Monday, October 6, 2014

The Season Begins Anew

As I write this we are still in Vancouver, Washington putting together the final items on our list for going south again.  We have the house sitter lined up and the motorhome will be getting the oil changed in the coming week.  When I think about all the “stuff” completed last year it makes me think that this year we will actually be making it at least as far as La Cruz de Huanacaxtlé.  At least, I think we stand a pretty good chance of it.

What Faith looked like before she left Portland
What Faith looks like now.

Last season we added the new auto pilot, a new fresh water driven toilet in the forward head, a new water heater, the new arch with two more solar panels and a wind generator, a new seat cushion in the cockpit, a variety of small improvements and the use of our XM radio, along with other smaller adaptations.  This year we are replacing the aft toilet, fresh portlights and gaskets, installing the new controllers for the solar panels and wind generator, have new mounting attachments for the grill, a new antenna for the XM radio, a new (to us) 55# anchor, new hallway carpeting (yes, I know, long story to follow) and generally bringing the boat up to cruising snuff (I picked up a new LED bulb for the anchor light).  We are taking down several LED lights to experiment with for the cockpit and salon.  There are things that will be put off for a bit too but we likely will need a fresh coat of bottom paint and, hmmm, probably a few things that I cannot foresee at the moment.  We picked up a new handheld VHF radio too and we may be able to have the old one repaired when we get to Guaymas.  I have also been toting around a type of radio/internet connection for the past 6 years that I might get around to installing this year.

Arch in process at the welder's shop
At haul out May 2014

Where am I going with all this?  To point out that cruising is about constant work… even when you are not, strictly speaking, working on the boat you are thinking about working on the boat.  Even though our list is shorter this year it still involves doing a number of things. 

Last season, at the tail end, we had an incident that forced us to have work at that time too.  We had replaced the motor mounts and a carrier bearing for the propeller shaft (oh, didn’t I mention that before?) and it led to a problem on the last day.  When we sailed into San Carlos we had anchored, finally, in a bay just outside the marina entrance (long story over on Sandy’s blog about that) and backed down on the anchor as we always do to set it.  In the morning we got set to leave and take our slip in the marina in preparation for hauling out.  As I raised the anchor Sandy put the boat into gear and raised the throttle on the motor fully expecting to go somewhere.  Hmmm, no sign of water churning in our wake.  Hmmm, no going forward.  Hmmm, put the anchor down and go investigate.

It turned out that the propeller shaft was not connected to the transmission.  There are two bolts that, combined with a cotter key, that hold all that together but they were no longer functioning.  I found the key, fortunately, directly under the transmission coupler and reinserted it.  There wasn’t much I could about the bolts but, I reasoned, if we only went forward the shaft would stay attached and we could limp into the slip.  Cautiously and slowly we did just that and on hauling out had the plan of redoing the attachment before putting the boat away for the summer.  Yes, it worked fine but thankfully that had not happened during any of our much longer passages that year.  We will be looking the fix over carefully before departing this time!!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Yikes!! We've been Vortext-ed!!

We normally have a case of “itchy feet” when we are in a port for too long.  This season of cruising has been short on cruising and long on staying in La Paz, BCS, Mexico.  As has been detailed here and on Sandy’s blog we started out with a longer than usual stay in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico to get some much needed work done on Faith.  The new auto pilot, the painting, the rudder repair and so forth took about two months of our season and we thought we were doing really well with getting so much done and on our way.  It turned out, of course, that we weren’t really ready to leave because we soon discovered that our alternator was toast and we limped into La Paz.

This first problem was solved within two days with a fresh alternator of the correct sort and we could have proceeded with a great season by crossing over to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (Nayarit) on Banderas Bay near Puerto Vallarta (Jalisco).  That was before I had the inspiration to contact Sergio Galinda, a welder of some repute, to give us an estimate on building a stern arch to house and reconfigure how we collect solar power and raise the dinghy and outboard motor.  We had seen his work a few years ago and enjoyed his vision of how such a thing could be created.  The way I thought it would go was not how it turned out to go.  That is, my vision was that we would get an estimate and be told that he was far too busy right now to complete the work right now.  That would likely entail bringing the boat back sometime, say, in the summer, and having the work done.  Surprise!!  Sergio said here is your quote after about fifteen minutes of discussion about what we wanted to do and it was more than reasonable but the scorcher was that he had time right NOW to finish the work, probably before the end of February!

