Monday, April 11, 2016

Western Panama to Benao

Panama, a long time coming!
Our route to Benao, only to be stopped waiting out a Panama Gulf gap wind, think Papagayo South

Isla Parida, Panama

02 – April - 2016

An overnight trip around Punta Burica and on to Isla Parida

We had several dolphins escort us out of Costa Rica around Punta Burica that forms the Costa Rican, Panamanian border with some shrimp boats working the coastline. The trip was shorter than the guide books said and I hadn’t checked the charted distances so we arrived in the predawn darkness and ran some lazy time killing patterns while we waited for the sun.
Lots of rocks and Islets, not made for a nighttime entry!
The Island is surrounded by rocks and islets and a very exact route must be followed to enter the southern anchorage we planned to stay in. Dawn confirmed that waiting was a good decision because a huge surf pounded on the off shore rocks. We followed the Sarana Guide’s way points in and took a protected anchorage.
Looks like paradise
Other than a couple of caretakers living in two separate bays there are no residents and little development. After a good nap to get over the night crossing we put the dinghy in the water and explored three bays on Parida and one on Isla Paridita. A big mango tree on the beach provided an impromptu treat. It was a peaceful anchorage with only a small swell making its way in, gently rocking the boat.

Islas Secas, Panama

03 – April - 2016

A short 4 hours from Isla Parida to Isla Cavada in the Secas
Another pretty anchorage

We quickly dropped the hook and got the dinghy in the water because we could see the bottom clearly in twenty feet of water. Flips, masks and snorkels in hand we ran the dinghy to the north point and dropped its anchor and rolled into the water. It was beautiful. Some new corals are re-establishing and lots of tropical fish.
And a beautiful sunset

Bahia Honda, Panama
04 – April - 2016
The lush shoreline at Domingo's
Back to the coast, past Isla Medidor to Bahia Honda
A big yacht at anchor on Isla Medidor

After another short day that took us through a narrow pass we arrived at the entrance to Bahia Honda. Again, an anchorage that lives in many stories of the early boats cruising this coast. You have two choices, north to Domingos finca where he an his son, Kennedy, greet sailboats with offers of fruit from their farm. They are always interested in bartering. we traded batteries, milk and cookies for banas, lemons, mangos and grapefruit. If you are a diesel mechanic, they won't let you leave.
We put the dinghy in the water and ran over to Isla Honda to see the small village. People were friendly and curious. Not many boats stop here.
The bay is calm and makes for a peaceful anchorage but on a minus tide as we were leaving Domingo's foreshore we stopped for an hour while the rising tide floated us free from a sand bank that came quickly up from 19 feet. Life's little surprises!

Islas Cebaco, Panama
05 – April - 2016
Sailing out to Cebaco, the winds freshened and challenged our progress into the SW bay.
A quick shot back at the "feed ship" as we departed in the morning
Cebaco is the home to a "feed ship" and some charter fishing boats on buoys. We heard that you can buy diesel and snacks from them but we just came in close to shore to get out of the wind that was building, dropped the hook and relaxed. It is a pretty bay, well protected from the north wind and the swell from the south was reduced by us sneaking in close behind the buoys placed by the charter company.

Ensenada Naranja, Panama
06 – April - 2016
The weather is definitely changing...
Some mixed winds on the way to Naranja but it is a pretty, secure bay to ride out some North winds
The land was cleared in the early colonial period so cattle are common on the hils
While we were trapped in Bahia Santa Elena in northern Costa Rica for two weeks by the Papagayos our friends Wayne and Judy on Curiositas were trapped for at least that long in Ensenada Naranja. It is a very pretty bay but more exposed to swell than we were in Elena so we empathized with their plight. We knew weather was coming from reports on the Pan Pacific Net so we stayed one night and left early.
Benao or Playa Venao, Panama
07 – April - 2016
We are definitely getting close to Punta Mala, Bad Point!
It was a pre-dawn departure to make a daylight land fall at Benao. The weather started light and after numerous sail changes and direction adjustments it became apparent that once again the wind was on our nose. We knew the gap winds were picking up and Benao was our only hiding spot from the north winds. We finally motored the final 4 to 5 hours just to get the hook down before dark.
Kanilela at anchor

