Sailing From Panama To Costa Rica
September 25 - October 11, 2012
Terry Welsh wrote this day by day description of a cruising sailboat voyage. The boat owner's comments are enclosed ed by '[' and ']'.

Day 1

As trips usually begin, today was an uneventful travel day. Clara drove me to the airport. I really wish she would have taken some unpaid leave from work. She probably would have enjoyed this trip immensely.

Tom showed up at the airport a bit later and we flew to Panama City via Houston. Tom Marlow is the captain of Ketch 22, the 39 foot ketch we plan to sail to Golfito, Costa Rica.

Unlike my previous voyage on Tom's boat, I am his only crewman. On the last voyage, there were four of us on the boat but Tom expects a much easier sail this time. He tried to get two more crew members, but they ran into scheduling conflicts.

We took a taxi from the airport to the Courtyard by Marriott Panama Real Hotel. Tom forgot all his toiletries at home, so he went shopping while I checked my email on his laptop. I had received three fairly urgent messages from various co-workers at NASA. They picked the wrong day to have problems. I answered their questions the best that I could under the circumstances.

We then went to the supermarket adjacent to the hotel to get a head start on shopping before morning. We only bought non-perishables such as dry spaghetti, snack foods and booze. Then we got a small supper at a Tony Romas in the mall. We joked a bit about our last sailing trip and Tom told me the premise for his next novel. This one was was going to be an espionage novel involving China, Israel, and the United States.

Day 2

We had some time to kill so I started reading Life of Pi. We went out to get more groceries later in the morning. We got some fruits and vegetables but no meat or milk because we thought it would take to long to get it into cold storage.

Around noon, we headed out to Balboa Yacht Club with all our luggage and groceries. This was the next stop on the way to Ketch 22.

We got a meal and a beer at the club's outdoor restaurant while we waited for the ferry. Tom said Balboa Yacht Club was quite famous among cruisers and that they often stop there on their way through the Panama Canal. The restaurant had burned down recently but had been quickly rebuilt.

The ferry eventually showed up and took us to Isla Taboga. It was only a 20 or 30 minute ride from the mainland.

Chuy and his dog Oso met us in the dock. We all climbed into Chuy's dinghy and rode it to Ketch 22. Chuy has been watching Tom's boat in his absence. He has also been maintaining the batteries and scraping barnacles off the bottom.

Down below on Ketch 22, a lot of panels were open and supplies were stacked on the furniture and the floor. This was because Tom had hired someone to rebuild the engine while he was gone. It appeared that the mechanic had used Tom's eating utensils and bowls to work on the engine. There was a nasty mess of dishes and old battery grease in the sink. Later on Tom told me about how the mechanic had reported a runaway oil leak, which is probably why there was dirty black oil all over the place.

We got cracking on chores right away. Tom arranged things below deck and did more work on parts connected to the engine. I inflated the dinghy, removed the sail covers, lashed extra gas cans to the toe rail, tried to loosen a stuck clamp on the outboard motor for the dinghy and helped Tom work on some hoses in awkward locations in the engine compartment.

It was hot and humid on deck and twice as bad below. We were dripping with sweat and all the work lasted until after dark.

I finally called it quits because I was thirsty and hungry. I had two glasses of water but I couldn't cook without cleaning most of the galley. By the time I was done with that, Tom wanted a margarita so we postponed dinner and had some delicious margaritas.

For dinner I finally prepared spaghetti with pan fried peppers and spaghetti sauce from a jar. Food tastes the best when you're that hungry.

Tom was exhausted and went to his bunk right after dinner. I stayed up, listened to music, and enjoyed the view of the lights on Isla Taboga and all the huge ships anchored nearby.

My bunk is the one at the stern, beside the engine compartment. It has no airflow and a fan that does not work. [I think the circuit breaker may have been shut off.] I was sweating just lying there on my back with no cover. I did not sleep.

Day 3

At about 3:30 a.m., I got tired (pun intended) of trying to fall asleep in my bunk. I climbed upstairs and reclined in one of the cockpit benches where I was able to doze off a couple times before sunrise. It was mostly very comfortable but became a little cold when the breeze picked up. I probably should have climbed downstairs for a shirt but I was too tired to bother.

The sunrise came far too soon. Before long I could hear boat engines revving here and there and Tom was rustling around below deck. I was dehydrated from all the time in my bunk/sauna that night so I drank a lot of water.

We spent some more time in the morning preparing the boat for our voyage. We put the dinghy in the water, filtered some old fuel for the outboard motor, stowed a lot of gear, and I swabbed the deck.

It was way too hot by about 10 a.m. when we took the dinghy to the dock [on Isla Taboga]. Isla Taboga has all the trappings of an out-of-the-way Central American island: narrow streets, friendly locals, tropical plants, colorful dwellings that appear near to collapse, and a handful of European tourists. I also saw a strange fruit fall from a tree. It was soft and green, like a fleshy pine cone. For all I knew, it was poisonous so I didn't eat it, but I would like to know what it was.

Tom led me to Chuy's house where we found Chuy and his wife Susan. They are both from the states so their English is clear. Tom discussed sailing routes with them and they had plenty of ideas about places to see and avoid.

Next we went to Ted's restaurant. It turns out that Ted had been the guy smiling at us on the ferry yesterday. Ted is a Gringo, so I had assumed he was a friendly tourist, but he actually lives on Isla Taboga. I had fish and Tom had a hamburger. I was starving so anything would have been delicious. We both drank about a gallon of lemonade. The heat and humidity were crushing us.

