Finding Crew

Clark May 3rd, 2008

Looking back on the 6000 or so miles since the Horn, I’ve sailed 80% of it solo. Some of this has been by choice, but for the most part I would rather have had company. In desolate Patagonia there are really no options: There’s just nobody around. Once I did start meeting people, I never knew quite what I was getting. People never really think about it, but almost everyone we meet in daily life comes through ‘the filter.’ If someone is a friend of a friend, or a member of the same organization, chances are that by the time we meet them there are many compounded years of others knowing this person. Once they get to us, we can be pretty sure they’re not a psychopath, otherwise the filter would have filtered them out long ago. On the road there is no filter, and people who seem quite normal and charming to begin with can end up being trouble. But of course not everyone is trouble. Sometimes these encounters can be just peachy, but they seldom last.

Take this guy, Nick:

He was a good surfer and a professional volleyball player. We could have volleyball sharked our way up the coast and made a mint, but Nick had to go back to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, to sell real estate.

Then there’s good old Larry:

After a few days Larry had to go back to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, to sell real estate. Is every gringo in Central America selling real estate? Yes, every gringo in Central America is selling real estate.

Then there was Max, a perfect example of what can happen without the filter:

Everything started out great with Max, but then he drank all the beer in the bar and peed all over my shoulder. I’m not kidding; he really did drink all the beer and peed on me. Et tu, Max?

I tried sailing for a while with my brother Rufus, but as you can see, Rufus is mentally challenged:

I had to tape foam rubber on all the sharp corners around the boat, and keep Rufus tightly secured in his harness.

“Pull the rope, Rufus!”
“OK Clar, I pull the rope!”

The rope just led to a piece of bungee cord on the foredeck, but it kept Rufus busy. Having Rufus aboard was a bad idea and we were both badly injured. Now he’s getting the kind of professional care he deserves.

Of course there was Norman. You remember Norman. Our time was short, and Norman was gone as quickly as he came. Where are you now, Norman? Where are you now?

I did my stint with the Bond Girls:

But geeze, all the nudity and public bathing. Really disgusting. And making me all those crepes and home cooked meals: What am I, a little kid? I had to ask them to leave.

There was this nutter I picked up wandering the wharf in Mazatlan. Glad I got rid of him:

And of course there were the romantic liaisons. A sailor has a girl in every port, right? They’ve been hit and miss. There was Imelda:

But her passion burned too strong to sustain. Perhaps I’m not man enough for this much woman.

I’ve recovered from the tragedy of Bianca. We were deeply in love, but the cultural differences could never be bridged. Her family would never accept me, and we had to return to our respective worlds. I still hold hope in my heart that the world will become a more accepting place and we’ll have another chance at love someday:

Then, when I least expected it, there she was. It’s funny how you can search and search for something, then when you give up the search, there it is in front of you. She was basking in the surf. A mermaid, she was! All her curves and feminine charms gloried under the sun and the eyes of God. The sea water glistened off her body, and she was looking longingly at Condesa before I even approached. She had adventure in her eyes and voyaging in her heart. I walked up to her, ankle deep in the surf, snapped this photo, and the rest is history:

Kudos to Matt for posting this manually, since we’re still having problems with the website.

Cabo San Lucas

Clark May 1st, 2008

Condesa is now anchored in Cabo San Lucas, amid squadrons of sea lice (jet skis). At the moment there are no less than four giant cruise ships anchored in the bay, with their shoreboats running round-the-clock carrying passengers ashore to shop before ferrying them back out the the feeding troughs. Cabo is still a beautiful place and the water is clear. I just wish they could turn down the volume a bit. The dry desert air has made all the ropes on Condesa stiff and cranky, and the sails are so dry and stiff I can’t get the covers over them.

