Tamarindo to Tambor

After the eventful first evening we all woke up refreshed early on the first morning. After a quick breakfast and thorough bailing of water out of the dinghy we set off for shore.

Tamarindo is a small surf town that consists mostly of surf shops and people trying to sell you drugs. Our first order of business was to rent surfboards and see who would end up in the hospital first. Alex and Nick, born and raised in the Midwest, were surprisingly capable surfers, so I, like an idiot, thought it was easy. After about an hour of falling down and getting smacked on the head by the surfboard, I enjoyed an afternoon of floating around watching 8 year old kids surf like it was their job to be awesome at it. Michael kept at it and ended up doing not too bad. We were also joined by the crew of Ustupu, Dan and Sylvie, 2 Canadian sailors who will be crossing the Pacific at the same time as Saltbreaker. While Dan and Sylvie were a great time to hang out with, somehow they were unaware of how awesome the Canadian super-band trio Rush is. Don’t worry, Ustupu, the first thing I did when I got home was send a letter to the prime minister to alert him of this, and I am confident he has already dispatched Rush’s entire discography to your next port so you can join the rest of Canada in support of its greatest national treasure.

After a few days of hanging out in Tamarindo we decided to head further south. Ustupu graciously invited us over to their boat for dinner and fireworks on the last night. I was at this time and many times later amazed how these sailors can put together such great meals on their boats. After dinner and a few strong rum drinks Dan pulled out some Mexican fireworks. As always, safety was our primary concern and Dan had come up with a fool-proof plan on how to safely set these fireworks off. We used a sling shot. After some trial and error, we were able to nearly master this approach to fireworks. The only near incident was when we made the poor choice of lighting what appeared to be a quarter stick of dynamite, dropping it in a coke can, and throwing it overboard. It turns out that particular firework had a really short fuse, but everyone walked away with all of their fingers. All in all, a very successful night.


Leaving Tamarindo


By about 5:30 the next morning Saltbreaker was underway to the soundtrack of Phil Collins. Why they did not chose Christopher Cross is beyond me. Regardless, any doubts I had about the crew’s sailing abilities were quickly put to rest. We immediately encountered steady 35 knot winds and the Saltbreaker crew was able to competently raise and trim all the sails and we cruised at a comfortable 6-7 knots. The winds were gusting upwards of 45 knots, which is the strongest wind I have ever encountered. Sailing Lake Michigan in 30 knots of wind is a big deal, so naturally we were having the times or our lives. Then several things happened in quick succession that blew my mind. First, Alex casually pointed into the water where I saw at least a dozen dolphins surfing the wake of the boat. Then a sea turtle swam by, steadily heading south. Then we got consecutive hits on the fishing lines that were out, which resulted in some fresh fish for lunch. A little bit later we watched several stingrays jumping easily 4’ out of the water and doing what appeared to be perfect backflips. Then I saw what I thought was flying fish, but Nick believed to be just terrified fish running for their lives. I had a hard time processing everything that was happening, and was glad to see that Nick and Kleeman both shared the same look of awe that Michael and I had. It really is incredible on this boat, words just can’t describe it.

About 10 hours later we arrived at Garza, a very small beach town with a relatively well protected anchorage. We spent a few days here, enjoying the fresh coconuts, casados, cold beer, and snorkeling. More importantly, Garza was where we met Coco and Potato Chip. It seems that in Costa Rica people who own dogs let them run pretty much wild. This is a great thing, since this allowed us to meet and name these 2 dogs, who joined us for lunch at a soda on the beach. Coco was some sort of a black terrier and was about the friendliest and dirtiest looking dog I have ever seen. Also, Coco had an unreasonable love for coconuts. We fed that dog more coconut than I have ever seen in my life, and she still appeared to want more. After lunch, both Coco and Potato Chip joined us for a couple of mile walk up and down the beach. While Potato Chip was searching for the crabs that burrowed into the sand, Coco kept a watchful eye on the coconut that Nick was carrying with him. When our walk was finished we decided to pick up some fresh vegetables and chicken and have a bonfire on the beach. Nick made the poor choice of setting the coconut on the ground outside of the store while we were shopping. This was the last time we ever saw Coco or the coconut again.

Michael, Nick, Alex, Coco, and Potato Chip

Potato Chip, however, was in it for the long haul. She patiently followed us all day and well into the night, occasionally eating the potato chips we were offering her. While Potato Chip took a nap we collected drift wood and started building a fire at a secluded spot on the beach. After quite a struggle, we finally got a pretty good fire going as well as a smaller cooking fire, all under the watchful eyes of our new friend Potato Chip. Potato Chip also proved to be an excellent watch dog for us when she growled at anyone (actually, she growled at us) who left the fire and tried to come back. As soon as we said her newly given name aloud and she presumably recognized us she would let us come back, but I would not have tried to cross her otherwise.  We stayed at the fire long into the night, eating an excellent meal of vegetables and grilled chicken, which we shared with Potato Chip. I don’t think she tasted anything she ate; she just quickly swallowed everything, bones and all. Finally, it was time for us to go back to the boat and Potato Chip was not excited about this. She followed us as we carried the dinghy to the water and sat patiently just above the tide and watched as we motored back to Saltbreaker. I am not sure how long she waited, but she was nowhere to be seen the next morning when we raised the anchor, turned up Phil, and set off for Tambor. Our guess was that she probably had some indigestion problems, otherwise she surely would have been there to see us off.

