December 13, 2016

Hopping up the Central American Coast

From Panama to Puerto Vallarta its about 2000 gorgeous miles (and 15-20 travel days)

The immigration official was surprised we were checking out of Costa Rica after only ten days. And while it’s been an excellent ten days—I see her point. Most cruisers spend far more time in this pretty country. And we know we’ve only scratched the surface.

In fact we’ve spent our entire stay mainly in one anchorage. We’ve been in Bahia Culebra anchored off of Playa Nacascolo. We’ve swum ashore and wandered the beach—listening to howler monkeys and watching parrots cavort overhead. For two days we hired a car out of Marina Papagayo and went rafting on Rio Tenorio* and then explored Playa del Cocos—trying to recall how it looked 20 years ago (very, very different.)

It seems like we just arrived in Costa Rica--we've typically spent a minimum of a month in a new country and often 3-4 months
"Green Season" in Golfito
While we’d love to stay—we’ve hit the point in our journey where we’re not quite on a delivery passage but we are on a schedule. We passed a boat doing a delivery just outside of Golfito. They had left Puerto Vallarta two weeks earlier and planned to hit St Thomas for Christmas. That’s a serious number of miles. We’re not in that big of a hurry—but we’re also not keen to let a weather window pass us by.

For the most part, moving up and down this coast is pretty straightforward. There’s not much wind—so we’ve been motoring about 90% of the time. There is some adverse current, which has slowed us down and we have had some wind in our face. The two areas we need to time the most carefully are just ahead of us. The Gulfs of Papagayo and Teuhauntepec are both subject to ferocious winds.

Swimming to shore gave me this view
Twenty years ago when we came down the coast both winds were considered somewhat unpredictable. The trick was to sail with ‘one foot on the beach’ so that if the winds suddenly sprang up—you wouldn’t have the big seas. When we crossed the Teuhauntepec it was so calm we were lulled into cutting the corner. Then a puff of hot wind, which is said to precede the blow, came up and we headed straight back to the beach. The Teuhauntepecker never did blow up, but a few weeks later we got caught by a Papagayo. The rough seas were enough to hurl our pressure cooker across the cabin where it missed Evan’s sleeping head by inches.

These days, weather reports for the region are fairly accurate. High pressure in the Gulf of Mexico contrasted with lower pressure in the Pacific causes wind to flow into the Pacific. The land form of Central America: high mountains with only a few gaps, accelerates the wind through the gaps. The result is strong winds and steep seas across the two gulfs—something we like to avoid.

When caught in an unexpected traffic jam of hundreds of dancing horses it's best just to enjoy the spectacle
This week though both the Papagoyo and Teuhauntepec are calm—so it’s time to move on. If it weren’t for Christmas the window looks big enough to push on past Puerto Chiapas for Haultulco—but that’s where the part about not being on a delivery comes in. As much as we’re eager to ‘tie the knot’ and complete our circumnavigation among good friends in Puerto Vallarta we still have adventures ahead of us and memories to create.

*note to self: a class III IV river at the end of the euphemistically named ‘green season’ and shortly after hurricane Otto, the first hurricane in history to make landfall here, is a angry looking thing. Evan and Maia called the boisterous ride 'fun!". I called it a wee bit intimidating…

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