Still plagued by bad ears and the mystery illness living in them, Captain Liz recounts a classic crossing from Costa Rica in early November complete with wicked seas, wild winds, heaps of vomit, and perfect waves at the end of the road. With antibiotics currently working their magic, Liz hopes to be back underway within a week or so — she just needs her ears to dry out first. So until then, here is a vintage vignette about life on the high seas.
I jumped out of bed the instant that night’s blackness faded into gray to assess the sky. It didn’t look good, but I swallowed my fear, weighed anchor, and pointed Swell‘s bow to sea. For the first time in our 3,500 miles together, Swell and I were underway alone. Although I knew I could do everything by myself, the solitude rattled my nerves.
So to add purpose to the passage, I decided to verbally dedicate it to my mother, who’d overcome her own fears of the sea on our many family voyages. “This one’s for you mom!” I yelled out into the crisp morning wind and gray skies. I felt her love and encouragement smooth my anxiety. As the day went on, I grew more and more content to be alone. I did whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to explain anything to anyone or fret over his or her contentment.
The weather grew progressively worse throughout the day, but I stayed positive and went about scrubbing both the decks and myself in the relentless rainfall. I sailed into Quepos that afternoon under double reefs and clean decks and paddled over to the left that broke off the rivermouth for a solo celebration, thanking my mom for helping me through that day.
After another half-day alone in the rain, I made my way around the reef at Dominicalito. I had stayed in touch with Seth via email and he and a friend were on their way to meet me. An hour after dropping anchor, I heard the rev of an outboard and popped up to see a panga full of guys staring up at me. He’d brought an extra friend, which wasn’t a big deal, but I didn’t know either of them and thought it could be risky to bring them aboard without even a short personality assessment.
“I figured they could help with the watches and we’d all get more rest,” Seth assured me. I had my doubts, but I was never one to shy from adventure; plus, we were in a race to be at Costa Rica’s longest left for the approaching swell. So we piled boards and bodies aboard for the 17-hour run south.
Twenty minutes later I was back at sea. The horizon ahead looked threatening but with three strong surfers aboard, I figured I’d have plenty of help if the weather posed any problems. It had been deceptively calm in Dominicalito’s protected bay, though, and it wasn’t long before the serenity deteriorated into another upwind battle.
Rain dumped from above as we munched on Seth’s gourmet tuna sandwiches. Soon after, my crew started to fall apart. There was room for one or two to stay relatively dry below my poorly designed awning, but with four aboard someone was going to get wet. Seth snuck below and burrowed into the dry settee. Mono Gato, one of Costa Rica’s top surfers, found comfort standing with a firm grip on the binnacle’s u-rail. Thus, Ken Mucha, another great surfer and rat race dodger, was too debilitated by seasickness to move and stayed prone in an exposed area of the cockpit.
As night fell, the seas and rain persisted. On every roll to port a pocket of cold rainwater that collected atop the awning cascaded down upon Mucha. He never once moved or complained, but I winced for him with each dousing. Gato stood wide-eyed at the wheel for hours. Suddenly Seth bolted out the cabin and hung himself over the rail, freeing his tuna sandwich back to the sea. Mucha uttered a sound of delight seeing that Seth had joined the ranks of the lunch-losers.
After his expulsion, Seth let out a “yeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!’” He always managed to lighten a heavy situation. As for me, I tried but couldn’t stop smirking. I was wet and uncomfortable too, but it was unexpectedly comical to watch totally capable men crumble around me at the hands of the sea.
I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep if we continued on through the night, so I went below to assess the options for anchoring somewhere nearby. Despite the moonless night, Bahia Drake was only seven miles away with a wide, sandy entrance. Although I didn’t like to enter a foreign anchorage in the dark, I decided that continuing on through the night with a miserable crew and a tired captain could be just as dangerous.
Once we made it into the bay and found relief from the heavy seas and rain, we sipped ginger tea and laughed about the events of the afternoon. I literally giggled myself to sleep at the images of the humility-ridden, seasick boys with Mucha’s description ringing along with them. After hardly a word for six hours, he had risen, soaking wet from the cockpit and declared, “I’m blown up. It felt like I was lying in the bottom of a cold shower.” Despite the amusement, I forced myself to rest knowing that I’d have to get us going before dawn in order to make our next anchorage in daylight.
I crawled quietly out of bed just after 4 a.m. and tip-toed over the bodies sprawled about the cabin. I poked my head into the fresh darkness-light rain, but no wind. The morning stillness lasted a few hours but it wasn’t long before Gato was back at the binnacle.
Frustrated with mother nature, I pulled on my foul weather gear for another rough day. I was feeling pretty guilty; I had known the weather was going to be bad but had decided to force the mission anyway-for the swell and for my schedule. Whenever I tried to rush, the ocean reminded me that it doesn’t like its travelers to be in a hurry.
While Seth and Mucha wisely remained asleep, Gato kept me company topside. He eased his grip on the binnacle only to heave once over the rail. Just after losing what little was in his stomach, a pod of dolphins surfaced around us. With a gleam in his eye he looked up and said with excitement, “Dolphins!” Seeing his smile slightly eased my guilt. Just as I had conceded to the idea of an all-day rollercoaster ride, the wind died and switched. I watched life trickle back into my crew as we spotted four- to six-foot perfect lefts peeling down the point. We anchored and instantly entered the line-up.
The memory of those wretched 24 hours faded with each long left we rode over the next few days. We’d pressed the trip, but made it for the best day of the swell. As I leapt between the round black rocks and dark sand on a lap up the point, I decided it was much more satisfying to experience waves in the latter part of their existence—just before they reach the shore and not during their time of creation out at sea. But such is the life of a surfer using sea transportation-you can’t have one without the other.
We’re not entirely sure when the next installment will come from Captain Liz, because she’s currently getting her ears worked on. They’ve got some funky fungus growing inside, and she needs to dry them out. Until then, make sure to catch up on Captain Liz’s adventures by clicking here.