Monday, May 9, 2016

Playa de Cocos: Exploring, Sticker Shock, Officialdom and Off to Bahia de Ballenas

We weighed anchor in Playa de Cocos just before 1 pm this afternoon and are sailing southward to Bahia de Ballenas which is just inside the entrance to the Golfo de Nicoya. It's another 24 hour passage through the night. Hannah is doing a great job as crew. She's calm, easy-going and willing to learn and take on sailing duties that are unfamiliar to her. Fortunately Intermezzo is a very easy boat to sail and the weather is nice, so sailing is mostly babysitting the boat to make sure it behaves itself and doesn't get into trouble and Hannah is an experienced babysitter.

We first left Playa de Cocos on Saturday afternoon after partially completing the checking in process on Friday and doing some grocery shopping on Saturday morning. We had a short but very satisfying sail to Playa de Panama, flying the Code 0 and single reef main on a pretty tight 50-55 degree reach in 12 knots TWS. I didn't think the Code 0 would work as close the wind as we were sailing, but it did and Intermezzo hummed along at 7-plus knots. I was enjoying myself so much, I cut a couple of corners near some rock reefs so that I didn't have to roll up the Code 0. It was high tide and I assumed the charted positions of the rocks were correct, a gross assumption for Central American cartography. When we motored back today, it was nearly low tide and I was a bit surprised by how close my track had come to some pretty nasty rocks that were now poking their ugly heads out of the water. I am usually a very conservative sailor, but the thrill of going fast got the better of me. Fo
rtunately the chart turned out to be pretty accurate and no harm done.

After anchoring in Playa de Panama, Hannah and I took the dinghy to see if we could find a good place to snorkel. We anchored the dinghy and dropped into the water near a rocky reef at the southern point of the cove. It wasn't very good snorkeling, the sun went behind the cliff and made the already somewhat cloudy water too dark to see what little marine life there was. So we were back in the dinghy pretty quickly. As Hannah hauled in the anchor line, she announced, "I think we have a problem" and then showed me the end of the anchor line with just an open shackle hanging off it. Yes, a problem. I hadn't remembered to wire the dinghy anchor shackle pin so it can't unscrew, like I do for Intermezzo's anchor shackles. I quickly put my dive gear back on, dropped back into the water and started swimming a classic box search pattern around the estimated position of the anchor. Given the poor visibility and fading light, I was pleasantly surprised when I actually found the stray a
nchor sitting on the bottom. Hooray, a successful recovery!

Sunday we packed a picnic lunch to take an extended dinghy trip around the bay. We stopped first at a rock reef on the other end of the Playa Panama cove to snorkel. This time, conditions were much better and we didn't lose the dinghy anchor. We then crossed the main Bahia de Culebra (Snake Bay) to a deserted white sand beach to eat our lunch. We did a bit of sunning, swimming, Hannah collected some shells and then we were off to visit Marina Papagayo at the end of the bay to see if it was a possible place to leave Intermezzo for the summer. It is a beautiful marina, but almost empty, save for a couple of mega-yachts and a few large sport fishing boats. It has over half a dozen fuel dispensing stations on its fuel dock, all in pristine condition.

When I went into the marina office to inquire about rates, it's no wonder the place is empty. They want $28 per foot per month, plus a 10% resort fee, plus 10% tax. It would cost $1,260 per month to leave Intermezzo there, plus the cost of periodic washing and bottom cleaning at $15 per hour. On top of that, they would charge $1,000 to $1,500 to make the arrangements necessary to allow Intermezzo to stay in Costa Rica beyond our 90 day import permit. I have never encountered monthly dock rates like this in the US, although I've heard that dockage in Europe is higher. It would cost only half as much per month to leave Intermezzo at Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua.

My research indicates that the cost of dockage or yard storage in Puntarenas is much more reasonable. More expensive than Nicaragua, but within my budget. Now it's just a matter of figuring out how to get the time extension. That's next week's mission, after Hannah flys back.

Fortunately, I am being assisted in my search for Intermezzo's summer resting place by Bill Odio, a friend of my Mom's who is from Costa Rica and seems to have family members throughout the country. Bill is an enthusiastic goodwill ambassador for Costa Rica and has provided contacts who can help with negotiations and legalities related to dockage. I sense that Bill would be very disappointed if Intermezzo turns tail and ends up leaving Costa Rica to return to Nicaragua for the summer. I am very, very grateful for Bill's assistance and will work hard to prevent this disappointment from occurring.

Today we completed the Costa Rica check in process. We returned to Playa de Cocos and first visited the Port Captain's office. That went pretty smoothly and our next stop was Customs, which required us to take a bus to near the airport in Liberia. I asked the bus driver to let me know when we arrived at the Customs office and he did. However, where he let us off did not match the description of the location of the Customs office described by multiple sources. We walked to a small building on the side of the highway with a small sign indicating it to be a Customs office of some sort and walked in. We were told that this office could not process the paperwork we needed, but that the Customs officials at the airport could do so and we should catch a bus to there. We waited on the side of the road and waved at two buses marked Aeropuerto which didn't stop for us. We finally caught a local bus that could drop us off a the entrance to the airport and from there we walked about a mi
le on the access road to the terminal. The Customs people at the airport were very pleasant and we got our clearance and document within about 30 minutes. The Customs adventure had taken longer than planned, so we took a taxi back to Playa de Cocos. I negotiated the original $60 fare down to $25...I'm detecting a possible pattern of trying to charge really high prices in Costa Rica to those who don't know better or are just willing to pay. Finally, when we arrived back in Playa de Cocos, it was back to the Port Captain to get our national "zarpe", the document that allows us to leave the port and proceed to Puntarenas. I would like to think that one day this will all be simplified and able to be done online, but I think it would mean the elimination of too many easy public sector jobs and so is politically infeasible until perhaps the next century.

Okay, enough complaining. Overall, I'm finding Costa Rica to be a very beautiful country and am appreciating some of its upscale comforts, like craft beer, that are difficult if not impossible to find in El Salvador or Nicaragua. As the saying goes, "you gets what you pays for". The streets are cleaner, there is less poverty, there is a greater variety of food, of very high quality, and you can drink the water out of the tap.