We discussed our plans during lunch and decided to head for our next stop that afternoon. Before leaving Ted's restaurant, we checked our email on Tom's laptop. I had forgotten it was my birthday until I saw my email. Clara, my parents, Maria, Sophia and several mailing lists and web forums reminded me by writing to say happy birthday.

After returning to Ketch 22 and shuttling some garbage to shore, we started the engine and got underway. Unfortunately, sailing trips often require much motoring because the wind isn't always favorable. This must have made things fantastically difficult for sailors before the advent of mechanical engines.

We motored through the shipping channels and past the Bridge of the Americas, the gateway to the Panama Canal. The quantity and size of the boats in these waters is extraordinary. A couple people on a platform were painting the rear of the tower on a container ship. They yelled and waved to us. I would say Panamanians are very friendly - and they are - but given the international nature of the vessels in these waters I couldn't possibly guess where these two were from.

Tom said, "Do you smell something?"

Indeed I did. It was the odor of burning oil. Tom shut off the engine and we lifted the cockpit cover over the engine compartment. It was too hot and smoke drifted upward. We quickly opened the engine compartment access below in order to let the engine cool and diagnose the problem. Tom quickly found a drive belt that had worn through and was no longer functioning. This drive belt drove the alternator and the water pump for cooling the engine. The lack of coolant was the cause of the engine overheating. More distressing was the fact that a failed drive belt was the cause of the previous over-heating incident that had required the engine to be rebuilt.

There wasn't time to consider all the implications as we were adrift in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, dwarfed by ships that might not be able to avoid us if they tried. Tom took to replacing the shredded belt and I took the helm to watch for potential collisions. He said I should use the rudder to help guide us but I don't understand how that could work with the sails down. The current had us.

My first thought was to look for anchored ships that were pointed directly toward us. If we were being pulled by the same current that was aligning these giant ships behind their anchors, then it followed we would eventually collide with an anchored ship pointing directly at us. However, after a few minutes I was able to make a better assessment of the situation using the motion parallax of ships in our foreground and background. The ships were aligned to point east. By my original assumptions, we should have been drifting west but we were actually drifting southwest. Figure 1 shows the dilemma graphically.

Figure 1 - Predicted VS Actual

By this point [in time] there was a north wind outflow from a line of thunderstorms that were now raining on the mainland. It was only about a five knot wind, not enough to sail by but enough to influence our course. Apparently, sail boats are driven by the wind much more than giant shipping vessels, even when their sails are down.

Fortunately, I couldn't predict any collisions happening within the hour. There were some boats in our general line of motion, but they were still miles away. After a decent amount of cursing, Tom managed to install a new belt and we were underway again.

Tom found the packaging for the failed belt and saw that it was an automotive belt instead of a marine belt, which could indicate a quality difference. Kenny, the mechanic who had rebuilt the engine had asked Tom to bring a couple belts from the US. Tom hypothesized that Kenny could not obtain marine quality parts on Isla Taboga and had asked Tom to bring better parts as a precaution. It would have been good if Kenny had met us on Isla Taboga as planned. Maybe some of this confusion would have been resolved.

We are now motoring along with another automotive belt installed. We expect it will fail as well, but Tom has three marine belts that he brought with him. If they don't last longer, we could have a serious problem.

We motored past many more giant ships, some anchored, some not. One container ship blew it's horn at us when we were on a collision course with it. Tom was already on top of it, though, and adjusting our course so we would pass behind it. A giant container ship moving toward you and sounding its horn is very intimidating.

Our goal is to check out of Panama at Flamenco Marina in Panama City tomorrow. We found an anchorage with calm water not far from there and dropped anchor.

The new belt was already starting to wear out. It's possible that these automotive belts are massively inferior to the marine belts, but neither of us could imagine such a big difference. This new belt looked close to failure after only an hour or two of use. It seemed more likely that something had been tweaked incorrectly during the engine rebuild.

It was getting dark and we didn't know what to do so Tom decided to sleep on it. It was time for margaritas and dinner. The water at this anchorage was sheltered better than at Isla Taboga, and it was much smoother. We had grilled bratwurst and peppers wrapped in tortillas for dinner. Tom went to bed right after dinner at about 7 p.m. I stayed up to work on my journal and read Life of Pi. I stopped when the batteries on my headlamp failed.

It was cooler in my bunk than the previous night. I was still damp from the humidity but not sweating. I actually slept a few hours. The calm water probably helped as well.

Day 4

I looked at my watch at 4 a.m. I had been awake for a while and decided I wouldn't fall asleep again, so I climbed into the cockpit to watch the sunrise. There was no light in the sky at 4 a.m. and I have no idea what time sunrise actually occurred. I was in the cockpit waiting for at least an hour. Tom was up about a half hour after sunrise.

Tom went straight to examining the engine belt but still wasn't sure what to do. I thought the pulley on the alternator looked crooked, so I found a straight edge and used it to see if the pulley was in the same plane as the belt and other pulleys. It was clearly crooked.

Kenny had told Tom that he had adjusted the tilt of the alternator to make it more correct, but I think this made it worse. Tom removed two washers to change the tilt and our straight edge test gave us a much better result.

Unfortunately, the pulley was still tilted in the direction of belt tension. The alternator has only two mount points, allowing you to adjust its tilt on only one axis. It would be better to have three mount points. Still, it appeared to be aligned better than before so Tom put on a new belt and decided to try it. This time it was a marine belt.

We motored to Flamenco Marina and tied off to a [fuel] dock. The belt showed no sign of wear after this twenty minute cruise.

Tom took our passports and went to check us out of Panama. He wanted to be at the boat for fueling because he said monitoring the fuel gauge properly was tricky. When a guy from the marina came around and asked about fuel, I said "El capitan no est aqui." He looked as if he wasn't sure what to do next, or maybe my attempt at Spanish was incomprehensible. I said, "Un hora." He repeated it and left.