THAT was just too tempting.  We started the work.  Slowly at first the measurements led to the first arch piece showing up and adjustments being made.  Then as things began to fill out we decided that we would be here a little longer than anticipated and signed up with the marina (Palmira) for a second month.  With that I went to retrieve the car from storage in San Carlos and life took a pleasant turn.  We were comfortably installed in La Paz.  We had the mobility we normally do not have while cruising.  We filled in the time with trips to Todos Santos an artsy town, Los Barriles and Balandra beach to name a few.  It gave us full motion to explore La Paz as well.  Going out to eat was a regular feature of our time spent.  We discovered a lot more of what was available in the area.

Before long Sergio was finished and we were left with the finishing touches to install the wiring for the new additional solar panels and wind generator.  I had not brought along the necessary controllers but found much of I needed and got the solar panels working for us… the wind generator would have to wait until I can retrieve the special controller it needs from our home base.  In any case, we also added replacing some foam in the settee cushions and having a cockpit cushion rebuilt.  I also changed several electrical items and rebuild the aft head (oh joy) while hanging around. 

A day or so ago I bought the ferry tickets needed to take the car back to San Carlos and we are starting to think about the end of the season already.  We have friends that have gone on to cruise our other favorite places.  At this point they are heading toward us and we might as well stay just a little longer until they make it this far.

That is the story of how you get vortext-ed.  You get slowly lulled into staying put.  We have seriously itchy feet now but feel like we have had good season with a bit more to follow.  Certainly we have one of my favorite times ahead and will have considerably more comfort because of our improvements.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Side Trip on the Ferry

The Use of a Car

We brought Faith to La Paz to repair the alternator and accomplished that quickly but there was something else we could check on while we were here.  For a long time I have wanted to add some solar panels and a wind generator to the boat and thought we could get an estimate from Sergio, possibly the best stainless steel welder in Mexico.  When we got hold of him it turned out not only could we get the estimate but he had time to build the arch.  We expected the estimate but had figured that scheduling would be a problem. 

The Cabin on the California Star

This delays our departure from La Paz but that is just a part of cruising.  It presents us with some issues that we had to think about how to cure.  A big one was that we left the panels and the generator in the RV in San Carlos on the other side of the Sea of Cortez.  Fortunately there is an easy fix.  There is a ferry from La Paz to Topolobampo (say that a few times fast).  It leaves the dock, more or less, at 11:00 p.m. and arrives at about 08:00 the next morning. 

I took the marina shuttle to near the bank and gathered a few Pesos.  Then I found a taxi that dropped me off at the ferry offices where I bought a ticket for myself and a cabin to make the ride more comfortable.  I rode the ferry a few years ago without the comfort of a cabin and it was a bit draining.  I was younger at the time but I decided then that if I were use the ferry in the future I would try the cabin approach. 

At about 08:30 p.m. Sandy and Abby walked with me up to where I could catch a taxi and the guard at the gate called and had me on my way within about ten minutes.  When I got to the terminal a line was forming to board so I added myself and within 20 or 30 minutes was climbing the steps to the interior of the ship.  Finding the reception area was fairly straightforward and figuring out the system to get the cabin key was easily done.  The way it works is to present a form of picture identification that the reception will hold until the key is returned.  Simple.

Situated and ready for the trip I took to walking the boat to see where everything was.  Before we got under way the cafeteria closed for business.  Interesting.  The loading of trucks, cargo trailers and other vehicles took longer than our stated leave time so we were there until the lot was loaded.  Not a problem, I was comfortably reading in my own cabin and before I was tired enough to slip into sleep I felt the motors power up to leave. 

Almost back to La Paz

The crossing itself was excellent.  When I got up in the morning the snack bar was open for coffee and pan.  Good enough.  We docked at about eight and I was off the boat after standing in line waiting with everyone ready to debark.  Next time I will know not to rush into line but, rather, hang out wait for the crush to be over.  Once the line started moving out the place was emptied quickly.  No real benefit to waiting in the line. 