Since the last post I’ve had visitors galore, now that I’m getting close to California and cheap flights. After my mom left Bahia Tenacatita I sailed to Yelapa to meet my stepmom, little brother and sister for my stepmom’s 50th birthday. Yelapa is still charming, but a few days is just the right amount of time to spend there. There are some resident American hippies who are fun to get to know at first, but you can just tell that if you stayed around long enough you’d end up with a shiv in your kidney. One guy was pumping up a fire on the beach for a big full moon party. When it didn’t materialize we asked him what happened the next day: ‘Why the fuck does everyone need me to make a fucking fire?’ (Maybe because you were the one going around all day saying you were going to make a fire on the beach?)

I charged 200 miles north to Mazatlan, where Elias met me to sail across the Sea of Cortez. We caught a big mahi mahi right outside of Cabo, which I’m still eating my way through. Elias left Tuesday and had to get a steroid shot back in the US for all his jellyfish stings. Good times.

My dad gets here on Saturday to do the final push back to California.

Unfortunately this website is still experiencing technical difficulties, so I can’t upload any photos. I could repeat what the problem is, but it would just confuse us all…something about the cat, chased by the dog that turns the fan that pushes the bits down the Internets. Internet cafes have been few and far between, so now I’m getting caught up.

A Long and Lonely Thousand Miles

Clark April 12th, 2008

The novelty of the long and soulful solo passage has long since worn off. It was lonely and boring out there, but the alcoholism helps.

I left Nicaragua to meet my mom in Manzanillo, Mexico, exactly two weeks later. I figured I’d have plenty of time to get to Puerto Madero in a few days, then Huatulco, then cruise on up the Mexican Riviera. I tended to overestimate my day’s runs because I planned on there actually being WIND. The winds were light – I could only sail a few hours per day – and there was a foul contrary current that started in the middle of the Gulf of Tehuantepec and set me back at the frustrating rate of 1.5-2 knots. It made for day’s runs of about a hundred miles, mostly motoring and burning lots of expensive Central American fuel.

With every possible landfall I realized that I had to keep moving or I wouldn’t make it on time. As it turned out, my mom could see Condesa sailing across Manzanillo Bay from the window of her airplane. The timing worked out exactly right, except that she was actually expecting me to meet her at the airport.

There was an amazing amount of wildlife out there. I saw humpback whales almost every day:

They were doing a lot of acrobatics for me:

Do you know how long you have to stand there on a rocking boat, and how many times you have to try, to get a picture like this? And it’s still out of focus.

And then there were the turtles. I must have seen 10,000 sea turtles between Nicaragua and Mexico. When the weather is calm the whole sea is dotted with them, mostly green turtles, some hawksbills, and I think some Olive Ridley’s. It’s hard to believe they are endangered when there are so many to be seen, but it makes me feel good that I’ve been cutting my plastic six pack rings all these years before throwing them in the water.

When Condesa hits a sea turtle it makes a resounding thump. I assume this doesn’t hurt the turtle as Condesa is a pretty blunt object and the turtles have solid shells, but with so many of them there’s occasionally a collision. You’d think for an animal who has a brain the size of a pea there would be a very simple process: Sense danger…dive. But they’re sometimes sleeping or daydreaming, Condesa comes up upon them, and instead of executing a simple dive—as they have plenty of time to do—they panic! They sort of flop on one side, slap a flipper against the water, and blow all their air out in a torrent of bubbles. Then, after a couple seconds, they regain their composure and do the dive. I watched this dozens of time, since they will panic in exactly the same manner if Condesa passes close alongside them. By the same token, a turtle that sees Condesa at say, twenty yards, will submerge smoothly with no floundering about.

Here’s one of our friends:

And here’s one with a bird on his back. If this bird had a sea snake in his mouth we’d be well on our way to some sort of new Mesoamerican creation myth:

My best company of the whole trip came along when this flock of seabirds started dive bombing Condesa. They’d fly right into her side and swerve away at the last minute with a lots of squawking. I tried to get photos, but flying birds are notoriously hard to capture. I ended up with lots of blurry photos of the sea in the background. Anyway, this went on for about an hour, to where the novelty was wearing off and I wished they’d shut up. They kept getting more and more bold, until finally they were landing on the foredeck. With my past experiences with birdshit, I shooed them away.

