Saturday, January 13, 2018

Day 597 to 602 of the Third Voyage: In which we prepare to go north so that we may go south.


We wanted to go south. We REALLY wanted to go south. South puts us closer to the Caribbean, our ultimate destination. And, more importantly, it puts us closer to our OTHER destination which is out of the hurricane box. A place we need to be out of by June—a scant 20 weeks away. And even though we should never, EVER, put ourselves on a time table, we really, REALLY, want to be in El Salvador by April 1st—which is an even scanter 11 weeks away. Figuring in two weeks for a haul out, we have nine weeks. Editor’s Note:  That seems like a lot, but the official Raven algorithm for determining an ETA is thusly: Take the total nautical miles to be travelled, divide by 5 knots average speed, multiply by the likelihood of something going wrong (which is holding steady at 87%), add a zero to represent the likelihood that this figure will change, divide by 24 hours in a day, multiply by two because each day seems to take twice as long, put the whole thing in a cocktail shaker, and then pour it onto a calendar because who knows what day we’ll actually leave. By this equation, we need 32 weeks to get to El Salvador, give or take a year.

But the prudent thing is to go north, even though it adds another week of travel time. North is Banderas Bay aka Puerto Vallarta and vicinity. There we can find haul out yards, paint, parts, and skilled workers. We’re familiar with the area, we know people there, and our favorite steak place is in Nuevo Vallarta—so it’s a no-brainer really. Plus, if one more major thing goes wrong, there are lots of boat brokers there as well.

The Captain sees this as a setback of sorts. But lots of cruisers go back north to haul out, so I’m trying to look at it as a 270-nm round trip detour—the mother of all scenic routes as it were. Once there, we’ll have the bottom painted, the roller furling fixed, and take care of a couple other little issues while we’re in the yard. The alternative would have been to make for Chiapas—750 miles to the south—but with our two primary sails out of commission, we were a little nervous about setting out without knowing what kind of services we might find there. A bottom job is one thing; finding a rigger who knows something about first generation electric furling systems is another. So a detour it is, but we’re not going to rush it. We’re going to stop in Tenacatita—the anchorage we had to blow off on the way down because the gears were acting up. We’ll anchor in Chamela and see if we can spend more than 10 minutes ashore this time. And we’ll tuck in to Ipala where last time we didn’t make it to shore at all. Who knows? Maybe we’ll finally, FINALLY, have a good cruising experience. It could happen.

Since this post is shorter than usual, please enjoy the following filler:
Tiny truck.
 Tiny bus.
Tiny slice of heaven.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Day 566 to 596 of the Third Voyage: In which we psych ourselves up (but hopefully not out) for a second attempt at going...somewhere.


I think I speak for the whole crew when I say that we’re feeling better prepared this time around. When we returned to Barra, we made a punch list of the things that needed to be addressed—not only the outboard and the accommodation ladder, but a few things that we really should have taken care of before but didn’t, either due to time constraints or because we just didn’t “feel like it” at the time. I’m happy to report that we completed the entire list:

The dinghy outboard has been cleaned, checked, and WD-40ed; it now seems to be in perfect working order and ready for its next beach landing (where hopefully it will remain upright with the dinghy and not go snorkeling.)

We had dinghy wheels installed so that we can get up on the beach with a little less effort and, more importantly, get the dinghy back out into open water more quickly (i.e. before the tidal wave can mount its attack.) Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, the wheels are impeding the range of motion of the outboard. Hopefully, we won’t have to go anywhere that might require turning.

We had two steps added to the accommodation ladder and it’s awesome! It’s strong, sturdy, and reaches all the way down to the dinghy. It has been Otter tested and Deck Boss approved. On the downside, we had two steps (and twenty pounds) added to the accommodation ladder and now need a lift crane to get it into place.
Patent Pending.  We're hoping to sell a ton of these so we can afford to fix whatever breaks next.

We unfurled all the sails to a) check that they weren’t mildewed and/or harboring any critters, b) make sure they still went in and out, and c) remember what they look like. The answers? Not really. Yes. White with blue edges (although I could have sworn the main came with a small label at the bottom that said, “If you can read this, you’re standing too close to the boom again, idiot.”) ***

We replaced the Furuno navigation monitor in the pilothouse. The original had developed an anomaly wherein it cast a sickly-looking pall over half the screen making it difficult to ascertain where we were going. On second thought, maybe it wasn’t the monitor, maybe it was an omen.

We fixed the AIS system. For you lubbers, AIS stands for “Automatic Identification System” and is a tracking system that displays a vessel’s name, size, position, speed, etc. on radar so you can gauge the marine traffic in your vicinity. It’s mandatory for commercial ships over 300 gross tons as well as passenger ships, but leisure boats are getting in on the action as well. It’s a safety thing mostly and, I must admit, kind of a rush when you hear over the radio, “Sailing Vessel Raven. This is Container Ship Goliath bearing down on you at 45 knots. Kindly turn 20 degrees to port before we mow you down. Over.” And you think, “Wow! He knows my name!”

We finally defrosted the plate freezer. We have a pretty good-sized freezer on board—it’s one foot wide, by three feet long, by three feet deep—and sometime in the last year, it developed a faulty seal which led to a deadly cycle of thaw-freeze-thaw-freeze which turned the whole thing into an iceberg of Costco proportions (and not just because most of the food in there was from Costco.)  It took a solid eight hours of heat guns, ice picks, and extremely awkward contorting to finish the task but when it was all done, we had a thorough inventory of food we had totally forgotten about as well as room for more food that we can totally forget about. I’m also pretty sure we found the frozen remains of Ernest Shackleton down there.

