Currently chasing waves along the north coast of Panama, Captain Liz recounts a pre-turkey day Surfing Magazine photo shoot in Costa Rica, spreads the word about massive biodiesel super boats, and admits that she actually misses the surf-starved shores of Santa Barbara.
The boatload of boys and I awaited the swell’s arrival at Witch’s Rock (pictured below), enjoying small peeling a-frames and clear water. That night we feasted on the last of the dorado we’d caught, but soon afterwards I snuck away with a handful of chocolate and a pillow and roosted on the foredeck. Between the silhouette of the Rock and Orion overhead, I forgot about the pain in my ears from both the infection and the male-oriented conversations.
The next morning the swell came up and Dan Jenkins and I worked the inside rights for some photos. I’ve learned that the world behind surf photos isn’t always as glamorous as it appears on the shiny pages of magazines. There are so many elements that have to come together to make the photo good: the waves have to be on, then the sun and light need to be right, and there’s usually a crowd factor. Then I have to catch the wave and do something worth photographing without making a stupid face. The photographer has to have the camera on the right settings, have the person in focus, be in the right place, and push the shutter at the right moment.
I liked working with Dan, though; he was positive and encouraging and always trying to shoo away the surfers around us. It’s a big open beachbreak, but Seth and Jean-Luc seemed magnetically pulled towards the camera. While Seth stood tall in closeout lefts, secretly hoping for the camera to swing his way (in a belated attempt to launch his professional surfing career, I thought, hee-hee!), I was instructed only to go right due to the lighting.
As life keeps reminding me, it’s not always possible to control the moment. Once in a while, things turn out in your favor, but it’s just as often the other way around. On the second evening at Witch’s Rock, Dan and I went out for a session in an attempt to capture the twilight moment. It seemed like everything was falling into place: the waves were decent enough, no one was out, and the sunset, oh the sunset. It was heaven trickling down through the clouds, quite possibly the most beautiful end to a day I’d ever seen.
As I drooled over the deep reds and oranges, Dan reminded me that there was purpose behind this sunset. But, as nature would have it, the sunset demanded our full attention. As the minutes passed, I scrambled to catch anything that came my way. I mean anything. But nope, it wouldn’t let us have it. “Watch this sunset reverently”, the sky seemed to say. Frustrated by the lack of waves Dan, yelled from the inside, “Go! Catch anything!.Just stand up!”
As I scrambled for a shoulder or lump to paddle for, the setting sun laughed down at us. Although I realized our fate, I made a true effort to catch anything I could. It was impossible. It felt like the last 30 seconds of a heat, when I’d try with all my mind power to vibe a ridable wave into existence. So as the embers in the sky cooled to ashes, I laughed and sighed. It seemed to be a continuous paradox of photography: to be fully present in the moment or focused on capturing it with a camera. Sometimes life coughs up a moment only to be treasured by those present, and, like this one, stubbornly chooses not to be carried on into the future in the form of pixels or film strips.
All in all, the first all-boys trip on Swell went smoothly, ending the following afternoon with the two more blessings from nature: a perfect wind to carry us back to Tamarindo and a plump tuna that stuffed us with fresh sashimi. The days of October were flying by, and although Guanacaste had given us dry weather, little lightning, and plenty of sunshine, I had promised to meet a group of Patagonia’s finest female longboarders all the way at the other end of the country, 200 miles to the south at the tip of the Osa peninsula. Thus, despite having hardly recovered from both my ear infection and energy demands of the trip with the boys, it was time to get going.
We headed out the following afternoon on an overnight mission to melt some miles. The first 10 hours of the passage were smooth and satisfying. The current seemed to be with us, the wind was light but in our favor, and we had no collisions with logs or close encounters with large ships. That is until Seth woke me around 3 a.m. for my next watch.
Two dark lumps of clouds loomed ominously ahead to both port and starboard. The next thing I knew I was getting spanked by 20-knot headwinds and a sloppy five-foot chop. Swell‘s luck at Cabo Blanco had failed again. As I reefed and tacked and fought the winds into daylight, Seth somehow managed to stay asleep. Finally a wave washed over the bow and down the forward hatch. Not only did he get a rude and salty awakening, but the water drenched the bed, pillows, and half my wardrobe too. My sacred area always a clean, dry escape from the elements-had been defaced by the sea. The battle persisted into midday. I cursed the winds and kept my eye on our destination.