A while later there was a strange gerb in the middle of the table in the main salon. I was stumped as to where this could have come from and finally convinced myself that I must have spit it there, eating like a bachelor an hour or so before. Then another hour after that I was sitting at the same table reading, I glanced down by my feet, and ahhhh! Norman! He instantly became Norman-he just looked like a Norman-and he was one of these seabirds, and he was sitting on my floor.

He must have come in through one of the open portholes. Now it was all clear, the gerb in the middle of the table was the first of many gifts from Norman.

Since Norman was the first live being in my world in about a week, we had lots to talk about. My first effort was to capture him in a towel and get him out on deck where he could fly away. I figured he just couldn’t find his way out of the boat. He pecked at me a few times, and this didn’t hurt at all: a laughable effort at self-defense. I got him up on deck, poised on the roof of the aft cabin, and he just sat there. I got him back in the towel and looked him over: no broken wings, no broken legs. He seemed fine. “Norman, there’s nothing wrong with you! It’s all in your head! You can fly! I’m telling you. With each passing minute we’re getting farther and farther away from the flock!” Nope, he just wanted to hang out.

I tried giving him some fresh water and I had some fresh dorado in the fridge. He wouldn’t touch either.

He was already starting to accept me. He didn’t peck at me anymore and didn’t seem at all scared. We were going to be shipmates.

The one problem with my new shipmate was that he was not potty trained. He shat about every ten minutes, but like a master with an ill-behaved dog I was willing to accept this because he was now mine and I was very lonely. Maybe this was what was wrong with him: He had the trots and couldn’t fly.

He stayed the whole first night under the table. The next day, after he’d had a good rest, I took him back out on deck and he still wouldn’t fly away. He was becoming quite tame. He’d sit on my lap, I could pet him, he’d preen a bit. I was already having visions of Norman becoming the Condesa pet, just like Long John Silver with his parrot. I’d be able to smuggle him through customs everywhere: I could just say ‘Oh, that sea bird? He must have just landed there.’

That night I caught a sierra. This is love: I cut open the sierra’s belly and removed four fry in various states of digestion. I brought one to Norman and ooh, he knew what that was. He gobbled it right up. I had found his natural diet: He wasn’t into dorado filets, but whole little fishies. Since the four fry didn’t look like much of a meal, I cut up some bits of the sierra too, and did my best to make them look like faux fry. Norman gobbled up his repast with gusto, a pretty big meal for a little guy, and promptly shat it all out on my Turkish rug.

How long could I supply him with his insatiable and finicky appetite? And what had become of his flock? And where was home? Was Norman getting hopelessly lost after covering 150 miles on Condesa?

He spent a second night under the table, but was spending half of the time nestled on my lap. He was very warm and soft, and for all I know he was a she, a Norma.

On the third day I brought him up into to the cockpit. I could tell the minute he saw daylight that he was going to make a run for it. I set him on the aft cabin top, he ruffled his feathers, and away! He charged out over the water, surfed the air current down a wave, pirouetted once or twice, then landed in the water and just sat there. Hmm.

I was worried about him. What if he was sick and that was a far as he could make it? He could now be easy prey for some predator. I dropped the sails and went back for him. It was very calm and he was easy to keep in sight.

I got close but he flew a hundred yards away and landed on the water again. He was afraid of Condesa and I couldn’t get close to him. It was hopeless. ‘Norman, come back!’ I tried four or five times, but Condesa spooked him every time and he ran for it. I contemplated launching the windsurfer board and paddling to him. Back in Lima I would have gladly killed little Norman as a contributor to the birdshit problem. Now in the middle of the ocean, I was contemplating risking my life to save him. In the end the risk of getting separated from Condesa on the open sea was too great. I wouldn’t have wanted to have spent my last days of life cursing myself for giving it all up for a seabird, and wringing little Norman’s neck for my last meal.

