Friday, August 3, 2018

Day 697 to 782 of the Third Voyage: In which I try desperately to get caught up on the blog (which is made all the more difficult without the letters “ “, “ “, “ “, and “ “. )

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve been a little remiss in my blogging of late. Especially since I’m sure you’re all dying to know if El Salvador is really as dangerous and violent as they report in the news and if it truly is—as someone recently stated—a “shithole.” Well…we’ve been here over three months and so far haven’t experienced any violence or encountered anything I’d call particularly dangerous, but I have seen a shithole. Editor’s Note: If that doesn’t keep you reading, I don’t know what else will.

Most of the “bad hombres” (i.e. the maras or gangs responsible for most of the violence) run rampant in large sections of San Salvador, La Libertad, and other municipalities but, according to our friend Santos, the last two years have seen a decline of gangs in the countryside. This is not to say that all is peachy out here—tall walls, window bars, razor wire, and lots of security guys with guns are a constant reminder that the best offence is still a good defense (and doubly so in the city where the threat is greater and the guns are bigger.) Still, this does not stop the average Salvadoran from being friendly, outgoing, and genuinely helpful. I have never been in a place where someone will cross the street to exchange pleasantries, hold your groceries on their lap if there’s standing room only on the bus (which is frequently), or bring you coconuts and mangos simply because they thought you might like some and not because they expect something in return. They are truly kind and generous. That makes it all the more heartbreaking when you hear of how many are victimized and by the people in their own neighborhoods, because the gangs here are less about drugs and more about extortion and intimidation. At least in Mexico there was a code of sorts. Unless you were in a cartel, did business with a cartel, or hung out in cartel bars, got drunk, and picked fights with cartel members, you were reasonably safe. Here, a lot people are not safe—it’s a pay or die system in many communities —and most have little to begin with. In other words, the gangs here are just assholes all the way around. But I’m no expert. This is just my observation. Do I/we feel safe? Absolutely. We just won’t venture into certain areas or knowingly put ourselves in risky situations. Which is good advice for any place in the world really.

But that’s big picture stuff—and not to be taken lightly. I suspect you’re here for the more intimate snark.

So where are we?  We are about two hours by car outside of San Salvador on the Costa del Sol, which is a seven-mile peninsula in the Department of La Paz (a Department being the equivalent of a State.) The Pacific Ocean borders one side; the Jaltepeque Estuary borders the other; mangroves and palm trees grow thick throughout; volcanos loom in the distance. The nearest town is San Luis La Herradura, an hour and a half by bus or 30-40 minutes up the estuary by dinghy. The slightly larger town of Zacatecoluca is just shy of two hours by bus(es) and has a bank, a couple of grocery stores, and the only Claro office we know of with an English-speaking rep (which is extremely important when you’re negotiating a cell phone plan to get you through Central America.)

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much to Costa del Sol—just a two-lane road right down the center with tall walls on either side punctuated by tiny villages, road-side tiendas and the occasional food stand. But behind the walls—through individual gates—are resorts, private residences, businesses, restaurants, a large school, and public parks adjoining the beach. To maximize access to the water, the properties are all extremely narrow yet incredibly long—a good quarter mile from the road to either the ocean or estuary. We are in the marina at the Hotel Bahia del Sol—about a mile from the tip of the peninsula. It’s a nicely-run resort that caters to upper middle-class Salvadorans and frequently hosts large groups and company retreats so it’s not uncommon to stumble upon all manner of people engaging in “team building” exercises that run the gamut from three-legged races, drum circles and scavenger hunts to my personal favorite: drinking in the pool. Editor’s Note: Cruisers in general are very good at “team building”.

What sets this resort apart from the others is that they have property on both sides of the road, so the hotel grounds run the entire width of the peninsula—a good half a mile. The marina is located on the estuary side where there is a restaurant, bar, and a pool.  At the ocean end of the resort, there is another restaurant and bar and an even bigger pool.

Obviously this pool is 30° degrees cooler.

For the most part, we like where we’re at. For one thing, we’re getting a helluva good deal on moorage: $300 per month including electricity. Editor’s Note: Don’t feel bad for them. Yes, they’re losing money due to our astronomical electricity consumption, but are easily making it back in our weekly bar bill. How big is it? Let’s just say when we settled up last week, the guy at reception had to replace the receipt roll halfway through during which time he remarked, “You’re really enjoying yourself!” Six feet of paper later, we’re paid up and leaving and he calls out after us, “Continue to enjoy yourself!” Which is probably hotel-speak for we just covered his salary for the next two months.

Suffice it to say, we frequent the restaurant/bar at the hotel a lot. This is mainly because while there are a lot of restaurants around, none are really within walking distance. Editor’s Note: I should clarify that none are within Deck Boss walking distance. Although in her defense, the closest is over a mile away and we are in the tropics, so it seems more like ten. With a distinct lack of taxis out here, the alternative is chicken bus or dinghy. And as you know, the Deck Boss don’t do chicken buses and (new rule) will only do fair-weather dinghying. Why a new rule? Every Sunday, a couple of expats host a potluck at their house which is located a few miles up the estuary by dinghy. The last time we went, the return home was not very pleasant (which is a more genteel way of saying it was super shitty.) A rapid outgoing tide clashed with a brisk incoming wind which created small whitecap conditions which are doable on a larger watercraft, but not so much when you’re practically in the water to begin with. We had two choices: fast or wet. Fast would entail trying to plane on top of the waves which would result in an extremely bumpy ride. Wet was slower, but took hip breaking out of the equation. So wet is was. And very much so. The Deck Boss was not happy and gave her customary “Never setting foot in the dinghy again!” proclamation. It took several days, extremely calm weather, and the promise of her very own bucket of beers to get her back in the dinghy, and only to a place that was less than five minutes away.

You may have guessed by now that Bahia del Sol is remote. And you’d be right. Shopping is more of a challenge here. The nearest tienda is about half a mile away and stocks soda, beer, snacks, and a smattering of assorted household items. Basically, it’s geared toward the holiday goer who’s craving a bag of Cheeto knock-offs and the vacation-home owner that forgot to pack napkins. But we like our little tienda. They almost always have eggs, sometimes have bread, and occasionally stock fresh produce or can procure some when the farm truck goes by. 
But there's free WiFi!

There is a Supermercado about 30 minutes by chicken bus up the road—literally in the middle of nowhere. It looks like a modern grocery store, has all the trappings of a modern grocery store, and never has anything you need outside of liquor and mayonnaise. It, too, is obviously geared toward tourists and the vacation-home owner that forgot to pack the cocktail olives because they have flip flops, six different kinds of snack cracker, and weird “party pack” combos (like a two-liter bottle of Coke, a plastic shovel, and a sponge), but not anything of real nutritional value. It does, however, have the world’s fastest ATM. Unlike a typical ATM that buzzes, whirs, shuffles, and has to seriously think about whether or not it really wants to give you money, this thing practically spits bills at you halfway through entering your pin. I guess it doesn’t want to impede on your shopping time. After all, those Vienna Sausages aren’t going to buy themselves.