We tacked all the way up into Herradura bay, the closest place that offered shelter. Just before dark we pulled past the breakwall of the swanky Los Suenos Marina and tied up to the fuel dock. Neither of us had really eaten or slept, so as the man at the dock drizzled diesel into my tank, I staggered over to the marina office to inquire about slips.
As I approached the glass doors to the office my reflection stopped me. My hair was wind-whipped and had launched skyward, looking like backwash when it hits an incoming wave. My shirt was inside-out and crusted with salt and my trunks hung low and rumpled from my hips. The “marlin thumpers” and their groomed women stared and then looked past me like people tend to do when they see someone with a painful handicap.
I didn’t care. I was about to pass out. I pulled open the door and slid past my frightening reflection, greeting the lady behind the counter with my warmest, “Buenas tardes”. She saw the desperate look in my eye, but could do nothing to change the $140 per night slip fee. “And we’re going to have to come down and measure your boat to make sure it’s 40 feet,” she added.
“Thanks anyway,” I mumbled and pushed back out into the thick humidity. I snuck into the marina showers on my way back and stood, fully clothed under the fresh water before pulling Swell back out past the rows of spotless power yachts. As quickly as my 35-pound Bruce anchor hit the sand, I hit my soggy pillow.
The roll in the anchorage worsened progressively through the night. With the pile of wet clothes and bedding, the disaster in the cabin, and grime still lingering from the “boys trip,” we woke up and decided that a day at the dock was worth whatever the price. So for the second time, I swung open that glass door (this time avoiding eye contact with myself) and firmly requested a slip. Dan had planned to meet us here, and he appeared magically with his charge card and paid for the night at the dock so that we could spend the following morning at a nearby reef. Seth decided to catch a bus south to visit friends in Dominical for a few days while I took some time clean and repair Swell for the next southern haul.
I sprinted down the splinterless teak docks, re-energized by the thought of 24 free hours there. Immediately I sprung into cleaning, reorganizing, and repairing. By mid-morning the thick clouds parted and the sun threw its tropical heat onto the cushions, bedding, and pillows I had spread across “my” dock. By early afternoon, I had completely taken over. My laundry line was strung from pillar to pillar, my tunes floated up from the cockpit, and I dashed between bucket laundry, fixing my headsail, deep-cleaning the stove, and scrubbing Swell inside and out.
I nearly choked on a mouthful of tomato and cheese when a uniformed man knocked on the hull. I got it down, wiped the sweat from my eyes, and faced authority. He handed over a thick, stapled packet that read “LOS SUENOS MARINA, RULES AND REGULATIONS” in bold black print and motioned toward my colorful laundry line and the dock that looked like I was hosting a 5th grade slumber party. He requested, with a smile, that I remove the articles. I agreed to comply immediately, smugly knowing that they were almost dry anyway.
Just as my dock circus wound down, yet another commenced. A spaceship-turned-watercraft entered the marina and my spectacle was soon forgotten. Earthrace tied to the fuel dock across the way. The words “100% Biodeisel” caught my eye, but I was too busy to join in the gawking. My hours of daylight at the dock were dwindling. I then heard, “Liz!” from the deck of the sleek silver boat. We shouted back and forth and although we’d never met, the girl said that she worked aboard Santa Barbara harbor’s Sunset Kidd.
I launched the longboard and paddled over to meet Mary Childs, who gave me a tour of the Earthrace and explained that she was temporary crew, helping get the craft to Florida before it started on its race to be the fastest motorcraft to encircle the globe, without the use of fossil fuels! The idea was to promote the use of biodeisel and alternative energy sources.
I loved it! What a treat to behold this conglomeration of environmental ingenuity and design technology, and to meet its crew of earth-minded ambassadors, especially Mary. It was all too coincidental that on their one-night stop in Central America, I happened to be tied up less than 50 feet away. She was learning to sail with one of my favorite sailors, Captain Kyle, as crew on their sunset and whale-watching tours in Santa Barbara. I joined Mary and the crew of Earthrace for dinner that evening and relished in memories of my friends in the S.B. harbor with her. I miss that place so much!
Tune in next week as the Swell does it’s thing in and around the Osa Peninsula and three members of the Patagonia women’s surf team come aboard for some warm-water wave-sliding fun.