The voyage to Tambor took over 24 hours with very inconsistent wind. We caught plenty of fish for food and, when the wind completely died, enjoyed a movie night aboard Saltbreaker while we drifted aimlessly in the Pacific Ocean. After the movie, the remainder of the overnight portion of the sail was divided into 3 hour shifts, and I was lucky enough to get the sunrise shift. When I woke up at around 3 or 4 in the morning the boat was rocking heavily and Alex, safely strapped into a safety harness and wearing a life vest, was tacking back and forth at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya, fighting strong currents and winds. Soon Alex was able to round the point into the gulf, and the weather abruptly grew calm. Alex, exhausted, went below to get some well-deserved rest, leaving me alone at the helm of Saltbreaker. Night quickly turned to morning and I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific, which was interrupted when both fishing poles were hit at the same time. After pulling one fish in after another Nick joined me for a few minutes, then Michael. We landed 5 or 6 fish in a matter of 10 minutes. Then, with nothing but the sound of the water and sails, I sat in the cockpit enjoying the view of Costa Rica’s coast line and the islands that dotted its shore. I am at a loss of how to put these experiences into words. You will just have to trust me that it was quite an experience.

Several hours later we arrived in Tambor, a small fishing village, and went immediately to find cold beers. To my extreme delight, the bar also had a shower, which I used. Actually, I took 3 showers, each time wanting to take another one after I finished the previous because they were so refreshing. When I was done with my series of showers, I was disappointed to see that my tan was in fact several layers of sunblock and sand that I was able to wash off. I believe I was actually less tan than I was when we arrived. Anyway, while we were enjoying cold beers we were glad to see Ustupu pull into the bay and set anchor. That night we were to celebrate Dan’s birthday on the beach. The party was great and included a piñata, a delicious pie, fresh red snapper, and another slightly too big bonfire that lasted well into the night.

The next night (or maybe the previous night, it is a little fuzzy) Dan and Silvie joined us as we set off by bus to Montezuma, a small town slightly to the southwest of Tambor. The bus ride, which was as far as I could tell straight down the face of a cliff, was thankfully uneventful. Once in Montezuma we promptly purchased some tuna and tortillas for lunch and set off to hike to a freshwater waterfall. The waterfall was easily 60’ tall, and we all had a fun afternoon eating lunch on the rocks and diving off the cliffs into the fresh water pools.

Dan and Silvie left to return to their boat after the waterfall hike, but we decided to stay behind and remain in town for the night. Our search for a hotel was short, and I am glad that I did not leave it up to the Kleemans. Their choice of hostels surely would have resulted in one of us getting stabbed, so I suggested we find a place that does not smell like death and has not so obviously stained sheets. Once we found a less terrifying place to sleep, we were off to hit the town, both blocks of it. After a short walk around we found ourselves on the beach sharing a bottle of rum and some juice when we noticed a large group of people about half a mile further down the beach. Suspecting it might be a wedding and that they perhaps lost our invitation, we promptly headed over to join the party. Once we arrived we realized, much to our disappointment, that it was not a wedding. It was not a total loss, however, as it was a local sea turtle hatchery releasing baby turtles into the ocean. The turtles were maybe 2”-3” in diameter, and we watched what clearly turned into a numbers game play out. Of the 40 or so turtles, I would say about 25 made it to the water. The others just walked in circles while the volunteers tried to show them the way. I was of the opinion that if the turtle cannot see the giant ocean 20’ feet away from him, maybe he doesn’t quite have what it takes to survive in the giant ocean. After watching for a while we returned to town and enjoyed some cold beers and rum. I went to bed early, but from what I heard it was a typical party town later at night.

The next day or maybe the next next day we returned to Tambor, raised anchor, and set off for Isla Tortuga, a short 6 hour sail further into the gulf. This proved to be a very eventful anchorage and I can think of 2 ways right off the top of my head that someone could have easily ended up in the hospital. Don’t worry, everyone survived, and I will tell you all about it on my next post.

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2 Responses to Tamarindo to Tambor

  1. Mom (Sara) says:

    Derek, these adventures are incredible – I don’t know what I like best: the jumping stingrays, your sea turtle observation, the bus ride which you so calmly mention was “straight down the face of a cliff”, your suntan which disappeared, or your keen awareness of the beautiful scenery around you. But I think I’d have to say that of everything, the fact that you kept my sons out of that hostel which sounds like a potential murder scene (and found a place with cleaner sheets, too!) has to be my favorite moment of this post. Do you think you could go back and finish the Pacific crossing with them in order to keep them on the safe path – as their mother, I would appreciate that very much!! 😉

  2. Derek says:

    I am happy to go back, but I do not think I would be quite as good of an influence that you believe I would be.

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