It's been a long time since we left Golfito, Costa Rica. This post comes a little bit in a catch up spirit. The reason we neglected writing our adventures was because our mood was down. Marie's recovery from the accident and the following surgery was slow, tiring us both. Keeping the boat clean and functioning in the tropics is difficult, my allergies were also pretty active in this part of the world, this time of the year. This whole situation kept us postponing some essential activities like writing and posting the blog and instead, we enjoyed watching 8 seasons of Dr. House on a small smartphone screen...
Planning beyond Costa Rica
Three weeks in Golfito flew by relatively fast. We met the first Turkish boat in our trip so I am sure we are going to remember this place for a long time.
Our departure day was very much dictated by the Costa Rican government. We were planning to use our legal time to the last day, mainly because we wanted Marie to get as much recovery as possible in this bay. It was a very comfortable anchorage and was a good rest place before we sail to the unknowns of another country. Our plan for the next steps were shaped slowly, again, by what's required for Marie's recovery. Mainly, she needed physical therapy to be able to start walking again. Without some expert watching, she was not going to find her way to a full recovery.
An unexpected coincidence
One of the options that got both of us excited was to get physical therapy when the boat is at the boatyard. This way we could save some time and still be ready for the season in the Caribbean. We have not decided which boatyard we will go to but we made some phone calls to the one we were leaning towards and luckily enough there was a trained therapist in town, even speaking French. This came surprising because we knew the boatyard was sort of far from civilization, it was in the middle of a jungle. We were leaning towards them because they are French and they allow DIY. Marie excitedly called the number she got but first she wanted to know what country code was +90 for. "Do I speak English or French?" she was wondering. Oddly and surprisingly, this country code was Turkey. We couldn't make sense of it for a while. A Turkish physioterapist speaking French in Panama? She made the call and learnt that this Turkish origin woman Nevin, used to practice physioterapy in France but nowadays she is running a scuba dive shop in the Atlantic side of Panama. Unfortunately Nevin advised Marie not to rely on her for the recovery. "This is a very serious injury with a long recovery. I do not have the equipment or time to help you in a satisfactory way. You need to go to a hospital in city."
A difficult alternative
After this sobering advise, we diverted our attention to David, Panama. It's closer and it's the second largest city. However, it's difficult to navigate to. We need to motor up the river for 20 miles or so, in not very well charted shallow areas. It is known to be doable but it's not easy. "You are guaranteed to hit the bottom at least once", our guide book warned. We decided to give it a shot, after our friends Hillary and Liam from Wild Rye informed us that the river is not that difficult to navigate.
The course of action is to clear out of Costa Rica, take a few days to sail, mostly motor, to Boca Chica (roughly 100 nautical miles) and cruise up river to Pedregal (20 nautical miles), motoring all the way, where we can clear in to Panama and take a short cab ride to David. We heard that Panama does not like cruisers spending time in their waters before checking in. That's why we had to go without waiting for a nice wind, relying mostly to the engine.
Attempt to Leave Costa Rica
According to our calculations, our last day was a Sunday. So we had to get our clearance papers by Friday in order not to overstay. The plan was to get the clearance on Friday visiting the immigration office, customs office, the bank and the port captain. After that, we could finish provisioning for the next couple of weeks, fill the diesel tank and water tanks at the marina, anchor away from the swimming crocodiles and scrub the bottom a little. The list was already packed but Monsieur Engine added to it.
Bad timing for engine problems
I know there is no good time for engine problems but hear me out.
Given the amount of motoring needed we had to have Monsieur Engine in ship shape. We were hoping to delay the oil change till David but low oil pressure alarm during one of our routine engine checks in the anchorage forced us to deal with it earlier. We never had a problem with the oil pressure before. To the extent that we weren't bothered by the broken mechanical oil pressure gauge on the dashboard. But we also never used the engine this much between oil changes. Maybe the filter is clogged, preventing oil circulation? We bought some oil and and a new filter the same Friday as we started our check out process. We were lucky to find a suitable oil filter in this small town. If we hadn't found, we did not have time to wait for parts without overstaying, which is costly at best. We had to look through the shelves and compare the specs ourselves as the guys at the counter were not competent enough to cross check the reference tables across multiple brands.
The list was already long for this Friday: visit the immigration office, customs and then the port captain to complete the paperwork. Go shopping if we have more time or energy. Now we added the oil change and fingers crossed that's all we need to do...