I had to leave him, and it broke my heart. He was bobbing among the waves, looking at me longingly. I felt like Tom Hanks leaving Wilson the volleyball behind, but Norman was a living, breathing bird. Maybe he’s fine. Who knows? I don’t even know what species he is…the cute and friendly species.

Leaving Norman behind put me in a dark and maudlin mood.

Norman in his favorite spot under the table:

Norman and I parted ways in about the middle of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The Gulf of Tehuantepec is notorious for dangerous offshore gales, called Tehuantepeckers. It’s funny looking back to the first time I crossed the Gulf of Tehuantepec nine years ago. A big group of cruisers got together in a restaurant to discuss our ‘strategy.’ We all had steely looks as if we were going off to war. We compared weatherfaxes and weather reports and finally set off, en masse, as if being in a group would make any difference if things went wrong…maybe give us something to run into. It was a brave and terrible undertaking.

This time I called the Port Captain in Puerto Madero as I passed, got three totally contradictory and meaningless weather reports, then charged across solo thinking, ‘Bring on a fifty knot Tehuantepecker, please. At least I’ll be able to sail.’

Here is the notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec during my daring solo passage:

Making such slow progress I would have arrived in Huatulco on a Saturday, meaning I would have either been charged exorbitant overtime charges, or been put off till Monday to clear into Mexico. I pulled a sneaky night at anchor in a hidden cove to get some sleep and pressed on early the next morning. I figured I wanted to avoid clearing in at Tackypulco too, because the offices are scattered all over town. Zihuatanejo was the place: All the offices were in the town square and I could arrive on a weekday.

After nine days at sea without speaking to anyone except Norman, the Port Captain in Puerto Madero, and the voices in my head, I finally made landfall in Zihuatanejo. I was running low on fuel with all that motoring and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I’d just read this article in a sailing magazine about calculating your motoring range based on your useable fuel reserve. The writer was careful to point out that your useable reserve is not the same as what your tanks hold, because the fuel pickup is usually an inch or two above the bottom of the tank so that dirt from the bottom of the tank doesn’t get sucked in. It’s all useable, damn it! I drained both tanks from the sump, put the fuel in a jug, then built a sort of a day tank connected with a hose to the filter. This way I had every last drop of diesel to burn.

In the end I arrived with this much fuel:

There’s at least a quart there. That’s not cutting it too close, is it?

In a bizarre, sleep-deprived, semi-hallucinatory state, I ended up partying on Condesa with all of the officials in Zihautanejo. There was a cruise ship just in port and all of the launches were busy, so the officials ended up stuck on Condesa for about an hour. The doctor from Port Health was the instigator, but the customs gal, the immigration gal, and the Port Captain were all up for it too. The deal was that I had more alcohol than I was allowed to bring in to Mexico, and we could either drink it or they could confiscate it. We drank it. This was all done with smiles and I was happy to oblige. Did that really happen? Was I really partying and dancing, making jokes about drug smuggling, with uniformed Mexican officials?

Here is Condesa anchored in front of the famous La Casa Que Canta in Zihuatanejo:

And then I met Roberto, a member of the Acapulco Yacht Club taking one of his annual cruises. Roberto had a full-time captain, who was really a full-time bartender, and my two days in Zihuatenajo are just a blur. Here is Roberto and me after drinking all the Tequila in Zihuat:

I pressed the last few days to Manzanillo, just anchoring here and there to sleep along the way, and now we’re at Las Hadas, the hotel where the movie ‘10’ was filmed. Las Hadas was a haunt for the rich and famous back in the 50’s and 60’s, but now it’s seeming a little long in the tooth. The architecture is still amazing. Las Hadas needs a new PR/marketing manager to start bringing in the best DJ’s from Europe and put the place back on the map.

Las Hadas:

We finally crossed paths with Sandy Purdon from San Diego, a friend of Matt Thoene, the builder of this website. Sandy kindly invited my mom, also Sandy, out to dinner at Las Hadas with his shipmates, Rich and Doc:

The two Sandys and me:

From here it’s off to Barra de Navidad…

Technical Difficulties

Clark April 12th, 2008

The Condesa website is having technical difficulties at the moment, but the engineering team is hard at work. Condesa is safely in Mexico, and many fascinating stories and dazzling photos are forthcoming.

