Costarican adventure/disaster

Guermillo Randall and me

Guermillo Randall and meThese are the brave men who came out in those rough seas to pick us up out of the water. Guermillo Santamaria and Randall Cordova



I usually don’t write about my life in this newsletter but I will make an exception this time. I know a lot of people know about this event and I can tell you all the details without having to repeat myself hundreds of times in person.  Not that I mind, but this way you know. Thank you all for your concern, Face Book was an important link to the outside world for me during the first few days when I was really freaked out, and your kind words and notes were of great consolation to me.

I rarely take a vacation, my “vacations” have been working at a Blues Festival where I had to stay overnight, where it is really too far to drive home at night. I guess you could say I am not really good at taking a vacation. I also think that the place where I live is the most beautiful spot in the whole world.
My sister in law, Susan, who is a co-owner of a youth hostel called Room2Board in Jaco, Costa Rica, was going down for two weeks to work and I asked if I could tag along on one of her trips to that small town on the Pacific coast. She took me on a whirlwind trip first to FL to pick up her father and the next day we all flew to Costa Rica. Susan being a seasoned traveler whisked us thru the airports, customs, everything. We were driven through the mountains to Jaco, the sun shining and all the world is green. Nice change from the frozen north.
We stayed at her brother’s spacious condominium just around the corner from the hostel. It had a beautiful pool and palm trees, scarlet macaws flying over and cute little birds, a very vocal yellow bird (“up high in banana tree”).  It was hotter than I expected although Susan tried to warn me.
As I said Susan was working much of the time, but we planned a couple of things to do while we were there. One was a pleasure cruise to the island of Tortoga (Turtle Island). I thought that sounded nice, I have taken the ferry to Nantucket and even went on the Cat to Nova Scotia, not to mention The Blues Cruise to the Caribbean, so I thought this sounded fun. Maybe we would see whales, certainly dolphins and we would go for the day to this little island.
Susan and I got up at 6:30am for the drive to the beach at Punta Leona. Donning our sunglasses we stood in line in the morning sun to confirm our       reservations and get our wrist bands (I still have mine). A lively gentleman came over to welcome us to the excursion. He said to head down to the beach. I followed a young girl and a her friends all decked out in skimpy swimwear and light cover ups, she had a wreath of sunflowers around her head and she seemed like a newly wed. I took off my sandals and carried them. We were instructed to go to the edge of the water and board one of the many small motor boats that would take us to the Pura Vida Princess, a very large catamaran that was anchored a little ways out in the bay. A handsome young Costa Rican man brought us over to the boat. We boarded with little trouble and were encouraged to go up the stairs to get a breakfast of scrambled eggs, rice and black beans and a piece of watermelon, blackberry juice, very nice. Just my kind of breakfast, about 7am.
The tour boat had two floors, they had music going sort of loud for that time of day. But with the Reggae tunes and the beautiful sun, blue sky and wind was intoxicating. The whole picture, the feeling of being there in the bright sun, with my face to the wind, cool and lovely. (I guess they were intending for some “intoxication” because they were already offering rum drinks, mojitos and a special mix to the partiers). A man near me handed his daughter a Dramamine™ and I asked politely if I could have one and he said “yes, take half now and half later today,” and I did just that.
There were lots of people, the upper deck was full, some seated others standing on the sides and front of the boat with their faces into the wind. I stood up front by the man who was steering and singing to the music and I said I love to sing too, he smiled and nodded, I believe he was the captain.
I talked to the woman next to me and she told me about a hotel where she had gone to have a drink and see the sunset the night before, on a cliff over looking the sea, it sounded very nice. She said her daughter hated everything they were doing and she showed me a picture of the hotel and her smile less daughter, oh yes, a teenager and she turned around and waved to her and said “she is still grumpy.”
We started to get tossed around a little by very big waves. But I figured that was normal for the big, wide mysterious ocean. The sun was shining and the air was cool, there were beautiful cliffs all around and “ahead of us, Turtle Island,” I thought. Because the sea was starting to look very rough. And I have this new hip, so I thought I’d err on the side of caution and go sit down and behave. Just as I sat down a huge spray of salt water hit everyone on the bow with some considerable force. I was so glad I wasn’t there for that, I am not a fan of salt water.
Suddenly I heard the woman in charge of the tour over the loud speaker “we are very sorry but the sea is too rough and we think it would be better if we turn around an go back. We will give you all tickets for tomorrow or next week when the weather is better. But now, we are going to have to turn back and for your safety, we are handing out life preservers and want you to put them on just in case. Everyone please move to the port side.”
May I say, at this juncture, I have NO affinity for the ocean. I do like the expanse of an ocean view from afar; but having had my feet deeply rooted in the rocky soil of New Hampshire for most of my life, I am a woodsy. I love trees, I love digging in the earth, I am a gardener and a dopey nature lover. I am afraid of the ocean and all it encompasses. Its magnificent depth, all the creatures that live in it, its power and timelessness.
