Monday, March 21, 2016

Islas Tortugas and Bahia Curu, Costa Rica

11 – Marzo - 2016

Finally, anchoring in clean, warm, snorkelling water
Chartplotter view: Isla Alcatraz at the Torttugas and Bahia Curu Wildlife Reserve anchorages
 We had to wait for the high tide at about 1600 hrs (4:00 pm) to navigate the channel out from the marina. This left too little time to make our three hour passage to Islas Tortugas so we made the short trip back to Isla San Lucas and anchored before dark. Back to jail again! Genesis III accompanied us and as they had not been at San Lucas before, we again toured the former island penitentiary and managed to hike some more trails, finding howler monkey families in the trees.

The problem with paradise is that it was long ago discovered, especially in a country like Costa Rica that has had a vibrant tourism industry for fifty years. The fortunate part is that as busy a tourist destination as the Tortugas, Isla Tolinga and Isla Alcatraz, are no one lives on the islands so you have the entire area to yourself from about 4:00 pm when the pangas and their passengers leave until 10:00 am the next day when they all come back again.

We anchored off the east side of Isla Alcatraz where the Sarana Guide gives the way points and had a peaceful night. Early the next morning we had a beautiful time snorkelling on the pinnacle rocks off Isla Alcatraz. The water was warm, visibility was great and there was an endless variety of tropical fish, angels, butterflyfish, wrasse, parrot fish, jacks, porkfish, puffers and even a Moorish Idol. Great fun, but I forgot to take the GoPro! The white sand beaches are reported to be the whitest in Costa Rica so there must have been coral at one time but there was very little evident in the areas we snorkeled.
SV Genesis at anchor in Bahia Curu, the west side of Isla Alcatraz of the Tortugas in the distance

A fabulous morning, after which we motored one mile to the west of Isla Alcatraz to Bahia Curu on the Nicoya Peninsula. The Curu Private Wildlife reserve was first settled as a farm in 1933 by a German immigrant family and during the 1970’s began the transition to a private wildlife reserve. We had heard numerous good reports of the research they are facilitating and the care they are taking with the natural habitat. After spending the morning snorkelling we decided to relax on the boat at anchor for the afternoon and save our visit to the reserve for the early morning when the animals are typically more active.
First came the Capuchins

7:00 am saw us landing the dinghies through a gentle surf at the administration office. We were immediately greeted by several Capuchin monkeys, some white tail deer, a pizote and an agouti. 

Then the white tail deer.....

There was no one around yet so we started on the hike that I had read about. The Ceiba trail follows a small tidal estuary along some mangroves and old mango orchards for a little more than a kilometer ending at an enclosure where spider monkeys are being rehabilitated. They are not free to roam the forest but their enclosure was large and I believe they needed feeding to live. There is an active research program with them so it may lead to spider monkeys being re-released into the wild on Nicoya. They walk incredibly erect with long thin arms dangling at their sides.
A white faced Coati, an Agouti and many others
and the Reserve wasn't even open yet!

We saw many more Capuchins, howler monkeys, several more deer, some more agoutis, and many, many bird varieties with the turquoise browed mot-mot the most distinctive. Although anteaters and crocodiles live in the reserve we did not cross paths with either. Our return on the Avispero trail brought us to the shoreline and back to the restaurant office area ending a 3+ km hike that was full of rewards. We were able then to pay the $12 admission and had breakfast in the restaurant. Surprisingly all the animals that greeted us before the reserve opened were gone by the time we returned to our dinghies.
Back in the jungle we came to this troop of Capuchins who were defending their turf, lots of teeth!
Spider monkeys walk incredibly erect,
little cousins

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

9 – Marzo - 2016

A visit with friends in an old Port City that is trying to carve a new niche.

