Northern Costa Rica

Saturday, March 1, 2014
Costa Rica

009-52.000 N
085-30.600 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!

Papagayo WindsI'm definitely remiss in writing this blog, but life has just been rolling along at an amazing pace and it's been hard to find several quiet hours to sit down and write. It's also been hard to figure out how and where to break down blogs within Costa Rica, but I've decided to break it down into north, central and southern.

My last sailing related blog was written from Santa Elena, which was a beautiful bay located at the northern end of Costa Rica and we needed to round Punta Santa Elena and cross the Papagayo Gulf. The issue with doing this is a thing called the Papagayos winds, which are generated by winds on the Caribbean side which get tremendously accelerated as they pass through low lying passes between the Caribbean side and the Pacific side. Unlike the Tehuantepec winds, which are isolated to a relatively small area, these winds blow from El Salvador to Panama and are strongest from December to March.

Rounding Punta Santa ElenaOne of the big issues is forecasting these winds, as they cover a broad area and there are no good forecasts for them. There's a forecast for the Gulf of Papagayo, which seems to only be specific to that gulf and trying to correlate that forecast with any other area seems to be a futile effort. These winds can blow at 30-40 kts and last for weeks. As a result, when you think that you've got a good weather window, you move! And such was our planning as we moved from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. We had a blustery sail to Santa Elena and we now had to round Punta Santa Elena, where the winds can double what you're seeing as you approach it. As it turned out, we were very lucky and only saw winds of 28 kts peak, but a boat that went around just a few days later say 64 kts! That's hurricane strength winds and I wouldn't want to be anywhere near that!

After rounding the point, our plan had been to spend the night at Bahia Potrero Grande, which is on the west of side of the Papagayo Gulf, but the winds were in the 20s and I decided that it was much better to get across the gulf with winds that I knew instead of rolling the dice and seeing what the next day was going to bring. We called back to s/v Endorfin and Eternal Bliss and relayed our plans. They said that they were going to stick to the plan and go to Potrero, but then changed their minds and headed across. Wise decision!

Bahia HuevosWe headed to an anchorage known as Bahia Huevos, which is a very popular anchorage for day boats because it has nice a nice beach and snorkeling. We were very lucky as we got there after the morning boats had left and just before the afternoon boats arrived and we were able to easily anchor. It was a great relief to be anchored safe and sound and not worry about getting across the Gulf of Papagayo!

Playas del CocoThe next day we headed to Playas del Coco, where we needed to clear into the country. Lots of conflicting information has been written about how easy/difficult it is to accomplish this, but we found it relatively easy. It was time consuming, taking almost 5 hours for the 3 boats to complete their paperwork and it took an amazing number of copies of our documents. (See below for details). One of the things that I later learned was that each port captain and immigration office is allowed to create their own rules and requirements. Talk about ridiculous and potentially confusing situation!

Playas del Coco itself is a ticky-tacky tourist town which caters to surfers. It didn't do much for me as the anchorage was very windy, but it did have a good gringo-centric grocery store and we were able to get Sue's iPhone onto the wireless system so that we could use that as an Internet hotspot. One day was long enough for me, so the next day we headed to Marina Papagayo, where we traveled inland for a week and got a lot of work done.

VenusThe Marina Papagayo is in the middle of nowhere, but it's by far the best marina that we've been in on the Pacific side and one of the best that we've ever been in. The facilities are top notch and the staff is amazingly attentive, even to little boats like ours. Steve Jobs' 255' yacht, Venus, was also in the marina and I think that we received the same level of attention that they did. I was extremely impressed. Regarding Venus, while Steve Jobs may have built beautiful, user friendly hardware and software, his yacht looks like a floating office building. We talked with the captain and realized that it's extremely efficient regarding crew, but IMHO it's still ugly. After 2 weeks at the marina, we were ready to move on, so we headed back to Playas del Coco so that we could get a zarpe that would allow us to navigate the waters between there are the last port of entry in Costa Rica.

Bahia GuacamayaFrom Playas del Coco we headed to a delightful bay called Bahia Guacamaya, which is only 10 miles away but a completely different experience. There appears to be some kind of high end, get away from it all, hotel located there which has individual cabins with cloth walls and roofs and which are nestled into the surroundings such that you can barely see them from the water. We didn't see anyone there, but it looked delightful.

Our next stop was another tourist town named Bahia Tamarindo, which is a bustling place that caters to surfers (if you haven't guessed, surfing is big around here). We had a very tasty lunch at the Green Papaya, bought a beautiful bowl made out of mango wood and enjoyed a very nice happy hour with Neil and Peggy from the s/v Night Sky.

SaramaThere are very few good anchorages as you head S from Tamarindo and there's a 1.5 to 2 kt current against you as you fight your way down the coast, so we departed at daybreak for Bahia Samara. Depending upon the time of day, we motored, motor-sailed or had a very nice sail. Mid-afternoon we pulled into Bahia Samara and anchored at the E end. According to the guidebook, there were supposed to be quite a little town, but clearly we didn't walk far enough as all that we saw was a few houses and 1 hotel. We later talked to s/v Rock Star who walked further than we did and found a bunch restaurants.

The next day we headed S around point and into Gulf of Nicoya and thankfully we lost the counter-current and actually had current with us, but that's a story for my Central Costa Rica blog...

-- Geoff & Sue

Photos for northern Costa Rica are located here.

For the cruiser:

Log ID: 2232

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Photos/Video: Photo Album Northern Costa Rica 

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