The Little Gulf

While staying at Marina Papagallo in Northern Costa Rica, we were spoiled with the company of several familiar boats, the Saturday shopping shuttle, the Sunday potluck, and a chance to catch up with a friend’s parents at a nearby vacation rental. We delayed departure a few days to relax, but when a delightful wind appeared in the forecast we knew it was time to go. The breeze was strong at the dock and I was a bit concerned we were heading to be walloped by the Papagallos winds again. Azimuth soon settled into a reach and grew more comfortable as we adjusted to the swell.

My note from the log at 6 AM says, “this is about as nice as conditions get. Cypress on watch all night. Bright moon and flat water.”

Our propane tank ran out back at the dock and a replacement would be four days wait and $120 – refills came from the capital city. We decided to press on and use one of our silliest redundancies – a mini waffle maker. We ate a lot of waffles, eggs, and plantains fried on this tiny griddle, along with smoothies and other foods that didn’t require heating. It was an easy swap in Golfito and we enjoyed the marina restaurant while we waited.

Around midday, I spotted a shark jump fully out of the water twice. Based on some Googling after the fact, it was likely a great white!

The miles were flowing quickly under the keel and we decided on a pitstop at Isla del Caño, a biological preserve 10 miles off Drake Bay. Our guidebooks and fellow boaters have waxed and waned poetically about this part of the earth, and we were happy for the detour. The island grew and grew on the horizon around sunrise. I drank coffee on my shift in the company of dolphins on both sides of the boat. We dropped anchor at this first jungle landscape and were soon joined by tourist boats. A few dozen snorkelers jumped in around us, and we giggled at being part of the landscape.

Drake Bay is named after the English captain who did much exploring in the Pacific. He is also the namesake of a more familiar destination to us – Drake’s Bay, 30 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge and an earlier landfall than the San Francisco Bay. That bay was our destination when first dipped our toes into ocean sailing on Azimuth, as well as on a Moore 24 called Incognito. I can hardly imagine heading out to sea without the charts and instruments we have today, and often think of the conditions and mindsets that may have been present on these past voyages.

After a breakfast of more waffles, we paddled to shore, talked with the park ranger, and hiked up to the lookout. The landscape was stunning, and the contrast from our months in desert climes made it all the more so. I’m searching for more words to describe the gradual change of land and sea around us, and the occasional bounding ahead to new climates. The wind blows over Costa Ric from the Caribbean and all of a sudden it felt decidedly tropical.

View from the lookout on Isla del Cano

The island has remains of pre-Columbian settlers, most strikingly the stone spheres. Archaeologists think they represent other planets, or perhaps the sun and moon. They date back to 300-800 CE. These days many stone spheres have been moved to government buildings and they were adopted as a national symbol.

We had a swim and scramble around in the tide pools and then headed out. Scott proposed haircuts underway and I accidentally cut a bit short. Friends, be sure the guard is back on before any finishing touches.

We entered Gulfo Dulce in the dark under barely a puff of breeze. I think we’re both partial to slow early morning sailing, and this was some of the best so far. I kicked on the engine when the tide turned and started pushing us backward. Our guidebooks made mention of announcing ourselves and requesting permission to enter from the Costa Rican Navy. We hyped ourselves up and I called a few times to no answer. There were range markers lined up on a cliff and a few quaint places to tie up a boat. We hailed Banana Bay Marina and were soon tied up to this very friendly establishment.

I shy away from explaining our experience of an area, perhaps its a fear of generalizing or unfairly honing in on one element. These days you could search for more information than you have time to process about a location. You could see the main street and know the population size, even see all the businesses and perhaps look inside.

Even this “road less traveled” of roadless travel is fairly…traveled!

In Golfito, we ate patacones for the first time and never want to live without these twice-fried, once-smashed plantains. We wrestled the good wood out of the lazarette and made a seat for the companionway. Our friendly Seattelite neighbor seemed to find the noise endearing more than annoying, and we swapped stories about mutual friends and destinations.

Cypress charmed many fishermen on the docks. They came by with scraps, and she still managed to have an appetite for hunting geckos. We tried to reason with our little murderess, but soon discovered she doesn’t understand English either.

The currency is 600 to $1 and we felt a little silly paying for things throughout. The grocery store produce section was paradise.

The town ran along one main road between the water and the jungle, and the rich and mysterious sounds emanating from the deep green had us excited to carry on south. Our country check-out took us to the airport and bank and commercial docks and added a new swing to our step.

Published by Ash

Knitter, sailor, and sewist on the move from San Francisco to the Chesapeake Bay aboard a 36' sailboat named Azimuth.

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