We left Bahia Ballena midmorning for the leisurely trip through several Islands to Isla San Lucas, four miles from Puntarenas. You cannot enter the back channel in Puntarenas unless you have a high tide, so Isla San Lucas made a good staging stop to catch the tide right.
The long walk from the dock to the prison entrance

From 1885 until 1991 the Island was a notorious prison that became the subject of a book La Isla de Los Hombres Solos by Jose Leon Sanchez and a movie Island of Lost Souls. Now it is a National Parque with some trails and the buildings are in the process of being restored. The Park Ranger, Lucas, stays on the Island alone for ten days at a time and was very friendly.
The refurbished chapel and administration building

The prison has an interesting, eerie feel to it. The prisoner’s blocks are not cells but large barracks type rooms that could hold thirty to forty men are covered with very graphic drawings by the prisoners, definitely not General Admission type art. It was a relaxing stop to be ready for the morning tide. Again we were the only boat in the anchorage. The troops of howler monkeys entertained us at night.
The British tall ship Courageous

On the sail over to Puntarenas we could see a tall ship at the old muelle, dock, on the outside of the peninsula and we sailed over for a close look. She was the British registered vessel Courageous, a pretty three masted ship.

We returned to the lighthouse point to meet our pilot because the estuary on the backside of the peninsula is shallow with an unmarked channel winding three miles through estuary mud flats up to a marina and the yacht club. The shore line is lined with hundreds of fish boats of all sizes and states of disrepair. Some on the bottom with only the superstructure showing the channel edge.
The black line is our route, we were careful to follow it exactly on the exit out

Paul and Mary on Genesis III had arrived a week earlier and had checked into the marina so we went there to have both power and water at the dock. We later found out that the Yacht Club had some anchored off, floating docks that hold two boats that have water and even power on a couple of the floats. The power and water ones all appear to have permanent boats so the marina was a good choice. Seventy dollars a day with better rates for monthly or annual time periods. The tidal current races through the marina and the estuary water is a silt laden dark brown but Jose, Miner and all the staff were extremely helpful and friendly. It is built for powerboats to tie stern to with short fingers on each side. Almost a med mooring without the anchor off the bow. Great for powerboats, a challenge for sailboats, especially with currents running to 3+ knots. On extreme low tides sailboat sit on the bottom at some spots in both the marina and the Yachts Club. They try to mini dredge but the currents are constantly filling the areas back up. Although Genesis III was further out on the dock she leaned about 15 degrees at the low tide for three days. Kanilela seemed to have a hole under her and only on the extreme low did she show about six inches of hull at the bow.

We spent our first day cleaning the encrusted salt from Kanilela and getting her ready for visitors the next day. Mags’ friend Daphne and her husband, Bruce, from North Vancouver arrived by cruise ship en route from Miami, through the canal and on to Los Angeles.
A great visit with Daphne and Bruce
It was an interesting itinerary stopping in some of the lesser known old ports along the way and the timing for Puntarenas was perfect. We brought them to the marina because Bruce had not seen Kanilela before and we had a great visit. Poor Mags was definitely feeling some nostalgia moments hearing what everyone was doing but the weather reports mitigated the homesickness.

The local bus can be flagged down in front of the marina for the 85 cent trip to town and taxis are also available for about five dollars. Puntarenas has most marine supplies but finding them is interesting because the small Repuestas will stock only certain brands so you are checking lots of locations to get what you need. Fortunately they are all close together and the folding bike was a great way to travel. Although the peninsula is three miles long it is never more than four blocks wide and often down to a single block and most of the commercial section is contained within two blocks either side of the Calle Central that runs from the old deep sea dock on the outside across to the fish market on the estuary side. The two larger food stores, a Pali and Mega Super are not very big and selection was limited but various trucks on the street had a wide variety of excellent fruits and vegetables.  Puntarenas is definitely a bit on the scruffy side because the freighter traffic moved to a new port about sixteen miles away and the fishing industry has seen better days so unemployment is a problem but they are working at making it attractive to tourists and the old dock has a steady flow of cruise ships. 
The Cathedral

The old Cathedral is attractive and one of the few larger building in town, probably because the sand could not support large structures with earlier construction methods. We spent a week, got to know our way around town and had a good time.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica 1-Marzo-2016

Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica


We are here – Paradise!
The beach at the north anchorage, quiet y muy tranquilo! 

