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Golfito, Costa Rica

Whew. So far this has been a couple of days of struggles but we’re getting there.

First – our sail from Isla Parida was fairly straight forward. Except for the last hour the winds were around 6 knots so we motor sailed the entire way. We left as planned around 3am taking 2 hour watches. We put out all four trolling lines at dawn. By the sixth fish we brought in two lines. After the eighth fish we crossed into Costa Rica and caught nothing more than a large palm frond (which we though was a fish for a a short while). We arrived just before 4 we thought although it turned out to be just before 3 as Costa Rica has a different timezone to Panama.

We anchored near “Land Sea Services” and I immediately went ashore to get the internet password and ask about clearing in. I was told I should start the checking process straight way. I knew the offices closed at 4pm and at this stage I wasn’t yet aware I still had an hour to go. I went back to the boat to pick up the paperwork and give the password to John and Helen. Back at Land Sea services Tim, one of the owners, lent me enough money to catch a few cabs to get going.

In the taxi I realized I had forgotten to take copies of our passports so I asked to go to a place that would make them. That being done I grabbed another taxi to take me to migracion (immigration). He took me to customs instead but I knew I was in the wrong place so I insisted on him taking to me to migracion. I made it there in time. Turned out I didn’t have a crew list which I had to hand write and my copies of the zarpe from Panama were of the wrong page. Fortunately these issues were overcome and we were now legal to go ashore. I was informed that I had to complete formalities the following day which suited me fine. They gave me several sets of paperwork to hand over to the people I had to see next.

On the way back to the boat I went over to say hello to Tom on Everafter with whom we shared Thanksgiving and bumped into in Las Perlas. Turns out he was preparing to leave in the morning and again we’ll have to wait for a renewed social.

Back on the boat we tried to get the internet going. I could not get our mast antenna to work with the WEP security setup shore side. Helen and John’s computers could pick up the signal directly but mine wouldn’t unless I sat on the roof of the boat. This was frustrating. I connected long enough to get my emails and learn my US credit card was not working. Nor could we access this website.

Enough of tech issues we went ashore to eat out at the local chinese. We fed ourselves heartily, had a few beers, an ice cream from next door then headed back to the boat where we fell deep asleep.

Then began yesterday. The long Friday. I think the boat may have drifted towards the dock a little as my laptop was connected – most of the time. I spent a couple of frustrating hours getting nowhere with the mast antenna and nowhere trying to Skype out to sort out my credit card. I decided to pack my laptop into my bag and sort things out ashore once I’d completed checking in (little did I know).

Before all of us left the boat we moved it nearer the dock so perhaps later things would be better. We then went ashore and started the walk along the main road. After about a mile an a half we came to the block where there was a supermarket and my first stop the Cuarentena or Agricultural Quarantine. No real issues here. I filled out a little bit of paperwork and was given the details of how to pay the fee for the ‘agricultural inspection’ at the bank in the duty free zone. As far as I understand there is no inspection but it has to be paid for nevertheless.

Next we all walked another mile or so to the duty free zone. This is a zone where folks can come twice a year and buy stuff tax free. It’s all mainly washing machines, fridges and TVs but there is some low priced booze. I went to the bank and managed to pay for the inspection getting my needed receipt. Then it was off to customs which was just outside. Customs managed to find something they didn’t like about my paperwork and things got awkward as they didn’t speak any English at all and my Spanish is still very weak. In the end they told me to go back to Land Sea Services for them to explain.

We decided to split up. John was going to walk back, Helen would go to the supermarket for some fresh veg and fruit and I would head back to learn what I had to do and to use my laptop in the club house.

Back at the club house I spoke to Tim. It turns out that the lady at customs seems to find something wrong with most peoples paperwork. In my case the problem was down to the corporate ownership of our boat and her needing proof that we were allowed to sail it. The only way out was to hire a lawyer to testify our proper ownership. That would have to happen after lunch as things close down from 12 to 1 here and in some cases longer. We decided to explore the duty free zone while we were there even though we had no papers to allow us to buy anything.

I was able to get a good connection at the club house and at least was able to sort out my credit card. I also thought I’d figured out what was wrong with the website as when I checked the host my account was close to expiring but the credit card I had on file had expired. I was a bit cross because I thought they’d cut the website off too early. However, I renewed the service and hoped it would be back on line soon.

Waiting for Helen I started browsing for other items we need Ben to bring down in a month but didn’t get too far before she returned. I dropped her off on the boat and then went to talk to some other boats nearby who had also had difficulties with customs. Their conversations reinforced the need to use a lawyer to sort things out as this was the only way they had managed to clear in.

Back on the boat I verified that our morning boat move had indeed improved matters to the point where I could use my laptop ok so at least that was looking up in that respect. After lunch I went back ashore and spoke to Kate, the other owner of Land Sea Services, who spoke to some lawyers and explained the situation. I then walked to the lawyers, who spoke no English, and spent the next 3/4 hour getting a letter drafted using translation software for me to verify what was being written. In the end I got a letter stating I was the legitimate owner of the company of that owned the boat and that I was fully entitled to captain her.

Next stop was the customs. The lady there accepted the letter and then buggered off for 40 minutes to do god knows what returning with my customs clearance. Next stop was the port captain who accepted the next set of paperwork and informed me that I had to return before leaving Golfito to obtain a national zarpe/clearance papers. Almost done.