He ran out of mayonnaise.  And flip flops.

We do our major provisioning in San Salvador where there are Walmarts, Super Selectos, and PriceSmart (which is the Costco of Central America.) We hire Santos for the day and he drives us to doctors appointments, pharmacies, and pet stores. Fun fact: kitty litter gets harder to find the further south you go and even though western-style pet boutiques are springing up everywhere, many have mastered the art of small-dog leisure wear but still can’t fathom why you’d let a cat shit indoors. (Which now that I look at it written down, I can’t fathom either.) Anyhoo…when you find it, buy it all. It’s like gold on the black market. We finish the day provisioning at the large grocery stores which we then supplement with trips to Supermercado and the grocery stores in Zacatecoluca where the stores are decent enough, but you must be prepared to schlepp everything back on the bus. And speaking of…

Unlike Mexico where most of the buses are old touring coaches that are way past their prime, the chicken buses here are tricked-out, repurposed US school buses (and have the original shock absorbers, brake pads, and gum under the seats to prove it.) Each is customized with paint jobs, decals, and stereo systems. Some have mood lighting. Others have fins and spoilers. All come with a very loud horn that you can hear from a mile away to let you know they’re coming. But not a “toot toot” horn. More of a “freight train hurtling down the tracks at 90 mph going to mow you over so get out of the way” horn. Only they don’t want you to get out of the way; they want you to get on.  Because each bus also has a wrangler whose job is to get people on the bus, get them seated and/or squished in the aisle quickly, get them off even faster so he can get more people on, and collect fares. To do this, he is constantly moving around from the front door to the back door, down the aisle, and around the outside, communicating with the driver the whole time through shouts and loud whistles and by banging on the sides. In between stops, he weaves through the crowd shaking a money bag and collecting fares. When the bus is packed, he’ll stand on the lowest stair and hang on to the side-view mirror to make room for the people who are squeezed up against the windshield because that “Do not stand forward of the white line” sign that’s left over from its days as a school bus is now just part of the “American kitsch” decor, as is the “maximum capacity” number. I’m really surprised that no one has thought to put in luggage racks because they could easily fit in another 35 people right there. Although they did take a cue from the airlines and install the seats closer together because four inches in between rows is all anybody needs, right? At least that way the seat bottom—which has inevitably broken off its frame—doesn’t have far to slide.  But in spite of it all, I like the chicken bus. It’s always an adventure and it really is the best way to see the countryside (at 90 mph) and get close to the people (really close to the people). 

Pictured: The back of a typical bus.
Not Pictured: The front. I didn’t want to get run over. An action photographer I am not. 

In case you thought I was exaggerating about the legroom. Upon closer inspection, I think I was being generous.

View of a city bus in San Salvador as it races through an intersection. And yes, that is a picture of Popeye wearing a wife beater and holding back two snarling rottweilers. Because why not? Now get on!!!

Not to be outdone…

Suffice to say that given its remoteness, we spend a lot of time at the resort, which is okay because there’s a lot of work to be done. We came to El Salvador with a healthy list of boat chores—and that was before the debacle now known as “The Journey Here” added a good page of additional projects. So mornings are spent working and afternoons are spent recovering from heat stroke. Editor’s Note: I won’t bore you with how hot it is here.  If you want to know, simply reread the previous blog posts about the heat in Mexico, imagine it a smidge moister, and then add more bugs.

Never get up to use the head at three in the morning. You don’t know what’s lurking out there. It took me three days to get up the courage to see what I had trapped. The Captain said it was a cicada, but I’m going with big, black beetle of death.

The marina itself is of the old wooden dock variety. Shoes are a must to avoid splinters and it’s best to walk straight down the middle because pangas like to zoom through the estuary at Mach One speeds and create such wakes as to cause the docks to buck and bounce and all the boats along with them. The incoming and outgoing tides create huge currents that run as fast as a river a couple times a day, flushing out the estuaries and sometimes necessitating the unsticking of a palm frond or puffer fish out of your fenders. But overall, the docks are safe, regularly maintained, and the power is better than some of the fancier marinas we’ve stayed at. We also have security guards that patrol throughout the day and sit out on a chair in the middle of the dock at night. There are no crime issues here that I’m aware, but I’m sure the marina wants to protect its investment. Nothing keeps a resort going during the slow months better than hot, thirsty gringos.

Really the biggest drawback to our current home base is that it’s not very Otter friendly. What was wonderful about Barra was that there were lots of back roads and large fields for him to run around off leash, a lagoon to frolic in, and dog-friendly restaurants throughout the town where the proprietors knew to bring him a beer because he was the “perro de que le gusta la cerveza” and travelled with his own collapsible bowl. Barra was pupper heaven. Here not so much.

Obviously, he must be kept on leash while on the resort property. Fair enough. Except that even off the property--although we’re out in the middle of nowhere with long stretches of open road--I must keep him on a leash. The problem is all the street dogs. There were street dogs in Barra but, with some exceptions, they pretty much kept a low profile. I guess when you’re reliant on handouts, you don’t want to be “that dog” that starts trouble and gets fed the “meatball” (which is as ominous as you probably think it is and not just because it’s in quotes.) The difference here is that there aren’t a lot of places for them to get regular handouts, so they roam around the vacant properties, rummage through the garbage for food, and tend to be extremely territorial. The resort tries to keep them off the grounds, but they like to congregate under an old palapa at the head of the beach where they sleep under lounge chairs, dig holes in the sand to stay cool, and hope that one of the tourists will drop a Cheeto knock-off. So every time Otter and I want to go to the beach, we must run the gauntlet of these barking, posturing flea bags. Yelling and stamping will keep most of them at bay, but if the alpha is around, a big stick is necessary to let him know that I mean business. Some suggested I carry pepper spray, but I haven’t been able to find any, so if it gets any worse I may resort to carrying a squirt bottle of Fabuloso household cleaner. A couple of shots of lavender-scented degreaser should confuse them enough to let us pass by. (That and it would help with the smell.) Once well past the pack, Otter can be off leash and play in the surf, but I must always be vigilant of any dogs that may be roaming the other properties. It kind of turns “relaxing stroll on the beach” into “keeping your finger on the trigger and an eye out for Charlie”. 

“I’d be nice if I surfed. Maybe then I could drown some of these fleas.”  