The fifty mile trip from Samara took us to the southern tip of the Nicoya Penninsula, Cabo Blanco and as Eric in the Sarana’s Cruising guide says, “The weather is usually good so the only important thing is not to hit the point.” We didn’t. The turn marked our most southerly progress on this trip so far, 9 degrees 32 minutes north latitude. It feels good to be in the single digits of latitude.

Bahia Ballena has long been a secure destination talked about by cruising sailors both in conversations and print. It is a large protected bay about two miles deep with about two miles separating the north and south anchorage locations. The entrance between Punta Tambor and Punta Piedra Amarilla and their reefs is about one and a half miles with very little swell entering the bay. The bay faces southeast onto Golfo Nicoya so there is good protection from the open Pacific. Other than afternoon thermals from the northeast it is a perfect anchorage in the dry season. When we arrived we went to the north anchorage to have a swim and quiet night before relocating to the southern village end the following morning. We had the quietest sleep since some of the calm anchorages up in the Broughton Archipelago. I always get up a few times through the night to check the anchor and surroundings, more often in windy conditions. The few recreational boats that had been at the beach left with sunset and we shared the anchorage with a fish boat that left in the night. The moon came up about 11:00 pm and the silence was deafening. Even the monkeys were quiet, wanting us to sleep. The afternoon breeze had died and the water was perfectly flat. What a beautiful night.

The fishermen's Muelle and the red roof of the closed Bahia Ballena Yacht Club Bar

We had a leisurely morning with a slow trip along the beach as we re-anchored on the south end of the bay. The legendary Yacht Club Bar, the setting of so many of those cruiser’s stories has long since closed but the pier and building are still there evoking a past that has sadly moved on. The village of Tambor has some great bars and restaurants and the resident expat community frequent those.
Another cruiser using the wifi

The Tambor Tropical, with beautifully finished varnished wood has become a cruiser friendly, wifi available, mecca, but we were the only boat in the bay so no tales of wild passages were embellished at the bar. While there we met two separate Canadian couples,
Monkeys, parrots and Macaws are in the trees

one from Ottawa and the other from Calgary. The Ottawa couple are building locally and the Calgary couple were a friendly wealth of Costa Rican information having travelled here several times. There are two other sailboats at anchor here but it appears neither have moved in a long time and no one is onboard.

The village has a very good tienda with an amazing selection of goods in such a small store. The locals are friendly and this is not a tourism dependant community. There are expat communities down the coast and a couple of resorts, one, an all-inclusive, on the bay but few of these people venture into the village. Bahia Ballena is not the Tica (Costa Rican) tourist destination that Samara is and it appears that more expat here own private houses on the beach and in the surrounding hills. There are no large condo developments at Ballena, they are further south along the coast. It has a very relaxed atmosphere. No jetskis, or touts for tourist activities.

Nets on the dock, Kanilela to the left, at anchor

Our south anchorage location is off the old concrete fishermen’s dock that has a building with an incongruous new metal roof on the old concrete slab. The dock is surrounded by fishing pangas with stern anchors and bow lines running to concrete steps that lead up to the elevated dock. At low tide, some of the stairs do not reach the water level making access difficult. The immediate shoreline is rocky, not inviting beach landings. There is a long fish cleaning table on the water side of the building with a steady progression of fishermen cleaning their catch. The pelicans and gulls provide a recycling service.
Muelle means dock, but is also the name of the village

Most of the surrounding single storey buildings are old with rusted corrugated metal roofs. A line of connected concrete dwellings on piles in seeming disrepair provide most of the local housing. They were probably part of the original construction to house workers for the fish packing in more prosperous times. Several other homes are tightly clustered to the east of the dock and on the hill behind, some old some new, all in a close packed group. 
Although closed five years ago it looks ready to open tonight.

