September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising

Liz Tosoni

Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica,

10°55.1’ N lat., 085°47.35’ W long.

“There’s a good spot to anchor at Cabo Matapalo, just ten miles from here. From there you can set off at first light, no hazards to worry about, for the next long leg to Drake’s Bay. I’ll give you the coordinates,” advised Tim at Land Sea Services in Golfito. Sounded good to us. What he didn’t tell us was that Cabo Matapalo is a surf beach, locally known as “Backwash” with occasional monster waves, and that surfers flock there from far and wide to ride them.

 

Well, I guess ignorance can be bliss and luckily we did enjoy mellow conditions while we were there, but there was a very definite ocean ground swell in that open roadstead. We used Tim’s waypoints, but only as a guide, of course, and eyeballed things as we got closer. Charting here is extremely unreliable, as you can see. On C-Map our actual position at anchor made it appear as though we were high and dry!

 

A very pleasant surprise came in the form of Misha, a young surfer gal from Sooke, Vancouver Island, who swam out to Feel Free on her surf board. “Hi, my name’s Misha. Would you like some fresh local lemons? I brought a bag of them for you. May I come aboard?”

Misha is an intelligent, down-to-earth, go-for-it individual, with penetrating, direct eyes. She was on a surfing holiday with her husband Bruce, staying at a friend’s home at Matapalo. Over tea (lemon tea of course) we learned all about her life as a tree planter of 20 years, as well as about her and her husband’s dream to sail off into the sunset one day soon. This was not an ‘airy-fairy’ type dream either, as she and Bruce really do have a boat, one they built themselves over many years and recently launched, a 32 foot, steel Brent Swain design. Brimming with enthusiasm, she asked a litany of questions about the cruising lifestyle and we in turn learned some fascinating things about her world. It was one of those special, unexpected, chance encounters we’ll not soon forget.

It was calm the next morning at 0400 when we raised anchor, shores covered in a blanket of mist, skies sparkling with stars.

An uneventful day of light winds ensued and then we were in wide, open Bahia Drake (as in Sir Francis Drake, who landed there in 1579 or so they say), our only neighbour in the anchorage being this four-masted cruise ship.

From Sarana’s Guide to Cruising Costa Rica:

The story goes that he attacked and stripped a boat named Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (Our Lady of Conception), in Esmeraldas, Ecuador before reaching Isla del Caño. This was a 120 ton vessel with a most interesting cargo which Drake had heard about while in Lima, Peru. He set sail immediately for Ecuador and then snuck up on the ship while disguised as a slow merchant vessel, dragging pots in the water under full sail. The shock of suddenly being attacked by an English ship in the Pacific was so great that the fight was short lived and surrender was quick. As a result, Queen Elizabeth scored a fortune worth 350,000 British pounds in 1580 or about $140 million in today’s dollars. Supposedly, Drake then stopped at Isla del Cano to caulk up his ship, Golden Hinde, with bark from the trees.

Some of that gold was thought to be buried in this area and for ages gold seekers came in search of their own fortunes, but now visitors are after the beaches, the jungle and the wildlife.

From the anchorage, you have easy access to Corcovado National Park, the second largest park in the country, with 108,022 acres of wet tropical forest. It's a living laboratory for scientists, home to nearly 300 species of birds, 139 species of mammals, 116 species of amphibians and reptiles and where on one acre more than 100 species of trees can be found.

We took advantage, immersing ourselves in Costa Rica’s bounty of nature.

Our next stop would be Bahia Brasilito, 160 miles distant, so it was another early morning departure in order to make it, with any luck, the following day. Our time at sea was again uneventful, some sailing, some motoring, some brown water (was it algae?), changing landscape from lush tropical to dry and arid, a lone humpback whale, a few dolphins, a few turtles, and a bright full moon, like a good friend, sharing our night watches.

Then, an abrupt turn of events.