But I must admit that I do feel sorry for them. They’re all skin, bones, ticks, and fleas held together with six layers of dirt. They may not have any natural predators on the peninsula, but undernourishment is doing just as good a job at keeping their numbers in check. It’s a tough life, and I am sympathetic to their plight, but make no mistake, I will drop kick one into next Tuesday if it messes with my dog. Part of me wants to start bringing dog biscuits so that they have something to eat besides garbage (and perhaps come to think of Otter as the “provider of food that isn’t three-day old fish skin” and maybe quit giving him such a hard time), but then I don’t want to become the pied piper of the perro and wake up one morning to find half the street dog population gathered outside our boat waiting for their daily Snausage.

But street dogs aren’t the only reason Otter must be leashed at all times. There are also quite a few feral cats on the property that enjoy teasing him, innately aware that he can’t get too close while I have him harnessed up like a farm horse, only now they have upped the ante by giving birth to sizable litters. Evening walks entail pulling him past tiny little furballs that think they’re rearing and hissing but look more like they’re yawning and stretching which only makes them cuter. Part of me wants to start bringing them cat food, but that would inevitably lead to adopting the lot of them and Otter already has one cat at home that likes to kick his butt on a regular basis.

Off the property, temptation lies in the form of goats, horses, lizards and, his new favorite…cows. To him, cows are just big dogs. Except that he can bark at these dogs and instead of barking back, they’ll follow him along the fence until they can’t follow any further and then look on confused as I drag him away. We’re lucky we’re not further up the peninsula where the cattle roam free along the sides of the road or I’d spend half my time trying to return cows to their rightful owners, because apparently cows aren’t too bright and will follow anyone or anything that sounds vaguely authoritative.  

Don’t honk at him. He’ll follow you home.

Oh…so you’re probably wondering about that shithole part of the country?  So out here in the estuary they have what are known as “stick restaurants” and if you’re guessing it’s a restaurant built on wooden pilings in the middle of the water, then you’re spot on because…

The Hooters is next door. No, really.

Unlike its counterparts in New York, London, and Hollywood, the Hard Rock Café here is devoid of kitsch, pretension, and walls. In it’s place, are mismatched plastic tables, hammocks, and a complete disregard for building codes (and copyrights for that matter.) There is a makeshift kitchen, a refrigerator lying on its side for maximum beer storage, and a generator to keep the fridge going. Seafood is the specialty. A lot of times there is no menu. They simply bring out a tray with the day’s catch on it and you point to what you want and tell them how you’d like it prepared. The sides are simple: rice, dried fruits, etc. And the beer is plentiful. In fact, it’s too plentiful. Which is typically when it hits you that a place on stilts in the middle of an estuary with a makeshift kitchen and a fridge lying on its side is probably not going to have running water let alone “proper facilities”. And you’d be right. What they do have is a small walled-in area behind the fridge with a shower curtain for a door and a couple of missing floor boards. No sink, no toilet, no paper, no instruction manual.

 Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. If we were, there’d at least be a corn cob to wipe with.

General consensus about the Hard Rock Jaltepeque:  The ambiance is fantastic, and the food is obviously good—you’re seriously not going to get any fresher than “just caught”—but I spent the rest of that afternoon living in fear of my bladder. Although I must admit, the “bathroom” here was cleaner than the one in Vegas.

Time to tie this back in to the title…

I apologize for the shortness of this post. There is much more to be said, and I will get there eventually, but I am experiencing severe technical difficulties that have turned the blog-writing process into a monumental chore. Namely, the “t” key only works sporadically and the “b” key quit working altogether on my Mexican laptop (I’d say that this was another case of “Mexican’t” except that my last laptop also developed a keyboard problem. So either I type weird or the universe hates my blog and wants it all to stop.) Now obviously, there are “b’s” in the above text or I wouldn’t have been able to type “obviously” but in actuality, I have to type “oviously” and hope that spellcheck finds and corrects it. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. Spellcheck trusts me…trusts me to be a big friggin’ idiot who can’t spell. Obviously.

Editor’s Note:  As of this writing, the “f” and the “r” have ceased to work and the “n” is on its way out. The “4” aka “$” conked out long ago. I guess if I ever need to use the words, “eoe”, “ae”, or “oa”, I’m uckig screwed.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Day 693 to 696 of the Third Voyage: In which I have to ask, “How many times must you get hit by a boom before it knocks some sense into you?”

I’m not a sailor. I didn’t grow up around boats or spend that much time in or around the water. I didn’t get on my first sailboat till the Captain bought a 16’ Razor and took me out on Lake Washington. That first outing lasted a grand total of 15 minutes. We headed out, he went to tack, the boom hit me square upside the head, and before he could tell me to duck, it swung back around and hit me square upside the other side of my head. I demanded he take me back to shore. It was six years before I stepped foot on another boat.

Where am I going with this? Strap on your life vest, this here’s quite a story…

We left Puerto Chiapas at 4:00 pm on April 14th with an anticipated travel time of 42 hours. The timing had to be perfect as the only way to get to Bahia del Sol in the Estero Jaltepeque in El Salvador is via a very nasty bar. Editor’s Note:  In this case, a “nasty bar” does not denote a sketchy watering hole where you might get your ass kicked. Here, it refers to a large sandy obstruction between two bodies of water. Of course, you can also get your assed kicked there too.  At any rate, it’s only “open” during slack tide and it requires the assistance of a pilot boat that guides you over the bar via radio instructions. Our window was between 3:15 and 3:45 pm on the 16th so, barring any (ahem) complications, we had planned to be near the mouth of the bar that morning where we would anchor for a few hours and wait for the pilot.

The first 30 or so hours were 90% awesome. There wasn’t any wind, but the seas were smooth, the skies were clear, and the engine was purring. The night watches went off without a hitch, and the Deck Boss did her first-ever solo shift the following morning so that the Captain and I could get a few more hours of sleep. The only part of the journey that wasn’t so awesome, was that neither the Captain nor I could stomach any food. Maybe it was nerves or maybe we got into some bad shrimp at lunch, but he had zero appetite and I couldn’t keep anything down.

A few hours before dawn on the morning of the 16th, the engine began to do that old ditty of rev down/rev up only this time it added a new refrain of rev down/rev up/rev down/die. We tried keeping it at a lower RPM; it would die. We tried switching the fuel tanks; it would die. We tried polishing the fuel; it would die. We tried switching out the Racor filters; it would die. The Captain even tried installing a secondary fuel pump, but I think you can guess the outcome. We finally gave up on the engine. All we could do now was hope we could keep some wind in our sails, but as the old adage goes (and apparently it only applies when things are crappy), “Be careful what you wish for.”
Pictured: Our first glimpse of El Salvador right before we wished we hadn’t wished for anything.