Our time at the dock dragged on for hours. The immigration office there at the marina was not equipped to issue a zarpa for Ketch 22. That's the document required to move a boat between countries. Tom had to take a cab into town for the zarpa and he had to go again after they had issued him a zarpa for the wrong boat. We also had to buy fuel and water, which took the better part of an hour.

Tom had wanted to get our cruise started after a short stop at Flamenco Marina, but it [customs, immigration, fuel, and water] took so long that we only had time to motor back to Isla Taboga. About a mile or two from Isla Taboga, we shut off the engine and inspected the belt. It showed no signs of wear. Our alternator adjustment may have actually worked. Tomorrow we plan to only travel fifteen miles. Such a short distance will make for another good shakedown of our modification.

We hooked a can for the night off the shore of Isla Taboga. A can is a mooring point for a boat. It has a float that resides on the surface, connected to the ocean floor by a rope. Another two ropes come out the other side of the float and are used to tie off a boat.

The sky was pleasantly overcast due to nearby thunderstorms, as it had been last night anchored near Flamenco Marina. This also kept the air cool and breezy. The water was choppy, but that died down by the time it got dark. We did some reading and then Tom went to bed with a bad headache. I took a swim and made dinner. Tom was still sleeping when dinner was ready. I decided to wake him up because he had eaten very little all day. Also, it was starting to rain and he needed to close the hatch over his bunk.

Unfortunately, dinner didn't help his headache because it had gotten bad enough that he couldn't eat. He had some water and went to bed again.

All the large ships waiting to go through the canal form a long line on the horizon from the north to the northeast. After dark this shows as a nearly unbroken string of lights that you could easily mistake for a city on land. Some lights from Panama City can also be seen, but they are twice as far away. Before dark, I also noticed the smog. There is a distinct, thick, greenish brown later stretching south or southwest over the ocean from Panama City. Tom says it's the only city [in Panama] where he has ever been physically irritated by the smog.

Day 5

I slept much better last night. It came in spurts, but there must have been several hours of it. I did not awaken until after 6 a.m., well after sunrise. Tom felt much better this morning. We took the dinghy into town pretty early to get some breakfast at Ted's place and some more provisions. We almost left without the oars and had to go back onto Ketch 22 to get them. Oars are wonderful to have when your outboard motor fails.

After we were on shore and halfway to Ted's, Tom realized he had forgotten his laptop. He really wanted to use the wifi at Ted's to check email and some other stuff [weather forecast], so he went back to Ketch 22 to get it.

I went to Ted's but there was nobody there. Ted was probably still asleep. The restaurant was downstairs while Ted lived upstairs. The front door was open so I sat at the coffee table for a while looking at magazines full of pictures of Latin American celebrities in their swimsuits on their yachts.

Ted finally showed up about five seconds after Tom came in with his laptop. Ted got to work on breakfast while Tom got to work on his email. We had just barely had breakfast when it started raining. Tom decided he should go shut the hatches on Ketch 22, so he headed out on the dinghy again. We should have shut those the first time we left.

It took me quite a while to get through my email and comments on Steam Greenlight. I finished moments before Tom returned, dripping wet. The rain had stopped by then but he had had a very wet dinghy ride.

We left Ted's and saw Chuy again. He told us about the old lady up on the hill who could sell us some vegetables and eggs and stuff. We got eggs, peppers on their last legs, frozen pork, Coca Cola and some cans of salsa and beans.

We saw Chuy one more time on the way back to the dinghy. I asked about the strange green fruit I had seen. He said it was called 'noni' and tasted terrible. Some people consider it to be a health tonic so they juice it and mix it with other things to make restorative cocktails.

Back at Ketch 22, we took one more look at the engine belt, dropped the lines from the can, and motored out toward Isla Otoque. We were on our way.

It was an uneventful three or four hour trip. We saw plenty of big ships on the horizon and trash in the water. Otoque was only about fifteen miles away, a good distance for another shake down of our previous engine repairs. The cove at Isla Otoque looked a bit rough so we headed for a cove a half mile further at Isla Bona. There were actually a couple towns on Otoque but we didn't see any on Bona. It was too small. Although it did have an old rotted crane or some piece of machinery on a hillside by the water. It must have been used for something long ago.

There were two ships [yachts] already sheltering at Isla Bona: Rapscallion from Santa Cruz, California and Precious Metal from Canada. For our successful boat repairs, Tom and I rewarded ourselves with double margaritas. Delicious. When we were finished with them, I spotted a dinghy coming over from Precious Metal. A man and woman and their dog arrived. It was Henry of Rapscallion, Pamela of Precious Metal, and a dog named Riley. Each of them (except for Riley) was single handing their boat. Pamela told us about her adventures fixing engines and patching leaks in sinking boats. Tom was very impressed with her.

Henry and Pamela have both been sailing for years. Pamela had Precious Metal built in 1999. They have been sailing together (in separate boats) for eighteen months. I sensed a little cruiser romance, especially when they used terms of endearment like 'Hon'.

I had my usual salt water bath, rinsing off with fresh water on deck. It was nice to bathe so much farther from the mainland where the water appears much cleaner. For dinner, Tom made eggs and peppers in tortillas.

Our voyage had officially begun. We discussed leaving immediately for our next way point, a hundred miles away. This would probably let us arrive just before dark. However, the following leg would also be long so we decided to get a good night's sleep and leave around noon. This will let us rest for a half day at the next stop and leave us well rested to start the following leg at an appropriate time of day.