Beside the fishermen’s dock the concrete dock supporting the closed Yacht Club Bar is well painted and seems a bit out of place, especially considering it is now abandoned. In the evening howler monkeys on the hill behind and in the bush to the west claim their territory.
The main "road" to the village of Tambor, 1 km away

Tambor Village is about a kilometer from the anchorage. We have good beach access where the rocky shore meets the long sand beach. Usually the surf is not a problem but the flat sand beach makes the dinghy wheels, once again, a fabulous purchase. DaNard Marine, DaNard Marine, DaNard Marine…. That was a small subliminal visual message for our wheel manufacturer…. The walk to the village is in the shade of the shore line trees with some modest beach homes set back in the trees starting about half way.

They are in a beautiful setting and the Tica and Expat owners all waved with big smiles. This is not a stressful existence.

Samara, Costa Rica 24-Feb-2016

Samara, Costa Rica

24 – Febrero - 2016

South of the main Papagayo Winds, time to start to slow down again.

We left Bahia Brasilito early for the fifty-one mile sail to Samara. The coast was a mix of rocky headlands with beautiful sandy beaches interspersed. From a couple of miles offshore, to avoid unmarked rocks and islets, we could see huge crashing surf pounding up the beaches and sending mountainous plumes up the rock faces, reminding us that this is a surfer’s paradise not a sailor’s.

From Cape Scott on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, a coastal voyage is defined by the progression of Capes (Cabos) and Points (Puntas) one rounds. They are areas of changeable weather more noted to sailors for the storms they generate than their raw beauty which is often awe inspiring. This leg had Punto Guiones where the Costa Rican coast turns east west as it runs down the Nicoya Peninsula. Fortunately, the weather window held and we rounded the point with dolphins, flying fish and a mother whale with her exuberant baby doing dolphin leaps. This also took us to a line where the Papagayos are less frequent and less severe.
Samara, low tide at the village end of the beach, reef beyond

There are few anchorages on this area of the coast and those that exist are better known for the rolling motion of the ocean swells than their tranquility. With the recent long run of Papagayos from the north east we were hoping the Pacific Ocean southern swell would be lessened and we chose the anchorage based on this probability. Samara is a beautiful crescent shaped bay about two miles along the beach. Our best anchorage location was to tuck into the southeastern end of the bay behind a central reef and an island and reef on the eastern shore. The gap between the island and mainland is open to the south so we were rocked to sleep every night but generally not too heavy. The rest of the bay was open to much more surging conditions. This location meant you have a mile and a half walk to the village.
Kanilela a speck in the distance at south end of the bay

Samar has a lot of small beach hotels that cater to Ticas (Costa Ricans) and expats from Europe and North America, an interesting mix. It is known as a safe beach where the surf has no rip tides so Tica families have long visited Samara. There are some exclusive resorts in the area and some expat gated communities. The bars and restaurants are the gathering places for these people, some who have been down here for twenty years. It was more relaxed than Cocos and we were not worried about pending gale force winds so we slowed down. Beach walks to the village, long lunches visiting with local expats and enjoying the view of waves breaking on the reef. There are two good stores for provisioning, a Pali, and Super Samar with the Super Samar having a much better liquor selection. Water and fuel could be carried in jugs to your boat but we fortunately, did not need any. The surf in and off the beach was generally manageable but it was another beach where dinghy wheels were magic. More kudos to our friend Steve at DaNard Marine in Oxnard, California. He has the best made wheels on the market and will ship them to you, as he did for us to Vancouver. Dinghy wheels are an absolute “don’t leave home without them” item.  Of our several beach landings and exits, only one exit was a bit wet, fortunately the dinghy did not flip and the motor stayed dry! The skipper did get another lesson in patience though, as the surf died down within the hour. When will I learn?
Sunsets, they never get old

Watching the sun set into the Pacific is a great pastime but the allure of Bahia Ballena (Whale Bay) and Golfo Nicoya beckoned.