we picked up at least two knots! It was a surprising lesson in just how much a difference a clean bottom can make towards speed. It was also a lesson in how worthless the bottom paint was. I've since spoken with a number of folks who have told me of very bad performance from bottom paints bought in Central America. Especially from paint purchased in Trinidad. One catamaran owner I met told me that he bought four gallons of paint from a yard, used two on one hull, and two on the other. He thought it odd that the paints didn't go on the same, dry the same, or even have the same feel. Later on, it was as if one hull had been painted with porch paint, the other with bottom paint. I've heard this same comment from many other folks. Quality control varies greatly the further away from the states you get. Live and learn.

We've also noticed that the "white smoke" problem from the port engine has gone away. It seemed our engine raw water exhaust was a bit less on the port side, and running that engine for any length of time seemed to produce a white steam or smoke. Our speculation was a clogged intake strainer, but that was clear, so we think it might have been barnacles around in intake port. Whatever it was, it hasn't come back, and we can now use both engines and make better speed, although we've limited ourselves to only one to save gas.

As we motored on towards Playa Del Coco, we were approached by a pod of dolphins. Now, I like to be cynical about this, because, quite honestly dolphins skipping along off the port bow become as common place as topless girls on Friday afternoon at Burning Man, but this had to be the largest pod we've seen yet. There must have been a hundred. We watched as groups of them seemed to merge together, then break apart, with ten or twenty swimming away, only to rejoin the pack later on. I'd love to be able to put a numbered sticker on the back of each one and follow the entire tribe. I've never found out what it is that dolphins find so amusing about swimming with boats, but they do, and it makes sailing, even motoring along, so much more enjoyable.

We sailed along for the rest of the day, the weather was blustery and didn't hold up to our expectations. As we approached evening we got to watch a beautiful sunset. That night, the winds picked up again and we we banged our way along. So far, this hasn't been a great ride, and we were expecting better, at least according to the weather reports. Sadly, that evening it didn't improve, although we did get a bit of wind on our beam for a few hours, and we were able to shut down the engines and just sail along. Eventually it shifted back into our nose and we started up the motors again, but it was great while it lasted. Playa Del Coco is still too far away, we are all a bit tired and just want to get there now. Everyone is taking shifts, and Jacob is cooking, although he hadn't been feeling very well.

We continue to bash along, I've been having a harder time getting emails out, and weather reports back in. It seems that there is very little commercial traffic on this part of the coast. We gone many, many miles and seen only a handful of ships. Sort of the moral equivalent of I-80 just after you leave Pennsylvania heading west. It isn't so bad. At least we don't have to look at wheat fields, and we don't have to stop when we want to pee.

So, on that cheery note, I will leave you all. Wishing you the best of times.



Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Holding Pattern


Just got back to the boat after a couple of months and, well, things are a lot worse than what I had hoped for. The boat is pretty moldy (I'd underestimated just how bad the Costa Rican weather could be), the batteries are dead, the engine compartments have water in them, the dinghy davit is broken, and the anchor chain is tangled up. We need to get all this sorted out before we go anywhere, and that isn't going to be fun. On top of that, we need to change the engine oil and scrape the huge barnacles off the boat. Plus it is fucking hot down here. And muggy. On the bright side, the red tide has gone away. Now the water is just kind of mucky brown.

When we wake up in the morning, it is beautiful and still. There are bright blue skies overhead, and everything is green and lush, you can barely hear the sounds from the town, and birds, frogs and other beasts all howl, hoot, blurt and tweet at us. The drifting water moves the boat around on the anchor, and an occasional fishing boat motors by, usually with an older man or two or three young men in it, but very often with a few children or women as well. Their vessels are brightly colored and seem barely sea worthy, but they are loaded up with fishing lines, traps, flags, floats and the other talismans of the fisherman. We timidly wave, they calmly, maybe grudgingly, wave back, always smiling, but clearly we are nothing new or particularly interesting to them. There are always cruising boats at anchor in this bay, although we've been told not that many catamarans. No one has ever approached us to talk, or asked to see the boat, except for the gas station attendant when first refueled during our arrival. What might have been novel is now commonplace. I'm sure at some point some half naked pygmy cannibal with a twig through his nose has dropped his shoulders and lamely waved hello to yet another anthropologist. Their lack of enthusiasm probably says something profound about globalization, but I leave that speculation to the reader.

