From St. Elena to Playa del Coco

After three nights and two full days in Bahia Elena, we decided it was time to officially check in to Costa Rica. On April 28, which only gave us two days until our ship's document expired on April 30th, we decided to move the boat the 40 or so miles to Playa del Coco in Bahia Culebra where we could do the check in process. Also, any day now, we were supposed to pick up our new ship's document at the DHL office in the town of Liberia, about 30 miles inland from Coco.

We did the dinghy drill the night before, so when we got up bright and early at 5:30 am it was easy to get the boat ready to go, pulling in the canvas cover for the dodger and winches, starting the motor, and raising the anchor, by 6:00 am. Our friends on GALLIVANT had decided to do the same leg and were pulling their anchor up as we passed by them on way out of Bahia Elena. Surprisingly, there was a little breeze, and so as soon as we cleared the mouth of the bay, we put up the mainsail to motor-sail.

Just outside of the bay, we were joined by several dolphins who stayed with us for 10-15 minutes as we made 6 or so knots southward. They were pretty and persistent enough that I was able to get the camera and go up to the bow and take some pics (and movies) of them.

After about an hour and a half, with GALLIVANT visible behind us, we reached Punta Elena and were rewarded with a dramatic view of the Islas Murcielagos, or the Bat Islands. We had decided to go around the outside of the islands to get to Coco, but once we could see them clearly, we could tell that we would save some time by going thru them. There is a passable gap between the "Main" islands and the "Little" Bat Islands, so we pointed the boat at it. There were a couple of reefs to be cautious about, but there was a good 1/2 mile between them, so it was a pretty easy cut.

As we adjusted our heading to go thru the gap, it brought the wind on a favorable point ... directly off our starboard beam, as it picked up to 12 or so knots. So, we turned off the motor and sailed. It's always such a relief to turn off the motor and hear only the sound of the water and wind moving the boat along. We made pretty good time while it lasted, even reaching 7.4 knots at one point.

But as the wind was mostly generated by the gap in the islands, after about an hour it petered out to 5 or so knots from behind us, and wanting to make Cocos as soon as possible, we brought in the sails and motored from then on. However, it was a really nice day, and pleasant to be making such a short passage. We got to see a few turtles, but the best sight of the passage had to be seeing the schools of manta rays jumping out of the water.

They're very playful looking. At about 2 feet in length and width, they make a distinctive slapping sound when the jump as high as 6 feet out of the water, perhaps do a forward flip, and land back with a splash. Several of them would pop up in a row, one behind the other, like children playing "follow the leader", boing boing boing! We saw perhaps ten or fifteen schools, each containing between four and ten manta rays, in the couple of hours it took us to go from the Bat islands to Coco.

A word about the naming of the bays here. Technically, when you leave the Bat Islands, you cross the Gulf of Papagayos, after which the famed winds are named. However, it's not a very big gulf, perhaps 30 miles in extent. Next south is a very large bay called Bahia Culebra, about 10 miles or so in extent. Maybe the Gulf of Papagayos includes Bahia Culebra, maybe it doesn't; its not clear from the charts. Within Bahia Culebra are a number of smaller bays and beaches, one of which is Coco. Playa del Coco is the beach within Bahia Coco which is where the small town of Coco is located, a fishing village com tourist/expats/building-condos kinda place.

About noon we pulled into Bahia Coco. There's a reef that juts out from the beach right in the center of the bay. The local boats anchor to the right of the reef, visiting boats anchor to the left of the reef. So we took up a place to the left of the reef, dropped our anchor, set it, and rapidly did the dinghy drill so that we could begin the exciting process of checking in (and because we wanted to make sure we got checked in BEFORE our ship's document expired). GALLIVANT was about an hour behind us; we could see her coming in the bay as we were taking the dinghy to shore.

From Bahia St. Elena to Playa Coco

We brought the dinghy into shore thru a small 1 foot or so break, trying for the first time the new Dinghy Wheels which I had mounted in Huatulco. This was the first time we had tried them and we were very pleased when we motored right thru the break, the rear of the dinghy raised up (protecting the motor and propeller), and we hopped off and easily wheeled her up the beach to a lightpole, where we cable-locked her before proceeding into town on foot.

After a few minutes of looking for it, we found the Port Captain's Office (the green building 1/2 block from the beach in the center of the 'y'), and entered the most air-conditioned building in Coco. And the Capitan himself was one of the nicest we've met on our whole journey thus far. Although he spoke no English, we were rapidly processed, especially since I had thought to bring four copies of our passports, our Zarpe from Nicaragua, and our ship's document. And we were surprised, when, since we thought no-one ever really looked at these things, the Capitan pointed out that our ship's document expired in 2 days, and that it would have to be renewed or we could not leave the country! I was glad that at that point I knew our new document was already in Costa Rica thanks to notification emails from DHL that I received over the SSB-sailmail. With a smile, he gave us copies of papers to carry to the immigration office, about 2 blocks up the street, which we were to return to him after getting them stamped there.

Back outside, it was hot again as we made the two block walk up to the Immigration Office, a white residential type house with blue trim, set back from the street on the right. When we entered the office, we were met by another very friendly person, a jolly Tica woman who sang songs along with the radio as she processed our papers. Her air conditioner was broken, but her good spirits made the place very welcoming. After about 20 minutes there (as she had to fax our passports and get an official ok for us to enter the country), Bruce and Marianne from GALLIVANT came in and joined the paperwork party.

Our papers were done a few minutes before theirs and they wanted to go to the bank as well, so we told them we would meet them at a certain bar after the process was completed to have a few beers. We left the immigration office and walked back to the (very nicely air conditioned) Port Captain's office, where he took his copies of some papers, stamped a bunch of other ones, gave some to us, and conveyed to us that we needed to return to his office the next morning at 9:00 am for the third leg of the check-in triumvirate: Customs. We felt pretty good about Costa Rica so far, especially since there is no cost whatsoever for checking in or out of the country, and so we left his office and did what we normally do when making landfall. We found the nearest bar and ordered "the coldest beer in Coco", at a place called "Andre's".

While we were sitting there drinking Pilsens and chatting with the locals, a couple of large monkeys made their way over the roof tops across the street. It was really cool (although it was still pretty hot too) to see these big guys; we can hear them in the hills when they "roar" but to see them is pretty rare, especially right in town. After awhile, Bruce and Marion joined us for beers (we were on our third or fourth by that point!), as we all enjoyed the cold beer and warm people until eventually the sun began to set and we all decided to go back to our respective boats.

The Town of Playa Coco