We waited until the next day to go ashore and after listening to the Pan Pacific Net and realizing that we were going nowhere for three days we stopped at the Villa Marina Hotel to check their restaurant schedule. Then we wandered up the beach to the well known surf beach to relax and watch the surfers of varying abilities.
And then there were two, Genesis arrived

Much to our surprise we saw a sailboat entering the bay. It turned out to be Genesis III who we had left in Golfito as they were picking up Mary's brother, Joe, in San Jose. On our way back up the beach we met them in one of the many beach bars and caught up on our respective travels.
Villa Marina Hotel, pool and courtyard, these are cruiser friendly people!
The forecast is for favourable winds and tides tomorrow about noon so we will head out for our final two steps to Panama City, Otoque -98 miles and Panama City another 22 miles.

Golfito, Costa Rica

Golfito, Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica

29 – Marzo - 2016

To our final stop in Costa Rica

After a brief two day stop we left Bahia Drake at 4:00 am, in an early dawn darkness to ensure we arrived at Golfito in the day light. There were a few lightning strikes in the mountains and squalls showed on the radar and could be seen blocking the stars to the SW, to seaward. Fortunately the clouds parted for us to slide through as the sun came up over the Oso Peninsula. The trip skirts around the verdant Peninsula, home to the Corcovado National Park. Clearly this is rain country as nothing can be so green and lush without copious amounts of rain.

While checking the engine room shortly after rounding Cabo Matapalo and entering the Golfo Dulce, Sweet Gulf, we noticed a fine diesel spray misting the top of the engine. Before shutting down the engine to let it cool, a quick examination isolated the source to somewhere in the high pressure fuel supply lines running to the injectors.
Entry to Golfito

Once again our Goddess of the Sea, Matsu, was smiling on us and one of the sweetest winds came up from our stern giving us a downwind sail to Golfito twenty miles distance.

As we neared Golfito, I radioed Tim at Land Sea to check for mooring buoy availability or anchorage options. I told him that we had a fine diesel spray issue and he responded with “when you start your engine, place a clean white sheet of paper in the area to identify the source.” He also offered a side tie spot beside his houseboat to make repairs more accessible. We were starting to get an idea as to why it is called a Sweet Gulf.

We sailed about half way up Golfito’s entry channel before I decided we had better start the engine to ensure we were able to made the turn into the wind and continue up the channel to Tim’s. The engine started fine, the white paper trick worked great and with fuel absorbent pads carefully placed, the spray was stopped and the diesel drips were caught in a container. Fortunately the machine shop two doors over bronzed the leak and all is good.
Looking out from LandSea's top deck, Peregrina and Moondancer on buoys,
Perseverance, the blue hull out at anchor and in the left foreground,
Tim's Catalina 27 that he recently sailed down from California.
Genesis III at the Banana Bay dock next door
As we neared Land Sea’s dock, with his irrepressible smiling face from behind his huge beard, Tim took our lines and welcomed us to Golfito. The location is incredible with a steep hill covered with large trees, vines, bromeliads and dense brush rising from the coastal road. Green on green. Tim and Katie arrived on their sailboat twenty one years ago from California. Tim spent some years doing yacht deliveries while Katie developed the Land side of the business. She has some beach front apartments for rent and is able to perform real estate services for Golfito. Tim has some buoys in front and the office building serves as a cruiser’s lounge with washrooms, showers, wifi, and an honour frig stocked with beer, sodas and water.
The walls are covered with sailboat names, their crews and the date they were there. Kanilela’s oft repaired, old Bluewater Cruising Assoc. burgee with our names and date was placed, under Tim’s direction, on a wall of marine memorabilia.
Kanilela and Bluewater Cruising Assoc. enshrined on Tim's wall
The point of the burgee has been repaired by Mags numerous times
It was fun finding boat names from cruisers we followed around Vancouver Island and south.
Eric and Sherrell of the
Sarana Guides fame
Email Tim and Katie at for any questions, real estate or cruising.  