Ian arrived today. He was as upbeat, energetic and as animated as always. I can describe him best by saying he is edgy, or at least, right on the edge of almost everything. He has a sort of "just up to the line" maximum about himself, as if he's been packed right to the top and is bursting with enthusiasm. If he jumped around any more he'd be hyperactive. If he were any more witty he'd be over-bearing, any more talkative he'd be annoying. But he is just exactly the right amount of everything to be fun, jovial, cavorting and funny. I think he will be a great asset to the crew.

At first I had been a bit concerned about him coming, because he had seemed quite nervous about the trip, especially in the weeks leading up to it, kind of a Nervous Nelly, constantly worrying about every little detail. AnnMarie was amused that she was getting phone calls and emails every day asking her what kind of white shirt to bring, which SPF suntan lotion to use, whether open toed sandals would work on land, and other needlessly detailed issues, especially when there was some much info in the blog already. Then, when he arrived and we then explained that, because he was the second to last person to sign on, he may have to share his bunk with Robinson (the last person to sign on) should he actually show up. Ian got very annoyed and insisted that we make Robby sleep on the trampoline so he could have the bed to himself. He kept insisting [no matter how much we assured him that there would be plenty of room and plenty of privacy] that we push his bunkmate out into the salon, or the cockpit, or even overboard. Well, I've heard from Robinson that he is definitely coming so it will be interesting to see how they get along.

We've met some new cruisers, Beth and Evans that just arrived at the Marina on their aluminum boat "Hawk" that they designed and built themselves (here is a great photo of it at anchor with the late afternoon storm clouds rolling in) and asked if they wanted to come to lunch with us.

As we walked along we chatted about cruising and their experiences, their boat, their plans. They mentioned that Beth was a writer and she had published a few books, mostly about cruising. As a fledgling writer who would like to do just this, I was very interested in learning more, so I asked her if she'd written anything I might have read.
"Oh, um, I wrote this sailing book, you probably haven't heard of it, it's called 'The voyagers handbook' and I've just published another one called 'Blue Horizons'." she nonchalantly replied. This is like wanting to learn how to take landscape pictures and finding out the guy standing next to you at the bus stop is Ansel Adams. "You wrote The Voyagers Handbook!" I gushed, "That's AnnMarie's absolutely favorite sailing book. We've both read it several times, usually lying in bed next to each other, pointing out various great ideas and solutions while interrupting the other's reading!" She laughed and thanked me for the compliment.

I proceeded to spend the next few days, every time we ran into them, asking her what must have been for her, very dull, frequently asked questions, but she patiently answered my queries and pointed me at several additional useful sources. She also autographed a copy of her new book for us, which was the best present I got to give AnnMarie all trip. We ended up going out to lunch or dinner with them several more times, and Ian went off exploring the jungle with them as well. They were wonderful people to meet and we wish them the best!

Next we needed to get to work, which included provisioning the boat. When at sea, I like to have a "ship's cook", someone who doesn't stand watches, but is responsible for seeing to it that the crew is fed regularly and well, that there are always plenty of snacks, and that everyone stays hydrated. I've found that having someone whose only job it is to do this makes it possible for everyone else to do theirs better. On each of the previous legs, we've picked someone, and they worked out great. On this leg, no one particularly wanted to do it, but Jacob said he didn't mind, but that he was a vegetarian, and only wanted to make vegetarian meals. "Everyone okay with that?" I asked. No one said a word, so we gave Jacob and Roxanne the task of provisioning the boat, while the rest of us worked on the mechanical repairs.