And last, but not least…the blog was updated and is now current. Editor’s Note: If it isn’t, you’ll never know because I’ll totally remove this paragraph.

We did add one thing to the list that we’ll address down the line. There’s an exposed control panel next to the navigation station with the switches that operate the engine and various pumps. Edgrrr likes to sleep right next to this control panel—not because it’s comfortable or anything, but because he likes how we get all anxious when he’s that close to boat controls. At any rate, one afternoon, he knocked over the shot glass that was covering one of the toggles and engaged the bilge pump (which is a roundabout way of saying he caused us to belch oily residue into the water.) We decided that it’d probably behoove us to build a teak box to cover the control panel rather than relying on our barware to keep our systems in check. We figure that will be a good project next time we’re a month or so in port. Until then, we’ll block his access with an empty bottle of tequila.

So, as you can see, we’ve been keeping busy. As a result, the time has flown past and apart from a wild kingdom incident, the holidays were very low key. What incident you ask? Well it’s a given that dogs like to chase things, especially dogs of the hunting/sporting variety of which Otter is a combo. His German Shorthaired side likes to track things which his Labrador side is keen to retrieve (he is, in fact, the only dog I know of that will point the ball prior to fetching it.) And the forests around here are rife with things to chase. Iguanas, lizards, snakes, and birds of every variety (including the ever-present chicken) are not immune to his pursuit, but one critter is his absolute favorite. It looks like a fat, furry possum with a really long tail and trash panda markings. Some people refer to it as a “raccoon thing”, I’m partial to “lemur thing”, but the official name is coatimundi. They tend to travel in large, noisy packs which make them easy targets as you can hear them grunting, barking, and snorting from a mile away. And rather than scatter at the sight of a predator, one of them will take one for the team and break away from the pack, leading the predator on a zig zag course through the underbrush while the others calmly head towards the trees. Indeed, on more than one occasion, Otter will have his nose stuck in a bush trying to sniff out one while another four will waddle right past him—bitching the whole time. We’re not sure if he’s that dumb or if they’re that clever but it seems to be effective.

There are quite a few that live up in the hills, but you generally don’t see them on the resort/marina grounds because there’s a guy whose job it is to trap any wildlife and set it free off the property. Of course, he tends to set the animals free just over the property line so that they come right back and thus guarantees him some job security. So it was one evening, that Otter and I were coming back from visiting a friend’s boat when suddenly Otter spotted a band of coatimundi just past the guard house at the marina. He gave chase while the coatis hastened their pace and started to climb into the trees. Just then, one of them stopped, turned around, and took a running leap at Otter like a lemur with nothing to lose. With only the illumination from the street light, all I could make out was a whirling mass of black that looked vaguely like Otter wearing a fur stole and doing pirouettes. I couldn’t tell who had who in whoever’s mouth, but as neither was responding to my yells and stamping, I finally chucked two books at them until they finally broke free of one another and the coati went running after his cohorts. Otter had a few scratches, but was fine—albeit a little amped up. As for the coatimundi, he is probably being worshipped as a god among lemur-things and will get free drinks for life at the local wildlife bar.
Part raccoon, part fashion accessory, all badass.


*** Well…it WAS working.
In the week since it was tested, the roller furling on the main sail has ceased to function. And because things couldn’t get more stupid, the problem seems to be originating with a toggle that switches the system from electric to manual. In other words, we can’t get the main sail in or out—either electrically or via a winch--except through an override gear on the mast itself which advances the sail at about two inches per twist and only if a second person is holding the sheet taut. So basically, it’s useless. We pulled out the manual and of course—OF COURSE! —the one page that’s missing (the one with the gooseneck diagram) is the page we need. The Captain got on the phone with our riggers in San Diego to try and pinpoint the problem and if it’s the part that everyone seems to think it is, it’s not going to be an easy fix and could very well entail removing the sail AND the boom to get to the mechanism in question. It’s not a job for a layman, and it’s very possible that if we can’t find someone locally, we may be flying someone in to do the job.
So okay then. We still have the jib and the mizzen. Technically, we can still head south with just those two sails and tackle the mainsail when we get to Chiapas where we are planning a haul out to have the bottom painted. We can do this. That is, we COULD have done it had the roller furling on the jib not decided that if the main isn’t working then it shouldn’t be expected to take up the slack, so it just up and quit too. With two sails out of commission, we are—in effect—a sailboat without sails. And maybe that’s not detrimental if the engine is reliable, but at this point we’re not so sure we want to take that chance.
So, what are we going to do now? First, we’re going to drink. And then we’re going to wallow. And then we’re going to formulate a game plan. I’ll let you know what we decide…


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Day 560 to 564 of the Third Voyage: In which we finally get moving again (and you can probably guess how that went.)


By all accounts, it started off perfectly. We got out of the marina just fine, stopped by the fuel dock, made our way out of the lagoon and into the bay (and without hitting bottom, which happens quite frequently here), had a pleasant three-hour trip to Bahia de Santiago, and successfully anchored on our first try. High fives and woo-hoos all around. After all, the boat hadn’t moved in eight months (and, arguably, neither had we), so to have such a smooth and successful start to the journey was cause for celebration.

