Rolling in-n-out of Gringolandia + an impromptu overnight passage

May 2015

A few hours after we arrived in Playa del Coco, we dinghied to the beach, survived the surf landing, and got to the business of clearing back into Costa Rica. This time around, we were not rookies. We knew what to expect, and we managed to go through the process relatively quickly; half a day. The duration of time a boat may remain in Costa Rica is limited to 90 days. Fortunately, we found a loophole during our initial visit and secured a suspension on our Importacíon Temporal, which basically stopped the clock on our 90-day time limit. Had we not done that, we would have had to stay outside of Costa Rica’s borders for at least 90 days, regardless of the number we’d spent there initially. The clock began ticking again…

Our stop in Playa del Coco was short-lived. After clearing in, we made a quick stop to do a few things online, went on a provisioning run, and dropped off our laundry to a local lady. Sometimes bucket washing simply does not cut it. Period. The following afternoon, we weighed anchor and motored deeper into Bahia Culebra to Marina Papagayo, the scene of one of the most nerve-rattling boat repair fiascos of our voyage.

We decided to stop at Marina Papagayo for two reasons. First, we needed fuel. Secondly, we were considering leaving our boat there during the rainy season, while we went somewhere to work. Marina Papagayo is truly a state-of-the-art facility, and we knew our beloved boat would be well taken care of there. We had plans to meet with the Harbormaster, Dan, to discuss long-term moorage. We’d reached the conclusion that working in Central America was simply not going to be a viable option. Our Spanish was mediocre at best, and it was unlikely we’d be able to secure jobs that would offer wages that were any better than our command on the local language. We have a mortgage on The Red Thread and because choosing to not cross the ocean to Australia this season meant extending our trip by a number of months, we knew we’d need more cash to cover that omnipresent expense. We’d have more control over variable outlays (e.g., fuel, fun), but our mortgage wasn’t going to change. Working on a mega-yacht was still a possibility, but prospects were looking complicated and slim.

On May 2nd, we got underway. We planned to cruise as far as Tamarindo, a lively tourist beach town, nicknamed “Gringolandia” by locals. Fifteen- to 20-knots of northeasterly breeze had been forecast but were nowhere to be found. Halfway through our 30-nautical mile passage, westerlies picked up, and we were able to let the sails do the work.#Playa del Coco to Bahia Ballena_Crashing waves2The wrong kind of rocking
Expectations play a major role in one’s perception of any experience. We had anticipated dropping the hook for the night in Tamarindo, resting, and then kicking off another overnight sail starting the next day. We set our anchor off Tamarindo in uncomfortable, if not miserable, swell. Our logbook reads, “This anchorage is rolly as shit with breaking waves nearby.” I stood on the bow, trying to capture on video the state of the seas, while Neil tried to take a nap. I found myself feeling seasick as a result of the conditions…in the anchorage.#Tamarindo_This anchorage sucksA testament to our increased comfort with sailing at night and evidence of just how wretched the anchorage, we did something we’d never done before: we set off on an impromptu overnight passage. Bahia Ballena was about 90 nautical miles south, near the Gulf of Nicoya, and we were going for it.#Playa del Coco to Bahia Ballena_Crashing waves1 #Playa del Coco to Bahia Ballena_Catching a ride#Playa del Coco to Bahia Ballena_Lazy boobiesIn stark contrast with our passage from Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua, to Playa del Coco, which was among our most memorable, this stretch was our most disappointing. We arrived in Bahia Ballena in early afternoon of the following day, having caught zero fish and having only sailed for a few hours when the winds were amplified by a fleeting nighttime squall. Okay, it wasn’t all bad. There was a full moon, and Neil enjoyed a late-night dolphin visit. As we rounded the Peninsula de Nicoya, the character of the landscape began to morph. We were nearing a more verdant region of Costa Rica…

