After Samara, our first trip with our crew of 6 was to reach the Gulf of Nicoya in order to get out of the uncomfortable swell of that coast. Our destination to spend the night was Bahia Balena at the entrance of the Gulf. We left at dawn and the day sail went smoothly, sometimes motoring and sometimes taking the time to sail. Mariya kept us well fed with lovely snacks on a regular basis. By the end of the day, we reached Cabo Blanco, the South most point of the Nicoya peninsula which we were circumventing. Several pangas were there too, fishing. We were trailing a line as well, for the first time, and Yalçın had been repeating that we would get our first catch at Cabo Blanco. We had all been watching the line at some point of the day, hoping the little pink octopus bait would attract some fish, but we had all been disappointed. Except for Yalçın, who had kept repeating that it would be in Cabo Blanco, and indeed, he was the first to spot the unusual extension of the bungee we use as snubber. Instantaneous excitement on deck! As it was the first time, the instructions of the fisherman were hesitant. He had studied though, for months, using a fishing book bought back in La Paz, and, under the kind supervision of more experienced fishermen like Graeme and Mariya, the catch was processed and its fate was decided as a group: half of it would be eaten raw in a tostada and the other half would be cooked. Once the excitement had vanished, the sunset show begun, with once again a succession of incredible colors. But before the performance, Graeme had the good idea to toss the hook in once more. Right at the moment when it was getting real dark, a new fish caught. Same drill: I sailed the boat in the night (I'm too sentimental for the killing part) while the rest of the crew was getting a second round of practice. This time, the fish was even a bit larger which was welcome for the six of us. Ensued a nice evening in the flat (so appreciated after Samara!) Bahia Ballena with good food directly from the sea and Tire-Bouchon cocktails that lead to an animated discussion about unions and workers' rights. If the night was calm, the next morning was difficult.
We had planned to leave right away, as it was already Tuesday and Ryan and Mariya were flying back on Friday. No reason to linger in Bahia Balena, we took off for the appealing Isla Tortugas in the morning with the hope for turquoise water, snorkeling and a hike. I slept for most of the sail but the view was stunning when I woke up: clear water, green palm trees on a perfect white beach. A good reason to be excited: we had been looking for this kind of sceneries for a while now! We turned around the corner to discover the Northern side of the islands where the anchorages and the tourist camp are. Two islands separated by a narrow and shallow channel and a couple of islotes (smaller islands) even more North where apparently the snorkeling was going on, as we could guess from the hords of tourists equiped with life jackets and noodles, circling the largest one. We set anchor in front of the smaller island, the second being assaulted by all boats who gave rides to the snorkeling tourists as well as the staff of the large camp it hosted on its main beach. As soon as the boat was anchored, most of the crew was in the water, swimming to the nearest paradise beach. It took a little convincing to get Yalçın to abandon Tirb, but we joined the rest of the group readily. Sadly, the water that had seemed so promising for snorkeling seemed sterile. The visibility wasn't that good either, when we neared the beach especially, as the water became sparking white, something we had never seen and which gave a weird feel of swimming in soap or in a glass of medecine (think Smecta for French people). Claiming the desert beach as ours was fun though. Each of us chose a favorite place: Graeme on a rock, Yalçın meditating/lying down in the sand (until a wave broken his peaceful interlude), Nico looking for pretty shells and me in the shallow waters, soon met by Mariya and (bouncy-in-the-water) Ryan. We swam back to the boat to spend a chill rest of the afternoon. We decided how to handle Ryan and Mariya' return to the airport. After a scare about the bus schedule from Puntarenas to Liberia (where their plane was), we decided to drop them off at the first ferry on Thursday out of Paguera - it meant they had only once full day left with us, which was heart-breaking! Luckily, Graeme and Nico would have one more day with us. Mariya then went to explore the place: she checked the snorkeling as the small island, which wasn't great, and even went to the tourist camp to inquire about the hike. As reported in Navionics, it was 5 bucks per person and we added it to our to do list for the next day. Nico did a last shell collecting trip before dinner on another beach after having reduced the extent of his first collection under Graeme's attentive eye. For tonight, we enrolled Ryan once again for the barbecue, for wings this time, which turned out delicious, and Yalçın made a Turkish eggplant salad on the grill which was also highly appreciated. We went to bed early this time, we had a busy schedule for tomorrow, a sort of grand finale for Ryan and Mariya's last day!