The next morning, it was time to take Otter to shore, so we attached the accommodation ladder to the side, brought the dinghy around, and discovered that there was a considerable gap between it and the bottom step of the ladder—the operative word being “considerable”. We knew that the new dinghy sat lower than the old dinghy, but this was a difference of at least two feet. And given that the old dinghy would sometime scrape up against the bottom step, we had to wonder if we were somehow sitting below the water line in the new dinghy or if the boat had gotten taller but since neither seemed plausible, we were stymied as to the difference.  Editor’s Note:  Two feet may not seem like a lot, but when you’re a dog or an old lady trying to get from the deck of a bobbing boat down four feet into a bouncing dinghy, that two feet is the difference between going to shore and going for a swim, if you know what I mean. Needless to say, Otter did not like that gap and did not want to get in the dinghy and it took all manner of pushing, pulling, and cajoling until he finally fell in face-first. Off to shore we went. We came, we saw, he pooped. Upon our return, getting him from the dinghy to the boat took even greater effort with me above trying to lift him by his harness up and onto the stairs while the Captain had the unenviable task of pushing him up from behind (luckily, he had pooped twice.) Otter was not happy. We were not happy. We suddenly felt like we were back at dog/dinghy square one and started revisiting all the options that had failed us so spectacularly in the past (for reference, please see the blog post for Day 12 of the First Voyage.) We then plotted out a fast-track to the nearest port with a marina knowing that, even though we would be several days at sea, he would do his business on deck eventually, but at least we could get him onto terra firma sooner. Yet despite this setback, the mood aboard Raven was still positive and we were determined to move forward.

The following day, we thought we’d try the accommodation ladder once again only with bacon. The Captain brought the dinghy around and positioned it under the steps while I called Otter. And called. And called. And finally went down below to find him frantically pacing the pilothouse—torn between holding it in and going ashore but REALLY not wanting to face-plant into the dinghy again. After dragging him around and positioning him at the top of the steps, the Captain whipped out the bacon and through the power of pork products, we were able to get him aboard with a bit more dignity and grace. Off to shore we went. And here’s where things started going sour (I was going to say “going south” but that would suggest that we are capable of moving in a southerly direction…and clearly, we are not.) As we got closer to shore, we both jumped out to haul the dinghy up toward the beach. That’s when we got hit from behind by a surge, which pushed the dinghy sideways and into my back, knocking me to my knees. I was immediately on my feet—partly from adrenaline, partly because there was 200-lbs of rubber careening toward my head, and partly because the Captain was barking at me to grab hold and haul. Editor’s Note: In his defense, he hadn’t realized I had gone under. He said later that, had he known, he would have let go and immediately come to my aid, because he said (and I quote), “You’re more important than a $3000 dinghy.” Which is probably the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me.

But we finally made it to shore—a little roughed up, but okay. We spent about an hour walking around, stretching our legs, and letting Otter do his thing. When we had a run-in with a stray, we decided that whatever luck we still possessed was possibly waning, so maybe it was time to go.

At this point, I’d like to throw out some descriptors bandied about by the cruising guides and fellow cruisers regarding this particular beach landing… “gentle surf,” “generally quite benign,” “easy-peasy,” and my personal favorite, “you’ll have no problems.” Notice a pattern here? One of the reasons we stopped in Santiago was so that we could practice our dinghy landings—and according to the charts, this should have been the optimal time to come ashore. But what we hadn’t taken into account was a full moon and king tides, which seemed to negate the whole concept of “generally quite benign” in favor of an especially large swell aka larger waves than usual. We timed the surf for about 40 minutes and there seemed to be a ten-minute window between the larger waves. So we readied the dinghy—waiting for our window—but Otter wouldn’t stay in the boat. We decided that he should stay on shore while we drug the dinghy out, then I’d go back and get him, he and I would wade/swim out to the boat, and we’d throw him in. Seemed like a viable plan and/or our only option. Our window opened and we started pulling the dinghy out into the water; we got past the first set of small waves, then the second, then the Captain instructed me to go back and get Otter. I was barely 20 feet away when a big wave came bearing down, threw the dinghy up and around and right on top of the Captain, and came to rest upside down. I let out a scream, some of the locals came running, and just as I’m about to have a coronary, the Captain popped up out of the water. With considerable effort and a lot of help, we got the dinghy upright and back on the beach but by this time the outboard had ample time to scrape the bottom and fill up with sand. And now we were really stuck. Luckily, a local fisherman in his panga came by and offered his assistance. I waded out into chest-high water with Otter swimming next to me to talk with him and in my best non-existent Spanish and superior charades skills, managed to formulate a plan wherein we would attach a line from his panga to our dinghy and hopefully he could tow us off the beach, up and over the waves, and out to our boat without the dinghy taking us all down. In the meantime, the Captain was back on the beach preparing the dinghy and talking with a guy who kept pointing out into the bay with his walking stick and making “you’ll be sorry” faces and we’re thinking, “Save it old gringo, I think we’re already sorry.” Long rescue story short, we got the line attached and after a couple of false starts over the waves where I thought for sure the panga was going to go bow over stern, the fisherman safely deposited us back at Raven and we gave him a healthy gratuity by way of a thank you. Later, I asked the Captain what the old gringo was carrying on about. “Apparently, there’s a 21-foot crocodile that hangs out in that part of the water.” Oh. Swell. Well, I guess if someone decides to make a movie about this little adventure, that will be the “added tension” in the scene that no one needed…or wanted.
Pictorial representation of wave that took us down. Mt Fuji shown for size.
Fast-forward a few hours. The drinking has started. The eternal questions of “how”, “why” and “WTF” has taken over the conversation. The depression has set in. The Captain starts listing off all the things that went wrong in the past few days and it has somehow grown from two items (accommodation ladder and dinghy disaster) to about 24, and the latter he’s blaming on “poor seamanship” on his part. And I’m hard pressed to accept this because a) he’s got more experience than most, b) we technically did everything right given our situation, and c) Mother Nature is just going to reach out and bitch slap you back into submission because that’s how she rolls. Besides, this can’t be an isolated incident, I’m sure lots of people get nearly killed by their dinghy.
But we keep coming back to that Latitude quote, “The difference between adventure and ordeal is attitude.” The Deck Boss asked me if the dinghy mishap was an adventure or an ordeal. “Well,” I said. “When the dinghy slammed me to my knees, that’s was an ordeal. And when Otter nearly got bit by a street dog, that was an ordeal. And when the Captain was nearly crushed by an outboard, that was most definitely an ordeal. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to find anything adventurous in this whole outing. Maybe once some time has passed, it won’t seem so bad. But for now, we’re just going to wallow a bit.”
And as the evening wore on, we wallowed a lot until the pity ultimately turned into punch drunk:
C:  Well at least I’m giving you good fodder for your blog. I’m blog fodder.
FM:  Technically, it’s a group effort.
C:  Whatever, but I am the captain of this shitshow, so it really falls on me. Maybe we should just go back to Barra, take care of some things, and see if this is something we really want to do.
FM:  Okay, Blogfodder. We’ll go to Barra and find an outboard mechanic, make him an offer he can’t refuse.
C:  You’re not funny.
FM:  And may your next accommodation ladder be a masculine one.
C:  Still not funny.