Earlier that day Robinson arrived and we all ate on the boat. Jacob's first dinner was rice and beans, vegetables and corn tortillas. Actually, many of the dinners were like this, and I think if we had it to do over again, we should have made Ian or Stewart cook, but at the time no one said anything directly, but apparently there was some passive/aggressive interactions about it. The story goes (I didn't see this, it was only described to me) that Stuart was apparently very dissatisfied with the dinner, and made this known somehow. Apparently feeling were trampled in the process. Later on Jacob was visibly upset. I asked him what was going on, and it was clear that there was a lot of tension around Stuart. Both he and Roxanne were having difficulty being around him. Ian, and later Robinson, also mentioned that Stuart seemed to be a bit more agitated than was really understandable. Food can be a very touchy thing on a boat, but this seemed bigger than just that.

Great! Just what we need, a disgruntled crew, and we hadn't even set sail yet. It is funny though, because no matter how hard you try to guess which person will be the coolest, which will be the most troubled, which will be the most helpful, which will be the most amusing, you can never, really tell. I really thought Stuart would be the most easy going, the most laid back, of everyone. Instead, he was clearly upset a lot of the time, and everyone else seemed to be having issues around him, myself included, as the week progressed. We were all losing our patience way too quick, and that gave me a bit to worry about.

So, any boat trip isn't complete without some technical difficulties that result in getting dirty, something being broken while fixing something else, tempers being lost, voices being raised and feelings being hurt. This trip was no different. In fact, we may have actually exceeded a quota here.

One of the many fun projects in store for us was changing the oil. Now what should have been a fifteen minute, no mess job, had the engine's been properly plumbed for it, was turning out to be a snake pit of problems. The oil we wanted to change was in the bottom of the two diesel engines. To get it out we wanted to use a hand pump I had bought special for this purpose. It didn't work. At all. Not even a little.

It appears that either the pump was broken, or clogged, or incapable of actually sucking up the oil in the first place, or that the oil was now so thick and gunky that it was making it far more difficult, or all of the above. To find this out we first needed to spend several (very unpleasant) hours fucking around with it inside the very hot, very muggy, engine compartment. And by we, I actually mean Stuart and Robinson, who did most of the dirty work on that particular job.

So when they came out, unable to get the old oil out, covered in grease and sweat, they were not happy campers. We all then spent a significant amount of additional time and energy getting covered in dirt, grease and oil, taking apart the pump, trying to find out where the problem was, and what exactly was going wrong. Like most mechanical issues while cruising, the actual problem was insignificant, but getting the right tool to fix it turned out to be a horrendous challenge. We discussed several options, all of which had their merits and downsides. Then we argued about them. Then we yelled at each other about them. Then folks started to lose their tempers. It was not pretty, and there was some definitely uncomfortable moments between Stuart & myself.

They wanted to try to drain the oil into a pan in the bilge and then remove the pan. I was dead set against this as it was going to be a huge mess, and their wasn't enough room to get the pan out once full. I especially didn't want an engine compartment dripping with oil. Up until this moment, the engine bilges had been spotless, and I wanted to keep it that way.

What sounds like a simple, easy task was anything but. In the end, the solution was a sort of "worst of both worlds" compromise; we drained the oil into pans, but then used the pump to empty the pans into buckets. Then we took the relatively empty pans out, which still spilled oil into the bilges. It took three people several hours to do both engines, and at the end of the day I had two filthy, gunky bilges that still need to be cleaned, and a tired, pissed off crew. One of my first projects when I get home will be adding the plumbing and pumps to make changing the oil a simple operation, and steam cleaning the engine bilge to remove the residual oil. Right now it stinks down there, and no one is very happy about it, especially me.

Would that were our only task! Not only did we need to change the oil, and the filters, but we also had to tighten up various belts, bolts and nuts, clean off connectors, clean out strainers, brush off battery terminals and generally spiff up the engine compartments. That took quite a while to finish, and it didn't address the battery problem. We then spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what was wrong with the batteries, which included dragging them all to shore and recharging them with Tim's equipment. Naturally, this took another day, and at the end of it, we realized that they were worthless. So we humped into town to buy a battery to hold us over on our trip to Nicaragua. Remember? we're going to Nicaragua, eventually.