I got my life preserver and put it on. The man next to me didn’t have his done up right so I helped him secure it the boat was listing heavily to the starboard side. I finally clicked his life preserver closed when everybody started screaming “We are going over!”
I think the man was holding onto the table in front of me because it broke off its hinges as he plunged down the deck, its thick metal hinges attached to the deck were bent up and broken out of the floor. I got caught under it for a moment but then I used it to push up against because everything was shooting down the deck into the water. I was holding onto the side railing when I saw the bow go down into the water to the starboard side and plunge into the waves which were coming from everywhere (turns out we were in a channel). I looked over my shoulder and the girl next to me was climbing out on the side of the boat, hiking out, but it was too late. The next thing I knew, the water was coming up the starboard side and hit me! I was trying to crawl up over the side as it was going down but I got caught under the metal pipe holding up the awning that covered the top of the deck, and the awning dragged me down under the water. I said to myself “OMG I am going to die here!” but I got hit by another wave coming up the deck from the starboard side as we went down and I used its force to pull myself out from under the awning. It scraped my head hard and took off my hat. As I struggled to get my head out from under the awning, I opened my eyes up under the water and swam to what I thought was up, toward the sun, when my head came up out of the water I gasped and looked around “I am not going to die, not today!” I never saw the catamaran again, it went down into the deep ocean.
I was so out of my element, I really don’t even swim that well. I treaded water for a short time gasping, spitting out the salt water. It wasn’t long before I bumped up against a little “life raft.” It was a Styrofoam rectangle covered in vinyl and wrapped with nylon rope woven across the middle creating a sort of floating hammock I moved some rubble from the boat and crawled up onto it. PHEW there was no way I was going to tread water in those heavy waves. There was already a little blonde boy in the “raft.” He looked at me with a terrified look on his wet face. There was a woman in the water frantically screaming for “SEAN where is my son, SEAN SEAN!” The little boy was right next to me and was very upset so I tried to calm him down.  I told him to take a deep breath and let it out slowly… yoga… that was what I came up with.    I asked him his name, Lucas. We both tried to take a deep breath and blow it out slowly.
Someone found Sean and swam him over with great difficulty through the people and rafts and debris. They shoved him up onto our little life raft, Lucas was very happy to see his friend. I held tight to them.
His mother stayed in the water. Lucas and Sean were very afraid and asked a ton of questions like how long will we be in the water and when would someone rescue us. Sean’s mother got it in her head to do something, maybe to help someone and she let go of our raft and headed out to the right and in 30 seconds she was 500 feet away!  The waves were huge and going in every direction, not just one direction like you see on the shore. Sean thought his mother was in big trouble started screaming for her, he wanted to jump out and swim to save her. I couldn’t let him go, all I could do was reassure him that if he stayed with us she would find him. “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly, try to relax a little.”
I didn’t want to try to answer the boys questions, but frankly I was wondering how we were going to get up out of that water, it was sooooo wild HUGE waves with hard wind, white caps and everything! I mean HUGE, rolling, big, gigantic looking waves. We would all hold on when a big one came at us, we held tight to each other. It was so scarey, all sorts of debris was floating in the water, shoes, hats, food coolers, shards of broken planks, bags and believe it or not the tip box, made of wood kept plaguing us. I said to myself, “I am NOT putting a tip in there.”
Then a girl screamed “there’s a man in the water over there!” and twenty feet in front of us I saw a man floating face down in the water his hair was waving like sea weed above his head. Both of the boys saw him. I knew he was dead. We had been out there for at least a half an hour by that time and he had no life preserver on, or his face would have been up not down. It was very sad to see.  I had never seen a dead body like this before, except on TV and I hoped that they could revive him, but all their efforts were in vain. I will never forget that scene. I felt for him and his friends or family that were on this pleasure cruise which should have been a lovely day on Elvis Presley’s birthday.
Two of the crew swam through all the rubble over to him and tried to wake him. They did get him propped up on something, maybe rubble, maybe a raft. The woman who was in charge, was trying to do mouth to mouth and compressions on him, in the water. They did the same with the woman, she never regained consciousness either, not for lack of trying, they really worked hard on them.
I tried to distract the kids and talk about the ship that we could see in the distance. It took another half an hour before the freighter, a large cargo ship in the water some ways away, could turn around and come back to us. They let down a one hundred foot rope ladder with wooden slats and people were swimming to it. Lucas said “I want to go on that boat.” and I thought about his precarious climb and the long swim to get there and said “I don’t think that is a good idea, let’s wait and see if someone else comes for us before we try to do that.” “Do you think they will send helicopters for us?” Lucas asked and I said. “they might.” Not much consolation. I believed that someone would come for us, I just had to believe.