Editor’s Note: It was a little funny.

The next day, we weighed anchor and headed back to Barra, arriving just in time for a late lunch at Pipi’s. We had a crew meeting, talked about our options, and made a list of all the things we needed to address on the boat. After a few rounds, including a couple “en la casa” courtesy of Senor Pipi, we decided that maybe we were better suited to not moving but that there are other places in the world where we might like to not move, so we’ll just have to endure the moving part of the journey to get these places. And maybe somewhere along the way, we’ll decide that moving isn’t so terrible after all. So here we will stay for a month. We’ll lick our wounds, concentrate on our to-do list, and prepare to make another go of it after the first of the year. Besides, where better to spend Christmas than in Barra de Navidad?
I wish I could say I put this through a fancy filter and stuff but, no, it's just a bad photo. But you get the idea.
Merry Christmas, Ravennaires!


Monday, December 18, 2017

Day 558 to 560 of the Third Voyage: In which the journey of 1,000 miles begins (eventually) with one step.


A couple of months ago, and much to our dismay, we realized that the Caribbean was not going to come to us—it wasn’t even going to meet us half-way—so we decided that if we wanted to see it on our boat and in our lifetime, we needed to keep inching our way south. Originally, we were going to leave in early November, then mid-month, then the 30th, then the 1st of December, then the 2nd. (Spoiler alert:  We finally left on the 3rd. It’s now mid-December so I totally know how that worked out. Hint: Not well. But that’s the next blog post.)
So why the constant delays? I chalk it up to forces beyond our control. Things like:

Delay #1:  Mexican Immigration. This sounds more sinister than it is, but as you may be aware, we are only allowed in Mexico on 6-month tourist visas so every so often we need to leave and come back. We use this opportunity to go back to the States, do some gringo provisioning, and take care of business that doesn’t require use of the Mexican postal system. We figured we would go ahead and get it done while we had easy access to an airport, a dog-sitter, and a cat-tolerator, and also because we knew—given our track record—that there was no way we would be out of Mexico by the end of the year. So off we went to Corpus Christi with three light carry-ons, and back we came a few days later with three heavy carry-ons and three large pieces of checked luggage. Editor’s Note: A BIG thank you to Pud’n for letting us fill her spare bedroom with packages from Amazon and boxes from every marine supply store in the country. We hope you were able to get your doorbell fixed.

Would someone please buy Mexico a new stamp pad? This is what stands between us and being legally in the country. Even blown up and enhanced, it’s still hard to make out the date. And this was one of the better stamps we’ve had.


Delay #2: The Posse. Again, not as sinister as it sounds. 2017 marks the inaugural run of the Panama Posse, an idea bandied about by a group of us cruisers here in Barra and brought to fruition by Dietmar and Suzanne of S/V Carinthia. Editor’s Note: One of the large bags that we slogged back from Texas was full of Posse member swag, so it wasn’t all Goldfish Crackers and boat parts…just most of it. For those of you wondering what a Panama Posse is, it’s just the name of our rally. There are many rallies in the boating community—the Coho-ho-ho, the Baja-ha-ha, and the Pacific Puddle Jump are just a few. And no, I’m not making those names up. Most rally names are pretty much the direct result of booze-filled brainstorming sessions so in the grand scheme of things, “Panama Posse” isn’t so bad. (Of course, when the locals try saying it, it comes out sounding like “Panama Pussy” so there’s that.) Now for you lubbers wondering what a rally is, it’s a loose confederation of boats heading in generally the same direction in sort of the same timeframe with kind of the same goal in mind i.e. arriving in a particular destination on our boat and in our lifetime. There are 40 or so boats in this year’s rally. We won’t all be leaving at the same time, or necessarily stopping at all the same places, or staying for the same amount of time at the places we do stop, but we’ll all keep in touch via a daily SSB net, Facebook, and email so we can pass on information and/or meet up with other members when we find ourselves in the same places and hopefully, if all goes well, we’ll all meet up on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal in June 2018 for a celebratory party. That’s where the rally ends, but it officially began here in Barra on November 29th with a kick-off party sponsored by the marina and who were we to pass up free drinks and a taco bar. We had to stick around for that.