At this point Stuart was complaining that things weren't happening fast enough, and he was worried that we weren't going to keep to his schedules. He kept reminding me that this was his vacation. I kept reminding him that this wasn't about his vacation, that we wouldn't set sail on his schedule and that I very carefully made that very clear on several occasions, including in writing, and that these kinds of delays were normal and part of sailing. It was really starting to make me worried. That coupled with the fact that the rest of us were also banging heads with him about a lot of other issues made for some concern on my part, because this kind of situation can be disastrous at sea.

I think he felt the same way, because the next day he informed me that he had decided he wasn't going to come sailing with us. Instead he would go off to the jungle, explore Costa Rico, maybe check out Nicaragua, and at least get in a few days of relaxation before heading back to the states. Honestly, I think it was the best decision for all of us. It would have been great to have him along, but not if it meant crew disharmony, or him being anxious about his schedule or having to be on the boat when he wasn't enjoying himself. He went ashore the evening before we left, but returned the next day to see us off. Unfortunately, no one knew he intended to do this (we assumed he was headed off into the jungle for a while), and we had just weighted anchor and were already en route as he returned. The above photo was taken by him from the shore as we left the harbor.

Well, we'd fixed most everything that absolutely needed attention, everyone was getting tired of the delays, they wanted to get going, and it wasn't clear that we would have been able to get the various Golfito officials to sign off on the boat and crew before quitting time, and no one wanted to spend the weekend at anchor, so we signed out with only the Port Captain's permission and changed our plans, heading instead for Playa de Coco, the northern most point in C.R. before entering Nicaragua, with the hope of clearing out there. What a mistake that was! Any time we saved in leaving early was wasted finding the anchorage, getting ashore, then navigating our way through the Byzantine customs and immigration system. More on this later.

Now all we had to do was pull up the anchor and leave. Except that our anchor chain, which we had painstakingly attached (along with Land & Sea's mooring ball) to a swivel so that we could rely on both ground tackles, were now firmly stuck to each other, and hopelessly tangled. This was made all the more embarrassing because Tim had warned us that it might happen, and he was absolutely right about it. I went in to his office, explained that "Yup, it didn't work, you were right, and now we are stuck." He didn't even blink, jumped into his boat and was out diving the chain that hour, using a portable hooka. Evans from "Hawk" came over to help, using their boat to help winch up the anchor. It turns out that a very large log had become tangled between the two mooring chains, and was spinning around in the current. This was a really tricky job, and if it weren't for Tim we would have ended up having to abandon our anchor, not having any scuba equipment of our own, let alone the expertise to handle what amounted to very dangerous underwater hardhat work. Instead, he had it back to us, intact, in just less than an hour and we were on our way. I have to say, we have never had better care, better service, met nicer folks or had more fascinating conversation than what we encountered at Land & Sea!

We set sail (well, actually, we motored) out of the harbor, making lousy speed against the current and wind, not to mention the horrible growth of barnacles on the boat's hull slowing us down. As we headed out into the ocean the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. Not a great beginning to our journey, and I think everyone was a bit sad that things had turned out this way. Of course, not every day is roses and sunshine, but looking back, there are many things I wish I'd handled differently. None the less, you live, you learn, if you're lucky, you get better at it.

Cheers for now,



Saturday, July 7, 2007

Our Trip From Costa Rica To Nicaragua


Editor's Note: In retrospect, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. This last leg was a bit of both, but not much of either as well. Actually, truth be told, it was neither; it was more of a middle of the road trip-- not enough really, really great things to be amazing, not enough really, really bad things to be funny. We did have some great times, and saw some fun stuff, but the journey was dogged with overcast & rainy weather, never-ending mechanical problems, communication conflicts, and the ever-present exigencies of clearing customs & immigration.