I thought I was done writing for the night. However, as I was cleaning up the cockpit table, the headlamp that Clara gave me fell down and bounced straight into the drain hole at the back of the cockpit. I jumped to the back of the boat and looked into the water, but there was no sign of it. I'm pretty sure it was designed to be water-proof, but I guess they didn't bother to make it float. Damn. I really liked that lamp.

Fortunately, we have a full moon this trip. Between the moonlight and the dim cockpit light, I can still see well enough to read and write.

Day 6

This morning some whales surfaced near the mouth of our cove, within a hundred feet of Ketch 22. I don't believe I have ever seen whales in the wild before. I yelled at Tom to come upstairs . "Quick, quick, quick!"

We didn't see them flapping their tails or doing any flips, but they surfaced over and over and blew water out their spouts a lot. There appeared to be just two of them. Tom thinks they were mating.

Every time Tom gave up and turned off his camera they would appear again. So I got a lot of pictures and he didn't get any. We had planned to depart at noon, but we both got bored of reading and relaxing by 10 a.m. We made an early departure and motored south toward our next stop at Punta Benao. This was to be a one hundred mile leg that would last until the following morning.

We got a bit of wind at 11 or 11:30 and decided to put up the sails. We suspected it was being triggered by a distant line of thunderstorms that we would eventually pass under.

The wind was light, but enough to allow us to spare the motor. We were sailing into the irons, which means the wind was coming from exactly the direction we wanted to travel. This makes it impossible to sail directly toward your destination, so we had to tack to starboard about forty-five degrees. As we approached the line of thunderstorms, we spotted some big splashes in the distance. It was more whales, within about a mile of us. They were breaching and slapping their giant tails down on the water, causing huge bursts of water to fly up.

The wind was much stronger in the storms and it poured for about an hour. We got quite wet, but it was very refreshing after so many hot days. Tom got downright cold, which is strange down here near latitude 7.

After the storm, the wind became a bit more westerly and allowed us to sail in our desired direction for a while. It remained overcast and we saw very little sun the rest of the day.

The wind eventually became too weak. Just before starting the engine, we spotted two more whales stirring the water behind us. Two of them surfaced side by side, a boat length away. Enormous! We also heard what sounded like whale music. I was unaware this could be heard above water. Sometimes they left round flat spots on the surface of the water above them. By "flat", I mean that the nominal ocean ripples are greatly reduced in amplitude in that area. These spots appeared to be about the size of a whale. I don't yet know what kind of whales we have been seeing. They are all dark gray, almost black.

We also sighted dolphins several times during the day, even in the middle of the night, but dolphin sightings are much more common than whale sightings.

We motored for the rest of the leg. The wind teased us, but it never became strong enough to be useful.

Dinner was skipped because the swells were too big to allow safe or practical cooking. The galley is designed to prevent pots and pans from sliding off of counters or the stove, but it is still possible to splash hot food onto your legs and feet. We had some dried fruit and crackers instead of a proper meal.

That night, we took two hour shifts. I like the night watches on a sailboat. It's very peaceful, but it is even more peaceful if you can sail instead of running the engine.

It is also much easier when there are more than two people on the boat, allowing you to rest more than two hours before your next watch. This is probably not as much of an issue for Tom because he can actually sleep properly in his bunk. My bunk is too hot and damp. The best I can do is try to doze while reclined on a cockpit bench.

Day 7

During night watches I like to listen to music on the Sansa Clip Zip that Clara gave me. I have not yet dropped it down a cockpit drain hole. We arrived at Punta Benao while it was still dark, but the first hint of sunlight was shining in the east. Tom shut down the engine to wait until it was light enough to enter the cove. In the early morning light, a pod of dolphins came to play in ripples created by our bow. Unfortunately, the boat wasn't moving. They swam through the water where the ripples should be repeatedly, but it just wasn't the same with a stationary boat. The pod then came back to the cockpit and made the same motions. Some of them jumped all the way out of the water. I think they were trying to get us to drive the boat. We didn't start it [the engine] and eventually they swam away.

Once there was enough light in the sky, we took down the sails and motored into the cove at Punta Benao. It was completely exposed to the south and did not appear to be a good anchorage. The water was very calm this early in the morning, but it tends to become more rough by the end of the day. Time would tell if this anchorage was smooth or rough.

Tom took a shower in the tiny boat shower. I took another swim in the ocean and and rinsed off with fresh water. I also washed my swim suit with soapy water. It really needed it after a few days of only being washed in the ocean.

Next, we tried to get some sleep. I think that only lasted two or three hours, but I wasn't really keeping track. We were both very tired from the night voyage. It was far too hot to sleep in my bunk, so I slept a bit in the shadiest part of the cockpit I could find.

I read for a while in the cockpit, receiving a decent sunburn from reflected light off the water. Staying in the shade doesn't keep you completely unexposed with so much water around.

The anchorage sucked. The boat was rolling around way too much, making it difficult to do almost anything, so we decided to leave about 2 p.m.

I hoisted the anchor and Tom put the engine into gear. Immediately, he noticed that the rudder angle sensor was not working. We dropped anchor and Tom climbed into the engine compartment to search for the problem. He quickly found a push arm that had come disconnected. It appeared the ball-in-socket joint had been weakened when the engine overheated. It would stay in place when we snapped it together, but only weakly. Tom found a piece of stainless steel wire, and I fashioned it into a brace that would hold together throughout it's range of motion. It stayed in place quite well, but we duct taped it for good measure. We were underway once again, now about 3 p.m. We hoisted the sail but couldn't use it for long. The wind was weak and, as usual, in an unfavorable direction. The short time that we were under sail was very pleasant. The ocean was smooth and we weren't listening to the engine.