Just as the sun was rising and the coast of El Salvador came into view for the first time, our steady winds of 6-8 mph steadily increased to sustained winds of between 25 and 30 with massive gusts that sent the needle over 40, and our flat seas suddenly turned into 8’ rolly waves that pressed right up on our bow, slowing our speed, and pushing us off course. It required constant trimming and constant correcting. In addition, we were taking water over the bow and into the cockpit, because there’s nothing like a face full of salt water to remind you who’s in charge out there.

This went on for a couple of hours and then as quickly as it had come up, it went away. A couple hours after that and it was all gone—no wind, no waves, not even a current to help us along. And that’s how we found ourselves about 18 miles from the anchorage, racing along at a blistering 1.5 knots. With only four hours till our bar crossing appointment with the pilot, it was becoming very apparent that we would miss our window. Now by this time, the engine had been caput for about eight hours, and even though we were trying to conserve power by shutting off all non-essential items, the house batteries—without the engine to charge them—were starting to get low. No problem. The generator can charge them! So we went to start the generator and instead of that comforting rumble we normally hear when it comes to life, we got, “click, click, click” instead. Because of course—OF COURSE!—the 12-volt starter battery had not charged up properly when we were last plugged into shore power and was obviously not drawing enough power from our solar panels to make up for it. And here’s the stupid part…whoever installed this thing in the first place (not us), thought it would be a good idea to have this one battery not only start the generator, but run all the sailing instruments as well. So we immediately started turning off all pseudo-essential items to save the house batteries and as many 12-volt items as we could to keep the instruments going. So, let’s recap…no engine, no generator, waning batteries. Oh…and the Captain’s lack of appetite has, by this time, crossed over into liquids as well, so now he’s fatigued, cramping up, and exhibiting other signs of dehydration. It didn’t help that he also spending copious amounts of the time in the engine room/sauna. In the meantime, I’m still throwing up everything I eat, including the anti-nausea pills, and this has caused the “hurling domino affect” and now the Deck Boss is spending quality time hunched over the head.

We got on the VHF to try and raise anybody at Bahia del Sol but must have been out of range because we couldn’t hear anything. Luckily, another sailboat, S/V Illusion, had broken down in the anchorage just outside the bar (okay, so… lucky for us, not for them.) and they were able to relay our messages to the organizers of the El Salvador Rally. Within 45 minutes, Bill arrived in a panga with Steven, a fellow cruiser/nurse, to do a wellness check and bring us some cold water, juice, and charged-up VHFs. Unfortunately, we were still about 14 miles from shore, too far out for the panga to tow us in. Bill and Steven suggested that the Deck Boss might go back with them to Bahia and I jokingly replied, “No, she wants to go down with the ship.” Editor’s Note: Remind me to keep my mouth shut. I think we put on a brave face, but it was a sad sight seeing them go. Bill had suggested that we hip tie the dinghy and use that as our “motor” so that’s exactly what the Captain and I set about doing once they were gone. And for about an hour and a half, as we chugged along at 2.8 knots with our little dinghy deftly propelling our 66,000 lb. beast through the water, we were hopeful that we might make the anchorage sometime before midnight and maybe even get some sleep. By this time, our battery bank was extremely low, so we shut off absolutely everything except for the sailing instruments, autopilot, and navigation/steaming lights to conserve as much power as we could.
Pictured: Our brave little dinghy powering us through water.
Not Pictured: The knife it had stowed under the seat in case it had to save itself.

And then of course—OF COURSE!—the wind came up, and up, and up some more. And with the wind came waves and the dinghy started to get caught up in the side swell. And when it threatened to flip up onto its side, we untied it and secured it via a line to trail behind us. At this point, with the sun setting, the wind and waves picking up, and us in the precarious position of being pushed toward an unfamiliar shore to anchor in the dark sans motor, we decided our best option was to just sail through the night and try again when it was light. We pointed the bow south and off we went. By this time, it was pitch black out, the wind was howling, and the boat—which was getting hotter and stuffier by the minute down below—was pitching back and forth. It was a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. Then, one hour in, we saw on the charts that we were coming up on some shoals. We would have to tack and tack hard. The Captain asked me if I wanted to steer or handle lines, and since I always tend to oversteer when I’m nervous, opted for the latter. So I knelt behind the two winches (we were rocking too hard to stand) and got ready to release the one line and start cranking on the other. And we started the tack. But instead of the sail moving smoothly from starboard to port—and the boat moving with it—everything suddenly stalled at the halfway mark and the sail started to flap wildly, then fold over on itself, and the Captain tried cranking the wheel as hard as he could and that’s when he realized…we had no steering. The whole boat started to heel heavily to starboard. He quickly went aft and manhandled the lines to get the jib back into place and us upright. So here we were…no engine, no generator, no steering, no lights or electricity down below, it’s blowing like stink, and we have no idea how we’re going to turn around. We had skirted this group of shoals via the bad tack but now we were headed out to sea (aka nowhere) and had no idea what lay ahead. We decided it might be time to call for help. We tried to raise Bahia del Sol on the VHF but were too far out. We tried to raise the El Salvadoran Navy (if there is such a thing) but got nothing. The Captain sent me below to apprise the Deck Boss of the situation and get the flare gun while he checked the EPIRB. If we came up on more shoals and had no way to steer clear­, we needed to be prepared for the worst.

And as I was pulling the ditch bag out of the wet locker, checking the flare gun, and readying Otter’s life vest and Edgrrr’s carrier, a weird feeling took over. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t even slightly panicked. Instead, I was concerned as to what would happen to Raven if the situation did ultimately call for a rescue. Would they try to tow her? Would they sink her? Or would they just let her drift out to sea? Never having been in this situation, I didn’t know the protocol and the thought of abandoning her really depressed me. Because even after all the problems we’ve had with Raven—and they’ve been considerable—she’s part of the family. Not just a home, or a mode of transportation, but an actual member of the family. Like a living, breathing thing. Granted, she’s the relative that you don’t talk about at family reunions because she’s always in and out of rehab and just can’t quite get her shit together, but you’d never begrudge including her on the Christmas card. In short, she may be a hot mess, but she’s our hot mess. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anybody sink her or send her off to die. There had to be another way.

