The Sarana Guide advises explicitly that Golfito should not entered in the dark. We weren’t interested in pushing our luck and were up before the sun. We departed Bahia Drake at dawn, hoping the light zephyr in the forecast would materialize and enable us to sail. We were also realistic that motoring would likely be necessary to ensure we got our anchor down before nightfall. A lovely westerly breeze lifted the heavy, humid air by late morning, and for the first time this season, we hoisted our asymmetrical. The kite burst into the sky, and The Red Thread leapt forth, making 3 knots in a mere 5 knots of breeze. Not long after, a small pod of dolphins surfaced beneath our large blue and white sail, surely an omen of good things to come.We enjoyed several hours of lovely light-air sailing, but although we were making over 4.5 knots with the favorable current, we needed to cover over 6 to ensure a daylight arrival. To have to douse a spinnaker at that speed is a quick way to bring a sailor to tears! Begrudgingly, we dropped the sail and cranked over old iron guts.
Golfito is situated deep in the northeastern quadrant of the Golfo Dulce in a protected bay, roughly 20 nautical miles from the open ocean. Golfo Dulce has strong tides, and we entered the bay at the onset of the flood, anticipating an extra knot or so of current to accelerate our gait.
From everything we’d heard, we expected Golfito to be a dump. It has an unsavory reputation for theft, prostitution, and grime. Honestly, the only thing we were looking forward to seeing when we arrived was our friend, Lori, who was flying in to meet us. Well, Golfito reminded us that we shouldn’t take hearsay as gospel…Gorgeous Golfito
Golfo Dulce receives more rain than any other region in Costa Rica, so we were not surprised when the sky opened up in the late afternoon. The downpour subsided, and a pair of dolphins surfaced beneath a tropical rainbow that stretched over a vista of verdant cliffs. The faces of the steep, green bluffs towered on either side of the canal, marking the gateway to Golfito. The landscape was so lush that it bore a greater resemblance to ports we envision in Thailand than to those we had visited in Costa Rica. It was truly stunning, and we began immediately to reconsider our assumptions about Golfito!We motored between the buoys that lined the channel as light faded; the heavy clouds that embraced the mountain peaks made dusk come early. Our anchor plowed into the sea bottom in front of Land Sea Services amid fading shades of gray, as the sky opened up once again, sending us rushing below decks to unwind to the drum of a downpour in our hot, sticky cabin.Land Sea Services
The boat was oppressively hot before our coffee had even finished steeping the next morning; the blessing and curse of a bay so well-protected. We launched Ms. Sassy and dinghied to the Land Sea Services dock, where we were greeted by Tim, an old salt rocking a thick white ponytail and a wild sea-captain-meets-Santa-Claus beard.
Land Sea is the main cruiser haunt in Golfito, and Tim operates the “Sea” side of the business. He maintains several moorings and a dinghy dock for cruisers; a clubhouse with excellent WIFI, shower facilities, and an on-your-honor refrigerator with beer and soda; and a petting zoo of five dogs of varying degrees of likeability.
Decades in Golfito make Tim a one-stop resource for any question you may have about the area. Within two hours, people with skills to help address our issues with refrigeration and zipper corrosion were boarding The Red Thread. He is also quite the character and regaled us with yarn upon yarn detailing his “outlaw” life and decades romping about the jungled shores of Costa Rica.The open-air clubhouse overlooks the water, and during the sweltering afternoons, breeze funneled into the patio area, making it the only place in all of Golfito where the wool blanket of humidity lifted to tolerable! It was also to be the last place in thousands of miles where we’d have a WIFI signal sufficient to Skype with our moms.
The Ohanas had arrived a couple days earlier, and we looked forward to seeing them again. We met up for dinner at the restaurant at Banana Bay, the marina neighboring Land Sea, and had the good fortune of meeting Bruce and Gina a colorfully quirky couple from s/v Dreamcatcher. Unfortunately, the following morning, Neil was quite ill (though not so severe as the infamous baleada belly incident), and my guts followed suit the subsequent day. A bug? Food poisoning? No Bueno!Lori at last!
Just before dark on February 2nd, a compact gray Suzuki SUV came to a stop in front of Land Sea. Out climbed, Lori, a damn good sailor and the first friend we made at Elliott Bay Marina after we bought The Red Thread in 2012. Fitting, that she would be our first proper crew member on our first true bluewater passage!