The Magic Bus

Clark March 22nd, 2008

Still can’t upload any photos, and I’ve got some good ones.

Life is sweet here at the Marina Puesta del Sol, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. To get to a place where I could do any provisioning this morning, I took the bus two hours to Chinandengo, the Big Smoke. I got on the bus at 7AM and we began winding our way through the farmlands and shantytowns of northern Nicaragua in a cloud of dust. By the time we got to Chinandengo it was standing room only, several of the babies had messed their diapers, and the chickens were starting to squawk.

The bus was an old American school bus, the kind we’ve all ridden. It was manufactured by the Blue Bird Body Co. in Fort Valley, Georgia, and the bus had ‘Hampshire County Schools’ stenciled on the side, which I now see is in Massachusetts.

During my two-hour bus ride I started wondering, how do these retired school busses get from the US to Nicaragua? Perhaps there is this crack team of Nicaraguan drivers who fly to the US with a credit card and a big bag of the highest quality…dark roast Nicaraguan coffee. They explode out of the district depot in Massachusetts, blaze through New England, cross the prairie, tear through the cornfields of Kansas and the Texas badlands, crossing the border at Juaraz and paying whatever bribes they have to. They don’t even stop the bus to change drivers: one just slides under the other and takes over. Meanwhile the off duty shift has made a camp among the seats where they brew strong pots of coffee and cook Nicaraguan comfort food on a portable stove. They sail through the Chihuahuan desert, fly through the perifericos of Mexico City under cover of darkness, wind their way through the jungles of Oaxaca and Chiapas, then cross the Guatemala border, all the while the 35-year-old diesel keeps revving without complaint. They go past Lago Atitlan, through Guatemala City on the Panamericana, cut the corner through Honduras, and into the home stretch into the bus’s new home in Nicaragua…all in 112 hours.

I got to asking around and it’s nothing so romantic. They ship the busses on a barge from one of the gulf states to Puerto Cortez, on the Atlantic side. Then they bring them to Managua, where there’s sort of a school bus used car lot.


Clark March 20th, 2008

Nicaragua has been great, surf-wise, but it’s time to cover some miles. I said goodbye to Nick. Nick has a 4WD and I have a boat, and together we covered the surf spots of southern Nicaragua like nobody else on the coast, and all during a 4-6 foot swell.

I started to cover the miles and noticed I wasn’t making normal progress. The bottom paint is shot after about 8000 miles, some of it through ice, and the hull was a living reef…and it had only been ten days since the last scraping in Tamarindo. These are fertile waters along the coast, and the growth comes fast.

I ducked into a bight in the coast yesterday morning, donned my snorkeling gear, and jumped in, scraper in hand. I did the propeller first, as I always do, and felt pronounced stinging all over my body. Often there are some stingers in the water, especially surfing, and I just deal with it. I’m usually more concerned with the biting things.

I went on with the scraping of the whole bottom of Condesa, about a two-hour job, and I was getting stung like hell. But the job had to be done and the pain was tolerable as long as I kept my mind on the task at hand. I’d only stop when I could see a tentacle wrapped my face to pull it off. They might have been stray Portuguese man-o-war tentacles as there are a lot of those around. Whatever they were, they contained the projectile nematocysts that these stinging invertebrates use for defense or killing food. (I learned this after reading the Merck Manual and Dr. David Eastman’s First Aid Afloat later on.)

I toughed it out until the end and then got the hell out of the water and tore all the gear off. The minute I hit the air the stinging got much worse. The salt water had somewhat of a cooling effect on the stings and once I was out the pain was pronounced. I ran for the deck shower to wash it all off…a very bad idea.

As it turns out, according to the Merck Manual and First Aid Afloat, fresh water will cause the nematocysts to fire and only salt water should be used for removing the stingers. Silly me, I thought the sea water would just have more stingers in it.