I went back up on deck to talk to the Captain about it and found him laying down on the cockpit cushions, as if about to take a nap. In truth, I was taken aback—I was expecting a sense of urgency and a lot of running around, but instead it was like time had slowed down and maybe this was all a dream after all. In actual fact though, he had tweaked his back during the disastrous tack because why just have a dead engine, a dead generator, dead steering, dying batteries, and dehydration when you can add some acute back pain to the deal? But I think lying down, looking at the stars, and trying to ignore the spasms gave him some time to think, and by ultimately disregarding what didn’t work and instead focusing on what did work, he came up with a plan. Namely, we would continue on our current course as best we could using whatever influence the autopilot still had over the rudder and just hope that if we had to tack or gybe, that we’d be able to do it in five to ten click increments. (As it turned out, we did have to execute one gybe to get us turned around and heading north and a couple of “pseudo” tacks to keep us in the wind. They were sloppy—but successful.) Needless to say, it was a long night. The Captain and I, both dog tired by this point, set 10-minute timers so we could keep an eye on our course, sails, and any obstructions. And although the wind did finally quiet down around one in the morning, what followed was unsettling in its own way. Namely, without the usual background hum of electric lights and gadgets, the boat was so silent that you could hear every creak and groan and feel the mast shudder with every movement of the boat. I’m pretty sure we were all thinking the same thing—that perhaps the mast was getting ready to fail too, because why not?—but no one dared to say it aloud.

At dawn—nine hours after we lost steerage and 24 hours after we lost the engine—we found ourselves in pretty much the exact same spot—14 miles out from the bar entrance—where Bill and Steven had met up with us in the panga the day before. We hobbled along—averaging about 2 knots—and thought of doing another hip tie with the dinghy but we were too far out and didn’t know if we’d have enough gas. That, and we were too scared to look behind us and see if we still had a dinghy left. Editor’s Note: We did. But the line had become so frayed in all the ruckus that one or two more good waves would have snapped it in half. Why it didn’t is anybody’s guess. Maybe it’s waiting to go when the mast does?

But ultimately, we did make it to the anchorage and as soon as we hit 40’ of water, let the anchor fly. With only enough electricity to run one thing at a time, I would pause the windlass long enough for the Captain to use the bow thruster to keep us in place, and thus it went until we had enough chain out. When it came time to back down on the anchor, the Captain tried the wheel as he was leaning on the thruster, and the steering answered. Apparently, whatever had caused it to seize up in the night—most likely an air bubble in the hydraulic hoses—had worked its way out. Either that, or it felt sorry for us. Wish the engine, the generator, and the batteries felt the same.

Now here’s where the story gets good. And by good, I don’t mean things got worse. This time, I mean some good stuff actually happened. It turns out that all those distress calls we’d been sending were getting through, it’s just that nobody was able to get through to us. (That, and apparently there is no El Salvadoran Navy.) So by the time we finally hobbled into the anchorage, our friends in the Bahia cruising community had already lined up a mechanic, a portable generator, water, ice, and cheeseburgers and dispatched them all via panga to meet us. While fellow cruisers Eric and Greg helped us prepare for the bar crossing, Willy the mechanic and his crew worked on the engine. After about 30 minutes, he was able to identify our primary problem. Two of the bolts in our bleeder valves were stripped of their threads and that in turn had caused a massive vapor lock. This wasn’t something that could be repaired right off so as a quick fix, they got our engine going by feeding it diesel directly from a barrel, bypassing our fuel system altogether. It was enough to get us over the bar, and that’s all that mattered.

As for the bar? The crossing itself turned out to be uneventful, yet it was extremely meaningful. We were all in the cockpit when we went over the bar—even Edgrrr—and I must admit I got a little choked up. This had undoubtedly been the most difficult journey we had undertaken thus far, but we made it through as a crew, as a family. No one panicked, no one dropped the ball, no one even raised their voice or got snippy. We worked together as a proper crew should. And despite everything that happened, Raven did her job—she got us here in one piece even as she herself was broken. It was, I felt, a huge accomplishment. And when we got into the marina, there were probably 20 people waiting to cheer us in. It was overwhelming. It was humbling. It was a total rollercoaster of emotions. If I hadn’t had to go immediately to Customs and Immigration, I’m pretty sure I would have locked myself in the head and cried.

That was a few days ago, and I’m still somewhat numb from the experience. We’re almost caught up on our sleep; we’re eating again; God knows we’re drinking again; and that which was stowed is being unstowed. We’re here for at least six months. Got to get the engine fixed. Got to get the generator fixed. Got to sort out our batteries. Got to sort out our future. But this experience has given me a lot to think about. When I got double-tapped by that boom 20-odd years ago, I learned one very valuable lesson. Sailing can be painful, uncomfortable, and certainly dangerous. Perhaps other, more experienced sailors would have thought our little “adventure” a minor one; but for us, it was a huge deal—our first real foray into “here there be monsters” territory where the hard choices must be made. But I don’t think we did anything wrong, and I don’t think we needlessly put ourselves in jeopardy. We will do some things differently next time—extra communications, for one—but we’ll get back out. And maybe it will be better. And maybe it will be worse. But sometimes there’s not a lot you can do about it, except hold fast and see where the boat takes you. Because inevitably that boom is going to knock you senseless, and the best you can do is duck before it comes back around. And if it gets to be too much, there’s no shame in heading back to shore.

Postscript:  I realize that this was one of my more serious posts. In an effort to lighten things up a bit, here's some sophomoric humor:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Day 679 to 692 of the Third Voyage: In which we spend our last two weeks in Mexico…assuming we can get out of Mexico.

Upon our arrival in Puerto Chiapas, it was time to bid ABS Brian an “au revoir” which is apropos for someone born in Quebec as well as a classier way of saying, “See ya later, alligator!” We will see him again because he is now officially part of the Raven crew (he’s on the Meet the Crew Page and everything!) and will join us on the next leg of the adventure when we leave El Salvador for points further south. This is, of course, contingent on us reaching El Salvador. But we are hopeful. Because truth be told, had it not been him, there’s a good possibility that we would have turned around and gone back to Barra. His sound guidance and staunch optimism during the typical Raven parade of problems, gave us the boost of confidence we needed to get this voyage back on track.

After a while, crocodile!

The day before he left, we thought it might be nice to find a beach front restaurant where we could dip our toes in the surf, imbibe in some local seafood and cold libations, and give Brian a proper send off. Unfortunately, it was Semana Santa (aka the week before Easter and a major holiday when EVERYONE in Mexico heads to the beaches, and those who don’t, go the week after) and the whole area was wall-to-wall with humanity. The marina manager got us a day pass into one of the oceanside hotels that, despite being a lovely ocean-front property with a very nice palapa restaurant, was unfortunately suffering from a bad case of “Too many guests and none of our waitstaff showed up” as evidenced by one lone server trying to juggle ten tables and failing miserably. Given that he was wearing what looked awfully like a bellhop uniform, we surmised that he was recruited out of the lobby when they found themselves short staffed. Luckily for us and the 40 or so other thirsty/starving patrons, he was eventually joined by a woman who was most likely making beds and cleaning bathrooms about thirty minutes prior and a random teenager who probably got bored and wanted to ditch the folks for a while. The beer was warm, the food was “meh”, and the whole ordeal lasted way longer than it should have. By the time lunch was over and we headed out to the beach, it was late afternoon which meant the sand was about 280 degrees, the surf was breaking higher than a small semi, and the riptide was strong enough to drag said semi out to sea. Not quite the send-off we were hoping for, but we did rectify the situation by going to Baos later that evening. Baos is a high-end restaurant on the marina property that serves fancy food such as grilled fish propped up to make it look like it’s still swimming, prawns (with heads still attached) arranged in a little stack like they’re playing rugby, and in a strange case of “seriously?” the first (and only) time we’ve seen New England clam chowder on a menu in Mexico (although it was quite good.) Unfortunately, it all comes at near-gringo prices, but we’ve been scabbing their Internet the whole time we’ve been here, so I guess that makes us about even.