The next stop was back to the Cuerentena to hand in the proof of payment from earlier in the day. At that point we were cleared in but I had one more thing to do. Another taxi ride took me back to the duty free zone where I visited another customs office to obtain papers to allow me to visit the duty free zone today and buy things (probably wine).

I hate paperwork at the best of times so given the 40C heat and humidity and all the walking around and different offices yesterday was not my best day on this planet.

Back on the boat I checked out our website which was still not working (at least for us). I started raising support tickets and it turns out that the website had been down for a short while but that was a distraction as there is a general problem accessing it from Costa Rica which, apparently, we have to sort out from this end. I can still post blog entries via email but I can’t access the site directly which limits what I can do. I was able to order a couple of items off my long list.

This morning I woke up extra early due to the time difference and attacked the website problem again. One of the tools I used to test the site was a webproxy service which accesses the site from somewhere else. This proved it worked but only had limited capabilities for free. I decided to pay $10 for 3 months of use to get past the problems we’re having but it turns out I can’t log in to my blog to make changes. Arggghhhh!

Still, we’re now online and we’re legal. We’ve got plenty of time so perhaps I can work this out. Today we’ll go to the duty free zone as my paperwork is only valid for today. Not sure what else but I think I’ll be doing some unwinding.

Isla Contadora, Las Perlas

With the boat fully fueled (including an extra 40 gallons in jerry cans) and our passports properly stamped we aimed to wake up nice and early and sail to Las Perlas. After all, for the last week we’ve had a near on constant 15-20 knot wind from the north. What could go wrong?

At 6am there was no wind. There was not much at 7am. Approaching 8am we decided to go for it. The anchor windlass breaker was the next thing to die after the wind. No problem – we raised it by hand. No matter that the spares recently received had the wrong sized lugs, we weren’t going to hang around another day. Then the chart plotter froze. Not once, but twice, requiring power cycling to restore functionality. Minor stuff really.

Soon we were off motor sailing in 8-10 knots of wind. We put four lines off the back having heard the fishing was good. The wind was lousy for our standard rig so it was an opportune time to crank out the Code Zero that had been in for repair. No problems this time. Up it went and it looked good. We were soon doing 4-5 knots in 8-10 knots of wind. For a while we turned the motors off. But the wind was tired of blowing for the last two weeks and died down to nothing at one point. We used the electric motors on batteries to assist us keeping a half decent ETA to Isla Contadora running the genset to recharge from time to time. The last two hours we ran the genset continuously to get us in.

On the upside we caught a 5.5lb tuna/jack. Having let John watch my land and prepare the previous catch (the barracuda on the way to San Blas) it was his turn. Tuna (maybe it’s some sort of jack are nowhere near as smelly so it was a good baptism for him. We’re going to eat it tonight. We’re having trouble properly identifying it – if any readers know for sure, please comment and let us know. We’ve heard that the jacks that look a bit like this but have spots on the belly aren’t so good to eat. In fact, we caught one of those too – about 3lb – which we let go. We’ll find out later I guess.

After arriving and anchoring in over 50ft of water I set about the windlass breaker. I discovered that the spares we’d ordered were correct. Our had an extension lug screwed over the top of the smaller lugs. Once I figured this out the replacement went ok. The GPS worked it’s gremlins out. I’m pretty sure it was down to the sheer number of AIS signals in an around the end of the canal. It looks like there is a repeater somewhere because we could see ships all through the canal and around Colon. Now that they’ve all gone things are good.

We also ran into Everafter who are here but leaving soon – before we can get together. Perhaps another time as they’re heading roughly our way including up to Costa Rica.


The morning started with us heading ashore so that Helen could take a taxi to the dentist and I could meet the stainless steel guy. Helen had a temporary crown put in in South Africa and Colombia is by far the best place (high quality, low cost) to get a proper one done. Helen left in the taxi while I had to hang around for the stainless steel guy. It turned out the stuff isn’t going to arrive until early next week now.

I then headed back to the boat to while away the morning. I heard from the guy repairing our air con control board that he’d been successful which was good news.

Towards midday I was hailed by one of the Thanksgiving organizers, Marianne, who was heading out and would drop off a second dinner ticket for us – we were the only ones who had both names written onto one. She said she would be out in 5 mins. Then Helen called from across the bay suggesting I dinghy over to pick her up. I decided to jump into the dinghy and meet Marianne, halfway. It turned out she had run out of gas so I towed her back to her own boat where they had an extra supply. By the time I got over to the other side of the bay Helen had moved. With dwindling power on my handset it took a while to find her but we managed.

On the way back to Dignity we bumped into Dianne and Gerald who seemed to be going nowhere in particular (I’m sure they were but we never found out). We invited them back to Dignity for a Thanksgiving bevy.

Shortly after 3pm we headed off to the Thanksgiving party at Pacho & Guillos, a nearby hangout. We had a good time despite the food being a little mediocre. We sat with Rosie and Tom from Sojourn and Tom and Salaman from Everafter and enjoyed their company. We may bump into them later in the year as they have similarish plans for Panama/San Blas.

As a result of our stainless steel not being ready for a few days we’ve decided to leave the anchorage for the weekend. We’re heading about 20nm south to the Rosarios, a nice little island group with good diving. We need to get somewhere with a clean smelling breeze and clear water where we can swim and make water. After last night’s dinner we headed to the supermarket to provision for five days in case we stay a while. The one thing we need before we leave is a chart of the area showing where we can anchor. Hopefully we can obtain one from somebody by request on this morning’s net.