Ahhhh, Puntarenas, the lovely city by the sea. It’s tucked midway up the armpit of Costa Rica’s Gulf of Nicoya, and ironically it has a lot in common with an armpit—there’s usually a pungent aroma around and it’s always sweaty and hot. It sits on a spit of land that juts west into the Gulf—a river on one side and the Gulf on the other. At some points the spit is barely 50 yards wide. The Costa Rica Yacht Club lies up the river about 3 miles. The restaurant and facilities are one side of the river and the boatyard is on the other. In between float a variety of moorings and detached docks. The town itself has a rough edge—more like 60 grit than 120. It’s a bustling conglomeration of ‘ferreterias’ (hardware stores), street vendors, seafood wholesalers, and an odd amount of both shoe stores and local bars. The only reason tourists come here is for the ferry that shuttles cars to and from the Nicoya Peninsula. I know my way around town now. I have a favorite hardware store and a favorite lunch stop. Other than not being able to swim off my boat (the river is horribly polluted) and the bus drivers that often blatantly refuse to stop and pick me up, this place has actually grown on me. It’s not the paradise people think of when they picture Costa Rica, but there’s something raw I like about it. I watch the fishermen go in and out on the river in all sorts of strangely concocted vessels. The same people work at the marina everyday. All except for one sour receptionist and the manager (or principal), Carlos Chinchilla, I love everyone here. None-the-less, I’ve had my ups and downs here over the last month…
“Dad?” I strained to hold back tears. His voice alone made me feel better. “I’m doing alright,” I lied.
“I’m coming down,” he said.
“What?” I couldn’t have heard him correctly.
“I’ll be there Wednesday night,” he repeated firmly. “I already booked my ticket.”
With those words relief hit me like a wall of white-water on a poorly timed duck dive. I was overwhelmed with projects. At the rate I was going I’d soon have to apply for residency. The thought that my dad would arrive in a few days revived me and I hit the boatyard with full force again the next morning.
He showed up late on August 30th after driving to three West Marines in Georgia and enduring an extra hour of dead-stopped traffic on the long taxi ride from the airport. When he walked through the door of the hotel room I leapt into his arms with joy and relief that he’d made it safely. For the next six days we worked like dogs. The combination of our personalities produces an efficient, yet quality product—he leaps into projects with speed and confidence, while I more cautiously calculate and fuss about details. We scribed and taped the new waterline, painted the first turquoise stripe, then a blue stripe, and then rolled two thick coats of bottom paint on her underside. We came up with a more than sufficient temporary solution to the icebox insulation and managed to fix the copper lightning plate to the hull. The work was grueling, dirty, and hot. He never complained. Even when both our shirts were soaked through with sweat and the no-see-ums were swarming, he’d beam me a grin from his paint-stained face. We’d return to our hotel room each afternoon looking like two rescued coal miners.
He was totally content at the Costa Rica Yacht Club, although I felt guilty that Puntarenas was all he’d see of Costa Rica. It was more time than we had spent together in as long as I can remember—precious time that we never seemed to find back in the States. He told me stories of his childhood and we shared thoughts on the world, on love, life, and the state of the world. As we watched Swell descend into the water on the day before he left, I felt we’d accomplished as much on the boat as we had in our relationship. If it wasn’t for him I’d probably still be sitting under Swell in the boatyard contemplating whether or not to drill that hole for the lightning plate. I cried the morning he left, but they were happy tears. It was a week I’d remember forever. Thank you, Dad!
With Swell floating again, there was no reason not to move back aboard. By the mess strewn about the cabin it looked like I’d just survived a hurricane, but I was eager to sleep in my cozy berth up forward, so I ignored the explosion of gear and focused on clearing an area to sleep. I hauled my board bag and the sails out and the cushions in. As I WWF-ed the awkward foam into place, I saw a flurry of ants run up the bulkhead wall. There were too many to ignore, so I yanked the cushions back out again and crawled up to investigate. An uneasy feeling came over me as I stuck my finger in the hole to lift the hatch of the storage area below the berth. The moment I did, ants of all sizes rushed out in a terrified dash around me and the cabin. Along with them came the fierce odor of rotten food, like the smell from a dumpster behind a restaurant. The ants and the odor closed in around me and I rose up on all fours like a frightened cat. Water had leaked into the lockers and rusted out the cans of emergency food stored there. The ants had discovered the feast and thrown a raging ant party. After digesting the idea that I would be back in the hotel that night, I donned some latex gloves and went to work removing the contents of the lockers. I held my breath while pulling out can after rusty can of soup, beans, peaches, corn, tuna, and peas and tossed their decaying, half-eaten contents into a trash bag. After multiple systematic loads of removal, I scrubbed out the lockers with bleach and comet and left the area to air out for the night.