The next day, ABS Brian left for Puerto Vallarta and the Captain went with him because in return for six weeks of his time to help us get this three-ring circus south, the Captain offered to help him paint his deck and do a few projects on his boat. So naturally, once the Captain was on the other side of the country, everything went haywire. It started quite suddenly when a very loud, very insistent, beeping-type sound erupted from the control panel accompanied by a flashing red, “I mean business” light right above the toggle that says, “Bilge Pump 1” on it. As the shot glass was still in place over the switch, I knew this was not Edgrrr’s doing (see Day 566-596 of the Third Voyage)this was the real deal. The bilge had filled up enough to trigger the second lever. Editor’s Note: When you look into the infinite blackness that is our bilge, you can see three levers that look kind of like foot pedals (well…hopefully you can see three levers.) When water in the bilge hits the bottom lever, it activates Bilge Pump 2 and releases everything via a through-hole on the port side—standard stuff. If the water rises high enough to active the second lever—Bilge Pump 2—it spews out of a hole about half-way up the freeboard on the starboard side—not so standard. Now if the water rises enough to reach the top lever, I’m not sure but I think the boat shoves a bucket at you and tells you to start bailing.

Now here’s the thing about our bilge. If you’ve kept up on the blog, you’ll know that we we’ve been having some “mechanical challenges” of late (and no, these are different from the “mechanical challenges” we had last year albeit similar to the ones the year before that and in any case should not be confused with our electrical, plumbing, and standard equipment “challenges”… unless you think this is about the transmission in which case, yes, these are the same “challenges”.) But back to the bilge: the transmission had leaked/ejected/vomited a lot of oil in the past couple of months and it had nowhere to go but into the bilge. And as we’ve been at anchor for most of that time, we have not been able to address it (i.e. get down in there to pump it out into large buckets for disposal) so it’s pretty mucky. So when Bilge Pump 1 went off, it blurted all that inky, yucky mess out the starboard hole all down the side of the boat and all over the dock. And still the alarm was going off, so I called the Captain who instructed me to go into the engine room, find the wires that attach to the bilge pump, and jiggle them around. Now what he failed to mention was that jiggling the wires would cause the bilge pump to go off which is quite disconcerting when you’re precariously balanced over engines, transmissions, water pumps, hoses, and all manner of scary looking things and suddenly this hunk of metal jumps up, rumbles, and makes the loudest racket you’ve ever heard. Heart attack number one, but the incessant beeping did stop. Next order of business was to clean up the oil before it stained everything and/or became an environmental hazard. So I got out the scrub brushes, the dishwashing liquid, the bilge cleaner, and everything else I could think of and went to get the hose, which was currently attached to our deck-wash system. What anyone failed to mention was that the deck-wash system had not been turned off so when I went to remove the hose, the pressure caused it to pop out and I took the full force of the water right in the kisser. Wasn’t expecting that, thus heart attack number two. I called the Captain to find out how to turn it off and consequently ended up on my belly on the wet deck reaching far into the anchor locker to access the world’s worst-placed faucet. I finally got the hose, threw it onto the dock, and went to attach it to the dock-side water. That’s when I turned around and found that Otter had followed me down, trekked through the sludge, and was now running all over the boat leaving inky paw prints in his wake. Heart attack number three. Two hours later and the mess was gone. An hour after that and so were two White Russians and an entire bag of Snickers. I continued to have problems with the bilge the entire time the Captain was gone. And then of course—OF COURSE!—as soon as he got back, the bilge fell silent. I suspect he thinks I may have made the whole thing up. I’m also beginning to suspect the boat is gaslighting me.

At any rate, while the Captain was gone, the Deck Boss and I got the lay of the land. Marina Chiapas is very nice—only a few years old—and, despite having sustained some damage from the tsunamis caused by last year’s earthquakes, is in excellent condition. Easily one of the nicer marinas we’ve been in. It’s also kind of an anomaly in that the rest of the area is very rural. The primary industry is agriculture as opposed to tourism so there aren’t a lot of gringos around and the tourists that do flock to the beaches and the handful of ocean-side hotels are locals and Guatemalans. The marina was obviously built to not only attract the pleasure boat traffic entering/leaving the country, but also to complement the new cruise ship dock they have built in an effort to bring in more tourism dollars. Until then, the area is very much working Mexico—a nice change from the ports up north.

There’s also a pronounced navy presence here—both marine and aviation. It’s to be expected given that we’re only 15 miles from the Guatemalan border and that Mexico has a (cough) slight problem with the trafficking of illegal drugs and weapons. Therefore, all boats that enter the port are subject to a search before you’re even allowed to get off your vessel—regardless if you’re coming from the north or the south. They arrive in the marina—mostly by panga, but sometimes by bad-ass 4x4 truck—and descend upon your boat en masse. One guy guards the Navy vessel, two guys with automatic rifles take point around your boat, two guys search your boat with a sniffer dog, and one guy handles the paperwork. They’re quick, efficient, and they’re deadly serious. But they’re also quite genial and will smile warmly, even as their fingers remain on their triggers at all time. We will get to go through this again when we leave. But we don’t mind. They’re fighting a losing battle—the majority of military-grade weapons are smuggled in via the Guatemalan border, but most of the resources to fight the cartels are sent up north—so whatever we can do to make their job a little easier is really the only way to show them a little appreciation for what has to be one of the more suckier jobs on the planet.
Gracias, Amigo!
If there was a drawback to Marina Chiapas, it’s that it’s quite a hike to civilization. The nearest town is Puerto Madero, over 5 miles away; the nearest city is Tapachula, about 20 miles away. There are local taxis, but they won’t go further than Puerto Madero (necessitating a change of taxi to continue further), the drivers are very “business-like” (a more diplomatic way of saying “abrupt”), and some will try to take advantage of the tourists. We made the colossal mistake of not verifying the price with one driver before taking a taxi to Puerto Madero and he tried to charge us 300 pesos for what is normally an 80-peso trip. To add insult to injury, he stopped for gas on the way there. The Tapachula taxi drivers are a little more accommodating and much more personable, although the ones going into the city don’t like to make the trip until their car is full. The Deck Boss and I had to wait a good 20 minutes in the afternoon heat until our driver could wrangle a third passenger. And even then, we stopped to pick up a fourth person along the way.