Sadly, we eventually did start the engine and it had to stay on. We got close to zero wind all night. We worked in shifts like the previous night, but we were considerably more tired now. The moon was close to full and the ocean very calm. I enjoyed listening to music and looking at the moon reflected off the water behind us.

At one point, we passed a cruise ship. It had so many lights that we were never able make out the most important light; the red navigation light we should have seen on its port side. To keep myself awake I was eating a dried apricot or dried mango slice every half hour. A little boost in my blood sugar tends to drive away my drowsiness.

Day 8

My last shift on this leg was from 4 to 6 a.m. Tom woke me up from the chair below deck. It was much cooler than my bunk so I had been able to doze off a little.

Tom showed me a rainstorm to our south we had just passed by. The sea was still very calm. Consistent with the lack of wind, the storms did not appear to be moving at all. We could see updrafts and rain shafts quite well because the moon was so bright.

I tweaked our course a little during my shift, but only to keep the sails from flopping back and forth. The night was mostly windless, but, on the occasion the wind blew for a few minutes, we were able to get some propulsion out of it. During the periods when no angle of attack would quiet the sails, you could be sure there was no significant wind blowing.

Early in my shift I saw a new dark patch appear ahead of us. It was almost directly along our heading so I anticipated plenty of rain and maybe some decent wind. Since the storms weren't moving, we spent a long time approaching this one. Halfway between Tom's storm and mine, I saw clear sky and the moon for ten minutes or so. As we approached my new storm, I saw its lightning flashes increase in frequency. When we were very close I felt the first raindrops, so I went below to close all the hatches. Back in the cockpit the rain had begun to intensify and then stopped. Then over the course of about five minutes, the storm vanished. The moon appeared above us as if it [the storm] was never there. What the hell? I've chased many thunderstorms but I have never seen one evaporate so quickly. Daylight followed shortly after.

Our destination, Isla Cebaco was soon visible as the rain shafts parted. I had some corn flakes on the way there and saw a black and white ray jump completely out of the water twice. I was exhausted.

We lowered the sails and motored into a cove. As it was at Punta Benao, there were no other cruisers anchored here. Tom was surprised and blamed the recession. The locals waved to us as they passed by in their motorboat. They beached it in front of a little shack and went inside. It was the only man-made structure on the island.

It was damn hot and it was just after 8 a.m. We got settled and had a beer, hoping it would cool us off and help us sleep. As usual, Tom had an easier time napping than I. I climbed into my cramped bunk and proceeded to sweat for a half hour. It was pointless. I climbed off of my wet sheet and sat in one of the cabin chairs. At least there was a little breeze from a hatch that I could feel in the chair.

The heat was taking a lot out of me. I was reluctant to sit in the cockpit because I would get more sunburned. Eventually, I decided it was my only choice. I sat in the shade and stayed mostly protected from reflected sunlight by wearing a shirt, hat and sunglasses. I read most of the second half of Life of Pi.

In the middle of the afternoon the sky darkened and I could see storms coming. Finally! There is no better way to beat the heat [in the tropics].

I stood on deck and let the rain envelop me. It was a very refreshing rainwater bath for me and my clothes, which I wrung out repeatedly during the course of the shower. I only took a break from the rain for a few minutes when lightning struck the mast, which was a bit unnerving. I heard an electrical pop directly above and saw the flash in my periphery. The deafening thunder clap came a second or two later.

Tom wasn't pleased as lightning strikes tend to fry a boat's electronics. All electronics that had been active were still active, so the mast must have been properly grounded. With all the potentially cruise-ending problems this trip, we wouldn't have been surprised to have another one.

I finished my shower and hung my once-filthy garments to dry. We used up the last of the daylight having margaritas and dinner. Cooling off in the rain had really raised our spirits. The heat down here is just too much.

Day 9

I slept like a baby - a really sweaty baby who wakes up many times during the night. The cool air brought by the rain was enough to make my bunk bearable for the night.

We woke up sometime after dawn and set sail for Bahia Honda. We were especially happy to find the lightning strike had not damaged the engine's starter motor or any related wiring. We raised the sails immediately outside the bay and were doing about six knots. The wind tapered off gradually until we had to start the engine an hour or so later. The wind gods have been unkind this trip. At least we had another whale sighting, but it was brief and fairly distant.

Bahia Honda was about thirty miles away and we arrived about 2 p.m. Chuy had recommended this location for food and fuel, saying there was an old man who would come by in his boat and sell us some fish if he was still alive. We motored into the bay and off to the left, to where Chuy said we should anchor. We found a fairly inviting anchorage in front of a building onshore with a well-maintained lawn. It looked like it might be a destination for fishing tourists.

I inflated the dinghy and Tom got to work filtering old diesel fuel. He couldn't remember where he had purchased it and didn't know what condition it was in. We thought we might take the dinghy to shore or perhaps to the island in the middle of the bay. The island in middle had the largest settlement that we could see.

An old man showed up in his old motorboat. With the motor still running, the rear of the boat was just barely above water. His name was Domingo. He had two teeth that looked used up and he looked like he had been in the sun for about sixty years. Tom estimated that he was about forty years old, but I think he was trying to be funny.... mostly.

We asked for fish, but Domingo had none. He offered to sell us produce instead. He listed some fruits and vegetables that he had and we told him we would like banana, peppers, and tomatoes. He left and said he would return with the food later.

Next we met a boy and girl in another motorboat from the island in the middle of the bay. They were about fifteen years old. Tom still wanted diesel fuel so they agreed to bring us five gallons in the morning. They lingered a while without saying anything before leaving. I asked Tom about it and he said that people in places like this will often ask cruisers for tips [the monetary kind] or items that are expensive or hard to find in their part of the world. These kids didn't seem to have the nerve to ask. Maybe we'll find something to give them when they return with the fuel.