Shower of fire! Fire! The pain was debilitating, especially on my face. It was like the razor burn of all razor burns. I started feeling woozy and puked over the side. I knew where this might be going and dived for the medical kit, which contains an Epi-Pen. If I started having trouble breathing I’d Pulp Fiction myself.

I remembered that alcohol was good for such stings, and I doused myself with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. This brought some immediate relief, enough to get into the books and see what the hell to do. The alcohol was the right thing, as would be vinegar, baking soda, or basically anything to change the PH of the skin. After that it was hot water compresses, and then they said to cover my body with a baking soda paste, then scrape it off with a dull knife. I didn’t have that much baking soda, so I forwent the knife-scraping. The hot water seemed to neutralize the poison, at least to where I didn’t feel sick anymore.

I should have done the scraping. I took another fresh water shower that night and it was shower of fire all over again. I guess the nematocysts attach and wait for their trigger, and in those that haven’t yet fired the poison stays intact, even after the hot water and alcohol.
The books predicted I would have oozing pustules all over my body, and they were right. Today I have nasty little blisters everywhere, or oozing pustules if you prefer, but thankfully my face was spared, which is odd since that’s what hurt worst. Oozing pustules are so in for Easter.

So now I’m in Marina Puesta El Sol, in Northern Nicaragua, which will be my last stop in this fine country. Haven’t decided if I’ll charge all the way to Mexico, or stop in El Salvador.

Hmm, this Nicaraguan Internet cafe doesn’t seem to want to let me upload photos…next time.

Larry Catches Yellow Fever

Clark March 11th, 2008

Yellowfin tuna fever, that is! (Matt is the only person who will laugh at this joke.)

Condesa cleared into Nicaragua yesterday, after a long birthday weekend of living the life. Larry and I cleared out of Playa El Coco, Costa Rica, on Friday, and what a time we’ve had since then. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday…surfing like madmen, catching fish, drinking beer and rum, and with the Papagayos continuing to howl offshore at thirty knots, the sailing has been spirited too.

We began our little adventure by making a beeline from El Coco to Ollie’s Point, one of the most famous surf spots in Costa Rica. A few tourists came in a panga in the monning, but left just when it started to get good. Larry and I had it all to ourselves for all of my birthday. We surfed until we were exhausted, dehydrated, and sunburned, which was surprising since we spent most of the day in the shade of the barrels. As surfing goes, it was fabulous.

We raised anchor, hoisted a scrap of jib, and let the Papagajos blow us west to the Islas Murcielagos, where we spent a night. Just after our morning snorkeling expedition, a park ranger came in a boat to inform us that we were in a national park and it would be $15 per person per day, so $60 payable at the park office. Since we already had our exit papers from Costa Rica, and didn’t have any cash anyway, we pulled anchor and politely said ‘ba-bye.’ I figure this is fair enough when I just didn’t know. The ranger didn’t seem offended.

We spent a long day pinching against the Papagayos. Larry landed the 15 pound yellowfin tuna, pictured above, while I manhandled the boat in the blustery winds. This is the first proper fish I’ve caught since the Atlantic. We’ve been eating it for days: sashimi, grilled steaks, carpacio, and seared ahi…

Since we couldn’t make San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, by nightfall. We ended up blown about ten miles to the northwest, where we anchored in a likely cove with some promising waves. The next morning, this is what greeted us:

It’s always a little dicey, and exhilerating, surfing an unknown break for the first time, but when it’s breaking six feet…wow.

It is surely a known break – it’s too good not to be – but we still don’t know if it has a name. This can also serve as a lesson in anchoring your boat too close to breaking waves. As the tide went out they started breaking within a few boatlengths…oops. Again we surfed perfect, hollow waves all morning until the tide got really low and some rocks started sticking up.

Surfing is a fabuous sport when you’ve got some of the best breaks in the world all to yourselves. It sucks when you’re out at Zooport with 300 guys wanting to get in fistfights.

