The Logjam

The next morning when we woke up, on Thursday dawn, it was still rainy and drizzly with some wind, so we just stayed in bed and slept in a bit more. At about 9:00 am, we started hearing things bumping into the boat. Since the Costa Rica Yacht Club is essentially on a river estuary, and we had seen a few logs and branches floating downstream during our stay here, I figured that what we were hearing was the usual stuff. However, when I stuck my head outside to check it out, I was astounded to see dozens of trees and logs floating down the river, quite a few of them thumping and bumping as they glanced off of RHAPSODY.

Soon it became apparent that the sheer quantity of debris could become a problem. We were tied up to a floating dock, and occasionally a tree limb or some debris would get stuck between RHAPSODY and the dock. So we, along with several of the Yacht Club workers, began clearing the debris from RHAPSODY, barely keeping pace with it as new debris floated downstream to us. In the meantime, Bruce, Marianne, and Gene were keeping the debris from GALLIVANT and CARAVAN, the next two boats downstream from us, while Noel, Ashley and the boys watched from KETCHIN UP, which did not seem to be catching any of the flack. It was apparent that the heavy winds the night before, coupled with the heavy rains, had caused a landslide of debris to flood into the river, and all of it seemed to be headed our way!

After about an hour of keeping pace with the debris, clearing it just in time for new piles to come in and take its place, we looked up and saw a huge island of debris headed right for the boat! Everyone essentially gave up for a second as two to three thousand pounds of limbs, trees, and trash got caught between RHAPSODY and the floating dock. The water was moving at perhaps 5 knots, so this debris was packing quite a wallop when it jammed itself in. Soon there was an island of stuff big enough to walk on, and the force was great enough that not only was I afraid the docklines were going to part (and they have but a 5000-8000 lb load capability), but one of the cleats was being pulled out of the dock! I mean the force was great enough that it was bending two 1/2" solid steel bolts sideways and threatening to pull them thru 4" of hardwood!

It was hectic!

Not only was there the plant debris including tree limbs, branches, and even 10' or larger tree trunks & roots, but things like a railroad tie that looked like it had been part of a fence, wrapped in about 20' of barbed wire. That was a mess! There were all kinds of lizards and frogs, and even a few snakes, floating on the mix. About this time, one of the dock workers gave a holler and pointed out a good sized Armadillo in the pile. The workers rescued it, picking it up by its tail and putting it in a 5 gallon bucket for the time being until they could free it later. Also about then, everyone just stared increduously as a 10-12' dead alligator floated by, with his feet up in the air. He must have gotten struck by a falling tree or something.

After the initial shock of seeing all of the debris pile up, I initially argued that we just needed to wait for the tide to change and it would "fix itself", but one of the workers, Rudolfo I think, told me that there was much too much water coming down the river and even when the tide turned it would keep flowing out. So it soon became apparent that we would have to clear the pile by hand or else RHAPSODY might break loose and drift down on other boats with who-knows-what consequences. Additional Yacht Club workers joined those already on our dock, so with 5-6 of them, me, and Gene from CARAVAN who had come over to help, we all cleared debris as fast as we could, even as it continued to build up, working for about 5 hours in the mess; pulling out logs, clearing a pileup here and there, occasionally falling part way in the water, pushing pile after pile of debris off the front of the "island" into the downstream where it drifted away from RHAPSODY and out of harm's way. The workers were also using several pangas with 40hp motors to try to clear the pile. They would tie a rope to a log and then drive the panga, under full power, away from the pile, straining and tugging and occasionally getting a chunk of the debris to break free.

Finally, after, like I said, about 5 hours of this, in a valiant effort, one of the workers tied a rope to a large log in the middle of the (now reduced in size) island of debris, and after gunning the engine mightily, tugging this way and that, managed to pull the bulk of the debris around the port bow of RHAPSODY, where it then floated downstream. Another hour or so of cleaning the final debris, including that which had gotten lodged UNDER the boat and pier, and RHAPSODY finally was floating freely again!

At that point, in order to prevent a repeat of the experience, the workers tied RHAPSODY up to the moorings that the floating dock was tied to, then cut the floating dock free and towed it away, leaving RHAPSODY on front and back moorings with no dock. That way, there was nothing to trap the debris and it could just slide right on by RHAPSODY without getting stuck.

It was a very messy and hard day. RHAPSODY was still covered with small twigs, bugs, and trash, but at least she was safe. We were both sore the next day from all of the back-breaking work we had done. And of course we have to give a huge thanks to the Costa Rica Yacht Club workers, Walter, Rudolfo, and all the rest of them, who helped us diligently throughout the day.

Later when we watched Costa Rican T.V. that night, we learned that what we had experienced was Tropical Storm ALMA, and we had been very fortunate to have decided to stay in Puntarenas rather than go out in it. For instance, we heard the next morning on the SSB net that a boat named SV STRAVAIG had issued a Mayday when they encountered 60 knot winds and 30' seas and had lost their motor and sails in the Golfo de Papagayo. The Costa Rica Coast Guard got to them and they were ok in Nicaragua. However, three people died in Central America as a result of the storm, and when it crossed over Nicaragua to the Caribbean, as we learned from the internet, it was still going strong and was renamed Tropical Storm Arthur.

We never did hear about SV HARMONY again. They were headed for Ecuador, a 500-600 nm leg. If anyone knows if they made it ok, please feel free to contact us and let us know!

And finally, we have to thank Noel. Even though it was very unfortunate that KETCHIN UP's dinghy was stolen, from the bad came some good, in that had they not come into the Yacht Club because of that that day and warned us about the high seas report, we might have gone out in T.S. Alma ourselves. So, Thanks Noel!!

The Logjam

Note: After I published the webpage, the story was picked up and
reprinted in Latitude 38, the West Coast's premiere sailing magazine.
Click on the link below to see the reprint.

RHAPSODY mentioned in Latitude 38 !!