Sailing with a deadline is never fun. No matter how lenient the deadline seems at the time you set it, it hangs over you like a Damocles sword often forcing you into decisions you otherwise wouldn’t make. But when the deadline is for something you look forward to with great zeal it can make these decisions palatable and even welcome. Such was the case when both my family and Ryan’s mother decided to meet us in Costa Rica on June 3. They booked their plane flights and hotel rooms months in advance, and at the time it looked like it would be perfect—Ryan and I would be in Costa Rica by mid-May and have a couple weeks to explore the Guanacaste region by boat before they arrived. But as we traveled through Central America we added stops at Punta Ampala and Marina Puesta del Sol where surf detained us longer than anticipated, and after a handful of days in San Juan del Sur we were suddenly in a rush to get to Playa del Coco and get checked in to Costa Rica before our families arrived. There were still a handful of anchorages between here and there and two famous surf spots, but with just a handful of days till our families arrival I cut our stops down to two—Bahia Santa Elena and Bahia Portrero Grande.
We left San Juan del Sur with the usual Papagayo winds sweeping off the land in excess of twenty knots and used the motor only to weigh anchor and charge the batteries. From there it was a fantastic day of sailing under clear skies with calm seas out Cabo Santa Elena to the isolated, calm waters of Bahia Santa Elena. We entered the quiet waters of the secluded bay at noon, nudged in close to the east shore of the bay, and dropped anchor beside Bob’s sloop in twenty-five feet of murky water.
Bahia Santa Elena is one of the quietest, calmest anchorages I’ve seen. Virtually land-locked, no hint of swell is able to creep into the bay, and the only motion inside is caused by the gusts of wind that shoot down the sides of the steep hills now and again. The bottom holds an anchor well, and rest is easy to come by. The steep hillsides surrounding the bay are full of wild brush, and there’s a constant chorus of birds and insects drifting out into the bay. At night the stars come out in all their glory with nary a light for twenty miles to disrupt their glow.
Despite the murky water in the bay Ryan and I passed the afternoon snorkeling out to the entrance of the bay where we emerged on a rocky beach. The rocks were hot underfoot from the afternoon sun, but beautiful shells were scattered among the rocks and we walked the length of the beach to where a tall cliff thwarted the way. Curious of what lay beyond, I blazed a trail up the cliff and was rewarded with a spectacular view east to an open bay with a gorgeous beach at its base. The bay had crystal clear water perfect for snorkeling, but the beach was another mile swim distant, so when I descended my perch we swam back around the point to Avventura.
A dinner of tacos and fresh, homemade salsa chased down with a pair of rum and cokes greeted the first of the stars, and I sat in the cockpit transfixed by the multitude of nameless dots of light filling the sky. I found sleep hard to come by despite the placid anchorage, and thus found myself lying in the cockpit for many an hour watching the stars slowly shift in the heavens and slip away beneath the hills to the west.
Dawn came quickly to the secluded anchorage, and by before the clock struck six Avventura was out of the bay and heading for the tip of Cabo Santa Elena. A pod of dolphins greeted us as we entered open waters and danced beneath our bow for a moment before continuing on their way. The rugged coastline slipped slowly past, and before long we hooked a dorado for dinner. After a couple hours we came to the Islas Murcielagos and, having been through them before on a previous voyage, I decided to take the short-cut once more. With the mainsail reefed and the motor still running due to our ever-changing course, the desolate islands slipped by and we emerged once more to open waters. The route I had drawn for us on my computerized chart passed close by an unnamed black dot. I wasn’t sure what the dot meant till I looked up and saw the massive hulk of Isla Piedra Negra staring me in the face. Once again the danger of relying too heavily on electronics was hammered home, and I altered course accordingly, rounded the island, and aimed for Bahia Portrero Grande.
Steep hillsides mark the entrances to the wide open bay of Bahia Portrero Grande and dense green forest fills her base, standing guard behind a long swath of brown sand. The rugged length of Cabo Santa Elena forms her northern boundary and the entire bay falls within a massive wildlife preserve. If it weren’t for the perfect waves breaking off the north point of the bay few people would ever visit it; but since The Endless Summer II made Ollie’s Point a household name pangas bring tourists out to the isolated bay on a daily basis.
Ryan and I dropped anchor in the southeast corner of the bay as close to the beach as we dared venture, devoured a quick breakfast, filled a backpack with water and snacks, grabbed our surfboards, and paddled into the beach. Emerging through a heavy shorebreak, we walked the length of the pristine beach, my heart skipping a beat as I imagined the perfection of the waves to come. By the time we arrived at Ollie’s Point there were four pangas and fifteen surfers out; but the head-high-plus surf made the crowd worth it. I paddled out and thrilled in the beauty of the scene. The sets rolled through consistently and as the day wore on the crowd thinned out. After three hours of surfing I was growing tired, but the last of the pangas left and I had the place to myself. Ryan had long since returned to the boat, and I surfed for another hour without a soul in sight. Wave after perfect wave I devoured, knowing such perfection is a rarity in this crowded world of ours. Only the setting sun could chase me from the water, and with it I made the long trek back down the beach and paddled back out to the lone light in the bay—Avventura.
Perhaps it was the anticipation of more perfect waves to come or the excitement at the pending arrival of my parents, or perhaps it was simply the pair of rum and cokes, but sleep was again hard to come by that night. I awoke before the sun and made the journey back down to Ollie’s Point. On the beach I came across the tracks of a big cat, possibly a jaguar, but there were no animals in sight. Nevertheless my pace quickened and I was relieved to paddle out at Ollie’s Point once more. For the next two hours I savored the beautiful waves by myself. The swell had picked up and it as in the six-foot range as I caught wave after perfect wave. As I later recorded in my journal, I “got the best backside tube of my life for the second straight day.” Of course there was nobody around to see it; but what did that matter? Surfing is a personal act anyways, and I thrilled at the fact that some of my best waves had come when there was nobody around to see them.
The first panga entered the bay a little before eight o’clock so I paddled ashore, ran the length of the beach, returned to Avventura, woke Ryan, and prepared to weigh anchor. I knew if I stayed any longer I may never leave, and in just a couple days my parents would be arriving. Thus, by nine thirty the engine was chugging Avventura out of Bahia Portrero Grande. The forest lurked behind the beach wild and free, and cliffs plunged into the sides of the bay. It was a gorgeous anchorage and a surfer’s paradise. My first visit to Bahia Portrero Grande left me wanting more; and for the moment I could only imagine what fun could be had at Ollie’s Point on a good swell.…
On our way to Playa del Coco we passed by Witches Rock to take a look at the anchorage and the surf, but a handful of pangas deterred us from stopping. By the early afternoon we nestled into the anchorage off Playa del Coco, dropped the hook, and settled in for a long stretch of relative immobility as we awaited the arrival of our families.