The Delightful Port Captain I Encountered In Golfito, Costa Rica

Latitude 38 Editorial Department
15 Locust Avenue,
Mill Valley, California

Rev David Rice
Captain (rated), Continuum Pleasure

February 8, 1998 CE

Since September I have been crewing (rated Captain, Master, Navigator, Quarter-master, Mate, and Toilet Swabber) on a boat delivery from Seattle to Miami, via the Panama Canal. (Weíve been farting around all the way, so weíre still not done, and itís been six months--- sheeish.) Anyhow, I thought Iíd mention the delightful Port Captain I encountered in Golfito, Costa Rica.

We wished to exit Costa Rica at first light on Saturday, so I went to the Port Captain on Friday after-noon, around 2:40 PM and begged for permission to leave. Now, along the way I had been warned by the woman at Customs, the man at Immigration, the marina owner, and a guy named Peter (whom I hired to drive me around town) that the Port Captain could be "difficult, greedy, and simmering with hate and malice." Hummm. Sounds like the perfect ex-wife. Anyhow, Iím not such a babe-in-the-woods kind of guy, so I thought I could handle him. When I presented my papers, he did his best to stall me.

It being late Friday, he wanted to put me off until Saturday so that I would have to pay for his over-time. He tried to stall me for over an hour, sending me on errands--- redoing the Immigration crew list, getting a "better" (i.e. readable) Customs stamp, photocopies of everything. It was duplicating work, but I had to humor him. It was fifteen minutes to closing time (3:45 PM) when I came back, and the Port Captain was very annoyed with me that I arrived in time.

We then did the paper-work shuffle that one goes through when entering and leaving. He insisted on looking at every paper I had, studying them, pushing them around on the desk like a find-the-pea-under-the-cup game. It was such a mess, I didnít notice him taking the crew list and not returning it!

I gathered up all my papers (I thought) and left. Fortunately, the missing paper was immediately noticed missing by the boatís owner when I met him outside. The entire crew stomped back up-stairs and asked for the crew list back--- we could not have entered Panama without it! The Port Captain handed it to the boatís owner, who turned to leave. I said "Wait a minute. Is the list signed and stamped?" It wasnít! The Port Captain was quite happy to have us leave, get to Balboa, discover the mistake, and have us come back to Golfito for the stamp!

With much grumbling, but only a little outward malice (we now outnumbered him), the Port Captain signed and stamped the crew list.

When I mentioned this to the marina owner, he told me the Port Captain had done this before! It seems that this Port Captain is being replaced in a few months, and heís unhappy about losing the job.

I realize that if disaster had fallen (i.e. we ship out to Panama without the crew list), it would have been entirely my fault--- it was my responsibility to get the paperwork done, and I should have been paying attention. I would not have blamed my crew for hanging me from the bowsprit by my toes, head under water, for such a mistake on my part.

I have some recommendations for other cruisers.

1) When entering at Playa del Coco, I was told that I only needed to give to Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain there a photocopy of my passport, since I was the captain. But when leaving, we needed copies of every passport. I suggest that cruisers make 20 or 30 copies of every passport before they go cruising. By the way, the Port Captain, Customs, and Immigration officers in Playa del Coco were THE most polite, professional, and friendly officials I had meet since leaving Seattle.

2) Do not try to leave Mexico or Costa Rica when it is late on Friday. In Cabo San Lucas we wished to leave Friday evening, but the Port Captain refused to do any work after 1:00 PM--- a woman waiting in line there (who does entry and exit work for cruisers for a living) went behind his desk, got his stamp, and stamped half a dozen boats out herself!

3) The Customs office at Gulfito has been moved to the "Free Trade Zone," five kilometers up the road. The Port Captain and Immigration is in the same two-story building, on the top floor. Do Immigration first, then Customs, then Port Captain. If I were to do it over again, Iíd enter and leave Costa Rica at Playa del Coco, and skip Gulfito.

4) Donít leave your boat unattended at Balboa, Panama. We all went ashore at noon, and came back an hour later and found the 75 pound CQR gone. The shackles had been moused and the anchor had been seized to the windlass, but that didnít slow down the thief.

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