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Author's note: I'm writing this in a small lodge at the foot of Volcan Arenal [the Arenal Volcano] some sixty miles northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica. I have use of a typewriter with a Spanish keyboard, and even though we've reconfigured Word for US English, some of the keys refuse to yield the intended results. So, I'll do the best I can. Without the sidecar on this trip, I ran out of space to bring my laptop, and as I watched an American couple trying to get theirs through Costa Rican Customs, it's probably just as well. I'll post as I can.

May 2, 3 and 4, 2001
Costa Rica

Sitka, Alaska.  July 1990

Sailing through the bumps to good karma

The beginning of my Central American motorcycle adventure seems to parallel a sailing trip I took in southeast Alaska over ten years ago, so by way of introduction to Costa Rica, please bear with me as I share that story.

Although it is still early July in Sitka there is a chill in the air, common at these high latitudes even in summer. Pewter-gray clouds scud low across the sky and a light rain falls as Richard and I gather supplies for our thirty-day circumnavigation of Southeast Alaska. [Those of you who have read my Seattle - Prudhoe Bay journal will remember references to this trip.] We stash supplies in any and all available lockers and complete a walk-through with the owner of Mishka, a thirty foot Alban sloop. Everything appears in order and we are eager to depart.

As we push off in mid-afternoon then clear the bridge to Sitka's airport, the rain is picking up and the breeze pushes a light chop against our starboard beam. Our destination for the evening is Goddard Hot Springs, some twenty miles south on the wild, west coast of Baranof Island.

At the turn of the twentieth century Goddard was a resort of some prominence, but fell into disrepair as the rapid demise of the fish stocks pulverized the economy of Southeast Alaska in the 1920's and 1930's. The springs themselves and some run-down out buildings are all that remain. We will anchor out then "take the waters" after our row ashore.

Richard and I, friends of many years, are both experienced skippers, our skills honed on the deep, rough passages, and narrow, shallow cuts [very narrow passages] of Prince William Sound, where tides of twenty feet and steep, breaking waves of ten feet or more are not uncommon. In addition to Richard's 100-ton Coast Guard Captain's license, we easily have twenty-five years of boating experience between us.

As we motor along at about four knots [very slow, for you non-sailors, less than five miles per hour,] just thirty minutes from Sitka's harbor, we have one eye constantly on the chart and the other on the depth sounder. We converse about the proper way to navigate around an island dead-ahead, then choose the shallower, more protected route.

The loud, dull "thunk" and immediate shudder of the boat are unmistakable and we both know instantly that we’ve hit something. Richard scrambles below to check for water entering the bilge while I back off the power, complete a visual inspection of the water [looking for more rocks] and again consult both the chart and depth sounder, which shows lots of water below our keel. We are less than an hour into a thirty day trip and badly shaken.

Hitting a rock is perhaps a sailor's greatest fear as they can hole your boat or knock off your keel if hit at speed. Either can sink a boat and perhaps drown its occupants. We must have hit the top of a reef, either uncharted or unnoticed by us, or perhaps a deadhead [big logs so water-soaked they float beneath the surface, and are a great navigational hazard in areas like Southeast Alaska where logging is prevalent.] We breathe a sigh of relief that we are not taking on water, and although our nerves are much the worse for the experience, motor on safely to Goddard Hot Springs. As an aside, a diver subsequently notes that we have a baseball-sized chunk out of the keel, likely from hitting a rock.

After a soothing dip in the deserted hot springs we row the inflatable dinghy back to the boat for dinner. As I prepare the meal Richard lights the alcohol stove, the only cooking facility aboard Mishka. Alcohol stoves are notoriously cantankerous. Startled by the sudden whoosh of a small explosion, I turn to see the flames of rapidly burning alcohol working their way towards the roof of the galley. Only Richard's quick response with a fire extinguisher turns a potentially fatal accident into just a stomach churner. Less than eight hours into our trip we eat cold cuts in silence and ponder the next twenty-nine days.

The morning is cloudless with a light breeze off the Pacific when we awake to the challenges ahead. East across Goddard Bay the sun sprinkles diamonds on the light chop. The anchor pulled, we set a course for Port Alexander, some fifty miles down the exposed outside coast of Baranof Island. We have two more incidents of consequence on day two, one an equipment failure and one our own mistake. Two days into our trip we wonder aloud if we have jinxed ourselves, but our outlook improves as we work the bugs out of both the boat and our thought process. Our troubles behind us in the first two days, we go on to enjoy a scenic, fun-filled four weeks on Alaska's famed Inside Passage.