1330 Jan 10, 2002
The apparently errant Ted Vander Weide aboard Flicka is very well and amazingly happy with his new acquisition.
My erstwhile friend, constant companion and marine carpenter, Wayne, and myself joined Flicka in northern Costa Rica last December 29th with intent to sail her through the Panama Canal before December 9th of this year. The original plan was to meet Ted in the Canal Zone on or about the 29th of Dec and sail on the eastern side but was foiled by slow progress south along the coast.
We managed to find him and Flicka in the tiny sea coast puerto of Flamingo near the northern Costa Rican border and sailed southbound the next day. Light air and almost flat seas dictated motor-sailing most of the time and limited our progress and objective to the nearest port of entry/exit, from/to Costa Rica before entering Panamanian waters.
The tiny town of Golfito, on the Golfo Dulce was the last, southernmost, legal port of entry in this wonderful country. This place is probably best know as the last home of the ill-fated American Banana Company. Its financial collapse about five years ago is slowly being replaced by a pleasure boating and sport fishing industry. It was the town of Golfito that would be the end of the delivery and the beginning of a local cruise. We all had a wonderful few days exploring the upper reaches of the Golfo and the Rio Esquinas delta. The jungles, deep clear waters and plentiful fishing could only be complimented by friendly locals and the incredibly refreshing solitude of cruising.
Flicka is a wonderful example of an original SW II ketch. She’s in remarkably good shape and has enjoyed both a history of relaxed cruising and regular maintenance. Both Wayne and I offered some of the learning gained from our three years of refitting Sea Quill to Ted regarding the typical SW construction and resultant leaks.
Stay tuned for further installments of the adventures of Flicka and her captain "Ted, The Evader".
Sea Quill # 29K
Adventures should be almost accidental. Maybe they are really not adventures at all unless they are accidental. In any case great stories grow from great adventures. As I write this I will try to preserve the events that will likely grow into the more colorful stories containing the maturing intimacies that will hopefully enrich our memories of possibly the best adventure of all.
Ted Vander Weide, an American who lives in Scotland, had become certain that his next sailboat had to be an Allied Seawind Mk II ketch, a sistership of my own. When he had come to New York in the summer of 2001, with hopes to become the new owner of my boat, I found myself impressed with the man. He did not, however, become the new owner of my "Sea Quill". Instead he purchased "Flicka" in San Francisco after a lengthy search of many of her sisterships throughout the country. The first leg of the voyage to bring Flicka to Europe began with his southbound trek from San Francisco to the Panama Canal.
His emails to the owners group regarding the purchase and his intent to trek to Europe had inspired me to offer myself as crew for a two week leg of the trip. The one that I had hoped for was the transit of the Panama Canal into the Caribbean from the Pacific.
My close friend and fellow sailor Wayne Mantynen had delivered many yachts with me over the past twenty years and I had offered him the opportunity to make this delivery leg more as a vacation adventure than a simple delivery.
Ted had indicated via email that he felt confident that he could meet us in Panama City or Balboa, both on the Pacific end of the Canal Zone by the 28th of December.
A satellite phone call, only days before our departure, from Ted aboard Flicka, indicated that he had sustained some minor damage and that his progress had been delayed enough that he felt it impossible to reach Panama for our rendezvous.
Wayne and I left for Panama City just three days after Christmas heading for a new rendezvous point in Costa Rica. We would have to find our way from the luxury of the hotel I had previously booked within the Panama Canal Zone to the tiny seacoast town of Flamingo, Costa Rica, more than 400 nautical miles north of our hotel on the canal.
Our foreseen travel adventure did not even have to wait for the blending of ourselves and the jungle creatures, storms at sea or any other wonderment. It came at the Delta arrival gate at Atlanta where we were scheduled to change planes from New York to 'the' one bound to Panama City that day. Somehow our scheduled arrival in Atlanta had been overlooked by those employees that were supposed to have prepared our arrival gate. After 45 minutes parked within sight of the terminal I knew that the chances of transferring to our connecting flight in time had nearly evaporated and that an overnight stay in Atlanta seemed imminent. The 'advent' part of adventure seemed to have arrived with the accompaniment of our most insistent master, 'time'.
Whatever the events that had been forced upon the Delta's ground forces, we arrived at a gate that had hastily been cleared for our now late arrival. Wayne and I expected dash for a distant, departure gate and an almost certain failure of the transfer of our luggage and a tight schedule we were dependent upon collapsing. To our most welcomed surprise the departure gate was within 100 feet the Jet Way we had just exited from and the flight to Panama City had somehow been delayed by about a half hour. We were assured that our luggage would, in fact, be transferred and that we would indeed be in Panama on time.
"Education generally comes at a price and without the leverage of that current education, travelers may frequently become victims."
Our arrival in Panama City was not heralded by a limo driver dressed in his somber best nor to the strains of music of a small mariachi band or even to the hugs of relieved and expectant friends.
Only a while before the plane had pulled to the terminal, there had been a power failure for the air conditioning system in the arrivals building. We were greeted by a sultry, dimly lit, humid blanket of the Panamanian night air.