There were about five boats there with some others coming and going. It was great meeting Margie and Peter on Peregrina who completed their five year circumnavigation in the San Blas Islands of Panama and are now going into new cruising grounds up the west coast of Central and North America. Also there, was Nancy and her new puppy Popeye on Moondancer who is returning to Vancouver Island via Hawaii after many years in the Caribbean. Michael and Amanda on Perseverance who sailed from the Duluth, Mn out through the Great Lakes, the St Laurence and down the eastern seaboard to the Caribbean, now heading to Washington State, to then return to work probably in Montana. A neat young couple. We are hoping to receive an email from another young couple on Calyse who are heading to the US Virgin Islands where she will attend nursing school and he can return to being a skydiving instructor. Yes, I’ve misplaced their names.  A fun, interesting couple who we hope to see when we pass through the Virgin Islands. Quicksilver from Berkeley with Dave and Roberta also passed through on their northbound trip.

Golfito quickly joined Bahia Ballena as our two favourite places in Costa Rica. Golfito is a long lineal town built on the waterfront, extending north from Land Sea about two miles to the old Banana Shipping wharves of the United Fruit Company. The old company offices and residences are being restored. Within walking distance of Tim’s are a couple of good food stores, gas and diesel serving both cars and boats, road and dock, and hardware and marine supply stores. Most things can be found, it just takes a little looking. The people in Golfito are very friendly and helpful. Taxi’s run up and down the main road on a share basis. 700 colones (about $1.40 for the first person of a group) and 500 colones (about a dollar) for each additional person. The cars usually hold four people and as nothing is more than one block from the main road you may get short side trips to drop-off other passengers.

One of the lookouts from the top of the hill behind Golfito, a long hot, humid climb!
One morning at 6:00 am, at Tim’s suggestion, I walked 15 minutes south to a soccer field and then turned left up a little gravel road past some houses heading steeply up hill. When the houses ended the road became concrete placed many years ago and a sign said Golfito Rainforest Reserve. I continued up the steep climb with the single lane road completely covered by the amazing variety of trees. After about an hour of climbing I came to the first of the view points but other than some iridescent butterflies, blue morphos the most strikingly beautiful, and lots of bird songs no wild life was seen. Then a woodpecker started drumming and I thought this could be seen in North Vancouver but just as I managed to locate the crimson crested woodpecker I saw a Chestnut mandibilled Toucan sitting near the woodpecker, then several others flew into the trees close. How those “fruit-loops toucans” can fly with that monster beak is a mystery. Also, how they know when you plan to take a picture and then hide their beak behind a leaf is an even greater mystery.
This is a water apple, it didn't move and I got a picture. The
white nosed coati, high in the canopy evaded my phone camera!
Around the next bend the ground was scattered with ripe water apples and something was moving in the tree dropping more fruit. Because it was a solitary animal I thought it was possibly a sloth rather than a monkey but when I got a good view it turned out to be a white nosed coati or coatamundi. The fruit was so good he paid little attention to me. After a short climb to the next view point where I was able to see Perseverance riding at anchor far below.
The pretty ketch Perseverance riding on her hook far below
After continuing for another mile past some fincas, farms, that were uninhabited, one with a sign saying it was a conservation area, the land had flattened as I followed the ridge line leading to some transmission tower sites. A couple of toucans flew within ten feet of me and their wings made a noise like the windmill blades on wind power generators and as they flew into the dense foliage they crashed into branches. How do these things exist? For most of the hike I had been expecting monkeys and thinking that it was a perfect environment for agoutis. I had gone about half a kilometer back when the trees above me were alive with gold brown squirrel monkeys. They are quite quiet and tiny little guys but incredibly fast and none of my attempted photos up into the canopy on the phone came out. Some were curious and came down the branches close to examine me, then scamped away through the trees, never staying still. As I continued down the road I turned a corner and heard rustling in the underbrush. There he was, my illusive agouti sneaking away into the selva. Needless to say, when I returned to Tim’s after a four hour outing, I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.