Outside the terminal there were a line of taxis.  When asked they all said $300 pesos for a ride to the bus station… "but it is a looong way to town," they all said.  For thirty pesos there was a bus that goes directly to the bus station.  Yes, it IS a long way but the local bus was perfectly fine for the fifteen or twenty minute ride. 

Once in the Los Mochis bus terminal I booked a seat to Guaymas for about $20U.S. ($245 pesos) and had to wait about 2 hours for lift off.  It was a short wait, really, as I read a book and watched the families waiting too.  The bus was about a half hour late but that was not a problem… where else was I going to go? 

Despite the calm sea there were people with motion sickness on board.

Mexican buses are wonderful transportation for the most part.  The seats are comfortable.  There is overhead storage for your backpack.  There is usually a movie playing, often in English with subtitles.  Usually the person sitting next to you is friendly and strikes up a conversation for awhile.  There are a number of stops, sometimes for extended periods, where you can find a meal or a snack.  Occasionally, the driver allows a vender to ride for a short way while selling all manner of foods.  At the end of a day of travel I am still stiff but that is me getting older rather than the bus getting uncomfortable.  We left the terminal at a little before 11:00 a.m. and we arrived in Guaymas at about 04:00 p.m.

From that terminal I walked about six blocks to the local stop for the San Carlos bus.  I could probably have just crossed the street in front of the bus terminal to catch the local but by then I needed to stretch and walk anyway.

So, that was the trip to the RV park in San Carlos.  I uncovered the car and loaded it with the solar panels, wind generator and miscellaneous stuff to take back to LA Paz the next day.  It allowed me to go to dinner at JJ’s and I slept well that night in RV! 

The next morning it was time to reverse the process with the car.  Loading the final stuff into the car I was on my way quickly.  I arrived in Topolobampo at about 04:00 p.m.  There I ran the car over the scale and paid the $150 pesos requested.  In the terminal I bought the ticket for the car, a cabin and myself ($1106, $786 and $897 pesos respectively).  Since I had a long time to wait for our supposed 11:59 p.m. departure I found a taxi to look for dinner.  On returning I still had several hours to go so just sat reading while the terminal filled up with the entertainment of others going on the ferry.  Long wait made short, I got to board with the car near the head of the line.  My mistake.  They put me on the top deck of the vehicle loading area and I realized immediately I would be a long time getting off the ferry.  I was asleep long before the boat actually left the dock at around 03:00 a.m. My inside cabin had no view but who cares about a view while you sleep??

Our shadow on the shallower San Lorenzo Channel

Once we got to La Paz and I waited until most of the boat had been unloaded it took quite awhile to get out of the terminal district.  First there was a port fee of $152 pesos to leave.  Then there was a military inspection that took a bit of luck to find then about 15 minutes to pass through.  Then there was a fumigation for insects that cost $30 pesos.  And, finally, there was a Federal Police stop asking where I came from. 

All-in-all it was a long 3 days but now we have the “stuff” here in La Paz along with the car.  It should make the coming month easier and then, ahhh, I get to take the car back to San Carlos.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Running Southward

Sitting here in La Paz, BCS, Mexico after a lot of hand steering south from San Carlos after having installed a new autopilot is not what I had in mind when we left San Carlos.  It is reminiscent of the last couple of years since our last autopilot (you’ll recall Dion, the Wanderer) packed it in.  The remnants of Dion were unceremoniously deposited in a trash bin in San Carlos, as burial at sea seemed an extravagance at the time.

·´¯`·.¸. , . .·´¯`·.. ><(((º>`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸.·´¯`·...¸><(((º>
 The new AP has been named Steady Eddie despite that introduction.  He performed really, really well until he ran out of power.  That was not his fault in any way.  We were running down the wind in a glorious slide toward a small beach at the southeast corner of Isla Espiritu Santo called Bonanza.  This was the first leg of what was supposed to be a fast trip to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta area).  Naturally we chose a series of nights that proved to be moonless and in the middle of the night Eddie was struggling.  Hmmm, what is THAT about?  I cursed the batteries for not having enough power but later realized that we were NOT making power from the alternator.  In any case after a somewhat nasty night we decided to bag it and head for somewhere closer to recuperate and let the solar panels do their job.  There is now a way-point in the GPS labeled, “Here,” where we chose to have a different plan.