We were ushered down long, tiled hallways towards what we knew would be the immigration officials of Panama. Generally this should not have been a concern except that Wayne had not renewed his passport that had expired in 1999. Even my assurances from both the Panamanian and Costa Rican Consulates in New York that he could travel either country with only his birth certificate and any other, official, photo ID faded as he stepped to the examination booth. The Panamanian Immigration clerk stared at the yellow Certificate of Birth Registry and Drivers License; both issued in New York, with glaring but ignorant intent and still insisted upon his "pasa-puerte". My own examination in an adjacent booth seemed inhibited only by the fact that I "needed" a Turista Card. I could obtain this critical document from the "hombre" just across from me. He leaned nonchalantly against the dirty tiled wall, smoking the cigarette that I had just begun to crave. It seemed that I could purchase the blank form for a mere $5.00 US currency and would certainly be unable to retrieve my passport until the clerk stamped my newly filled-in, Turista card. The card was obviously produced in a local print shop and was the singular instrument of a scam that obviously involved the immigration clerks and the heavily armed guards that were peppered conspicuously around the airport corridors and official kiosks.
I purchased the small piece of paper and began to fill in the blanks. The questions were redundant and unrelated to anything that should have been of any interest to anyone, ever. I watched as several other tourists, who had arrived just ahead of us, stepped to the clerk's booth for her attention and the return of their now hostage passports. The clerks hastily stamped the Turista and gave the passport back without even observing the information written upon the "all important" Turista. It was stamped, tucked within the pages of the passport and slid to the owner with such official impunity that most were relieved that they were once again in possession of their passport and they hastily slunk away towards baggage claim area and the likely, further humiliation of a customs agent.
The clue was then so obvious that I just printed illegibly in each blank and approached the clerk with the worthless application for legal entry into "her" country. Wayne had arrived at my side with questions regarding translating the inquiries... I simply pointed out that the clerks were not reading them and instructed him to fill in the blanks with anything that appeared to be handwriting. Two minutes later we were at baggage claim with not further officialdom to contend with other than Aduana or Customs and they seemed uninterested in any one other than locals who were potentially transporting booty into the country. Certainly the tourists would leave plenty of money and needed no further harassment to welcome them to Panama.
Once our bags were finally and firmly gripped, if we were to find our hotel it seemed normal to hastily board a taxi and depart. It was almost 10 PM and we were tired and hungry. The taxis "Dispatcher" routed us to a waiting taxi and with a fare quote double that of (unobserved) published reality, now insisted upon a generous tip before closing the passenger door. We began a three quarter hour ride to the hotel that the very next morning proved to be actually only about 20 minutes away. The tour included a circuitous route around the city with a threatening exposure through the more seedy neighborhoods as a bonus.
I had only previously managed to book a flight to the capital city of Costa Rica for the very next morning for both of us. The manager of this beautiful new hotel was happy to practice his English with the two late arrivals at his hotel and promised to have a great taxi driver at our disposal at six in the morning to take us to the airport.
Rogelio, Roger in English, waited us at the desk as we tumbled, bleary-eyed into the lobby early the next morning. His bright cheer and flawless English started a deeper trust and opened an immediate comfort zone for Wayne and me almost immediately. Before boarding the plane I asked if he could find a pharmacy in which I could buy some antacids before the plane's departure. I even asked if this side trip could include a stop for a Mac Donald's coffee and breakfast-to-go as I certainly predicted that we would not expect to be fed during the short one-hour trip to San Jose. He accomplished both stops with translations and suggestions with ease and casual aplomb. As we exited his cab at the airport he offered his card so that we could call for services whenever we returned to Panama after the sailing adventure was concluded. It would prove to be an even more valuable call only a week and a half later.
In San Jose we were met by a far more civilized passage through the immigration and customs procedures of more metropolitan Costa Rican officials.
The tourist map we quickly obtained provided only the most basic of information but even as rudimentary as it was the distance from the airport in San Jose to the Puerto of Flamingo on the northwest coast was daunting and we had no existing plan for further transportation. For some unknown and un-published reason any feeder flights to most of the region had been discontinued as of the previous December 15th. I had originally felt certain that the local system of bus services would actually become the final choice once we were de-planed.
It turned out that we were actually 223 kilometers (138 miles) distant from Ted and that could easily be 5 hours by car and as much as nine hours on the 'local' bus. Refreshed and in a new taxi on the way to San Jose's Terminal de Bus we bantered the idea of arriving in Flamingo at nearly midnight. The need for a hotel at that hour was obvious. A rented car to go one-way to a place that had no terminus presented the rental fee as quite out of the budget as well. Even with the bus tickets, although reasonably priced at just under $50.00 for the two of us, the time aboard, the hotel bill and the loss of at least another day prompted us to investigate taking the taxi.
At first the conversion of dollars to Colons (later we became quite proficient at the conversion of 340 Colons to one-dollar US) became a problem for both the driver and his dispatcher (a disembodied, metallic voice that spewed unintelligently from a speaker lodged between the seats) and it appeared that we would be charged $1500.00 for the ride, initially. Our emphatic gesticulations made our rejection of that estimate well understood and we continued towards the bus terminal in nearby San Jose.