Delay #3: Last-minute provisioning. Now I realize that “last-minute” is usually factored into the original timeframe and shouldn’t cause a delay, but in this case it did set us back because we had to split our designated provisioning day into two because you can only get non-Mexican butter at a store in Melaque and that couldn’t be done on the same day we did our main provisioning in Manzanillo.

It’s worth noting that when we first started out on this odyssey, we took six days to provision. We filled every spare inch of the boat with frozen food, canned goods, and toiletries and then ended up not using most of it because—and you won’t believe this—people in Canada and all down the western coast of the US do have access to food, soap, and even toothpaste! That was a real eye-opener for us. Needless to say, when we set out for Mexico, we only took three days to provision, and mainly just gringo items that we figured would be hard to find. But it turns out—and you won’t believe this—but you can get pasta, potato chips, and paper towels in Mexico! So now we can do our provisioning in one day and keep it to things that may be hard to find in the smaller towns. Things like AAA batteries, small propane bottles, and toilet paper. Now yes, I do realize that people all over the world wipe their butts, but will I be able to find ultra-soft, three-ply toidy paper with a hint of cocoa butter? I don’t think I can take that chance.
"When your tush demands some cush." I'm going to trademark that in case Regio wants to use it in exchange for a lifetime supply of tush tissue.


But back to the butter that contributed to our delay. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had Mexican butter, but it’s more akin to margarine…and not in a good way (assuming there is something good about a product that’s one molecule away from plastic.) Editor’s Note: For those that think I’m being a little too harsh on margarine, keep in mind that I come from a long line of Southerners where even though grease is considered one of the four basic food groups (along with sugar, salt, and alcohol), margarine will get you kicked out of the kitchen (Miracle Whip will get you kicked out of the family.) At any rate, while Mexican butter is technically a dairy product, it is so oily that whatever you put it on immediately tastes like it’s been coated in cooking spray. Store it in the refrigerator, and it turns into a block of granite. Leave it on the counter, and it turns into soup. Luckily, in Melaque, there is a gringo-friendly store called the Super Hawaii that carries butter from the US and—if you really want to be fancy—from France. Super Hawaii also carries a variety of gringo comfort foods such as chili, Cheese-Its, Hamburger Helper, and Kraken Rum in the big bottle.
Delay #4:  New ink!  I got my first tattoo thirty years ago when you still went to a “parlor” in the dodgy part of town and the guy doing the tattoo may or may not have been in a motorcycle “club” (though he definitely smelled like he slept with a Harley…or two.) I don’t even know if they were called “artists” back then—my guy was called “Sugar Bear” and hand-drew a “Celtic cross” on my shoulder using a Bic pen before going to town with needle and ink. You’ll notice I’m using quotation marks a lot. That’s probably because I’m still not sure if the smudge on my left shoulder is really a “tattoo” or an after-market birthmark. I’m too embarrassed to admit that I did this to myself, so I prefer to tell people it’s a scar I got doing battle with a giant squid coming around Cape Flattery. It’s not really lying…either way you get inked.
But I’m really pleased with my new tattoo. I put a lot of thought into what I wanted. It had to be small, simple, and somewhat meaningful—with an emphasis on the first two because I knew that 15 minutes of pain was all I could handle. We went back to the guy that did the Captain’s tattoo last July because he’s a good artist, he has steady hands, and he’ll turn the stereo up full volume to drown out the swearing. Editor’s Note: I do believe I broke the world record in number of F-bombs uttered in a five-minute period as evidenced by a near unbroken stream of “fuckfuckfuckfuck...” while he was doing the fill in. And even though this is Mexico, where every business is behind a roll-up door and furnished DIY style, the experience seemed less “back alley” than my first go-round—probably because the shop was well-lit and very clean, there wasn’t a row of choppers out front, and the tattooist didn’t have a Marlboro hanging out of his mouth the whole time. The Captain got the same tattoo as I did so now we’re all matchy-matchy, but in a “shared experience” kind of way as opposed to a “today we’ll both be wearing the red-checked polos over navy slacks” way. Editor’s Note: “Shared experience” in this instance suggests the bigger picture of doing this boat thing together. The Captain sat in the chair for 12 hours straight when he had his octopus tat done—so his “experience” this time around was more “15-minute nap”. At any rate, when the tattoo artist gave us the “care and cleaning of your new tattoo” speech, I’m pretty sure he said to keep it lubricated, avoid the swimming pool for a week, and delay your voyage by two days. Yeah, I’m fairly certain that’s what he said.
The new tattoo! Told you it was simple! It’s right behind the ankle. The photo doesn’t do it justice because pictures tend to add 10 lbs. and a layer of fonk to the feet. But I think the anchor is very apropos. After all, if I ever go overboard, I just know I’m going to sink straight to the bottom.