Checking into San Juan del Sur was quick and easy. The national policeman was conducting his search of Condesa when Larry jumped and said, ‘Señor! Señor! Tienes un escorpion on your leg!’ I jumped two feet, tripped on a bucket, and fell on my ass. There was indeed about a six inch scorpion on the guy’s leg, just above the top of his jackboot. He reached down casually, said, ‘He’s my pet,’ showed us that the scorpion’s stinger had been nipped off, slipped him back into his shirt pocket, and buttoned him in.

Larry just hopped a cab for the border, and I’m once again alone in some foreign port, another year older and probably not any wiser.

Two Counts of Near Miss

Clark March 3rd, 2008

Tamarindo has been having its swell of the year. Eight to ten foot surf has been pounding the Costa Rican coast for four days. We’ve also been having Papagayos, fierce offshore winds that can blow up to thirty knots in the mornings. Combine the big surf with strong offshore winds and you have the recipe for perfect surf, hollow monsters tubing down the beaches in all directions. The whole town has gone surf crazy and the broken boards are piling up on the beaches.

To backtrack a bit, on my first night here I was invited aboard an expedition catamaran for a party. The Costa Rican crew became fast friends and changed my whole opinion of Costa Ricans, which was not so hot after my experiences eight years ago. Our two boats are about a hundred yards apart in the anchorage.

One great surf break, Langosta, lies about a mile south of Tamarindo Bay, where the boats are anchored. One morning Larry and I took my little dinghy with the 3.3 horsepower motor, putted around the point down to Langosta, anchored the dinghy just outside the surf, and went surfing. No problem.

Yesterday I did the same thing on my own, but with ten foot surf pounding everywhere. I had to go way out to sea to get around the outside reefs, which only break in these huge swells. I anchored the dinghy and went surfing, but the surf kept building and breaking further and further out, so I kept thinking the dinghy was going to get nailed.

I paddled back out to the dinghy and pulled the anchor, but the Papagayos had kicked in with violence and it was howling about thirty offshore. Again I had to go way out to sea to get around the outside reefs—which had twenty foot walls breaking on them—and once out there found myself battling against a fierce, steep chop. I could barely hold onto my board, which wanted to fly away, as my little 8-foot inflatable pounded into wave after wave, making slow and painful progress. With all the spray the boat was slowly filling with water as the little 3.3 horsepower struggled.

And then it died. I was suddenly in a very dangerous situation, being blown out to sea by thirty knot winds. I was already about a mile offshore, and a good mile and a half from Condesa.

I wrote recently in an article entitled Inflatable Nirvana that rowing is not one of these small boat’s strong points. I didn’t have oars anyway, not that it would make any difference against a thirty-knot headwind. You need a motor to make these boats move. Time for triage:

Plan A: Try with all due haste to get the engine running again. Yes, there was gas in the tank.
Plan B: Tie the dinghy’s bow line around my ankle and try towing it while paddling on the surfboard. No, I didn’t have any faith whatsoever in making any headway in this manner, but I figured I had to try it before jettisoning $2500 worth of dinghy, motor, and associated gear.
Plan C: Jettison $2500 worth of dinghy, motor, and associated gear, and paddle back to Condesa on the surfboard to save my life. This would have taken many hours, but I would have been able to make headway, even in the rough conditions. I would have let out all the anchor rode and left the anchor dragging to slow the drift with the outside chance that I’d be able to get someone with a fast boat to charge out to sea and try to find the dinghy, but it would drift pretty quickly.

Luckily plan A worked, but it wasn’t easy disassembling the motor while bucking around, all the while losing ground at 2-3 knots. The motor didn’t run well, but it ran if I kept choking it and restarting it when it died, all the while sounding like a dying cow.

I made it home, exhausted, having learned my lesson about long sea journeys in small boats.