The driver screwed up his face a minute later and spoke rapidly to the metallic man in the speaker. Once again he spewed the rapid and tinny Spanish at all of us and then, thankfully, disappeared. Our driver, however, pulled the cab to the side of the road and fished about for a piece of paper and his calculator. He scribbled a moment and then told me in Spanish that the fare would be one-hundred-fifty dollars (51,000 Colons) for him to drive us to Flamingo. I asked him to write the amount on a piece of paper and insure that it was in fact the amount we would be charged upon our arrival in Flamingo. He wrote quite clearly $150.00 on a scrap and we made it clear that we had almost no more cash if the bill were to exceed the $150 indicated. He immediately clarified the amount and promised to keep it at that. Considering that he would actually spend nearly ten hours driving with his return trip it seemed a bargain to both of us. He indicated that he would have us there before 4:30 PM and that sealed the deal. The cost efficiency and the time seemed more than valuable to both of us at the time.
Wending and winding its way through the center of Costa Rica is the Pan American Highway, Route 1. The two lane highway carries vehicle traffic of all types over almost every terrain imaginable. We studied the new road maps provided by our driver and the topography became clearer and far more graphic than the tourist maps we had. The sights we could expect would blend almost suddenly from scenic expanses of lowlands to breath-taking panoramas of craggy mountains, coursing rivers and mosaic farmlands. Often the jungle crept dangerously close to the road, encroaching with an inviting menace that was amazingly mystical. At no moment in the four and a half hour ride would the reality defeat our expectations. Costa Rica is immediately interactive with each of the senses.
First, the aroma surrounds you. Ever present fields of sugar cane stretch from beyond sight and hover just beyond the deep drainage ditches that straddle the highway. This plant is called cana (pronounced; canya) and it exudes a sweet, smoky flavor that is tasted as much as smelled. Each field appears lined with coconut palms, papaya, lemon, guava and banana groves that lend either the individual or a collective aromatic theme to the cane.
My skin is generally accustomed to humidity and sunlight from many years in the Caribbean and within hours the flesh of my face and arms begins to absorb the rays and my entire body begins to revive. The sun in Costa Rica remains almost directly overhead for hours as it is at only eight degrees north latitude and it shines through an almost pristine, ecologically fresh, atmosphere and must be described as the brightest I have ever seen. Even the high puffy, cumulous clouds that scud across it are more clearly defined, deeply dimensional and the dark, rain-bearing fronts swing through with ominous but rapid announcements. The bursts of rain during this the dry season come with drops almost the size of golf balls and a patter soon begins to its crescendo with a roar. The drumming is furious and intent but the end is immediate and the sun arrives as easily as the spotlight of a stage production.
Our driver skillfully if not artfully as well as suicidally passed slower vehicles. He roared through impossible turns and shifts the clattering little diesel through the gears as if caressing his child. Traffic jams behind the lumbering diesel trailers caused the cars that venture out to pass them seem to have a serious consideration for the car trapped behind them. If a distant dip or shallow hill could be hiding an on-coming vehicle they pull in front of the truck almost immediately but if the road is clear enough for a second or more cars to join in the pass he moves well beyond the truck to signal just how many cars may fit into the space before the thin margin of safety is exhausted.
Not only had the driver demonstrated his skills for getting the most mileage from the time allotted he was respectful of my halting high school Spanish. My mixture of poor tense, meter and conjugation were occasionally corrected by repeating my phrase with the adjusted grammar. Wayne seemed to find his curiosity at so many things that demanded the skills of an interpreter that I had to stretch to find adequate words and cobbled together phrases for the driver that indicated the gist of his queries. My understanding of the greatest part of the driver's observations, questions and replies was more than equally frustrated by my inability to converse fluently. I consulted the genius of my small electronic language translator so often that by the end of the trip the battery had given up, leaving to my best devices.
After a bit over four and a half hours of traveling with a couple of pits stops we had exited the great Pan American Highway onto a secondary road that was clearly indicated on both our maps. The tiny dot that carried the name Flamingo was only about 35 kilometers distant. Temperature gradients from the coast below us some 3,000 feet rushed up into the mountain and helped create local rain showers that rushed across the deteriorating road in slick sheets. It coursed briefly through the drainage ditches and as the kilometers clicked by. Traces of the consistent, rich, red soil now streaked the road surface ahead but our driver maintained his breakneck speed. Using the phrase, "... tengo cuidado, senor." Adding a few others that came to mind, I addressed my rising concern that we had traveled so far at this juncture and were so close to the destination that slowing down and actually arriving without mishap seemed to lend support to my insistence. He had now found that bit of the romantic macho figure of "Fangio", the famous race car driver lurking just beneath his skin and tried to assure me that he was very experienced in these conditions. He was to slow down considerably once my irritation became almost demonstrative and even as the rain suddenly cleared just as we passed the sign indicating that we were indeed in the pueblo of Flamingo.