A most welcomed surprise came from the immigration officer. They said given our papers, we can stay until Monday, but if we get our passports stamped now, we have to leave as soon as possible, no staying until Sunday. Well, we have to wait until Monday then. This buys us time for the engine work. The downside is that we have to come here once more and given Marie's difficulty to move around, this is a bummer for her. But this is only the immigration officer, is the aduana (customs) going to be okay with us coming the last day as well? Who knows maybe their office is closed for some reason. That's why we hauled 3.5 gallons of oil and went to the aduana office to ask if we can clear out on Monday. They said yes. Okay we got time, now all we need to do is to get Monsieur to cooperate.
In the cab ride back to the marina from the aduana, we follow the road right next to the jungle hike we never did. Marie is clearly bummed looking through the window and feeling the desperation: "When am I going to walk again? Am I going to be able to hike in the jungle and have a long day on foot? Is there any English speaking physioterapist in David, Panama?" Meanwhile, I am completely focused on the engine, reading about the lubrication system in diesel motors, thinking about what can cause the low pressure other than low oil level. When we arrive to the boat on Friday, I immediately dove into the oil change.
Oil changes on Tire-Bouchon is a labor intensive task. We have a really small hand pump to suck the oil out but it doesn't work well because without the proper fittings the system doesn't hold vacuum. Long story short, oil change is messy and it takes a full day. After this long endevour, the oil alarm is still buzzing, intermittently. Damn! We have to check out soon, really soon.
Even more crutially, during this engine endeavor, I switched into my problem solving mode and did not recognize Marie's frustration and despair building up. Her priorities were completely different than mine at this time. Although she was brainstorming and doing research, she didn't care about the engine oil as much as I did because she couldn't see when that was going to be relevant for her. Different questions were bothering her mind. For example, "are we putting her in danger by keeping traveling while she desperately needed to start the physical therapy?" I, on the other hand, was convinced that there would be no permanent damage if she starts physio two weeks later than what the doctors recommend. Maybe her full recovery will come a month later than possible, but in my mind, this was a fair trade. What alternative did we have other than Marie going to France and staying there for the recovery? This would suck for many reasons for both of us.
We were unpleasantly in different mindsets and failing to work together efficiently against the problems at hand.
How about the oil gauge
Back to the engine... Hearing the alarm buzzer after the oil change was expected but still upsetting. In this angry and desperate mood I turned my attention to the broken oil gauge. The alarm is not tied to the gauge that is broken. The gauge should give a completely independent reading if it was working. Maybe there is a way to get this gauge functional again. In the end, it's only the display that's broken. Its rim is in pieces and that's blocking the needle from moving. After a quick 15 minutes struggle, I cleaned the gauge, removing the protective glass and the rim that holds it (or the pieces of it). The gauge is functional again. We run the engine again and the pressure readings seem on the high side for a healthy engine, according to google. The newly functioning old gauge does not agree with the alarm...
Sender unit is faulty
At this point, I have decided that it's the alarm sender unit that's malfunctioning. The intermittent alarm also fits the failure mode of the sensor. From what I understand, there's a membrane inside this sender unit. It has oil in one side, and air in the other side. When there's oil pressure, the membrane moves compressing the air, which turns off the buzzer. If there's a leak in the membrane, the buzzer stops when the engine first starts. Depending on how fast the leak in the membrane is, the pressure on both sides equalize which moves the membrane back and the buzzer turns on. If you increase the rpm, oil pump is working harder which increases the pressure in the oil side. This stops the buzzer for 30 seconds or so, until enough oil leaks to the air side. Then the alarm goes off again.
This is not a huge deal. First, the replacement part is inexpensive. Second, it's not super crucial for motoring a short distance. We made a plan to ask the same auto parts store on Monday (it's really close to the immigration office) for a replacement part. If they have one, we can replace it and go with a functional oil pressure alarm. If not, we can disconnect the sender unit from the buzzer, so that we can still have the high coolant temperature alarm functional. We also now have a functional oil pressure gauge we can monitor.
Check out Monday
This was our first checkout without the help of a marina agent. We started early and went to the town before the immigration office is open. We asked for the oil pressure sensor for the buzzer in the auto parts store but no luck here. They said there's a place outside the town, a 20 minutes or so cab ride away which should have it. After a quick discussion, we decided to carry on with our plan for the day and not to wonder outside the town in our last legal day. Let's check out of the country.
The immigration officer had already helped us with our papers in our the previous visit, separating them into three piles. One set of papers for the immigration, one set for the customs and one for the port captain. We quickly got our passports stamped and got a selfie taken in front of the office. Next, to the aduana....
Aduana is by the duty free zone at the end of the town. The paperwork in the office went smoothly, just taking time. After that paperwork was completed, we were almost ready for lunch. But first things first, the aduana selfie shot!
We headed to the restaurant by the airport for a ceviche. This place was recommended by Graeme and we had to visit at least this place in Golfito.
