We untied our dock lines and set out from Marina Puesta del Sol in the early afternoon of April 28th. The day was hot, 92° Fahrenheit to be exact. Four-foot seas rolled long and steady from the west southwest as we exited the estuary. Fourteen knots of westerly breeze filled our sails, and we began our nearly 200-mile passage traveling at 6.3 knots on a beam reach.By the time dusk fell that evening, I was happily poaching two sierra fillets in a hearty chicken soup in the galley. The sails were up, fresh fish would soon fill our bellies, and we were making excellent time.During our February passage southbound along Nicaragua and Costa Rica, we’d hugged the coastline tightly to avoid getting bamboozled by hefty waves, should the Papagayo winds pick up (which, on that passage, they most certainly did). This time around, however, the season for Papagayos had all but passed, and the forecast called for lighter winds. We felt comfortable taking a route further offshore. As the land fell away to the east, we found ourselves 30 miles offshore.
As our first night at sea progressed, the winds mellowed to less than 10 knots and shifted around to northwest, a rarity during this time of year. The seas calmed further, too, and we were content to poke along under sail at a pace of a snail.
When dawn came, we hoisted our gennaker and launched our hand lines once again. The sierra we’d caught the previous afternoon had been small, and we’d eaten most of it in a single meal!
The day of the dorado
We have traversed thousands of miles of sea, during which a hand line (often two!) has trailed in our wake whenever there was daylight and space in our refrigerator. We are proud of our fishing successes. By the time we embarked on our passage from the land of Nica to home of the Ticas, we’d caught three species of tuna (i.e., albacore, big eye, yellowfin), several sierra, a blackfin barracuda, and a variety of fish that we generally released or ate only when we were hungry for protein that didn’t come from a tin can (e.g., skipjack tuna, bonito). We’d even hooked a black marlin once, though after a tragic twist of events, that stunning creature never actually made it aboard.Despite our successes, a couple coveted fish still eluded us. Among them, the dorado (also known as mahi mahi or dolphinfish), a rugged and beautiful fish whose food quality is second to none. We’d met several sailors who had caught dorado exclusively, without ever hooking a tuna. Conversely, we had feasted upon tuna, without so much as a nibble from a dorado. Funny how sailing the exact same waters, even during the same day, can yield such different experiences! All that said, our dorado drought was about to come to a swift end! At long last, we hooked our first dorado!Part of our fishing ritual involves expressing gratitude to King Neptune for his gift and doing our best to slay the fish as expediently and humanely as possible. As our first dorado passed from this life to the next, we witnessed a most incredible phenomenon. The creature’s lime-colored body faded to shades of silver and glittery blue. Within a minute, its body darkened to deep emerald and olive. We were awestruck and not sure what to make of what we’d just observed. It was beautiful but peculiar. Was this normal?
Neil got to work filleting our supper. Sadly, when he was all but finished, he found a small worm in the flesh. Damn! Reluctantly, we threw the fish overboard. The animal would be dinner for some creature, but it wouldn’t be us. We put our hand lines back in the water. Shortly thereafter, we pulled in three more small dorado, each of which we released. They deserved more time to grow. And then we hooked a larger one! Not a single dorado in thousands of miles and then suddenly five in two hours! What are the odds!? TW, as we’ve taken to calling a lure that Neil’s dad gave him, was the star of the day, snagging three of the five dorado!
We pulled in our final fish of the day. This one was a bull, as evidenced by his prominent, blunt forehead. We swiftly slit his throat and watched with awe, as we did with our first catch, as the animal died a colorful, almost psychedelic, death. This time there were no worms in the flesh. We fired up the grill.
Sunsets and squalls
A pod of dolphins paid us a visit at sunset, leaping and twirling from the sea. Dinner was delicious. Neil grilled our dorado fillets with garlic and lime. I sautéed garlic, onions, and peppers, added chicken broth, and simmered quinoa, creating a flavorful pilaf. We also polished off the remnants of a loaf of my favorite boat bread, grilled with cheese. I settled into my bunk with a full belly and drifted to sleep.
Neil woke me at 1:30 am, concerned about an impending squall he had spotted during the final radar sweep of his watch. We reefed the sails and waited together in the cockpit as the rapidly approaching storm moved our way. A pattern in our experience of squalls had become apparent. They always showed up just as Neil was preparing to come off watch. Because we generally weather squalls together, better to have two sets of hands on deck than one, his bedtime got postponed.
Lightning flashed in the distance, and the wind piped up into the mid-20s. As usual, we were glad we reefed early and wear PFDs and tethers 100% of the time after dark. The squall gathered force as it accelerated toward us, dropping heavy rain. In contrast to the squall we’d experienced near Manzanillo, Mexico, where the seas became large and confused very quickly, the ocean remained relatively mild. Nonetheless, as The Red Thread heeled side-to-side, floods of rainwater gushed across the cabin top, beneath our dodger, down our inadequately sealed companionway hatch, and onto the floor of the galley floor below. Two large beach towels were sopping wet on the floor as lightning flashes drew nearer.
The lightning was assaulting the water across the Golfo de Papagayo, sending forth electric bursts of light that illuminated the full splendor of our vessel and the shapes of the clouds above. The lightning bolts were too close for comfort. We did our best to contain our nerves, hoping that our mast—the tallest object for miles—would not be struck. At one point, after a particularly violent sequence of strikes, we lost our instruments! Our depth sounder, anemometer, GPS were all gone! I rushed below and flipped the breakers off and then back on again. After two tries and an ample amount of swearing, our instruments came back to life. All we could figure is that the lightning-generated electrical current in the water may have temporarily shorted them out. For nearly two hours, we sailed through the storm. When a lull in the system came, we fired up the engine, hoping to out run another squall that appeared to be moving in our direction on radar. Fortunately, we succeeded.
Pre-dawn was beginning and, at last, Neil’s weary body went below to rest. I felt alert and invigorated as I watched Bahia Culebra draw nearer. We’d spent three weeks in this area in February and March, enjoying anchorages off Playa Iguanita, Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa, and Playa del Coco. For the first time on our voyage, we were returning to place of familiarity. I roused Neil at 8 am, just long enough for us to drop our anchor. We needed to go through the time-consuming process of clearing back into Costa Rica, but first a nap was in order.Passage perks
Point of departure: Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua — 04/28/15
Point of arrival: Playa del Coco, Costa Rica — 04/30/15
Distance traveled: 172 nautical miles
Total time: 41.5 hours
Engine roaring: 10 hours
Sails soaring: 31.5 hours
Average speed: 4.1 knots
Jessie’s musings: When we began our voyage, I never imagined I’d love passages. I don’t just love them; I long for them. Rather than winding up tightly in a bundle of nerves as we prepared to leave the safety of Puesta del Sol, I felt tension ease from my muscles, as warm Pacific breeze kissed my face. My only complaint from our first night at seas was written during my watch 1:30 – 6:00 am watch. I wrote, “Jealous that Neil got the moon. My watch was black and very humid.” What a whiner! We sailed 76% of the passage, and 7 of those hours were under our lovely gennaker, Gypsy. At long last, we caught our first dorado, and we did well together weathering yet another squall. A very good passage indeed!
Neil’s reflections: The thing that I remember most about this passage was how excited we were to catch a dorado…and then another…and then another. It really did taste better than I’d even imagined it would! The passage was wonderful, if uneventful, except for as always, I got stuck with the short end of the sleep stick because the squalls always seem to come right as I’m getting ready to go to sleep.