A sweeping left turn on the narrow road suddenly revealed a rather large bay ahead and the very first sight we collected was the profile of the Allied Seawind Mk. II ketch, "Flicka". Just beyond was the much heralded Marina Flamingo. Ted seemed to be motoring to anchorage just beyond the scraggly beach and had left the cockpit to set his anchor just outside of the far better protected marina facility. Short choppy swells rolled in from the west fed from the vast Pacific Ocean just past two distant islands, offshore of his location. Flicka rolled heavily as she seemed unable to bring her bow into the short, heaving swells. The almost total lack of wind allowed the sea to dictate her beam-on position relative to the anchor. It certainly looked like we would be in for an uncomfortable night, sleeping aboard.
Our driver rolled us into the sun-drenched, but almost primitive, marina parking lot and smiled great appreciation when he was paid his $150 in US currency with a generous tip included. We bid him farewell and thanks knowing that he had a five-hour trip ahead of him and several more hours ferrying fares from the airport into San Jose before his normal 21-hour day would be over. We had begun traveling from New York when we left our homes at about nine the morning before and but for a six-hour, fitful sleep in the hotel in Panama City had arrived at 4:30 PM the following day. Our adventure had barely begun.
I hailed Ted on my hand-held VHF radio and he motored into the marina to collect his crew. He landed the dinghy beaming with the happiness that can only come from realizing the personal freedom and accomplishment of having reached this remote outpost almost two-thousand miles from the city of his departure, mostly single-handed.
Dinner of fresh sea bass at the small marina restaurant and a wet dinghy ride back to the boat for a few hours sleep finished our day number two.
It is customary and legally demanded in most countries that when entering the sovereign territory or waters of a country that the voyager checks into immigration and customs before traveling further. In most countries travel by sea in a private yacht it is required that any landing, anchorage or re-fueling stop dictates another visit to the authorities to obtain the approving "zarpe". Taking on or discharging crew members or cargo requires filing a new crew-list or manifest within the most expedient timeframe.
Ted was to inform us that even as he was physically in Costa Rica he had not checked into the first port of call, Puerto El Coco, about a days sail north of Flamingo and that Flamingo was not a designated port of immigration and customs so there would be a delay to sail north for a day, lose a day in the typically torturous process of clearing in and obtaining the zarpe (and other travel documents) required to continue further and then two days to cover the back-tracked time loss. He offered his alternative plan to sail south to any one of several ports, clear in and clear out while claiming to have taken on his new crewmembers at that port. After a few minutes of discussion Ted was to regale us with the stories of his failures to follow these procedures as he traveled down the coast of Mexico. He was to attempt to check into a new port but had twice failed to check out of the previous. He had exposed himself to very high fines, impound of his boat and likely enough a stay in some Mexican jail for some undetermined time with his indiscretions. Each time he was to rent a car or pay for a local to drive him back to the last port and present his documents as if he were checking out in order to obtain the required zarpe to check in to the next port.
It had become a costly and time-consuming remedy and apparently several of the cruisers that he had met in Cabo San Lucas had playfully dubbed him "Ted, the Evader", a name that would be applied many times a day from the time we boarded to the day we would leave Flicka more than a week later. In fact it became something of a theme aboard Flicka and dictated that once I returned home that I would begin to immortalize Ted by writing original lyrics to an undoubtedly, hit song, sung to the old Kingston Trio hit that related the sorrowful adventures of the "Man Who Never Returned". By our last day we had privately and fancifully spun Ted's growing reputation into a humorous plan to reinvent his destiny with international fame, recognition and promised to make his exploits more famous than Pokemon.
In the interest of convenience and efficient time management, as our planned destination was originally Panama, it was agreed that Wayne and I were simply "not there" nor were we aboard Flicka. If questioned we were just tour bums lost and hitchhiking around Costa Rica and would eventually meet Ted in some port further south were he would be checking in legally and filling in his amended crew-list to include us and legitimize the whole passage through Costa Rican waters. Effectively, we had become stowaways of the vessel and captives of the nautical bandito, "Ted the Evader", as well as complicit in the plot to move the sailboat further down the coast.
We were to depart Flamingo early on the afternoon of the 30th of December with very light westerly winds, contrary to the expected Papagayo winds that should have been predictably northeasterly for that time of the year. With all plain sail set we motor-sailed out of Flamingo and soon turned south. For three days the Westerbeke thumped away at an easy 1800 RPM producing only about 4.2 knots average even though only slightly augmented by the light and shifting breeze. Occasionally we flew the big asymmetrical cruising spinnaker and realized a few miles at just over 5 knots. We maintained a roughly southeasterly course that roughly kept us never more than about 25 nautical miles off the coast and never actually observed any other vessel until nearing the most western point of Costa Rica, Punta Llorona, where a few, small, long line fishing boats tended their fishing in the area. The Peninsula de Osa is one of two crooked, thumb-like, projections that jut away from the coast forming large gulfs. The northernmost of these two shelters the Golfo de Nicoya and the first of a number of legitimate ports of entry, Puntarenas. We sailed on past the second port of entry, Quepos with the Golfo Dulce and the tiny coastal port of Golfito as our intended, "first" port of entry as our objective.