The next person to motor over to Ketch 22 was Kennedy. He was probably in his twenties. There was a girl in the front of the boat, maybe his sister. Like Domingo, Kennedy didn't know a word of English. Tom knows a little Spanish, far more than I, which helps with communication. Kennedy didn't have any fish either. Our dreams of having fresh fish in Panama every night were falling apart as quickly as our dreams of having good wind for sailing. Kennedy wasted little time on small talk before asking for batteries, flash lights, and fishing lures. Tom hadn't heard the part of the conversation about lures, so after Kennedy was already motoring away, Tom pulled out his tackle box and showed me a lot of old equipment he could have spared. I motioned for Kennedy to come back, so he turned his boat around. He was happy to rummage through the tackle box, taking some fishing line, lead sinkers and lures. He wanted big lures but Tom had none to spare. There are a couple big lures onboard but we use those to try to catch fish while underway. Kennedy even wanted the tackle box, but Tom was unwilling to part with it.

Domingo came back with bananas, peppers and tomatoes. He also brought Daisy, a little girl. Domingo could have brought her to help communicate but it seemed more like he brought her so she could look cute and convince us cruisers to give her stuff. We bought the peppers and tomatoes but the bananas were of a strange variety and nowhere near ripe. Domingo said they would be ripe in five days, but our trip would be over by then, so we didn't buy any bananas. Like ourselves and our other visitors, Domingo wanted to know where all the other cruisers went. This appears to be a great bay for cruisers, with good shelter and friendly inhabitants ready to provide whatever services they can.

It was late in the afternoon and the thunderstorms were kicking up all around us. We enjoyed a little cooling rain but not enough for a rainwater bath.

Another fisherman showed up with no fish. This gentleman was named Ismael and he was busily fishing while he spoke with us. He was in a small paddle boat with an oar and minimal fishing equipment. He had a fishing line in his hand with a hook on the end of it. Occasionally he jerked on the line to attract some fish. Ismael lingered for a while, probably wanting to ask us for something but not having the nerve to do so like Kennedy.

Meanwhile, a brilliant sunset bloomed in the west. It was a collection of collapsing thunderstorms glowing an intense pink. I started photographing the sunset and probably became a terrible conversation partner for Ismael. We didn't speak the same language anyway. The lightning to the southwest was coming so frequently that I was actually able to photograph some lightning without using long exposures. Long exposure are simply impossible on a moving platform like a sailboat.

Kennedy showed up when it was just about dark. he wanted to sell us some coconuts, but we had no use for them. Ismael and Kennedy eventually drifted away on the current in their separate boats, having a conversation.

Tom made spaghetti with spaghetti sauce and the peppers and tomatoes Domingo had sold us. Those were excellent vegetables. Unfortunately, Domingo had washed them just like the super markets in the US. Vegetables all spoil faster when you get them wet, so we must finish them quickly.

I poked my head into my bunk and immediately decided it was too hot and sticky to sleep in it, so I retired to a cockpit bench. The lightning went on all night. There was also a night watchman ashore at the fishing resort turning his flashlight on and off and waving it about all night.

Day 10

In the morning, the kids never brought the fuel and Ismael never brought the big fish he had promised. We had to make it to Isla Cavada before dark, so we motored over to what appeared to be Bahia Honda's main settlement on the island in the middle of the bay.

There was nobody to be seen as we approached, but the place came to life after we dropped anchor. Roosters crowed, dogs milled about onshore, music played, and Domingo motored out to greet us on a boat called Deisy 14. Domingo must be the same old man that Chuy told us about. Chuy had said there's an old man in Bahia Honda who would sell us fuel or anything else... if he's still alive. He's still alive and he appears to run the town.

We chatted for a while. Domingo wanted us to tell our cruiser friends about him and asked for one of Tom's boat cards. A boat card is like a business card but with a boat name instead of a company name. Cruisers use them to keep in touch. Domingo sold us some Coca Cola and ten gallons of diesel. We spent some time pouring the fuel into Tom's five gallon tanks [jerry cans] via his filter. Domingo said the fuel was clean and it appeared to be so, but Tom has run into trouble with impurities in his tanks before. They can lead to mold growing, which takes a long time to eradicate. We tried to be neat about pouring the fuel but this is an inherently messy operation. We all ended up with diesel on our hands and their was a bit on the deck too. Tom and I spent some time washing it off with sea water.

I'm not sure what time we motored out of Bahia Honda, but, for most of the day, we thought it was an hour earlier than actual time. There is a bug in Tom's Garmin GPS unit, causing it to sometimes show the wrong date and time. They told him over the phone that the official solution to that bug is to reboot the unit when it occurs. Ah, quality firmware. [What Terry left out, is that Garmin introduced the bug in their own firmware upgrade and then never bothered to back it out. When the unit was new, it didn't have the bug. Aside from that anomaly, it's a great device.]

The wind was pretty good for the second half of this leg, about forty-five degrees off our nose. We probably could have sailed at about four knots, but we were motor sailing in order to reach our destination in the daylight. And we did. We arrived at Isla Cavada in plenty of time to find a place to anchor. We saw one sailboat anchored over at a neighboring island. The main anchorage we were aiming at had three white floats out in front of it. After investigating, we decided the markers indicated shallow waters near the shore. Outside the shallow water, the sea dropped off rapidly, according to the depth meter on Ketch 22. We anchored just south of the southern most marker, in about twenty feet of water.

Next we had margaritas and more pasta with Domingo's peppers and tomatoes. Delicious!

