We’ve been trying to leave Costa Rica for a lot of days…but things are proving to be a bit sticky.

Look what I can do!
Look what I can do!

Our exit strategy started out well enough; we got our national zarpe in Puntarenas to officially take us up to Playa del Coco, we motored out of the debris-strewn channel without incident, and we headed out of the Gulf of Nicoya accompanied by swarms of leaping rays.DSC_2585

Two long days of travel, punctuated by one uncomfortable night at Playa Samara, saw us on the north side of the peninsula. At this point, something went seriously wrong with our charts–both Navionics and Garmin. We’ve had pretty good luck with our electronic charts; it’s not at all uncommon for boats to find themselves out of position on the little video game of mapping, but we’ve been more or less where we should have been–until now.

The yellow stuff is supposed to be land; the dotted line is our path entering the bay. Note the sharp turn; that's where we almost hit s pile of rocks
The yellow stuff is supposed to be land; the dotted line is our path entering the bay. Note the sharp turn; that’s where we almost hit a pile of rocks

Once anchored, we were loving the little bay enough to stick around for three nights, including a mellow birthday celebration for me. Then on to Playa del Coco, the northernmost port of entry for Costa Rica. Our plan was to get our official exit papers from the Port Captain on Monday; pick up some last-minute groceries; head north six nautical miles to the only marina on the northern half of the country to top up on diesel and water; and spend a couple of nights in Bahia Santa Elena, prepping the boat and ourselves for the passage to Mexico.DSCF3288

Instead, we’ve run into a few roadblocks. The first stumbling point is this: despite being an official port of entry for all shipping traffic entering and exiting Costa Rica, Playa del Coco has no pier. The entire beach is a challenging surf landing. There’s nothing to lock your boat to once you manage to get to shore, and the area has a reputation for theft.

There’s not really a regular commercial water taxi, but we managed to get a ride in with a local, so we didn’t have to leave our dinghy on the beach, and waded through the surf per local custom as our friend nosed his dinghy towards land. Once there, we got the bad news: national holiday, office closed. Fine. We did our shopping and caught a ride back to the boat.

Next day, I dropped Michu off like a pro, only to get a message minutes later: once we were checked out of the country, we would not be able to purchase diesel. Instead, we had to head up to the marina, top off our tanks, and come back to check out the next day. Furthermore, we couldn’t just get our zarpe in town and be on our way–Michu was going to have to schlep it to the airport to deal with cancelling our temporary import permit, a half-hour away in the town of Liberia. Once checked out, we would have three hours to leave the country.

This is the point where I got irrationally pissed off. The layers of Central American bureaucracy are legend, and we’ve been dealing with them for the better part of a year, but somehow the ridiculousness of this particular set of hoops was the end for me. Why don’t you like us, Costa Rica? Why are you making it so hard for cruising sailboats to visit your beautiful country? There was pointless ranting and hideous profanity on my side, which fortunately abated by the time we got back to the boat and the kids.

As we made ready to pull up the anchor and get our diesel and water, I noticed a puddle of oil in the anchor locker. Never a good sign. Sure enough the oil was leaking out of the windlass again. This time, it was Michu’s turn to be irrationally pissed–yet another day of Fluids Not Being Where They Should. Dammit!

The kids got some new anti-jellyfish suits delivered from Abuela

So here we are, two days later. The windlass is fixed. We’re off to get the diesel and water from the snooty, three-bucks-a-foot-a-night, where-is-your-zarpe-and-TIP marina. Tomorrow, we hope to get all the paperwork sorted, after which we still plan to head for Bahia Santa Elena. The port captain knows we won’t be leaving within three hours of finishing the paperwork–it’s not even physically possible to exit this bay within three hours of finishing the paperwork. No one will care, no one will check–but we still have to go through the motions of officialdom. After here, we’ll be out of touch for a couple of weeks; no wifi until we’re in Mexico, and we plan to take our time getting there.

No hands!
No hands!

Fortunately, there are compensations to our additional unexpected time here. A couple of extra restaurant meals; some excellent fender rodeos; beautiful sunsets. It’s not a terrible place to be, but it’s still time for us to be gone.DSC_2614

4 Comments on “Thwarted.

  1. Ufda! Here attempting to send you the legendary “patience of Job” by the boatloads…wrapped up in maternal care and affection.

  2. You know how much I value the updates you post, you were in my shoes once planning to leave on the journey you’re now on! Our boat is now on the hard awaiting shrink-wrap for the winter. How do you know where to check in and out, what paperwork will be required, what hurdles to expect? Is this all on Active Captain or do you have a book? And I know some sailors have just left without informing the local authorities, would that cause a lot of problems? Or just skip checking in if the stay is short? I guess my question is: When the rules are so ridiculous that you really can’t follow them, why even bother?
    Fair winds, JD

    • Hey, JD,
      The rules vary from country to country, but most places require that you check in at an official port of entry on arrival to a new country; you generally need to go to customs, immigration, and the port captain; and you need to check out and acquire an exit zarpe when you leave. Without following those steps, you can be stopped at any point by the country’s authorities and incur big fines, and you’ll have a hard time checking in to your next country without a zarpe. It really varies, and some countries are more strict than others, but hands-down the best source of info for this is

      We did just spend the night in El Salvador, off an island in the Gulf of Fonseca, without checking in, but we flew our “q” flag and didn’t get off the boat; most countries are OK with that.

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