Amid rain squalls and accompanying, blustery winds we rounded Cabo Matabalo, leaving Punta Banco to starboard and entered the Golfo Dulce as dawn struggled up spraying liquid gold across the Pacific. Spread before us was the expanse of a well protected gulf that averaged about 7 miles across and about 20 miles long. Little could we know that it was a largely unpopulated paradise awaiting our discovery and exploration.
Golfito is the pueblo that lies tucked against a dredged harbor and hidden behind an impregnable maze of swamps and lowlands split by a wide, deep channel from the gulf. The once powerful American Banana Company had created a thriving economy in the city by building an amazing complex of railroad access from inland, a rail yard and an immense steel pier all to export the endless supply of bananas from the interior of Costa Rica to a waiting world market.
Due to pressure from the cartels of other banana producing islands and republics, the once powerful US corporation folded, leaving behind the pier, rusting rails, a few small, ancient, steam-powered locomotives, a banana-packaging building complex and the clear evidence of a decadent American corporate culture. The so called American Zone was where the executives were housed in domiciles from the incredible, almost palatial homes of the top executives to the more modest housing of their middle management. A golf course and airstrip are incorporated each with rolling lawns and winding paved roads that, today, slowly decay in the tropical environs of Golfito. The economic devastation of only about 5 - 7 years ago is slowly being replaced by a very evident, active but now illegal, commercial, long-line, fishing industry and its newest rival, several unparalleled sport fishing resorts. The primary lure to fisherman from all over the world is an abundance of swordfish and marlin.
The protected harbor houses the small but clean and remarkably efficiently run Banana Bay Marina, owned and operated by Bruce Blevins, an American. It would be a highly recommended stop as a cruising layover for yachtsmen, sport fishermen and transient sailors.
We were to learn quite quickly that checking into Costa Rica could be a tedious process if done by the cruising yacht captain. The first hurdle is the visit to the Port Captain. He is the typified local authority that seems to have adopted the role of "Comandante" and would make an excellent and rotund 'bandito' character if the revival of The Treasure of the Sierra Madres is ever resurrected to the silver screen.
Bruce and his marina manager Ben have perfected the process of acting as agents for yacht owners in the tedious clearing process and for a very nominal fee will arrange all clearances and documents with Immigration, Customs and Quarantine while the captain and crew relaxes at his marina bar.
Bruce had developed a reputation as a fine fishing charter skipper in Florida, the Bahamas and Mexican waters over many years. He is a youthful, energetic and articulate, 'forty-something' and had taken his old boss/owner's sport fishing yacht to Costa Rica to test the fishing in the Golfo Dulce some years ago. Even in the 'off-season' they discovered the billfish riches and sport offered by the largely untapped location.
He spotted the location, that is currently his marina, when it had but one rickety pier and a deteriorating dock-float attached and reasoned that this port needed a marina to entice the sport fishing enthusiasts. He and his charming wife, Patty, returned with his own sport fishing boat soon after to carve out their new destiny. Over the past seven years he has expanded the docks, painted the existing structure, built and wonderful little bar and small, well run, restaurant and most recently constructed four one-room guest units and one luxury, bay-front suite. The overall effect is remarkable and added to this he has assembled a remarkably effective and friendly staff to keep it all working smoothly.
His services include clean diesel, wonderfully tasty water, and reasonable dockage for the transient and active security 24-hours a day. Add to that he cares for a few transient yachts that may be left for periods while their owners fly off to tend to businesses and other commitments.
Almost immediately we were to find provisioning a delightful process from many shops and two rather well stocked "supermercados" only 1000 meters walk from the marina gate. Farm fresh vegetables and fruits are found in any number of small stall-like shops. Internet access at the Coconut Café serves delicious local coffee and local beers, sweet, home made pastries only a five minute stroll away from the marina. The auto supply store was well stocked with belts, filters and general parts. A large, fully equipped, waterfront, machine shop is only next door and they specialize in marine repairs of all types.
On our first morning in Golfito we were to meet Dr, Bruno Masters, and a cruiser who had sailed in from Florida aboard his Alden 45 only 8 months previous and had found his own retirement niche. It appeared that his compassion and dedication to health care prompted him to start a sort of 'ad hoc' mission. He rented one of the huge, if not somewhat deteriorating, mansions in the American Zone and converted the huge bedrooms into dormitories of sorts. He has invited other doctors to visit and convinced many of them to provide some of the desperately needed medical services for the less privileged residents of the surrounding areas. His vision of a half-way house for orphans began with taking into his home a young boy named Marvin. The boy is up for adoption as his father seems unknown and his mother an itinerant alcoholic.
The three of us were invited to the house for dinner, discussion and to meet his lovely wife and Marvin. It was agreed that we would carry with us some of our growing supply of fresh albacore filets to supplement the dinner table. We all well understood that Bruno would be making his pitch for help in attracting any kind of philanthropic help we may be able to attract that would benefit his various focuses and missionary interests.