We started the day early with the hike. After moving Tirb closer to the other island, we split our crew between swimmers and dinghy paddlers to reach the tourist camp. Mariya had gathered that the hike opened at 7 and tourists only arrived by 10. We were there at 8, hoping to have the trail for ourselves. The hike, which we had feared would be a little of a tourist trap, turned out way above expectations. We were given a map with indications on the endemic plants that grew along the trail, a nice introduction to a vegetation we were quite unfamiliar with. Moreover, the short educational hike branched to a longer leg that led us to the top of the island with views on the ocean on the other side as well as on the channel between islands, and later on, on Tirb. We got refreshments and souvenirs after as Yalçın sneaked out to prepare the second activity of the day: pancake breakfast aboard Tirb! Activity #3 was soon underway as to-be-explained #4 was time sensitive. Still courtesy of Yalçın who doesn't enjoy snorkeling that much, we weighed anchor and he dropped us off around the snorkeling little island for the 5 of us to take a peak at the underwater world. The visibility was better than the day before and fish were here in numbers. I circumnavigated several times the little rock, finding that the area where tourists were starting to arrive was the best: real clear because sheltered from the waves and the tidal currents, it was worth snorkels in the Sea of Cortez, our best snorkels so far with Isla Isabel. We got picked up by the mother ship, in time to head towards Islas Negritos, a set of two islands which are a natural preserve and bird sanctuary. The channel between the two islands is narrow and shallow but has a passage for keelboats if one times is well with the current. And slack current being around 1PM, we had decided to offer the best bird sights possible to Nico who loves birdwatching. Graeme, who is the sailor of the couple, steered Tirb in the nice breeze until the approach of the passage. Yalçın decided we could go through under sail ,so we went for it. The whole operation, between surfing the wind waves as a roller coaster, reading 14 feet in the depth gauge momentarily and a "precipitated" gybe in the middle of the passage, was a bit nerve-wracking but turned out rewarding! We'd done it! Not sure about the birds, but the sailing had definitely been worth it. To relax a little and cool ourselves down, we showed our friends our way to swim underway: trailing a line on our stern, we usually go in the water, one at the time for obvious safety reasons, and get trailed in the cool water. For the first time, we were able to go Yalçın and I at the same time, having qualified crew to pick us up in case the line untied. Ryan, and then Mariya, tried it enthusiastically! Talks followed about how to use the longboard to transform it in water surfing! That will be for the next time you come, guys :)
Still with a pleasant breeze, we arrived at our destination, the narrow channel between Isla Jesusita and Cedros where a nice and flat anchorage would host us for the night at a dinghy distance from the ferry Ryan and Mariya would have to catch in the morning. After playing in the water a little more, we got the goodbye dinner going: mushroom risotto and crème brûlées for dessert (yeah, burnt on the top by Yalçın on the boat using our storm lighter!) which didn't turn that bad, accompanied by the wine from Samara which decided it would be better off on the cockpit seats rather than in our bellies (for some reason, most of us spilled their glasses - small cockpit for 6? I'd reply sadness at the thought the crew would dissociate tomorrow!). But the best activity of the day was still to come and hadn't been planned! While doing the dishes, a jar of water was sent outside for the people sitting in the cockpit to dispose of overboard. When Yalçın did, the entire water light up! They double-checked with a bucket, and it got really clear: in the dark night, the water was heavily bioluminescent! We were all already familiar with that phenomenon, but not to that extent: it was truly magical!! One after the other, we jumped in from the deck, offering a show to the others watching from above as well as discovering the fairies in us, as our hands left sparkling trails in the water. Sadly, it wasn't possible to capture on camera - the bad combination of little punctual lights generated over short periods of time by motion - but in a way, it might have been part of the magic!
In the morning, Ryan and Mariya bailed out on the night departure for the 6AM ferry, which gave us the chance of a last pancake breakfast together before it was time to say the painful goodbyes. Yalçın carried them away on Bouchon for a long ride, and the pace slowed down when he returned as we had no more deadline for the day. We chatted a little in the cockpit with Graeme and Nico, who went successively down in the cabin to pack their bags as we would also have to drop them at the same ferry tomorrow. The vacation with our friends was definitely coming slowly to an end, but we still had exciting plans for the day - and Ryan and Mariya too as they managed to squeeze in an exciting night in Monteverde before their flights! With Graeme and Nico, we set sail to Isla Muertos, 5ish miles North, supposedly home to an abandoned yacht club. Nico steered us there under the supervision of Yalçın and did a beautiful job, as well as a wonderful set of captain photos :) The dinghy was still showing signs of weakness since Samara and when we tried to rally the island we wanted to explore from anchored Tirb, it was a wet ride, for the feet mainly (the bottom was starting to unbind from the tubes again and a repair session seemed more and more overdue). It took us a while to find a proper spot to land as the high tide was hiding most of the beaches and the island didn't seem as deserted as our guidebook had suggested. Once landed on the beach, and Bouchon tied to his customary tree, we pretended not to understand a sign asking for a fee and, in any case, we didn't find any structure in place to pay, nor did anyone asked us for money. On the island, there were people, staying or mounting dozens of tents around a swimming pool, in a sort of eco campsite. We found what had to be the ruin of the yacht club and, as promised to Ryan and Mariya, we had our CSC burgee ready to find a new home! Sadly, if we hadn't known, there was no clue this place had been a yacht club, nor any place to fly a burgee. In an attempt to get away from the campsite and explore the island further, we followed an old path of stone slabs which lead to a meadow overlooking the beach where we had left Bouchon. The floors, walls and even water pipes of old or soon to finished decaying houses offered an illustration of time passing and the ephemeral nature of things. After wandering in these unusual scenes and trying to get good pictures, we decided to follow what looked like a trail to explore the island. We hiked uphill recognizing plants we had learnt about the day before, like the monkey ladder. Soon, the trail split with a path that seemed to go back to the camp and a steeper one which was going towards the other side. Sadly, the sound of thunder and the perspective of the heavy afternoon rains cut our exploration short. We went back down to the beach where we boarded Bouchon to dinghy back to Tirb. There, after an improvised sunset beer tasting of the humble 4 sorts of beers that we had onboard, we enjoyed a last dinner, with our last friends (an improvised curry that didn't turn bad at all). We decided to stay put for the night and close the short distance to the ferry the following morning, which would allow us to anchor closer to the ferry terminal shortening the distance to be covered with our weakened dinghy. After another painful set of goodbyes, they were gone and we watched the ferry take away our last friends on their long way to the Bay area.
Thank you so much guys for making this crazy meet-up happen! It could have just been hopeful goodbye words after our last raft-up in the Bay area, but you made it real and it is part of the top moments of our cruising adventure so far. I hope we can do that again some time, some place...
July, 5th to July 9th, 2021