Pictured: One of the “nicer” local taxis. He didn’t have to stop for gas. That sweet, sweet spoiler gives him at least an extra one to two miles per gallon.

The best way to get around—as in most places in Mexico—is via collectivo. We used them all the time in Nayarit, but nothing prepared us for the Chiapas drivers. They weave and bob and pass through traffic at 110 mph (or maybe it was only 95—it’s hard to tell when the speedometer is broken. And they’re ALL broken.  Needle fatigue I’m guessing.) Up north, we were in one that cut through parking lots, the collectivos here simply cut through oncoming traffic. It’s not for the faint of heart. Nor for someone who doesn’t like “togetherness” because the vans may be designed to hold 12, but we counted no less than 18 people on two separate occasions. One collectivo posted a sign admonishing people not to stand on the seats. Apparently, this guy realized that he could fit more people by stacking them in like firewood and therefore save the upholstery. On slower days, drivers will employ a wrangler who hangs out the side window, calls out destinations, and tries to cajole/cram more people in. The good ones have eagle vision as evidenced by the day we pulled off the highway and travelled a quarter mile up a dirt road to pick up two people who by that time had no choice but to get on. On our last trip into Tapachula, the Captain and I found ourselves in the unenviable position of being in the last row in the back corner. When we finally got to our stop, half the van had to be unloaded so we could get off. But I guess it’s nice that there are so many people on board, in the event one of these things crashes, we’re all packed in so tight we’d either act as one collective airbag or we’d just bounce. Editor’s Note: I would have taken a photo but it’s hard to do when your arms are pinned to your sides and you’re preparing for lightspeed.

The Captain spent about a week in PV and when he returned we did some provisioning, brought on someone to check out the transmission, and found a refrigeration guy because—horror of all first-world horrors—the ice maker quit working. But I think we’re ready to go. We spent our requisite day checking out of the country which was the reverse of checking in to the country except everything was spread out. In Ensenada, everything is under one roof. Here, the marina office helps you assemble your paperwork then it’s off to Customs, then a drive to Immigration, then to the APIS to pay a Port Captain fee (cash only, no credit cards accepted), and finally to the Port Captain’s office where we had to pay our Zarpe fee (credit cards only, no cash accepted.) Editor’s Note: Big shout out to Memo at Marina Chiapas who drove us everywhere and took us through all the procedures. It turned what can be an all-day affair into a half day.

And that brings us to right now. With all our paperwork in order, the only thing left is for our final inspection by the navy and the sniffer dog. After that, we have 15 minutes to get out. The navy will be keeping an eye on us—making sure we turn south toward the border instead of north back to Barra. I guess we have no choice now. But this is what we signed up for and, let’s face it, there’s a whole new world of shit breaking down out there! El Salvador, here we come!
Pictured:  Chicken Consommé. I ordered this in a restaurant once expecting broth, but this is what I got. I think it sums up Mexico…it’s much more than I expected, but in a good way.

RIP to David Moore—an old friend of the Deck Boss, an enthusiastic sailor, and an original Ravennaire. Before we took off, he gave us some books on engine repair. It’s like he knew what would happen or something.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Day 666 to 678 of the Third Voyage: In which we travel 499 miles without any problems and an additional 89 miles with what may or may not be a problem, but overall, we’re feeling pretty good. And we think the boat might be possessed.

Remember how I said that we were leaving Zihuatanejo on March 18th even if we had severe hangovers from our sea trial victory dinner? Apparently, I don’t know us very well because we totally couldn’t leave the next day due to severe hangovers. It was the consensus of ¾ of the crew (aka the ones who have now forsworn margaritas for a while) that it was in our best interest to only venture out when rested and in full control of our faculties. The rest of the crew (aka the one that stuck to beer) acquiesced to our decision based on the fact that she’s not sure which button starts the engine.

And so it was that we set out on the 19th at 2:30 in the afternoon with plans to arrive at the anchorage at Bahia de Puerto Marques the following morning. But not without one near disaster. While hoisting the outboard motor up to the deck, the strap used to attach it to the hoist gave way. It was the “Oh, shit!” heard round the harbor as we all screamed in unison, causing panga drivers to stop and look, flocks of birds to take to the skies, and all roosters within a three-mile radius to start a frantic chorus of cock-a-doodle-do. Had it not been for the quick actions of the Captain and ABS Brian, it would have gone plunging into the bay and sunk straight to the bottom. With hearts firmly in throats, we finished stowing the outboard and dinghy, hauled up the anchor, and headed out of the harbor. I am happy to report that we had extremely calm seas. As there was no wind, we motored the entire way—a solid 16 hours. The temperature held; the pressure held. When it became apparent that we were making too good of time and risked hitting the anchorage at three in the morning, we throttled way back and coasted along outside the bay until first light. We passed Acapulco just as the sun was coming up and whereas we had toyed with the idea of stopping there, opted instead to anchor in the next bay over. Mainly because we wanted to keep moving while everything was working, but also because we only have ABS Brian until Puerto Chiapas or April 1st, whichever comes first. And we really, really want him with us on the dreaded Tehuantepec leg.  We couldn’t afford to be sucked into Acapulco and besides, we’d already experienced the big draw—namely the famous cliff divers. The Deck Boss saw them when she visited Acapulco in the late 1940’s and figured the show probably hadn’t changed much since then as there’s not too many ways to dive off a cliff, and the Captain and I have been to Casa Bonita in Denver. Editor’s Note: If you’re from Colorado, no explanation is necessary. If you aren’t from Colorado, just picture a fabricated Mexican village (complete with adobe facades, marketplace, palm trees and waterfalls) throw in some roaming mariachi bands, add games and arcades, garnish with mediocre food (be sure to put more cheese in the furnishings than on the burritos), and put the whole thing in a strip mall. It’s fantastic. And they have cliff divers.

We spent that day and most of the next reveling in the sensation that we were at an anchorage and there wasn’t much to do except sit back and relax. Nothing needed fixing. Nothing was acting up. We didn’t need to do any provisioning. And there wasn’t any sightseeing to be done as Bahia de Puerto Marques is a big bay surrounded by lots of ritzy resorts. It was kind of nice knowing that the only order of business was to launch the dinghy to get the dogs to shore. Fun Dinghy Tip! If you’ve already been to shore in the dinghy and are aware that the beach drops off sharply, it’s always a good idea to let the next person know! Especially before they hop out expecting the water to be at calf level and end up getting dunked up to their armpits instead. Just saying.