We went to bed about 8 p.m. I wasn't really sleeping when Tom came up to the cockpit to check our depth at about 9:30. The wind and currents had changed and we had rotated 180 degrees on our anchor. We were now close to shore and at a depth of six and a half feet. Ketch 22's keel reaches five and a half feet underwater. While Tom was deciding what to do, the depth changed to five and a half feet. We were in imminent danger of running aground.

Tom connected the remote control to the windlass and reeled in about thirty feet of anchor chain. This didn't help enough so we decided to reset the anchor someplace else [in deeper water].

I neglected to bring a flashlight when I went to the bow to reel in the anchor. It was almost pitch black out. It was overcast and the moon had not risen. Fortunately, the movement of the chain through the water stirred up enough bio luminescent critters that I was able to see where it was. Or more precisely, where it had just been. I used the direction the anchor chain was laying to direct Tom which way to drive [steer] the boat.

He found a place in deeper water and we dropped 150 feet of chain. This kept us in deep enough water the rest of the night.

Day 11

My bunk was cool enough for sleeping in the second half of the night, so I got some rest. In the morning I took a swim and rinsed off with fresh water on deck. It was overcast still, so the sunrise was not spectacular. I prefer it this way though. The clear days have been unbearably hot.

It was a short hop to Isla Parida today. Only about twenty five miles. We were able to sail the second half, not fast, but we were able to shut the engine off which is very pleasant. Tom's extremely outdated book of sailing charts [cruiser guide] said that a Canadian couple had set up a little resort for cruisers at the northern anchorage on Isla Parida. That must have been a long time ago because it's gone now. There appears to be a group of lobster trappers who have set up shop in the ruins of the old resort.

We put the dinghy in the water and went to visit. Tom bartered for some lobsters, but it is unclear if they will bring us any. I took some pictures of hermit crabs and sand crabs while Tom went for a swim. This was the first time we had stepped on land in days.

Exploring the peninsula, I found another beach on the other side. From it is a staircase leading up to a building labeled "Autotida Nacional del Ambiente PARQUE NACIONAL MARINO GOLFO DE CHIRIQUE." I suppose it is or was part of a national park of the Republic of Panama. However, it is surrounded by chickens and peoples' hanging laundry, so I suspect it has been adopted as the home of some local fishermen.

Tom and I returned to Ketch 22 and waited for the midday heat to pass. We were eventually rewarded with overcast skies, a cool breeze, distant rainfall, margaritas, and dinner.

Day 12

Some of the local fishermen motored over to our boat with two live lobsters in the morning. We only had a twenty dollar bill, so they said they needed to get some change for us. One of them expertly dissected the lobsters with his knife. The tail is where almost all of the edible meat is [located]. He broke an antenna off one of the heads and used it to pull the digestive organs out of the tail. Lobster antenna have barbs that act like hooks, so he just had to stick an antenna in the right place and pull it back out.

Another man on the boat was taking measurements of the lobsters and getting photographs of the insides of their heads. He said he was a biologist and was collecting data about the local lobster population.

After they left in their boat it began to pour. Tom and I got another excellent rainwater bath on the deck of Ketch 22. The whole boat acts as a rainwater collector. I filled buckets from the drain spouts on the sides of the deck and dumped them on my head. I also used a couple bucket fulls to clean my swimsuit, which had been in seawater too many times.

In the middle of the rain two of the fishermen returned with our change and a bag of lemons. Six dollars for two lobsters and a bag of lemons is a great deal. They were covered in rain gear and appeared amused that we were enjoying the rainstorm in nothing but our shorts.

We set out for the last leg of the voyage. We would cross the border from The Republic of Panama to Costa Rica and anchor in Golfito, Costa Rica. We got to sail for a half or more of this leg which was a big improvement over the other days. After the sun went down I put on some music and cruised through the darkness at five or six knots. It was very peaceful. The sails required little adjustment due to consistent winds, so all I had to do was watch out for other boats. The moon was not yet up, so you could see the Milky Way clearly. Distant lightning silently lit up the sky every few minutes.

Day 13

Tom woke me up for my last night shift at 2 a.m. I was half asleep on a bench below deck. The weather had changed a lot. Now it was drizzling and perhaps foggy. The sky was so thickly overcast that I couldn't see through the darkness if it was actually foggy. We were heading north into Golfo Dulce now. The wind had weakened so Tom had the engine on. He also had the radar screen folded out so it could be seen from the cockpit. he said fishermen in Golfo Dulce often did not use lights so it was a good idea to monitor the radar.

The radar showed land about four or five miles away on our port and starboard. There were no other obstacles at first. A little later I noticed a dot appear on the radar about a mile away. We were not on a collision course with it so I didn't adjust our heading. When we got a little closer, I saw a light appear in the water. It looked like some kind of channel marker, and we passed by.

Next, I saw another dot appear on radar when it was about a half mile from us. It did not appear that it would come closer than the channel marker. When the radar showed it just to our starboard, I was scanning the darkness trying to see it with no luck. A spotlight suddenly turned on. It flashed back and forth, settled on our boat for a moment, and then turned off. I still couldn't see the source of the light but it had been within a quarter mile. What's worse, a ship's captain that uses no lights, or a tourist trying to find his way into a foreign bay on a dark night?

About halfway through my shift the wind picked up. I shut off the engine and sailed. At this moment I knew how tired Tom was. Normally, any change in boat motion or sound will wake him up. But I put the engine in neutral, shut it off, shut off the blower that cools the engine compartment, and adjusted the sails, all without any reaction from Tom.

We knew we would get to Golfito too early because the sailing had been excellent most of the night, so I changed course to let us pass by [the entrance to] Golfito and to use the sails less efficiently. This slowed us down to a steady four knots. Tom would be able to double back toward Golfito on his next watch.