Delay #5:  An unexpected illness. In the days leading up to our departure, we thought it’d be nice to visit all our favorite restaurants one last time. So we went to Garcia’s for some of the best wings in the area and the two-for-one happy hour that starts at noon and ends at 6:00 pm; Simona’s, well-known for their German cuisine and double-shot mixed drinks; Loco Loco, arguably the best pizza in Mexico and makers of a mean Cuba Libre; Nacho’s, one of Barra’s oldest establishments and purveyors of the town’s most potent strawberry margarita; and Manglito’s, the first restaurant we ever visited, consistently good and probably the best rum punch this side of the Captain’s. But Pipi’s holds a special place in our hearts. The venue isn’t noteworthy—six or seven tables set up outside a kitchen down one of Barra’s side streets. The food isn’t fancy—basic Mexican fare (plus a decent burger) that’s consistently good. And there’s not a whole lot of ambience unless you count the traffic that goes by. But the hospitality of Senor Pipi and his family is what sets it apart. They greet us like friends, remember our preferences, and patiently help us along with our Spanish. During the summer months, when there were fewer tourists in Barra (especially during the week—Tuesdays, specifically, were eerily quiet), we went to Pipi’s regularly.  Not only because we really like the place, but because it’s important to support the local businesses. During “low season” aka “incredibly hot time”, a lot of the restaurants close either for economic reasons or, in the case of many gringo-owned establishments, so the owners can go “back home” aka “somewhere cooler” for six months. Aside from Wednesdays and a week-long vacation around Easter, Pipi’s was always open, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to be the only patrons there. I think this is one reason Senor Pipi likes to ply us with “en la casa” rounds (mostly out of appreciation, but partly because once you get the gringos going, they find it hard to stop, and the free round will often beget a paid round, and so on.) So a few days before we were set to leave, we had lunch at Pipi’s. Three (or was it four?) rounds of drinks plus two rounds of “en la casa” plus whatever was imbibed once we got back to boat and…okay, so maybe it wasn’t an “illness” that waylaid us per se, but let’s just say that nothing got done the next day and the following morning and it was necessary to pad the departure timeline. Editor’s Note: If someone on board is under the weather—either from illness, allergies, or over-imbibing—the customary answer to, “How are you feeling?” is now, “Like I had lunch at Pipi’s.”
Senor Pipi:  Our favorite enabler.

Extra Credit Delay: We have learned from our mistake. It would have made sense to leave on December 1st. We were ready to go, a half dozen other Posse boats were planning to head out that day, and, more importantly, December 1st is when the marina rates go up (“High season, amigo!” they explain as they pick you off the floor.) But…and here’s the deal breaker…December 1st fell on a Friday. At which point I’d like to direct your attention to the blog post titled “False Start of the Third Voyage” in which we tempted fate by leaving on a Friday and our generator promptly blew up. Editor’s Note: Okay, so it went more “squeeee, sputter, sputter, clunk” but our timetable and our wallet were certainly blown to smithereens. Not wanting to go down that path again, we felt it prudent to delay departure for at least a day…which turned into two because the marina gave us a bro-deal on the daily rate given our nine-month tenure.
So that brings us to Sunday, December 3rd. Did we leave? Why, yes. Yes, we did…

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Day 457 to 557 of the Third Voyage: In which we’re just going to gloss over the last 100 days so we can get to the good stuff already.


People are always asking when the blog will be updated, and the stock answer is that there’s not a whole lot to report on when you’re sitting in the marina and generally not moving (physically, figuratively, literally, and corporeally.) I mean, one can only complain about the heat so much. Editor’s Note: You know how Eskimos have a hundred different words for “snow”? I think I’m up to about 38 different words for “heat” because apparently you CAN complain about the heat so much.

And now that we’re on the subject, someone turned up the heat in Barra and we were none too pleased. We felt we did an admirable job of coping with the heat this summer, but “autumn” was brutal (I put that in quotes because Fall is supposed to be brisk as opposed to boiling so I think it’s broken or something.) It’s the kind of heat that saps your strength, sucks out your soul, and smacks you about the face like it’s challenging you to a duel. Indeed, going outside in mid-afternoon felt like being shot between the eyes by a heat gun. There wasn’t a whole lot of respite at the beach or in the pools as the water temperature hovered around 85° and felt vaguely like floating in a hot cloud—and not in a good way—so afternoons were spent holed up on the boat, trying not to move and generate any additional heat and/or going into town to imbibe in copious amounts of libations so that the impending stupor would cool the core temperature. So far, the consensus is that face-down in a tequila stupor is two degrees cooler than face-up beer bloat.

Overall, it’s a hard climate for Otter—black fur may be fashionable in northern climes, but there’s a reason chihuahuas are practically naked south of the border. But exercise is essential, so every morning we dutifully climb the hills behind the resort (and by “we” I mean Otter and myself. The Captain bowed out of the daily “death march” ((his words, not mine—I prefer “The Terrible Trudge”)) weeks ago in favor of tennis because he feels that running around a court chasing after balls in the blazing sun is “less taxing”.) Editor’s Note: I always thought it was an “old person” thing, but everything here on Isla Navidad is literally “uphill both ways”. I’m not sure if it’s just a byproduct of Mexican engineering, if the roads are just sagging under their own weight, or if they were laid out by a hamster in a wheel, but I’m stymied as to why a road going to the top of the hill must visit the bottom at least three times before it gets there. At any rate, on the really hot days, we do the loop that passes by the main entrance to the resort (which is technically on the sixth floor of the hotel, so there’s that hamster thing again) so that Otter can jump around in their fountain and cool off. So far they haven’t complained, but given what we pay for moorage, they should probably be providing fluffy towels and a cocktail.

Otter also enjoys taking a dip in the lagoon. Not because he’s hot per se, but because he saw an iguana in there once about six months ago. THAT he remembers. That he ate a mere 30 minutes ago? Not so much.

It wasn’t all swelter though. In late September, we got brushed by hurricane Pilar and the resulting winds and rain caused the temperature to plummet. For two days we didn’t break 84 and almost had to dig out the hoodies…almost. Prior to Pilar, we had “rainy season” which meant that the heat of the afternoon was broken by the torrential rains at night that led to the sticky bun known as morning. Now normally I don’t mind the rain, especially if it’s not accompanied by thunder and copious amounts of lightening (which it was), doesn’t saturate the electrical box and fry our shore power cord (which it did), and doesn’t seep into the boat and absolutely moisten everything (which it absolutely managed to do.)  So, I guess what I’m saying is that I totally minded the rain this time.