Cruising commentary
We entered the wide mouth of Bahia Ballena, and the onshore breeze that piped up as we neared the bay quieted steadily as we approached the anchorage. We set our hook on our first attempt off the town off the town of Tambor, which felt calm and protected. Fishing pangas were med-moored to a long dock with cement stairs, and for the first time in well over a month, we saw two other cruising sailboats. The next day, we hitched a ride to the dock with the crew of Seahorse V. We enjoyed a walk into the town and a beer in a modest café that had two outdoor tables (i.e., someone’s veranda, I’m pretty sure). Along the way, we picked a few mangos off the ground and spotted howler monkeys. Upon return to the fishing dock, local men were selling fresh fish and stringing hooks. Bahia Ballena seemed like a nice little spot, but we didn’t get to experience the full splendor of the area until we returned a couple weeks later…stay tuned!
Bahia Ballena anchorage waypoint: 09°42’.97 N 085°00’.54 W#Bahia Ballena_Seahorse V at anchorPassage perks
Point of departure: Playa del Coco, Costa Rica — 05/02/15
Point of arrival: Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica — 05/03/15
Distance traveled: 119 nautical miles
Total time: 27 hours
       Engine roaring: 17 hours
       Sails soaring: 10 hours
Average speed: 4.4 knots
Jessie’s musings: Two memories stand out to me. First was our in-n-out stop in Tamarindo, where the anchorage was truly unbearable. Tamarindo has a sour reputation among Ticos as being nothing but a tourist hole; hence the nickname “Gringolandia.” Still, the beach stretched long and golden and the town was appealing from the water. Secondly, we saw grand waves pummeling enormous crags at several points along this stretch of coastline. The power of the ocean was magnificent to observe, as the force of the waves rocketed foamy mountains of water stories into the air.
Neil’s reflections: Anchoring in Tamarindo sucks. It was the rolliest anchorage we experienced in our 8.5 months of sailing. Coupled with the loud music pumping from the resorts lining the shoreline and the panga dragging tourist around the water on floats, we had plenty of reasons to want to move on, and we did just that!#Bahia Ballena_Neil snoozing

14 thoughts on “Rolling in-n-out of Gringolandia + an impromptu overnight passage

  1. Why do you do your sails at night instead of the day? Ignoring the impromptu sail (unplanned), you did the 30 nm passage at night and were planning another one the next night.
    Night sails would seem significantly harder given the difficulty seeing logs or sea debris, more difficult ship crossings, tougher sleep schedule, harder to see weather approaching. 30 nm is easily doable as a day sail. Am I missing something that makes them preferable in that area of the world? (I’m in the PNW, yet to do a night sail and have done some 50-60 nm passages)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Patrick, thanks for your question! We actually got got underway from Marina Papagayo to Tamarindo in the early morning, with a plan to arrive in the afternoon and spend the night there. We intended to then begin the ~90-mile passage to Bahia Ballena the next morning, which almost certainly would have been an overnight passage. The anchorage was truly horrendous, with 4+ foot swells pummeling us. Rather than sticking around for a miserable night of sleep at anchor. We opted to simply cruise on. You’re right; it is more difficult to see debris in the water, but night sails are an inevitability in long-distance cruising, and we are comfortable with them now. Also, unlike the PNW where logs are a real hazard (we would be far more nervous cruising at night in our home waters near Seattle), there are far fewer issues with floating nonsense in that region. The bigger concern are local fishermen long-lines that can stretch for miles. I hope that helps to clarify our logic! Also, I see your boat name is Violet Hour – I love that name. Did you participate in the Hot Buttered Rum Run out of Elliott Bay last month? We’re in Seattle right now and were out on a friend’s boat, Summer Salt, that day. Your boat name sounds very familiar! ~Jessie


      • Oh got it. The 30 nm was a day sail and the 90 was going to be overnight. Makes sense.

        We did go out for the Hot Buttered Rum Run. Our boat is moored at Elliott Bay. I didn’t see you at the buttered rum happy hour – but there were a lot of people and I’m not sure I’d recognize you two out of the blue. If you’re back there sometime feel free to drop me an email so we could meet!

        Liked by 1 person

      • We actually never made it into the happy hour! The sail was so mellow and the day so lovely, we couldn’t bring ourselves back to the marina. We barely made it back in time for the Seahawks game, which we watch pretty religiously at Maggie Bluffs. We leave Seattle on the 22nd and are pretty booked until then, but if you watch the Hawks game at Maggie’s this Sunday, look for us and say hi! ~Jessie


  2. I meant on an airplane! Are you going to be anywhere near there that we could perhaps travel to see you? We are thinking we will go to Tamarindo at some point. Will be in CR until the 22. It would be so amazing if we could see you guys!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That would be soooooo incredible…unfortunately, we don’t return to the boat, which is in Quepos (near Los Suenos) until January 4th. That would be tremendous! Why don’t you extend your vacation?! You’ll have to give us a report on Tamarindo! ~Jessie


      • Sorry we missed you! We had a fantastic trip! Los Suenos home we stayed at was just incredible. The wildlife breathtaking, and the people friendly. We visited The beach at Jaco and ate there a few times, and also drove down to Quepos, to the Antonio Manuel national park. We’d go back in a heartbeat. In may become an annual trip for us! How fortunate you both are to be able to stay in the warm climate!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Enamored at 10°N: Costa Rica turns up the charm | s/v The Red Thread

  4. Pingback: Expect the unexpected: Our final passage and The Red Thread’s new marina | s/v The Red Thread

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