Here is the thing about sailing a smallish boat across lots of water.  It can be easy but if everything is not working as it should be it can be exhausting.  Hand steering is a chore that we like to by-pass by means of the autopilot.  It makes night watches much easier and you get better rest.  Sandy likely thinks I am a bit of a glutton for some forms of punishment because I don’t mind steering as much as she does but that has limits.  Try an eight hour watch hand steering in rough-ish seas and you won’t want to repeat it in a couple of hours.  That was how we diverted and took on shorter day “sails” running from anchorage to anchorage.  When we hit La Paz we both wanted to be at a dock for awhile.  We flipped a peso and said let’s get a weeks worth.  That should give me time to replace the alternator and test everything.  If it is a high capacity alternator running the motor every so often will fill in the blanks for the power the solar panels can’t give!!

It is times like this that have me lusting for more ways to make electricity.  We have a small Honda generator but it is noisy sitting above our bed as it does and we can’t easily fire it up under way.  We bought a wind generator but after assessing the stern of Faith there isn’t really a good way to put it there as we are currently configured.  We also brought down two more solar panels but likewise there isn’t anywhere to put them.  So the logic, you can already guess, is a remake on the back of the boat.  We NEED a full arch built to accommodate the BBQ and propane tank, the two already existing solar panels, flag pole, dinghy motor lift, dinghy davits to hold the dinghy, a 34” high “seat”, wind generator, two more solar panels, stern light… gee, what else can I throw on there??  Oh, lots but you probably get the idea by now.  If we ever get around to swallowing the hook we will be offering a stellar array of equipment to some future cruiser.  In the meantime we are steadily improving the comfort and usefulness of our Faith.  

·´¯`·.¸. , . .·´¯`·.. ><(((º>`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸.·´¯`·...¸><(((º>

One minor note of great importance in our plunge southward was that we had very quiet anchorages even though the wind outside of them was howling several of the nights.  Sleep is so important and it makes a huge difference in my usually sunshiny disposition!  On passages that’s the one thing that gets shoved aside at times.  It makes it harder to figure things out and fix things when you are tired… but then, you knew that.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Once Again, Finally, Ready

Alright.  We have been in San Carlos for an extraordinary 2 months at this point.  It is amazing how long that seems, whew.  We have had a ton of work accomplished on the boat and had some play time as well.  The fresh autopilot seems to be ready as does the new electric head.  The bottom paint and the new upper blue stripe looks great as do the new graphics for the name.  We have gotten all the lines run and now have a friend’s dinghy tied on the bow to take to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in Banderas Bay near Puerto Vallarta.  The propane tanks are full as are the fuel and water tanks.  The dinghy is up on the davits and the outboard has been cranked up.  The dinghy also now has a fresh set of navigation lights to lessen the likelihood of being run over by a panga at night.  So many little projects that don’t even register on my memory right now but I know it took days to finish everything.  It was a big day when we moved out of the RV and on to the boat.  We are provisioned well too!!

On the way to launch ramp

There is a significant weather window expected in a few days so it looks like it is time to bring the dock lines aboard and boogie out for other places.  My scars from some of the projects in the vicinity of hose clamps have almost healed which tends to mean we may have waited longer than we needed to.

The discerning eye will see that we are hard aground on a very large tide we had shortly after going in the water.

So, here’s the deal, it can be a bigger step to get away from the dock than one would think.  We get very comfortable.  We get to know the neighbors.  We starting thinking of other things that might get done.  We make stuff up to put off a decision to go.  It is just the way of things.  For me, it finally comes down to itchy feet.  I want to carry on to something else… even if I have done some or all of it before.  Thank goodness for itchy feet.

Looking her nearly-ready-very-sexy best!!

We even had emails from friends asking if we could take a look at boats here for sale that might interest them.  That’s when it really strikes me that it is time to go cruising for awhile.  That’s why we have a boat after all.