There were 100 people on the boat and we were scattered all over the ocean, in small groups, bobbing up and down, we tried to keep together, a lot of debris was floating around, I did manage get to keep my Birkenstocks on my feet, I was in luck, a lot of people lost their shoes and got blisters from walking on the marina walkways later on.

CR raft pic 2

My sister in law, Susan found an underwater disposable camera floating in the water and she grabbed it and took picture of the people in her group, these are two of those pictures.


CR raft pic 5





About an hour passed, I had answered many questions and we had taken many deep breaths and blown them out slowly by the time we saw a small sport fishing boat, lurching and bobbing in the churning sea. They circled our group and tried to position themselves to pick us up.  The first thing I thought was “so we get up into that boat and what is going to keep it from capsizing?” What do I know? It looked impossible to get into it.

I NEVER thought we’d get onto that boat in the rough seas but these men stuck with us and threw a life preserver with a rope on it, time and time again. The heavy wind blew it back on them instead of towards us. A man in the water next to our raft finally caught it and tied it to our raft. I looked up and their boat was lurching back and forth up and down and it seemed it was 20 feet above us. The ocean was full of debris and I was thinking about that stuff getting caught in the propellers, I had no idea how they were going to get up up into that boat. I was so scared to go but after the man secured it to our raft, Lucas said “I am going to that boat,” and off he went pulling himself across the 40 feet of rope to the fishing boat. And then Sean went across, the lady in front of me needed help getting out of the raft she said “push me!” so I did and blurp she popped out into the water and pulled herself across to the boat.  (People really adhere to that “women and children first” it was amazing how the men waited).
Then it was my turn, I took another deep breath and trusted those gorgeous Costa Rica fishermen who looked like angels up there in the blue sky above me. I was so frightened to go, but I slipped out of the raft, grabbed the rope and pulled myself over to their boat.  I was having trepidations thinking about the propellers so I went to the port side and they called to me “Give me your hand” I let go of that strong rope and two of them grabbed me and pulled me up onto their boat which was rolling like a roller coaster. I can’t say how happy I was to feel the floor of that deck. They said “move to the front, move to the front.” They had more people coming aboard. They picked all of seventeen in our group.
There in the cabin were Lucas and Sean, and the little lady who I helped push out. I was lucky, again, to get a seat next to a lady who had been behind me in the raft, she had her eyes closed and I asked her if she was alright. “No, my best friend died out there and I don’t know what I am going to do.” I was so sad for her and tried to console her, she had known her best friend for 30 years! Tragic.
They picked up all of us in our group, where they usually have 5 on the boat at a time for fishing. The Captain went full bore back to the marina. It was a rough ride back to the quiet cove where we started out. I swallowed a bunch of salt water trying to get out of the catamaran when it was going down and the fishermen gave us bottled water out of their fridge on the fishing boat, generous and heroic I have to say. I can’t tell you how good it tasted. I let it stream down my chin and tried to wash off some of the salt water. It took 20 minutes to get back to