As if that wasn’t enough adventure, the next day I was making my way along the road, back to check on Condesa, when I noticed some activity around her. I’d slept in a spare apartment that Larry the real estate shark had in town, since the conditions made it so rough to sleep on Condesa. After pushing through the trees to where I had a clear view, I could see that Condesa was the subject of a full-blown salvage operation. She’d dragged her anchor toward the rocks, and there were no less than four boats involved in towing her out and putting her on a spare mooring. I ran down the beach, unlocked my Windsurfer board from its tree, and paddled out as fast as my arms could take me. Disaster had already been averted, but I streamlined matters in getting the engine started, the anchor winch running, and generally turning Condesa into an active salvage victim, rather than a passive one.

I gave out whatever bottles of booze I had onboard, but I can’t really do enough to thank the guys who made this heroic effort to save, well, everything I am and everything I own. I’ve been on the giving end of many such operations, and also recieved many such bottles of booze and cases of beer. Such is the law of the sea.

I had 200 feet of chain out in twenty feet of water, so ten-to-one scope, and Condesa had been holding in strong winds in that same spot for days, but these Papagayos can be scary.

Smart Sharks

Clark February 27th, 2008

I’m in northern Costa Rica, sitting in my friend Larry’s real estate office. Since I’ve cruised this country before, I sailed up the whole coast in less than a week. I tried to check in at Quepos, but there’s no customs office there. They insist that it’s a port of entry, but that they just don’t have customs: Kind of like a restaurant that doesn’t have food. I ended up cruising for a week before finally checking in at El Coco, where it was the usual two day ordeal.

I’ve been fishing like a madman, trying to put some fresh food on the table. After getting much advice on the subject, I bought some new lures and switched back to my old rod and reel. I was using bombproof handlines made of clothesline and stainless cable, and having pretty good results over the years with little loss of tackle, but the locals say the fish here are more discerning.

Unfortunately one of the fish I hook most is the Jack Cravelle. As I learned clear back in the days of cruising with Brian Sherman, the Jack Cravelle is a great fighter and a game fish, but pretty much inedible. We tried to eat one once and it was like fish flavored cat food, brown and bloody. So I’ve been on the catch and release program for years with the hapless Jack Cravelle.

One day, motoring along southern Costa Rica, the reel exploded, I stopped the boat, and spent a good half hour fighting a fish. When I got it to the surface I could see that it was, unfortunately, a Jack Cravelle, and such a giant Jack Cravelle that I wouldn’t be able to pull up on deck with the leader to dislodge the hook. The other option was to gaff the fish, but that sort of takes the kindness out of the whole catch and release thing.

While I was wondering how to save my poor Jack Cravelle, I saw some movement beneath him. The water was crystal clear and I was wearing polarized sunglasses. I soon saw that the movement was three sharks, species unknown, who made very quick and surgical work of the Jack Cravelle. They made a coordinated attack of rapid strikes, leaving almost nothing of the fish, and scarcely a drop of blood in the water. The whole thing took less than two seconds, and this fish probably weighed thirty pounds. I always think of sharks getting frenzied and going for anything they can sink their teeth into, but these sharks bit in rapid sucession to avoid biting each other, and seemed to get in about two strikes each before the fish was gone.

I was thinking, oh great, now I’m going to have a big shark on my line to contend with. Nope, the sharks avoided the hook with such precision that I was left with just the poor fish’s mouth and the hook.

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I initiated a feeding frenzy in Chagos. I strapped a swim fin to a tuna carcass, thinking that a swim fin with a shark bite out of it would be a fun memento. The sharks consumed the tuna in its entirity, and never even scratched the fin.

Nice to know that when you’re being eaten by a shark they’ll probably leave your watch.

Clark with Tamarindo real estate shark, Larry McKinney

For My Mother

Clark February 20th, 2008

My poor mother has been worried sick at times about my gallivanting around the world in a small sailboat and getting run over by container ships. But now I can finally give her something to put her mind at ease. My mom is an artist. In fact, if you try to Google me on the web you’ll probably get to her, Sandy Clark Beek, artist, first. How fitting that with her being an artist I can convey my message with fine art. Amazing likeness, eh mom?

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