Among his dreams is purchasing the house and copious, rolling grounds that he has rented (currently for sale with an incredible asking price of only $80,000 U.S.) and turning it into a teaching center, the eventual resurrection of a small drug and alcohol facility located near his home and the institution of hosting more regular visits from visiting American medicos to provide specialty expertise and health care for the more remotely located indigents further up the Golfo Dulce and the hidden mountains surrounding the area.
One incident he related was the visit of a few medical doctors and specialists who consulted regarding a young, local girl who had been born with deformed lower limbs about 12 years ago. With limited medical expertise or facility the girl's lower legs were amputated shortly after her birth. She survived admirably, often seated in an ancient wheelchair or "walking" upon the stumps with remarkable alacrity. She was fitted for modern prosthesis lower limbs and some months later was to receive them and the training needed to insure her adaptations and future mobility. A touching anecdote was that during the period of her fitting and the actual delivery of her new legs, her father was to pass on the inquiry from the patient as to what size shoes should he should purchase for her once the prosthesis arrived. The heartfelt answer was simply, "any size you wish, young lady".
Cleared in and provisioned we had three days left before we had to find our way back to Panama and hopefully make the scheduled flights back to New York. Having no idea how we could facilitate these expectedly complicated arrangements it fell into the capable hands of marina manager, Ben, who assured us that after we returned from a trip up the Golfo Dulce that he would have something worked out for us. Ben, a remarkable man of Asian extraction but born in Golfito had the most amazing array of local contacts that we felt entirely confident that we would indeed be offered the most efficient routing back to Panama.
While awaiting the return of our passports and clearance documents I was to introduce myself to the captain of the Bark "Europa". The 280-foot, three masted bark-rigged ship/yacht had entered the harbor some hours before and had encountered similar difficulties with her various manifests, crew-lists and other documentation. Bruce had quickly whisked off to the Port Captain's office to begin the job of untangling the communications and lubricating the process. Her Master, Captain Robert Vos had stopped by the marina to offer his personal thanks to Bruce.
In the ensuing conversations Wayne, Ted and I questioned Captain Vos about Europa, her mission, crew and history. She was on her way to the World (soccer) Cup matches in Korea and Japan at the request of those governments that each participating nation send a classic ship to represent the ceremonies. "Europa" had been chosen to represent the new European Economic Community.
We were invited aboard for a tour and naturally accepted the unique temptation. As we were about to shove off ourselves and we offered Captain Voss to ride back to his ship aboard Flicka. The obvious photo ops were simply too good to pass up for our captain, "Ted the Evader".
Our tour was bulwarks to bilges and stem to stern. Her history was one of an entire restoration from an almost derelict to a princess yacht by a private owner who has an obvious dedication to the preservation of classic ships and yachts.
We shoved of in the dinghy, for the closely anchored Flicka and after a complete and courteous tour of nearly two hours duration, and motored out of Golfito, early that sultry afternoon, with no particular destination in mind.
Once clear of the cut Wayne set out three trolling lines and we all anxiously anticipated his catch for our dinner. I had earlier purchased a frozen chicken as the only entrée staple for our explorations with some lingering doubts concerning his continued fishing success. I knew that secreted within the depths of the refrigerator lurked the remaining filets of a ten pound yellow fin that he had bagged two days before and that I would create another epicurean delight in the absence of a fresh catch.
We sailed under the multi-colored spinnaker in light wind wandering in the ebbing tide towards Puerto Jimenez on the western shore. The large scale chart showed what appeared to be a small hook of land that promised a sheltered if not secluded anchorage near Jimenez. My mind was concocting visions of another feast served within the sight and smells of the surrounds of this marvelous heaven.
The sun drops rapidly near the Equator and once dipped below the horizon darkness seems almost immediate. I measured the time, speed and distance and determined that we could arrive in the vicinity with just a short while to explore this enticing but not well detailed enclave.
The rapidly falling tide dictated that we enter Jimenez near what was obviously a fairly new but small sport fishing facility where several, new, small but fast sport fishing boats were moored. The depth contour was hidden from view by the low angle of the sun but we did find it with the sounder when the depth ran down from about 30 fathoms to 20 feet in just moments. I followed the contour towards the area that I suspected to be the cove until it was obvious we would carry too much draft to travel further and had too little time to explore for any unmarked passage in there. We dropped in 20 feet and the hook was fast in moments. Wayne wasted no time in preparing the dink and we rushed off in the fading light to find this mysterious cove.
Just about twenty minutes before darkness would overtake us and eliminate any possibility of finding the entrance we observed a kayak exiting from a mangrove depression. I sounded with the paddle constantly and Wayne pushed the Evinrude to the max. We had found the hidden opening and motored into a mangrove-lined, narrow, snaking bay that followed a curving beach several hundred yards inland. He trolled and I sounded but the natural wonders continued to unfold. Macaws and Toucans screeched loudly at our intrusion. Baitfish leaped and plopped all around but we pushed in for nearly a mile before we knew the night would find us in this maze and possibly create a situation that we were wholly unprepared for, we turned about in seek of the hidden entrance and the docile anchorage and the awaiting Ted and Flicka.