the marina, as we were 9 miles out in the ocean! The ride was incredibly rough as the boat bashed its way through the heavy waves. Two young women who were standing up in the cabin got knocked to the floor at one point and stayed there. Lucas had some bloody scrapes on his feet and the girls near him put some paper towels around his foot. The man who had been in the water next to me had a deep cut on his arm. I noted a number of scrapes and dark spots where bruises were forming on my legs and arms and my elbow was scraped pretty bad, but I think the salt water kept them from bleeding too badly.
As I disembarked, on wobbly legs, they helped me again to stand up on the pier. I kissed the Captain and turned to thank his mate and he turned a cheek for me to kiss and I kissed him too, they tasted salty. I made my way to a picnic table under an awning in the shade, sat down and cried.
The Captain of the boat that rescued us, Guermillo SantaMaria, came and found me  after a while, I got his name and email address which is burned into my mind forever. Affectionately called Captain Memo, he and Randall Cordova of the “Straight Up With A Twist,” their 31 foot, 1971 Bertram inboard motorboat were my angels.
It is not clear whether the Pura Vida Princess got off a distress call before it went under.  If it weren’t for that huge freighter sending out the GPS coordinates of the capsizing, the fisherman in the marina, doing maintenance on their boats would not have known that we were out there in the water.  No one else could have seen the it. We were 9 miles from land. They heard the GPS may day signal from the freighter and took off to help us.  Their sister boat, the “Straight Up,” picked up Susan and her group who were, quite a distance from us. I was so happy to get a chance to meet Guermillo and Randall and thank them, buy them lunch and a beer and give them a gift for fuel and their kindness when they came to Room2Board at my email request. They were gracious, modest and sincerely interested in our welfare. It gives me a new perspective on the kindness and bravery of the people of this world. I am truly thankful, it brings a tear to my eye as I write this. No one has ever done such a courageous thing for me. I will never forget them. Ever.

I have to wonder if the crabby teenager will EVER forgive her mother for bringing her on this trip I can hear it now “I could have gotten KILLED on that stupid catamaran, thanks!”

Here’s a news report from Reuters:
SAN JOSE — Three people died after a tourist catamaran carrying around 100 passengers sank off Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast on Thursday morning, the government said.
The catamaran sank off the Punta Leona beach resort after emitting a distress signal, public security ministry spokesman Jesus Urena said. The cause of the accident was not yet known. Costa Rica has been experiencing exceptionally strong winds this week. Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacon identified the dead as a 68-year-old woman from the United States, a Canadian woman aged 70 and an 80-year-old British man. Four passengers who had been missing were found and the other 106 people on the boat, including the crew of 10, all survived and were in good health, Chacon added.



'Costarican adventure/disaster' have 1 comment

  1. March 4, 2015 @ 3:07 pm The Blues Audience / Ex-President’s File- Blues News

    […] start off by being thankful that this issue is printed, after our brave Ms. Editor-Publisher survived a harrowing sea disaster in January. Seriously, Diana could have been killed (three other people were killed) and I am so […]

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