46′ Sailing Cat, Tehuanepec #131

Last month, we were stuck in beautiful Marina Papagayo in Costa Rica on a plastic-on-the-sill-new, 46′ Leopard Catamaran. With me, was top crewman Oc and our trusty third, ‘the commodore’.

Monday morning, lovely paperwork agent Natalia brought a group down to the boat: migration, customs, agriculture and the Cocos port captain (too macho to take off his shoes). Four officials that required 14 signatures. That’s more paperwork than my Cuba visit. Plus, she had to take our passports to the airport and into Cocos del Playa.

An 80 foot motoryacht from the states pulled in. Three old fat drunk dudes rolled off – the delivery skipper and his crew. They were funny around the pool and in the bar but when they joked about giving the check-in group a hard time, the comedy ended. Our paperwork was being done at the same time. Surprise, there were problems with the motoryacht’s paperwork … which held up ours too.

With the Saturday, Sunday, and all day Monday check-in, check-out process, we were no longer ahead of schedule. We motored over to the fuel dock to take fuel before they closed. We’d wait for our paperwork there. I didn’t want to be trapped for another night. We only took fuel on the starboard side since we hadn’t run the port motor since filling in Balboa.

25% of Costa Rica is protected national parks. That’s a world record. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Costa Rica has one of the world’s highest standards of living. That is by the new standards they are using that value health and lifespan instead of number of TV’s in the house. Marina Papagayo was part of the environmental program. They were super careful at the fuel dock and we were charged a small environmental fee. It seemed more than reasonable as we enjoyed the health and beauty all around us. Also benefiting from the clean environment were marina tenants, the locals, the fishermen, the fish, and the people eating them.

The big guys helped us push off into the wind as the sun was setting. We had great conditions – clear, light wind, light chop, doing 7kts out the bay. This next leg would take us across the deadly Tehuantepec. That’s where 100 knot winds shoot through a pass from the Gulf of Mexico. Since we had the range, I thought we’d try the outside route. Instead of hugging the coast in cower mode, we would head out past the winds and cruise, at speed, to our next destination, Acapulco.

This boat had the new Raymarine chart plotter with touchscreen – E120W. That was fun. A few of the traditional problems with Rm plotters had been licked. We did find a new issue, the bearing line would jump over a few miles, while you were watching it! This is a very dangerous software issue if it decides to shift while near rocks or land (and you tend to rely on the video game more than your sea sense). When I got home I shot off an email to see if there was a software fix and to ask Rm to issue a warning or recall. The response dismissed the bearing line shift but did include detailed fixes to problems we weren’t having.

During the night we got some sprinkles but missed the big rain that swept by to port. In the morning, conditions were still nice and fast. As the sun came up, we noticed that the fuel gauge on the port side was lower than it should be. I sticked the tank and sure enough, we were missing about 40 gallons of fuel. We deduced that it had to have happened on the mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club. That was the only time we were away from the boat long enough to be robbed. Nothing else was missing. It was my fault for not checking it before.

This was our longest leg as well as the one most fraught with danger. I always factor in worse case conditions (not enough wind to sail) when figuring range. With less fuel, this one would be close. I adjusted course to cut into the T-pec danger area to shorten our route.

We had easy conditions up to the T-pec boat graveyard. It was clear and oddly smooth way out, which made for good fast miles. Maybe heading outside is a good way to go? I lost track of mpg with the lost fuel so we ran the port motor dry to start a new tally (my estimate was 6nm off). The downside of running a tank out is it removes the rest of the dirt from the tank and puts it in the filters. That’s also the upside. I bring extra filters and don’t mind changing them out. Usually you also have to bleed, which I like learning to do on different engines. These were Yanmars so I didn’t learn anything – it self bled.

And we re-fueled … at sea. There are many ways to do it. As always, I prefer the easy way and if there’s a kewl gadget involved, all the better. There is a good chance of spilling if you try to pour a jug of diesel at sea. Much cleaner and easier is to tie the jug near the fill and use the Super Siphon (our buddy Ron sells them at Boatshowproducts.com). Shake the fitting on the hose for a couple of seconds and it will drain the jug on its own. Then I drop the empty hose in a large freezer zip lock with a piece of oil absorbent pad and it’s ready for next time.

After two days at sea we entered the danger zone, where winds could suddenly shoot up and make running for our lives a possibility. At 2100 we registered our first significant swell. You can tell a lot from swell. If they are far apart then the big wind is far away. If they are closer together and steep, your wind is near. The swell built all night and was close and steep by morning.
The good news was we started getting wind, and it was building. At 0315 we reefed down, shut off the motor and brought out a speck of headsail – the boat took off. The commodore had concerns about shutting off the motor in the building conditions. “This is a sailboat,” I told him, “she’s prefers to sail.” I get that the motor comforts people but to me it is just one extra thing to be concerned about. And it drowns out the audio hints of other potential issues. Unless pointing too high to sail (making port?), the motor should be off, especially in bad conditions.

It was a sleigh ride. That big empty cat ripped along on her beam reach at over 9 knots. If it were a race we would have opened her up but alas, we’re just lowly delivery crew with minimum wear and tear as our priority. 31.5 kts of wind was all we saw. You could tell from the swell that there was a whole lot more wind in the center of the bay; the part we had avoided by sailing out 294nm. Still, the swell we got was high and steep enough to crash over the boat.
Even the person on watch, on the second story seat, got soaked on the bigger ones.

And then, at 1700, the wind shut off. We had sailed out the other side. The swell soon disappeared and we had a calm flat droning motor the rest of the night. You gotta take the wind when you can get it. Our day rip had given us the range extension that we wanted. We closed fast and flat on Acapulco. More next month.

Quality, Balance and a Clean Wake.

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