Another side trip from Golfito that we had heard about was about fifteen kilometers up the Golfo Dulce to Casa Orquideas where Trudy and Ron have spent 26 years creating a tropical paradise of indigenous and imported plants and flowers.  
A beautiful space
There is no road access but you can sail your boat there although the anchorage is marginal and the beach landing in a dinghy can be difficult so we took a panga that moors at Tim’s dock and he gave us a close to shore high speed trip up the coastline. I had phoned the previous day and Trudy met us at the beach, assisting the panga to land. She and Ron first started hoping to farm cash fruit crops but the beautiful setting quickly became the results of their passion for tropical plants. Interestingly, when Golfito was an important banana port, ships from the United Fruit Company would come with tropical plants from around the world and Golfito was famous for its wide variety that thrived. When the company left, the town’s gardens quickly became overgrown and then diminished.
Fortunately, Trudy and Ron were able to take seeds and cuttings and introduce this vast selection to their gardens, palms, orchids, heliconias of the flaming gingers, bird of paradise flowers and upright lobster claw flowers, bromeliads and on and on. Even ylangi ylangi that is the sent for Chanel #5 and another miracle fruit that makes sour tastes sweet. We first ate some exceptionally sour lemon, then we ate the fruit and when we again ate the lemon it was sweet. It was not a sugary masking of the lemon, but rather a change in how our taste responded to the lemon. Needless to say there is extensive research on potential uses of this fruit. Trudy’s tour was fascinating and her knowledge infectious. 

Soon it was time to leave Golfito and Costa Rica, so we started our paperwork exit procedure. The Immigration Office was the friendliest official we met in Costa Rica and possibly the entire trip. Customs and the Port Captain were also very helpful and a pleasure to deal with while we got our departure zarpe for Panama.

Quepos, Costa Rica

Quepos and Parque Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
18 – Marzo - 2016
Heading South East 
Quepos was a banana port in its prosperous past but is now a service port for a small fishing fleet and the resorts in the area. The old ships pier has had some renovations and has a new dinghy dock and ramp. An armed security guard informed us that we could not dock the dinghy there. I explained that we had to go to the Port Captain’s office at the head of the pier and would return immediately. He radioed the office and we were permitted to go talk to the INCOPESCA office to explain our situation. I managed to get permission to go to the Port Captain’s office to complete our domestic zarpe and then return to our boat.

Quepos too has given up the best part of its bay to a new marina, Marina Pez Vela. Some incredible engineering was involved in driving a series of small and large radiused sheetpile formed concrete walls to create a breakwater of extraordinary cost.  They have only a perimeter of docks with the middle awaiting future expansion.  There are several party catamarans moored there that run over to the beaches near Manuel Antonio Park loaded with Costa Rican tourists. The marina used to welcome cruisers anchored off with a dinghy dock, showers, wifi and so on for a weekly price. To our surprise, they no longer accept any dinghies from anchored boats outside the marina, again for any price.

We managed to get permission from the INCOPESCA office that allowed us to use a local panga taxi to drop us at their new dinghy dock for a $20 charge for the 5 days we were there. The panga was 1000 Colones per trip ($2) and Jorge was a neat old guy. With the right amount of planning we generally were able to coordinate his arrivals.
Fresh veggies back on the boat

We finally made it to town and were very happy with the market that is held Friday afternoon and Saturday morning on the waterfront walk.  PIt was probably the best supplied market we have seen with many farms represented and some craft items as well. There are lots of stores and restaurants in the town and the town's people were friendly and helpful.

Anchoring at Quepos is probably the most convenient way to see Parque Manuel Antonio. Some cruising boat have not been permitted entry to the park from the park's waterfront. They were told the only ticketing was from the main road entry and were not permitted to walk through the park to the entry. It is a small park and has a wide assortment of indigenous animals, most notably, two and three toed sloths.
If that is a front paw then this is a 3-toed sloth, they both have 3 toes on the back paws

We had been told that the weekends are incredibly busy and the park is closed on Mondays, even the poor animals need a rest after the weekend crowds, so we went on Tuesday. We had Jorge get us from our boats at 6:00 am so we could catch the 6:30 bus in Quepos to be at the park when it opened at 7:00 am.
There are lots of guides available and the real plus to getting one is that they all have spotting scopes and you can take pictures through the scope. The main attraction was the sloths but there were capuchin and howler monkeys as well.

A high flying capuchin

Bahia Herradura

Bahia Herradura, Costa Rica

29 – Marzo - 2016

It looked like a convenient stop along the way

We left Bahia Ballena knowing it would be a long time before we would again drop our anchor in that lovely bay and visit with all those friendly people. A sad departure.