I surmised that given plenty of daylight and a flooding tide we would most likely have been able to find a deep hole in there that would carry enough depth to keep a Seawind II afloat during a low tide cycle and there was certainly enough channel depth, given the local ten-foot tidal drop, for an exit once the tide began flooding on a subsequent cycle. I guess I will have to bring my own Seawind II there someday just to test the theory.
We dined lavishly on a boc-choy and tomato salad, steamed fish, vegetables and gingered rice. Ted serenaded us, as he frequently did, with his fiddle and an off-tune vocal accompaniment. Soon we fell asleep to wake early to a fine new day.
The morning broke in joyous sunlight and a lazy crew who had designs on another exploration but first Wayne would excursion off for a couple of hours to refresh our waning larder with the next, hoped-for catch of the day.
Ted and I read for a while and did a few of the basic chores while Wayne disappeared around the point. He had told us of his plan to troll west awhile and then south for one hour and return via the same route. He carried a bottle of water, his fishing gear and one of the hand-held VHF radios but had neglected to carry the dinghy's oars with him.
He had only replied once to one of our radio calls and then his contact was lost. I have known Wayne for over thirty years. He is resourceful and a fine boatman but as the hour of his return approached there had been no radio contact or sight of him.
With a measure of concern brought on by a light but building north wind and an ebbing tide that would easily sweep him out of the gulf, towards the endless Pacific, we raised anchor with a search plan in mind. We would traverse the route he had last described.
I tried to calculate the natural affects that would influence his drift and felt only modestly confident in overtaking him within the hour. We motored while scanning the horizons and beaches through Ted's two powerful binoculars. Distant images, likely of driftwood on the beaches, each conjured up the gallant fisherman and the rubber dink either washed or purposefully grounded to prevent his drift out to sea.
Almost concurrently with my growing concern I spotted, or conjured, an image of a person on the beach, dressed in a light shirt, waving at almost 3/4 of a mile off. From a distance I was even sure I had heard a faint call. I whistled a shrill answer and found to my amazement that the answering call came from astern of our southerly course. Wayne was motoring in from the northeast for some reason with a beaming smile spread across his face.
He pulled alongside and displayed a line stringer with four magnificent Spanish mackerel of about six pounds each. As he related the story of finding a strong rip current that exposed a submerged reef and the amazing result of trolling around the circumference but four times, each answered by the catch of another fish, my anxieties faded to comforting relief and recipes.
Shortly we rigged the big spinnaker as the light wind shifted rapidly to the south and we pointed Flicka's bow north, up the Golfo Dulce.
The chart tempted us with several options for a layover for the night. It was the mountainous, northeastern reaches of the gulf that enticed us all and the delta of the Rio Esquinas just smacked of intrigue. Few shallows were indicated near the shore with the exception of the Punta Esquinas and the delta itself. Once again the expected, immediate darkness of sundown prompted us to douse the spinnaker and motor towards the river delta.
Flicka and her crew felt a bit of disappointment at the short 1.9 miles to go to reach the delta and the realization that daylight would only last about another twenty minutes. The depth sounder showed no bottom even as we were only about 3/8th of a mile off the Punta Esquinas and less from the indicated shoal nearby.
As if unfolded from a mystery a tiny bay carved into the almost vertical jungle appeared just before us. We cautiously motored between the close points and still found no bottom, the sun teetered on the horizon and time was an important issue. We found that the bay was rimmed by a small dark-gray, volcanic-sand beach, indicating that if we could find bottom it should provide secure holding but none was found.
Wayne suggested finding the shoal bank, shown on the chart, just a few hundred yards southwest at the small bulge called Punta Esquinas. We quickly motored to a likely spot sheltered by only a shallow depression in the shoreline and dropped the CQR and fell back into only about 9.5 feet of water. A rapid retrieval and a move only 40 feet forward showed we would finally rest in just 20 feet and the chain rattled out for the final time that day. Just as it bit into the firm bottom the sun had been extinguished and night enveloped us just as quickly.
The breeze disappeared as I disappeared below to the galley, Wayne secured the deck and Ted placed his fiddle beneath his chin. Three men who had met only a few days prior assumed roles that had become so much more realistic than the traditional captain, mate and crew. The work of operating the tiny ship Flicka had seemed to comfortably evolve into a single unity and had given way to the cloaks of a fisherman, a cook and the musician. The pressures of a world gone mad with arrogance, ignorance and untimely demands were far beyond the dense, dark sphere of a night that had fallen to a small patch of water lapping against a primeval jungle in a faraway land.
Savory morsels, the gifts of Nature disappeared, the dishes washed and the strains of new sounds tuned from the darkness only 75-feet away. Squawks, screeches and rustles rose from the pit to the rhythm of the softly lapping water upon a foreign hull.
I lie in the cockpit after the others had gone to bed. The clouds seemed to part as if the edge of the spherical lid of a chafing dish were slowly opening. The stars aimed specific beams upon the decks and washed us in a soft glow. Tossing erratically and gracefully in the air just above Flicka were the shadows of thousands of bats. Swooping, flitting and scooping any errant insects that may have been traveling the lights or human vapors emitted here.