We had to pay some money at bank for the port captain. We also had to pay for paying here (although no other option was available).
Marie also had an outstanding balance with the state hospital bill. When she first paid her bill, she made a wire transfer to the bank account the Costa Rican social security gave to her. Since they did not mention otherwise, she naturally thought the account is in Costa Rican money, colones. It's an official state run service, why would they go with anything else, right? Wrong! She paid in colones, her bank took some in the conversion, the Costa Rican bank converted the amount back to dollars, taking some and she ended up with a due balance. Anyway, we were okay with not fighting this one out and she paid the remaining balance with our remaining cash, leaving only a small amount at hand.
Capitania del puerto
Next stop was to the port captain office. They asked where we were headed and when we will leave. We replied we're casting off the next day with the first lights and heading towards Pedregal, Panama. We got all the papers and we started rushing back to the boat before the afternoon rain. Unfortunately, we forgot to take a selfie in front of the port captain office.
We said our goodbyes to Fatih abi. It was great to meet him half way around the world from Turkey. We both eventually want to sail back to Turkey. I hope Tire-Bouchon and Blue Horizon come together in Turkish waters in the near future.
We are almost ready to leave. The only thing left is to disconnect the buzzer from the sender and the engine should be in good shape.
The sensor has a ring terminal on it. Easy enough: take the screw off the sensor, get the cable off, put the screw back on, or not. It's uncomfortable but the screw driver gets there and turns. But wait, the screw isn't coming off, oil is coming off. The screwdriver turned the sensor housing, breaking it off, instead of loosening the screw on it. Now we have a big problem. The leaking membrane was allowing the oil to come to the air side but at least the oil was still contained within the engine. Now that the sensor is broken from the outside, the oil will leak out of the engine.
We already failed to leave with the first lights of the day, but now we're screwed. We cannot leave at all. I wish I just cut the cable with a cable cutter...
An illegal trip to land
We had an address to go for this sensor. Fofo is the name of the place. But before commiting the illegal presence in Costa Rican territory, we contacted Fofo over Whatsapp. Sent the picture of the part and sure enough they said they have it. I reinflated the kayak and paddled back to the marina. This time alone. Marie is probably one of the most noticable people in town. A blond, blue eyed woman with a medical boot and crutches. If any of the officers saw her, they would for sure recognize us. I was by myself in this mission.
I kayaked back to the marina, in full disguise with my hat and the face mask. Wait a minute, I didn't even change my face mask which is a custom made fabric mask. I better hide my identity by putting my mask down...
In order to take a cab, I needed to walk to the main road in front of the port captain. I tried to be not too hasty to draw attention but I was quick. I found a cab pretty quickly and told him I'm going to Fofo, the auto repair place. By the way, my Spanish is non existent. Still, in the heat of the illegality of this adventure, I did not skip trying to bond with the driver Alfredo a bit. I explained, or more like expressed/described that I needed a part for the boat engine. He was very helpful, he dialed one of his friends while I reminded him that his blinker was still on since the last turn. This friend, who I think was a marine outboard mechanic, speaking fluent English, confirmed that if its an auto part, Fofo will have it. Alfredo was relieved, I wasn't able to say, "dude we talked to the people at Fofo, they have it and they are expecting me."
Alfredo was kind enough to wait for me while I got the replacement part, even though he had picked up two more passangers on the way. I bought two oil sensors, one for now, one as a spare. Came back to the boat, no further interactions. Good to be back! Last bit of cash we had in Costa Rican currency will do better in Alfredo's hands.
By noon, the engine was ready to go but this time we were not. After this stressful endevour, Marie and I had to take some time to discuss things. Her mood was low due to what we had to go through in the last few days. I, on the other hand, was very happy that the boat was functional again. I failed to understand her big picture discomfort. Our discussion evolved into a criticism of how we handle these stressful situations and became hurtful to the both of us. This was probably one of the worst timings to have an argument. We signed the checkout papers and there were 120 miles to the next port, including navigationally challenging waters. Have I mentioned our moods were down the last two months? This fight will end up bothering us for weeks, in addition to all the other external difficulties.
Finally in Panamanian waters
We managed to leave early on Wednesday, arriving to our first anchorage in Panamanian waters before dark. Still bitter from the previous days disagreements, this wasn't the most pleasant sail we had. At some point, Marie still unfurled the jib to give a break to the engine, but we weren't in the best mood for team sailing. Yet, it was still undeniably satisfying to round a big land mark and arrive in Panama, the destination we had talked about when we left Berkeley Marina, some 3000 miles ago.
The anchorage was unexpectedly calm although very steep to anchor. Holding was good so we had a good rest, spent a 2nd night before continuing towards Pedregal.
From September, 19th to 22nd