At first light, we lowered the sails for the last time. There was a dead squid on deck. It must have been shot up there in a splash of water the night before. [more likely it jumped out of the sea to avoid a predator]

Once we anchored in front of Banana Bay Marina, Tom wordlessly went below deck and passed out. I worked on this journal for a while, but it was difficult to keep my eyes open.

Around 10 a.m. we cleaned up the cabin a bit, put the dinghy in the water, and went ashore. We took the last few days worth of garbage to throw out. Tom asked at Banana Bay Marina about Yacht Path, the company he hired to move his boat to Mexico. They told him to have his boat in Golfito by October 8 at the latest, and today is the 7th. It turns out [according to Banana Bay] that they are about a week behind schedule and he has plenty of time to make arrangements. He is also happy to spend an extra week in Golfito.

We got some money from an ATM, which would only dispense between 10,000 and 50,000 colon[es]. We estimated there are between 500 to 1000 colon per U.S. dollar. Tom wanted to get lunch at his favorite place in town, Latitud 8. They were closed for another hour so we found some breakfast and beer at another diner down the street.

Tom has been telling me for years about the Golfito Shuffle, which is the manner in which people slowly shuffle down the street in Golfito. They do so because it is so hot and sticky here. It is mercifully overcast today, but I can still feel the crushing heat trying to break through.

Back at Banana Bay the rest room has a shower, which is common of marinas. I got my first hot shower in twelve days with hot water in a shower [an enclosed stall]. It was heavenly. I might even put on some clean clothes back on the boat.

Eventually we got back to Ketch 22. We had big margaritas as usual. For dinner Tom cooked the lobster from Isla Parida. He had picked up some butter in town specifically for the lobster. It was fresh and wonderful and came out of its shell without much trouble.

We listened to some music and chatted for a while after dinner. It helps to be exhausted and have a full belly.

Day 14

There were a few more chores to do in the morning. I spent a while tying up the sails and putting the sail covers back on. On land, we spoke with Jorge, the [Banana Bay] marina manager. He told us all about how to get checked into Costa Rica. It's more than just going through immigration and customs when you have a boat. You have to check in with the port captain and do lots of paperwork for your boat. Tom had expected to find Bruce, the previous manager of Banana Bay Marina. Jorge said he had just quit two weeks prior. Bruce remains Tom's Yacht Path liaison, so Tom will get to talk to him and find out why he quit. [I later found out through a third party, who heard it from the kitchen staff, that Bruce had been asked to leave so that the grand daughter of the owner could start running the operation.]

We had to make the rounds and get through immigration. We did the Golfito Shuffle, still sweating profusely the whole time. We found the bus station, a little hole in the wall amid other shops. It didn't look like a bus station at all, just a booth for buying tickets. The bus to San Jose wasn't leaving until 1:30 p.m., another four hours in the future, so I bought a ticket. It appeared I was already out of things to see in Golfito anyway.

Back at the marina, I made a reservation at Aldea Hostel in San Jose using Tom's computer. Then we bought a nice big meal--my only meal for the day. I had spicy fillet of dorado. Tom had a hamburger drenched in blue cheese and mayonnaise. Yuck!

I took the dinghy to the boat to get all my stuff. I hadn't driven the dinghy in a year and confused the direction control with the throttle, putting on a nice show for everyone at the marina. After I got it under control things went alright.

We said our goodbyes and I walked to the bus stop. Tom thought I should pay $2 for a cab because it was so stinking hot and muggy. I told him "I like to walk. It's my way." The bus stop was a twenty minute walk. A dog with a green bandanna around its neck kept me company most of the way.

[Leaving Golfito]

There was no air conditioning on the bus so it was only tolerable once the bus started moving and a breeze came through. Later on, we went through the mountains over San Jose and I was freezing. No matter where I sat, there were ice cold winds coming from several directions. All I had to wear was what I already had on, shorts and a t-shirt.

We arrived at the bus station in San Jose at about 8:30 p.m. I was expecting to arrive at the Coca Cola bus station, but this was someplace else. There was no map that I could find so I was forced to get a taxi. The driver drove a very confusing route on side streets, probably to inflate the price. The whole time he tried to talk me out of staying at the Aldea Hostel. Perhaps there are other places he gets better kickbacks from. He said it was outside downtown and too unsafe, but this is counter to what I read online, so I stuck with Aldea.

After getting a room for the night, I went to the common area outside where travelers were drinking, smoking and playing guitar. Jesus was the one on guitar. He's from Mexico. Sergio from Venezuela gave me a beer. There was Isa from Germany and her friend from Holland. Stephen is living here in Costa Rica, but he grew up in Orange County. There is an older couple, also from Costa Rica but I didn't understand their names well enough to write them down. There was also a woman in a mask who would look away quickly if you looked at her. I can only imagine she has some grotesque disfigurement under that mask that had made her terribly shy. [Visions of the Hunchback From Notre Dame are swirling around my brain.]

I probably spoke with Stephen the most because his English is perfect. He was vague about what he did for a living, only saying that it was recession proof. When pressed, he told me he does publishing for the porn industry. I asked him if he knew Jean Birout, the king of porn in France. He didn't know him but seemed impressed that I had ever had dealings with such a huge name in the industry.

The old man and I talked for a while about politics and all the trouble in Mexico. He sounds like he monitors current events thoroughly. He wants to write a book about seven women. It's his experience that you must fall in love seven times before finding the right woman. He also likes to put salt in his beer and on the rim of his beer glass.

Hostels are great for meeting people. Hotels simply don't compare. I'd still like to meet the woman in the mask, but she scares me a little...