We set out late afternoon on the second day for the 240 nm trip to Huatulco—a good 34 hours away—and even though the wind was gusting pretty good and the water was choppy leaving the bay, by the time we turned south, everything was calm again. And I’m happy to report that we had no problems with the engine or the transmission and enjoyed fairly calm seas. I say “fairly calm” because we did get caught in a big swell on our approach to Huatulco in the wee hours of the morning which kept the boat swaying side to side with a little bow to stern thrown in for good measure. Not ideal conditions for doing anything down below but, aside from the person on watch, the rest of us were sleeping—or trying to sleep—at this point. I say “trying to sleep” because it’s kind of hard to sleep when it’s 95° in your cabin (and no, I REALLY wish I was making that one up) and the boat is rolling around.  The Captain had just came off of his shift, and I was three hours off of mine, and we’re dozing like you do when it’s hot, humid, and the bed is suddenly way too small for two people when there was a loud CRASH accompanied by a high-pitched “MEOWR” and Edgrrr came tumbling through the hatch over our bed bringing the whole screen with him. And that’s when we decided that maybe it’s time he went on a diet.

In the past six months, the vet had tactfully observed that he was “well fed”, our dock mates referred to him as “that larger cat”, and one of our mechanics called him “chunky”. But I think it was when the electrician pointed at him, laughed, and said, “Garfield!” that we realized that maybe he was a tad on the hefty side. That and he was starting to leave a swath of dusted floor in his wake because his belly tends to drag on the ground.
“When I lays, I splays.”

But I digress. We arrived in Bahia de Huatulco early in the morning and found a berth at Marina Chahue to wait for our weather window across Tehuantepec. We didn’t have to wait long—two nights only—and mid-morning on the third day, we moved out into Bahia Tangolunda to relax at anchor before a planned 2:00 am departure. This is when something very odd happened. That afternoon, we went to turn on the generator and first it was fine, then it started clunking loudly, then it sputtered and died. We checked the oil, the temperature, the connections, etc. Everything checked out, but each time we turned it on, it would immediately shudder to a halt. That’s when the Captain noticed that the two fuel valves were closed. And upon opening them, he noticed that there were two additional fuel valves behind those and they were closed, too. Now this is where it gets weird. We never touched these valves—didn’t even know two of them existed. And whereas it’s possible that our mechanic in Zihua closed them while working on the engine, it doesn’t explain how we were able to run the generator for at least 24 hours over a four-day period without any fuel whatsoever. The reservoir pan isn’t that big and there’s no way that much fuel could have still been in the hoses. We’re at a loss.

But there was no time to dwell on that as the Gulf of Tehuantepec lay ahead of us. If you look at a map of Mexico, you’ll see where the country starts to taper as it gets closer to Central America. At its most narrow point—where the Gulf of Mexico is a mere 124 miles from the Pacific Ocean—is the Isthmus of Tehauntepec (an isthmus being a cool word to describe a narrow piece of land that gets clobbered by the weather systems of two bodies of water) and here can be found its infamous gulf. Why infamous? Because this is where most Pacific hurricanes are formed. And when hurricanes aren’t in season, it still likes to whip up mighty gales that stretch out for hundreds of miles and move really, really fast. At the very least, you want a three-day window of predicted calm before setting out, and even then all the cruising guides stress a “one foot on the beach” strategy in which you literally hug the shore line at about 60 to 100 yards off so you can hunker down in case of a T-Peck. In other words, it’s not to be taken lightly and, I must admit, has always been a source of concern for us given our constant parade of mechanical maladies. Which is why we consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have had a five-day window and were pleasantly surprised at how calm it was throughout the entire 238-mile trip. The highest seas we experienced were maybe two and a half feet and the strongest winds we felt were 14-18 mph—easily some of the most serene conditions we’ve encountered yet. So much so, that we got a little saucy and ventured about 15-20 miles offshore to cut down on our travel time. We even got some fishing in.
Behold the mighty T-Peck Tuna!  

In short, we were finally starting to relax—starting to get the hang of this “nothing going wrong” vibe that had long eluded us. But all good things must ultimately come to an end and ours ended around 11:35 pm on the second night—only a little over halfway across—when the Captain uttered those dreaded words, “Does it smell like burning rubber to you?”
No. Only the aroma of crushed dreams and bitter disappointment. And the tang of cat poop. I think Edgrrr is compensating for his smaller meal portions by eating the upholstery.  

Whereas the engine was cool enough, the transmission was clocking in at over 300 degrees and spurting oil everywhere. It was all the Captain could do to get the dip stick out without incurring third degree burns. A regular funnel would have melted, so he fashioned one out of aluminum foil and managed to get some more oil into the tranny.

So now what do we do? We were afraid to shut off the engine for fear of not having gears when we turned it back on. There was no wind to sail anyway. There were no other boats around. No one showing up on the AIS. There was no cell service. The VHF was quiet. Nothing was stirring except the awareness that we really were all alone out in the middle of nowhere. All we could do was hunker down and ride it out. And at daybreak, when a little wind came up, we took a chance and shut off the engine. Which of course meant that the wind immediately died, leaving us hurtling along at a soul-sucking 1.5 knots. After a while, the Captain added more oil to the tranny and we fired up the engine. And we had gears. And the tranny kept to a stable temperature. And this is when the Captain had a weird epiphany. The dip stick/lid had come off way too easily. They go on with a great deal of torque because the tranny must create a pressure seal for everything to work. He had checked and topped off the oil in the tranny before we left Bahia de Puerto Marques and the dip stick/lid had been tight as a drum. How was it so loose now? It didn’t make sense, but it did account for the tranny losing pressure. And the spewing oil was localized to that area. Could it really have rattled loose while in transit? We’re at a loss.

But we ultimately made it to Puerto Chiapas, and under our own steam. And that’s where we are now. Fifteen miles from the Mexico/Guatemala border; Bahia del Sol in El Salvador just another 215 nm beyond that. Despite whatever did or did not transpire with the generator and the transmission, we’re still feeling pretty confident about our chances of making El Salvador sometime this year. But then something really weird happened. It was our first night at the marina—dog tired after 34 hours at sea—and the Captain and I are awakened at 2:00 in the morning because there is water all over the bed. Not just a little water. A lot of water. Neither one of us had water by the bedside. It wasn’t pee. It wasn’t drool. It wasn’t coming from the hatch. The headliner wasn’t even damp. We couldn’t and still can’t explain it. We’re at a loss.

Are we just weirdly unlucky? Is it the ghost of our old transmission come back to haunt us? Is it the Curse of the Cliff Divers? Did we pick up a poltergeist along the way? 
Or is someone just really pissed off about being put on a diet?