Traveling from the winter chill of the Pacific Northwest, Lori’s acclimation to tropics must have felt like being shoved into a sweaty wool sock. Surely, it didn’t help that her first few days aboard the good ship Red Thread were anything but relaxed. We rushed about buying all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables, non-perishable foods, and booze for our transpacific voyage. She had elected to rent a car and drive the few hundred miles from San Jose to Golfito to see a bit more of the countryside and, thankfully, she held onto the car for a couple of extra days, a true boon given how much we needed to accomplish! Provisioning…and more provisioning…and more provisioning
Golfito boasts an enormous Duty-Free mall that is open to anyone and everyone. All that is required is a visit the day before you shop to obtain a ticket. I’m almost embarrassed to admit just how many bottles of liquor we purchased there, but the reality was that we knew prices would be obscene thereafter. It is well-known that the cost of liquor, beer, and wine skyrockets in the islands of the South Pacific. Bearing that in mind, please imagine the quantity of booze you’d buy if you enjoy a rum and coke at sunset or a glass of wine at dinner and would not be shopping again for nearly a year…
A case of our favorite Nicaraguan rum, a few miscellaneous bottles of vodka and tequila, and 20 bottles of boxed wine made us feel like lushes. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we would *hopefully* be shelling out next to nothing for alcohol in the months ahead.Our liquid dietary needs addressed, I was then charged with the task of figuring out how many tins of vegetables, tuna, etc. we should purchase. Like alcohol, the cost of importation to remote islands escalates prices on most non-perishable foodstuffs as well. Trying to guesstimate how many cans of corn or coconut milk two people would consume in eight months was a bit of a comedy show, and we opted to err on the side of more is better. A little too much meant we would surely not go hungry if we didn’t catch enough fish or found ourselves on an exceedingly long passage, and we’d have plenty to share if we met hungry people in the islands. Stowing became a monumental task, and Lori and I teamed up to inventory all of the goods and to find homes for them in crooks and crannies from stem to stern!
After an uncomplicated clearance process, a beautiful half-day drive from Golfito to Puerto Jimenez to return Lori’s rental car, and a water taxi ride back across the bay, we began to stow the boat in preparation for a midnight exodus toward Panama.Cruising commentary
The holding in the bay at Golfito is good, but the currents are swift. For us, it simply made sense to utilize the services of Land Sea. The mooring enabled us to row quickly to-and-from dock and at just $10/day, the cost was only $3 greater than the cost of internet and showers [with unlimited water!], which we would have used anyway. Given that we did not intend to sail all the way to Panama City before our Pacific crossing, it was critical for us to stock up on non-perishable foods before leaving Golfito. If you are readying yourself to jump, know that you will not see prices so low until, well, you return to the Americas. The prices at the Duty-Free were excellent for liquor and should be taken advantage of, and the local Maxi-Pali sold Clos wine for $4 per box, which was a far cry from the $10-12 per box we saw when we reached the Galapagos a few weeks later!
Golfito anchorage waypoint (just off the Land Sea buoys): 08°37’.20N 083°09’.24WPassage perks
Point of departure: Bahia Drake, Costa Rica – 01/31/16
Point of arrival: Golfito, Costa Rica – 01/31/16
Distance traveled: 65 nautical miles
Total time: 12.5 hours
Engine roaring: 8 hours
Sails soaring: 4.5 hours
Average speed: 5.2 knots
Jessie’s musings: The exhilaration of hoisting the spinnaker and the dolphins that joined our bow wake moments later were the most memorable parts of that passage. That sail was still quite new to us, as we’d purchased it the prior season in Mexico, and spinnaker sailing still feels very novel to me. The worst moment of the passage was the moment we had to douse it. Boo!
Neil’s reflections: After a frustrating start, in which our new starter motor would not initially kick over the engine, we were able to set off on a beautiful and uneventful passage around the Osa Peninsula. It’s always difficult to play the sail vs. motor game…it was difficult to take the spinnaker down when we were reaching so beautifully. Pulling into the channel into Golfito was stunningly beautiful, with rainbows arcing from the sky to the entrance.