Now, yes, I do realize that life on a boat means you’d better get used to leaks, drips, and damp. But now, for the first time, we were dealing with mildew. And mildew is no bueno. For one thing, the Deck Boss is allergic to mildew. It’s the reason we moved away from south Texas when I was very young to the relatively mold-free state of Colorado (or as my Dad, the quintessential home-sick Texas boy, used to fondly call it, “That God-forsaken, barren wasteland.”) For another, mildew destroys things—we ended up tossing quite a few items including shoes and books because they couldn’t be salvaged. And, as a real annoyance, mildew makes your clothes clammy with a musty overtone, so you feel and smell like a wet mothball. It took a good month of systematically going through the boat, pulling things out of lockers and drawers, airing and cleaning, and religiously running the dehumidifier before we got things under control.

Which brings us to this installment of “Now What?”  Let’s go back to those leaks, shall we? Not all leaks are created equal. Some leaks are easily sourced and addressed. For example, the river of water that poured into the master cabin originated with the cockpit steering wheel and was remedied by duct-taping a trash bag around its base until a suitable sealant could be procured. Some leaks are the result of age as evidenced by the downpour in the galley that came compliments of 30-year-old caulking. A trash bag was affixed overhead until the hatch could be rebedded with new caulking. And some leaks are just nigh untraceable—such as the deluge that suddenly sprung out of the aft bulkhead—because much a like a giant, floating pinball machine the water goes in somewhere on deck, travels through a series of ramps, bumpers, spinners, and bells, and spits out who-knows-where down below. In these instances, all that can be done is to secure trash bags to anyplace on deck that looks like it might let in water and hope for the best.

But then there’s the leak that warrants a mention in this section. The Nauticat 52 (i.e. our boat) was built in Finland for the North Sea so it’s designed around a pilothouse (because it’s more pleasant to traverse through gale force winds in 40 below temps from the inside) and whereas we do have the traditional, steep companionway stairs to the cockpit, the main access to the pilothouse is through a heavy sliding door on the starboard side. I’m guessing this was put in because when your North Sea foulies add ten inches to your overall body mass, it’s easier to squeeze through a door than a hatch. At any rate, we love our door. There’s no clambering over lazarettes, fixtures and fittings to gain entry; it’s a direct route from the dock to down below, which is advantageous when your arms are full of stuff; and Otter and the Deck Boss can get below without the risk of tumbling face first down a vertical incline. So, yes, we love our door. Which is why we were dismayed to discover—after five years of ownership, I might add—that it lets in copious amounts of water every time it rains at a velocity of 1.456 inches per hour while the wind is coming at us at 8 degrees from WSW…which apparently is the preferred rain/wind combo here in Barra. Since the door is so precisely fitted, there is no way to add an insulating strip. So to combat the problem, the Captain is going to have to sew up a removable flap to affix on rainy days because we don’t want to put a trash bag over the door. That would be tacky.

So what else has been going on? Well, the high point of the last 100 days was that we got a new dinghy! As you may recall from the last blog post, the old dinghy blew a seal and would no longer hold air. So a search was made; the Captain, aka NPR (Never Pay Retail), found a helluva deal on a brand-new Achilles 10-1/2 footer with a snazzy locker/step combination in the bow; and it was dutifully shipped from the US to Barra in record time because, after a year in Mexico, we have finally figured out how to get things here without a three-week “customs delay” in Guadalajara. And now that we have it—and the new outboard—life is awesome! When you live on a boat, your dinghy is your car. Now that we have a “car” that we can rely on, it has opened up a new world. We’re free to zoom about, explore, visit friends at anchor, putter about the canals, and test the depths of the lagoon—which we have, twice, by running aground. But obviously the biggest thrill is that when we head south and stop in all those anchorages, we won’t have to stress out wondering if it will start/stop/float/sink/blow up/or otherwise maroon us when it’s time to go ashore and back.

Editor’s Note: You may be wondering what we did with our old dinghy? We gave it to some fellow cruisers that, despite the dinghy’s obvious problems, were thrilled because it was “better than their old dinghy” which I’m guessing must have been a waterlogged piece of siding with a two-by-four as a tiller. Through much effort, they were able to fix the seal and, despite a slow leak, are getting a lot of use out of it. We are simultaneously happy and sorry for them.


I couldn’t get a good photo of the new dinghy as it's currently on the back of the boat in preparation for the journey south (Ooh! That was a Spoiler Alert!), so please enjoy these old-timey depictions…
Old Dinghy

New Dinghy


POSTSCRIPT to the riveting dinghy story:  In keeping with our Raven/Poe theme, our new dinghy is called T/T Lenore III.  You know what became of Lenore II. What about the first Lenore? Let’s just say that the Livingston turned out to be a poor choice for the Pacific Northwest and after one too many outings that resulted in soggy underpants and a frostbitten butt, it was sold on to someone with a stronger constitution.

