Costa Rica - Bahía Santa Elena

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The first stop for most southbound boats entering Costa Rica is normally Bahia Santa Elena, but to get there you will have to once again hoist sails against the Papagayo winds. These winds race through the canyons and mountain passes from the Gulf of Mexico through to the Pacific, hitting the water at speeds of 20-50+ knots.  We do not consider ourselves "advanced sailors", but more destinationers. When the cruisers are bragging about their "racing" experience or how many thousands of miles they have sailed, Rachel and I usually just giggle a little as it feels like we are still learning something new every time we take the boat out.

Time after time, the ocean will break your possessions, test your boat, your will, and humble you to the point that you question why you are even spending so much money to do this cruising thing.

 Agape trying her best to sail into a 30+ knot headwind. Photo by John Guillote

Agape trying her best to sail into a 30+ knot headwind. Photo by John Guillote

 Photo by John Guillote

Photo by John Guillote

 Photo by John Guillote

Photo by John Guillote

We had already been sailing in these winds for the past two weeks and had learned more in that time than all our other sailing and cruising combined.  In fact before encountering these Papagayo winds we would have never even thought of raising anchor to go and sail 6-8 hours in 25/30 knots wind, but day after day of sailing Agape from one spot to another in these conditions had paid off. We had learned exactly what sail plan the boat liked when the winds are up and it helped us to have more confidence in our little floating home.

To get to Bahia Santa Elena we would sail on a beam reach (wind hitting the middle of the boat) only about 12nm across the Nicaraguan boarder and into Costa Rica!!!! This large bay is part of the Santa Rose National Park which also encompasses over 190 square miles of protected land.

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 Fresh caught African pompano for dinner!

Fresh caught African pompano for dinner!

More important than the protected wildlife, the strategic significance of the area or even the multiple battles that had been fought here as Nicaragua tried to expand, was the fact that this was the location where Rhianna, Rachel's sister, would be coming to visit us!!!! The ocean though had other plans and wanted to remind us of who was in charge. Although inside the bay was calm and beautiful, outside it was blowing a constant 30 and gusting well into the 40’s.

We tried several times to leave the protected water of the bay and sail to the small town where Rhianna would be arriving, but time after time we were shut down! The combination of the strong winds directly on the nose, fetch and current, was just too much for us to be able to push the 8 miles to the town anchorage. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes, you have such a short distance to go but there is no way to get there.

 Estuary tour in search of crocodiles.

Estuary tour in search of crocodiles.

 A huge tapir print along our hike.

A huge tapir print along our hike.

Finally, on our fourth try we made it out of the anchorage and were able to fall off just enough to motor sail into the 30-45 knot winds and head for town. Agape’s bow was submarining and the wind spray made it almost impossible to see the coastline, bit the boat seemed well balanced and we just kept pushing slowly towards our destination.

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We made it! Just in time for sunset, it had taken us almost three hours to go less than 8 miles. As the sun dropped below the horizon we set our anchor, happy that we had made it and when Rhianna showed up in the morning we would be there to meet her!