It was a short, 22 mile sail across to Bahia Herradura, another legendary anchorage from the stories of the early cruisers. It is a beautiful bay with lots of smaller boat on mooring balls. Several years ago Marina Sueños arrived, placing breakwaters in the best protected corner. The marina is full of 30 to 40 foot charter fishing boats who go out for sailfish and marlin. The boats are mainly owned by American skippers and their customers are also mainly American. We know this because every boat leaving and entering the marina must report by radio to the security and the accents of the reporting skippers tells the story. The short term mooring rate at the marina, if they have room for you, is $3.50 a foot but based on a 60 foot slip. Your math is correct, $210 per night. Dinghies from anchored boats are not welcome in the marina – for any price. The beach is lined with high end condos and we were warned that even the pilapas were ridiculously priced. Being out from the old protected corner of the bay, and beyond the mooring field of small boats, the anchorage was exposed to the southern swell and made for a rolly anchorage. The swell hits the beach making it a precarious dinghy landing, now that the protected corner is taken. We pulled the hook and headed to Quepos forty miles south the following morning.
For cruisers following the blog, Bahia Herradura does not have much to offer us and could be skipped.

Tambor, Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

14 – Marzo - 2016

Back to our new favorite anchorage

Time for a map update, Green line is us! As the line shows we are actually in Quepos
It was only about 10 miles south from the Curu Wildlife Refuge anchorage to Bahia Ballena and it definitely felt good to be returning to such a pretty, well protected bay. We dropped the hook in the south anchorage off the old dock, which in Spanish is muelle, and is the name the locals us for the village at the dock. It took very little time to be on the beach heading the one kilometer over to the village of Tambor and the Tambor Tropical Hotel and Bar. Fatima was working at the octagonal pilapa style bar and greeted us warmly with her shy smile, recognizing us from our previous stop going north. We were soon introduced to Sandy from Toronto and Leon from Amsterdam, both expats who are in business now in Costa Rica, Sandy as an Electrical Engineer/Contractor and Leon with 150 hectare dairy farm. Over the next several days we got to know Sandy and his Tica wife and another Canadian (unfortunately no photo), Nick a biologist/photographer from New Brunswick who splits his working year between Canada and Costa Rica. Really friendly, interesting people.
With Sam and Alicia at Cristina's Restaurant

We also spent time with a great young couple from Salem, Oregon, Sam and Alecia. And people wonder why we travel….
Mags keeping up with the internet

We also had a great surprise at the Tambor Tropical that needs a little historical set-up. While in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, we met Karin and Joe and their dog Jack, on the sailboat Flyin’ Sideways. They are a unique couple who had been cruising in Costa Rica and were heading north to the North Sea of Cortez, to get their boat ready for more extensive cruising south. In the off season Joe is a skydiving instructor and Karin pilots the jump planes. Neat, neat couple! While in Chiapas, they gave us a Costa Rica cruising guide and went through it with us highlighting several “must sees”. One of these was Bahia Ballena and the Tambor Tropical Bar, which ironically Paul from sailboat Grace had also told me about, but Karin wrote in the names Aldo and Billie, great expats who she hoped we would meet. Well, sure enough, on our second day back to Bahia Ballena, Sandy introduced us to some expats from Boston, Aldo and Billie. It was a fun “oh you are Aldo and Billie” moment with lots of stories about Joe and Karin.
Nick came visiting, I will add Nick's web site later,
some great wildlife photos

One day, while in Bahia Ballena, we caught a local bus into Cóbano about 12 kms away and then another on to Montezuma about 10 kms further. Cóbano is an interior small town with excellent stores for provisioning. Several grocery stores with an amazing selection of foods and a couple of fruit and vegies stores to get fresh produce to put away on the boat. Sometime soon I will get Mags to do a food preparation blog because, done right, things last very well.
Beach at Montezuma

Montezuma is a beach community that although the surfing is marginal there are waterfalls in the hills and it attracts a diverse back packing group. Lots of hostels and many good restaurants. The area around has a lot of expats, some in gated communities but lots just living with the local communities. Montezuma was good for a visit but the real score was finding Cóbano. Buses were convenient, once we cracked the schedule, clean and cheap but not as entertaining as those in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

As with all good stops, they eventually come to an end. Farewells to all at the Tambor Tropical and we left for Bahia Herradurra across the Golfo Nicoya which marks the southern end of the gulf. Off to new territory.