Tom was on watch, I was napping down below at 2015, when WHAM! All of a sudden we heeled over dramatically, fully canvassed. Just south of Cabo Vela (“Sail Cape”), someone in heaven must have turned on the wind switch because suddenly we were a sailboat again. Cabo Vela marks the southern end of the region of Papagayo winds, strong northeasterlies, or “gap winds.” We were aware of that, but somehow couldn’t believe they’d arrive so unceremoniously at the precise entrance to the region.

For the next two hours, Feel Free screamed along like a bat out of hell. A brilliant balloon moon lit up the way to our bay, Bahia Brasilito, and once the hook was down, the crashing of surf on the resort lined shore wiped out all other sounds. Somehow, we managed to drop into our bunk and sleep through the bright night.

Our next challenge was getting to shore. The sea was too high for our dinghy to handle without capsizing, so the only way in was to swim. We filled the dry bag with clothes, hats, sunglasses, and flip-flops, and over the side we went. Tom was the designated bag carrier.

Our next challenge was getting to shore. It was decided that the surf was too high for our dinghy to handle without capsizing, so the only way to go was to swim. We filled the dry bag with dry clothes, hats, sunglasses, and flip flops and over the side we went. Tom was the designated bag carrier.

Once close to shore, a technique had to be used. We looked behind, and when a wave came that looked reasonable, swam like the devil with it, body surfing. Well, somehow that wave managed to really do a number on me, tumbling and tossing me like I was inside a washing machine. I was covered in sand, but unscathed. No injuries. Guess my wave riding skills could use improvement.

The Papagayo winds stayed with us the next day as we slogged into them en route to Playas de Coco, but it was only 15 miles away and in three hours we were there.

The once quiet fishing village is now hopping with tourists and tour operators and all the requisite souvenir shops, internet cafes, casinos and restaurants. As it’s the northernmost port of entry in the country, it was also a business stop for checkout procedures, as well as a place to stock up on provisions and enjoy a restaurant meal.

As it turned out, what we thought would be a simple visit to the various offices — Immigration, Port Captain and Customs — in order to obtain clearance papers and passport stamps, evolved into a “Checkout from Hell” for us, as well as for our buddies on Bag End.

In 27 years of cruising the world, Tom and I have now checked in and out of some 49 countries, and both of us must admit that it’s one of our least favourite and most tiring cruising activities. It can take less than an hour or it can take all day. This one took all day. I won’t even begin to explain the minutiae and peregrinations of the things that went wrong, the misunderstandings, the waiting in lines, the long bus ride to a town called Liberia, 40 kilometers away, to find the Customs office, the taxi ride from there to yet another wrong place, the long walk in the torrid heat, blah blah blah.

After it was all said and done, at the end of that most frustrating, agonizing day, we had to agree that our checkout of Costa Rica had to be our very worst to date and we definitely needed a stiff drink!

We fuelled up in a bay around the corner the next day, and were away again and into the famous Golfo de Papagayo, sailing fast and boisterously, in 25 knots of northeast wind. The lush, verdant shores of southern Costa Rica gave way to the dry, mountainous region to the north. Feel Free flew along close to shore, allowing her crew to view this spectacular, iron bound setting, with jutting, layered pillars of rocks that provided a knife edged silhouette against the cerulean sky. Mountain ridges of Cerros de Santa Elena form the spine of this uninhabited, isolated land we were entering as Feel Free rounded the wild, steep promontory that marked the entrance to our final harbour in Costa Rica, large, lovely, land-locked Bahia Santa Elena.

Cruising sailboats find this a popular destination, but so do whales, dolphins, fish, turtles, birds, butterflies and monkeys. We all congregated there, enjoying one another’s company. Anchored next to trees filled with layers of life, you have the sensation of being suspended between two distinct worlds, the one above and the one below.

There is good hiking too. One of the hikes took us to “the prettiest and least visited beach in the country” (Rough Guide to Costa Rica), another to a waterfall, yet another to a lookout that gave us a fine view of the harbor. We could have stayed in Bahia Santa Elena much longer, savoring its beauty, isolation and other-worldliness, but once again, it was time to move on.