What follows in the next few entries is my best attempt at describing what took place, written too long after it happened, by someone with a feeble memory to start with. This trip didn't allow for much introspective writing time. I may have the order out of date on some items, maybe gotten some dates wrong, forgotten some funny incident I should have included, or reported only my perspective of it. These things do happen frequently in blogs, but I will try my hardest to recall everything properly, limit my imagination as much as possible, and omit as many dull moments as is necessary.

I arrived the morning of the 6th in San Jose: Costa Rica's capital city, just in time for the muggy weather. I had wanted to celebrate AnnMarie's birthday before I left, so we pushed back my departure date as much as we could. It would have probably been better to have had the extra time in Golfito, to prepare the boat, but I'd just spent most of the summer away from her and didn't want to leave any sooner than I absolutely had to.

The flight down was long and boring and uncomfortable. I always hope I'll meet someone fascinating while traveling on planes, but very often I end up sitting next to that paunchy, balding guy you see standing behind a booth at a textiles manufacturing convention, or the middle aged, retired grandparents from Ohio who are visiting their new born grandson for the first time. This ride was no different. The flight stewards were bored and going through the motions like automatons, the ride was about as exciting as a nasal polyps documentary and at one point I found myself secretly hoping for a small, on-board electrical fire.

We landed, breezed through customs, and I walked outside looking for the ride I was told would be there waiting for me. I scanned the press of cab drivers holding up signs for various clients. I had arranged with the hotel to be picked up by one of their favorite cabs, which is sort of a racket in Central America, but there were no signs saying "Robb", "Kane, "Triton" or even "Dumb Fuck American Tourist", so I grabbed a cab of my own (see my earlier posts about how traumatic a task this was for me) and rode to The Hemingway Hotel, a place I had stayed at a couple of years ago when AnnMarie, Holly K. & I were vacationing in C.R.

The hotel is a very comfortable Bed & Breakfast, with clean, quiet rooms, reasonable rates and decent restaurants nearby. It even has a hot tub, which we took advantage of the last time we were here and I was certainly looking forward to this trip. As it turned out, I never had the time. The hotel does a great breakfast that includes lots of fresh fruit, the local version of beans & rice, delicious tamales, fried plantains, decent coffee and various baked goods.

There are a couple of moderately good restaurants within a block or two, but if you had to stay there for more than a couple of days, I think you'd get bored pretty quick. San Jose itself isn't a tourist mecca, and for good reason. The area is kind of dingy with run down architecture. Ghettos are strew throughout the city. It has high crime and little else to recommend it to the casual tourist besides the cheap wares one can find for sale on the sidewalks.

At night the prostitutes come out in droves (I believe it is, if not completely legal, at least tacitly approved of here) and one gets the feeling you can obtain pretty much anything you want or desire. Unfortunately, I didn't desire much more than a good nights sleep, even though it was only about noon.

When I arrived at the hotel, the front desk clerk told me that they were very upset because I hadn't used their cab driver (even though there hadn't been anyone there waiting for me when I arrived) and expected that I would pay them. I explained that I waited around for someone, there wasn't anyone holding a sign with my name on it, that I had not been given any confirmation or contact info even though I asked for this beforehand, and asked what I should have done instead. The clerk just shrugged.

Surprisingly, this situation has happened to us a number of times now, and reminds me a lot of the cabs we found in Trinidad and Panama. It appears to be a standard con in Central America. I asked a number of "native" friends about this and was told by many that it was typical for the shadier cab drivers to claim they made the trip to the airport, then demand payment for their efforts. At worst it costs them nothing if you refuse, and at best they get paid for an expensive trip they didn't make. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't bother pre-arranging a ride except in the most rural or extreme of situations.

Eventually I was given a room and crashed into bed and slept for a few hours. I woke up later that day and tracked down Stuart, one of the crew for this next leg, who had already checked in the Hemingway the night before. We were going to take a puddle jumper over to Golfito the next morning to avoid the six or seven hour car ride there. The plane was leaving at 11am, but we figured we could at least hang out that evening, see the sites, maybe grab a drink and dinner.

