Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bahia Ballena: Sailing, Lightning and Repairs

Intermezzo left Puntarenas this afternoon and sailed to Bahia Ballena near the entrance to the Golfo de Nicoya. We received a warm send off from the dock by the marina guys after a busy morning returning the rental car, cashing in my Costa Rica colones for US dollars, closing out the marina account and getting the boat ready for sailing. It felt really good to feel Intermezzo moving through the water and to leave the dirty waters of the the Puntarenas estuary. Puerto Azul is a good value marina with really friendly and service-oriented staff, but Puntarenas wouldn't be on my Top 10 list of places to visit in Costa Rica

As it seems more often than not, the wind was blowing right from the direction we wanted to sail at 10-15 knots. We left the dock later than planned, so we couldn't afford the time it would take to tack upwind the 25 nm to Bahia Ballena, but I decided to hoist the sails anyway, just for fun. We sailed for little while, but then had to turn the engines on and motor sail in order to get anchored before dark (which we didn't).

Thunderclouds were building above the land around us all afternoon. Around 3 pm the clouds had massed, lightning was flashing, rain was falling and the whole mess was moving towards us. It all caught up with us and we had to manage the 20-30 knots winds in the rain, which definitely cools one off quickly. I ended up in light foul weather gear with a thin fleece shirt on underneath, hard to believe after a week of sweltering in just shorts.

Most impressive though was the lightning. This coast, from here south to Panama, has one of the highest frequencies of lightning strikes in the world. That was evident this afternoon as we watched bolt after bolt of lightning hit the sea and surrounding land. These vertical bolts were in addition to the many horizontal bolts of cloud-to-cloud lightning in the sky. Fortunately, all the sea strikes were quite a distance away from us; it would have been pretty scary if they were striking close to the boat. I can see why my insurance deductible is doubled for damage caused by lightning. While still a statistically remote possibility, the chance of getting hit by lightning here seems to be many times greater than normal.

The efficacy of lightning protection systems for boats is highly debatable, but the current conclusion from some reputable experts is that they don't really make a difference and if you are going to get hit, you are going to get hit. So we take some basic precautions just in case during lightning storms, like avoiding touching metal, staying inside the cabin or at least under the hardtop outside and using the oven as a Faraday cage to protect our portable electronics.

Unfortunately, our wind instrument (displays wind direction and speed) started displaying erratic and erroneous information during today's sail. It seems like a bad connection between the display and sensor at the top of the mast. We can sail without this instrument, but it is easier and safer to sail a catamaran "by the numbers" rather than by feel. Unlike monohulls which heel over and provide physical feedback when you sail, the stable, level platform of a catamaran can lull you into being over canvased, which puts a lot of stress on the mast and rigging. I really want to try and fix this instrument if I can.

So, we'll stay anchored here in Bahia Ballena tomorrow to see if we can fix the wind instrument and get a bunch of other items on the prep and repair list taking care of, like un-pickling the watermaker, replacing incandescent navigation light bulbs with power-saving LEDs, pump up the slightly flaccid dinghy, check the engines over, fix the sliding door lock and replace the terribly twisted main halyard with a nice new one. We have a lot of miles to sail coming up and I'd like everything to be ship-shape before we depart.

It is nice to be sailing again but, honestly, having to repair things are that were working fine when I left in June after just six hours of sailing is a bit discouraging. Especially when one of those items is 63 feet in the air.

Oh well, I just need to accept that it's all just part of the experience and the way the universe unfolded beyond my control today.