Some time later in the night the throaty threat call of the male howler monkey split the night's cacophony and the tribe answered as if to call the role. The unseen trees shook as they climbed higher into the slimmer boughs. The calls repeated and the irregular cadences of each answering screech recurring. Then the tearing cry, suddenly interrupted, marked the finale to the silent hunt of the lurking jaguar. Within moments, a sort of choking cough and low snarl confirmed the suspicions I had conjured in my mind's eye. The kill had silenced even the chorus of the tree frogs for just one of the most exquisite silences I have ever experienced. Not more than thirty yards distant Nature had played out a scene that though seldom observed has been practiced since the dawn of time.
The morning had again found us up with its first rays. We gathered around the cockpit, sipping the strong local coffee as always. I began to relate my story, beginning with the chesty roar of the howler monkey and one healthy male nearby accented my tale with his distinctive call. Neither Ted nor Wayne had ever heard this impressive sound before and then the jungle's sounds of night faded to the raucous call of birds. Within moments, however, a new sound built in the distance and traveled rapidly towards us.
A twenty foot Panga, a colorful, narrow, local watercraft with a long, traditional history attached to its slender, sweeping sheer, powered by a 40-horsepower outboard roared around the bend and passed close aboard. The occupants of this first of a stream of several, were local children being driven to school and women rushing off to work while the men aboard, no doubt, went fishing for the day. If not for the bright colors and the traditional shape the incongruity of the experience might have been totally surreal given the surroundings.
Soon after the morning rush hour Wayne and Ted decided to take the dinghy the final two miles and try to explore the shallow delta of the Rio Esquinas. They would be equipped with Ted's digital camera, the ever-present fishing gear, water, sun-block and this time the oars. I was to take pen in hand and scribble in my journal. There was a marinade to be produced, fish to be chunked, salad to be made and a book to be read.
The journey back down the gulf seems blurred now. Certainly it was far too short a time to fully realize that the following day Wayne and I would be beginning another two day trek that would carry us back to the stabbing realities of New York and our careers. The last half hour was marked by an underway bar-b-que of the marinated fish chunks, glazed and steam baked over the foil covered grate.
Ben had arranged a taxi to collect us at 6 AM. He would take us to the frontier crossing with Panama and help to speed our way through the generally chaotic local politics of this border crossing. From there he was tasked to find us another driver to carry us to the small airport in the pueblo of David, Panama were he had arranged a flight aboard a small passenger plane to a small airfield near Balboa, Canal Zone. With utmost faith that he had timed all correctly we should be in Panama in time for a late lunch and ensconced in a hotel near the Panama City, Tocumen Airport or our flight the next day. Almost holding to the rough schedule he wrote on a scrap of paper we landed at the Marcos Gelabert Airfield in Balboa just about on time.
Only being aware that we had landed near Balboa but not having a hotel for the night seemed but a small difficulty knowing that we had such a fine resource and was only a phone call away. I dug out my business card from Rogelio, our friendly taxi driver and gave him a ring. He said he was at the side of the road changing a tire but he would pick us up in 30 minutes.
The mid-afternoon hour dictated first that we eat a late lunch. Rogelio knew just the place. He steered the four-wheel drive, four dour, diesel pickup truck expertly through Panama City and parked outside a delightful restaurant that served everything from local specialties to very Americanized dishes cafeteria style. The servers were women who made certain that these foreigners would not only have enough to eat but that each plate was perfectly portion controlled for flavor and nutrition. I longed for a big piece of Albacore but none was offered.
We departed for the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal to view a complete cycle of a 960 foot bulk carrier lowered the last 27-feet before her entry to the vast Pacific Ocean. Another, adjacent lock lowered a seagoing tug, her barge and a new Moorings 4200 catamaran as the end of their transit from the Caribbean as well. The cycle and a subsequent videotape viewing of the entire history and operation of this marvel took about an hour and a half and we were off once again.
Rogelio had the vast, single span, Pan American Bridge to show to us. We crossed the great port of Balboa high above and he found a secluded access road that snaked beneath the span's southern buttress that led up to a panoramic pull-off viewing park were we were able to see the huge tug, barge, ship and the catamaran just making their way seaward, under the bridge.
Rogelio accommodated us some shopping errands for gifts and accompanied us to dinner after finding us a very delightful, inexpensive, cosmopolitan and comfortable hotel. He bid us good evening and promised to be there in the morning to take us to the airport and so he did!
In terms of the many yacht deliveries Wayne and I have made this was certainly only a model of our almost unspoken synergy for nautical performances. It had almost no reference to anything less than a sterling vacation from that point. With little more than a very loose itinerary and almost no knowledge of what to expect we were left to trust to the "flow". That synergistic energy and trust has been more than tested over so many years together but the dimension of trusting each other to just enjoy whatever happens may actually have been something he and I have never tested together. The combination of energies, focus and acceptance has left us engraved within ourselves possibly the best vacation either of us has ever had.