Stuart was someone I'd just met through a mutual friend. He had done a little bay sailing, had no blue water experience at all, but he seemed eager to give it a try and has a very happy-go-lucky, easy going manner about him. On first impressions he seemed like an ideal crew mate and I was really looking forward to spending more time with him.

He was also the very first person, weeks before anyone else, to definitively say he was going sailing with us and buy his ticket, but in an odd bit of crossed wires, he somehow didn't understand that we had already gone through the Panama Canal and the boat was now on the West Coast side of Costa Rica. He spent some amount of time asking very odd questions before we all understood what was going on. This realization occurred only days before we were ready to leave, but he just laughed, said it was no big deal and that he still wanted to go anyway. It made me a bit nervous that he hadn't understood this, since we'd written quite extensively in our blog about it, including lots of photos, but we figured it was just one of those goofy things that happens when you make travel plans.

That afternoon and evening we wondered around the city on foot, checked out various shops, Stewart bought this weird SpiderMan mask, but mostly we just talked about ourselves and where we were in life, love, careers, etc. It was a great conversation and we really seemed to click. I really enjoyed being able to have very frank discussions about the realities of non-traditional jobs (we are both independent contractors in the computer industry), non-traditional relationships (neither of us live the typical "married with kids" life), and many other similarly "outside the box" interests.

One thing that was kind of difficult for me was that Stuart seemed to get irritated by my experience and knowledge. "Everything we talk about, you've done to the Nth degree, or are an instructor in, or have a license for, or was part of the crowd that invented it!" he complained. Although he was very good-natured, and I got the impression he meant it as a compliment, it is still something I'm a bit sensitive about. I have done a lot of things, and I am pretty well versed in a lot of areas, and over the years I've managed to collect a lot of certifications and licenses for various endeavors, but I've found that being even moderately competent at too many things can be very off-putting to others. The funny thing is that for almost everything I've ever tried my hand at, I'm only mediocre. Sort of a jack of all trades, master of few.

That doesn't stop folks (especially "alpha male" types) from thinking I'm showing off. So when, at the end of the evening, I noticed a group of deaf folks signing to each other, I wondered whether it was really a good idea to let on that I knew some sign language. Eventually, after watching them for a bit to make sure that the "dialect" they spoke was similar to American Sign Language, I wandered over. Every country, contrary to popular belief, has relatively different sign languages and/or dialects within that sign language, much like verbal languages vary from country to country and region to region, sometimes so much that someone from one part of a region might not be able to understand someone from somewhere else quite close by. I walked over and introduced myself, and after a few minutes of repeatedly asking them to sign very slowly for me, and after a few confused moments as I came up to speed, I was able to grasp the gist of what they signed.

It turned out that there was a sizable deaf community in San Jose, and that they used "LESCO", a sign language dialect where about sixty percent of the signs are similar to ASL. At first Stuart kidded me that, yet again, I could do something impressive, but after a while he caught on just how little sign I really knew and then understood that I was really "only one page ahead in the playbook". Sort of a "Me Talk Pretty One Day" kind of broken sign language.

In fact, one of the women was able to speak and hear enough that she could translate a bit for Stuart, so while I "chatted" with the group, she was able to keep up a sort of running commentary with him. They were warm, gracious, funny people, most of whom were locals working or going to school in the area, and we spent another hour hanging out with them and having a great time. Plus, I got to practice my ASL, which is something I don't do enough of. What great fun!! We wandered back to the hotel and agreed to meet for breakfast at 9AM and a 10AM ride to the airport.

Surprisingly, at least for me, I woke up, even before the alarm went off at 8:00am, was showered, dressed and already eating by quarter to nine. Stuart wandered down not too long after that and joined for breakfast. We had decided we would grab a cab at 10am, which would get us to the airstrip with plenty of time to spare. As we ate, other hotel patrons came by and we began chatting with them, one of whom was Beatriz, a lovely woman from L.A., who had spent the last two weeks in C.R. taking advantage of the inexpensive but quite good medical care available there. Then a German tourist who was backpacking his way through Central America, and an older man who had retired to C.R. and spent a lot of time in San Jose joined the conversation.

The time flew by and suddenly we noticed it was 10:30. We rushed to the front desk, ordered a cab and jumped in. Stuart explained where we wanted to go, gave him the name of the airport and airline, and even explained that it was right next to the main airport. Now, this is probably just coincidence, but the cab driver couldn't understand anything we told him, and insisted he call his boss, who gave him instructions on how to get to the airport. There are two fucking airports in the town. It is smaller than the New Jersey town I grew up in, and the cab driver and his boss had both lived in San Jose all their lives, yet "by accident" they took us to the wrong airport.

When we pulled up we both knew it wasn't the right one, so I refused to get out of the cab while Stuart checked out where we needed to go. Sure enough, it was the "other" airport. As we drove over there the cab driver informed us that we needed to pay for both trips. We just laughed and laughed, but I don't think the driver found that very funny or comforting. When we got to the second airport, we had already missed our flight. We then had to be taken back to the hotel, and they charged us for the ride there and back, but we refused to pay for the extra trip to the airport, or to use their services again the next day, when we'd rescheduled our flight.

So, that left us the rest of the day to wander around some more. We also made plans to have dinner with Beatriz, the woman we'd met earlier at breakfast. We wandered around some more, bought some trinkets, found a fun little place to eat, spent the evening chatting amiably and eventually wandered back to the hotel and sat talking in the lobby a while longer. We stayed up way too late, eventually dragged off to our rooms, agreeing to meet at 9am, yet again, for yet another breakfast and cab ride to the airport.

This time we made it on time to the right airport, and were waiting for our flight, when Roxanne and Jacob walked into the waiting room of the airport. They had just arrived and were hoping to be able to catch the same flight as us. Jacob is an engineer working for Google, and Roxanne (who also once worked there as well) now has her own thriving Web Design business. I've known them both for several years. They are folks I've always enjoyed spending time with, being witty and charming not to mention well read and well educated. As it turned out, they were able to get on our flight at the last minute and we all flew to Golfito. When we landed, a cab took us all to Land Sea Services, where we had left the boat a few months earlier.

The flight took was a bit bumpy, which never makes me feel great, but we landed safely, and found a cab and loaded it up with all our gear. The waterfront is still just as charming, quaint and picturesque as before, although I think you will see this changing very quickly now that the fishing industry and high end resort homes and golf courses have discovered this little nest egg of a harbor. Below is a picture taken off the bow of Triton, not long after we arrived. To really appreciate this, though, you should first get in the shower, turn on only the hot water and then drink rum and cokes.

We dragged our bags down onto the dock and found Tim & Katie, our gracious hosts, who have been tending Triton while we were away. They ferried our possessions and ourselves out to the boat, and we began the long process of unpacking and settling in. Triton looked none the worse for wear, but there was a bit of mold inside the boat, and the batteries were all dead. After looking about for a while, we realized that one of the bilge pumps must have stuck on and drained them. It was very disappointing, given that they were all brand new, and no amount of charging improved matters.

We will be spending the next few days getting her ready for the sail north to Nicaragua, and are still waiting for Ian, and possibly this British fellow we'd met sailing in Panama. His name is Jodie Allan Robinson, but he goes by "Rob" or "Robinson'. The weather is pretty typical for this time of year, with gorgeous mornings that devolve into rain showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon that last into the evening. It is very hot, very muggy and without batteries we need to run the engines whenever we want lights or fans. Not the best start to a sailing adventure, but at least we aren't in Baltimore, or Trinidad!

We'll post more as the adventure unfolds, but for now we wish you all as much excitement as you can tolerate, as much challenge as you can face, and as much joy as your heart can hold.

Cheers for now,