So that was the high point. What was the low point of the past 100 days? Easily it had to be when the Captain when into anaphylactic shock after getting bit and/or stung by something after a game of tennis. One minute he was fine, the next he was in “gotta lay down” mode followed closely by “gonna be sick” mode which turned into “passed out in the head” mode which preceded “how the hell am I going to get him out of the head and into bed when only half a person fits in here to begin with, maybe try tilting him and using a spatula?” mode which turned into “airways closing up and can’t breathe” mode which necessitated “Usain Bolt mode to the office to have them contact the doctor” mode followed by “what the hell is taking the doctor so long and I hope he has something for mode overload because I’m about to throw up” mode. But the doctor did arrive—with tackle box in tow because that’s how Mexican doctors roll when making boat calls—and after a quick examination to locate the bite mark, rummaged in his box for a vial and the largest needle I’ve every seen. He then proceeded to announce to the semi-conscious Captain, “Meester! Meester! I’m going to stick this needle in your keister!”, gave me a quick smile, and plunged it straight into his hip. And just like that, it was over. The whole ordeal was as surprising as it was sudden as we had no idea he was even allergic to anything, but the consensus is that it was the bite of a nasty black wasp that likes to hang out on the Isle. We reached this conclusion partly because another cruiser was bit by one and had the same reaction as the Captain and partly because it’s much more compelling to be brought down by a jet-black, iron-clad war-wasp than a happy, stripey, bumblebee! Editor’s Note: After the shot we were told, “no chocolate, pork, or strawberries” which of course makes you instantly crave a Neapolitan porkcicle.

One other note: I’d like to call attention to the blog entry of Day 55 of the First Voyage and pose the question, “Who’s overreacting now?”

Pictured: In the Flying Stinging Things Army, this is the guy they bring out to scare the other guys shitless.
Not Pictured: The other guys. They’re changing their underwear.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Day 404 to 456 of the Third Voyage: In which it is possible to rise to the occasion without falling on your face and that’s a nice change.


Week 18:  After a couple of months in the shop waiting for a part, the dinghy outboard was finally returned! It worked perfectly the first day; not so great the second day; and by the third day, it was back to crappy. We tried, we really did. We gave it every chance. Two carburetor cleanings, a partial rebuild, new filters, new hoses, new rings. We gave it sixteen different types of fuel, oil, and fuel/oil combos. We even attached a secondary fuel polisher. We tried storing it twenty different ways:  up, down, horizontal, vertical, on the deck, on the dock, on the dinghy, shaft in the water, shaft out of the water. We cleaned it, coddled it, and read it bedtime stories every night. And this is how it repays us. Well, it is dead to us now. A new outboard has been ordered from Zaragoza in PV. Editor’s Note: The Mexican Postal Service is dead to us as well. The part we were initially waiting on was mailed from the US back in May. After waiting two months, we concluded that the part was lost, reordered it, and paid extra for expedited shipping via DHL (which cost more than the part itself). The day it arrived, so did the original shipment. In the same vein, FedEx is also on our shit list. At least here in Barra. They don’t like making the trip from Manzanillo to Isle de Navidad with only one package on the truck so they’ll come up with all kinds of excuses as to why they can’t deliver. First, they’ll claim the address doesn’t exist, then miraculously “fix” it the next day; next, then they’ll move it around in the facility and scan it each time so it looks like it’s in route to somewhere; and then, finally, it will get on the truck and stay there for three days until they get another package and/or even they start to realize how ridiculous it’s getting. If you’ve ordered something for overnight delivery, plan on an extra week. Or have two things come at once so it makes it “worth their while”. I wish I could say that Estafeta is better. They’re the Mexican equivalent of FedEx and they don’t like coming to Isle de Navidad either. The Captain had a surfboard coming from Puerto Escondido (southern Mexico). First they said it was in Manzanillo and we’d have to come get it; then they changed their minds and decided that it was in Barra (in one of the barrio tiendas) but they couldn’t deliver it because they “didn’t have a truck big enough” which makes no sense because a) how’d they get it to Barra in the first place? and, b) why didn’t they just deliver it as contracted to Isle de Navidad since they would have driven right by it on their way to Barra? and, c) just WTF people?  Long story short, we ended up walking to said tienda in the barrio and carted it three miles back to the water taxi. We figured we’d better before Estafeta changed their mind again and contracted with the Mexican postal service to facilitate the rest of the delivery.
Sure am glad we paid extra for the door-to-door service. It would have been quite an ordeal to haul this thing across town. Oh, wait….

Week 19:  The new outboard arrived this week! It’s sleek, shiny, and brand new out of the box! There’s nothing that says, “this one may actually work!” like prying something out of molded Styrofoam. We got it attached, pumped some fresh gas and oil into it, and took it out for a test spin. And I’m happy to report that it was everything we imagined and more. It started right up, went easily into gear, and overall kicked butt. The manual said not to bring it past half throttle during the first few hours of use, but no matter. Even at half speed it surpassed our old outboard in performance.
Also arriving this week: the new engine room blower to replace the one that went south (and not just for the winter.) Once we get it installed, we’ll finally be able to do all that engine room work we’ve been putting off. Yay, I guess.

Weeks 20 to 22:  Here’s something to consider:  be careful when commenting on a Facebook post. The Captain noticed a post on the Liveaboard Sailboat page asking for help moving a Brewer 44 from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco. Thinking this was someone he knew from Paradise Village, and merely wanting to reconnect, he asked, “Is this Greg’s boat by chance?” The next day and he’s on a bus headed to PV to help deliver a sailboat. To be fair, Greg was in a bind. He had just accepted a job offer in SF and had a finite amount of time to get up there with his “home”. He had hired a delivery skipper who had made the trip dozens of times but a third person on watch can make a hellish journey a bit more tolerable and there are few things more hellish than heading north up the coast on a boat. For one thing, the wind is always against you. As is the tide. As is the weather. In fact, there is little going “for” you when heading north in the summertime.
Originally, the plan was for the Captain to help crew the boat up to San Diego—nine days tops. After all, Greg had found a delivery skipper who had lots of experience doing this run and once you get off the Baja Peninsula, many of the remaining legs can be broken out into day runs. Is this how it worked out? Of course not!
Here are the highlights of his trip…
Barra to PV: The Captain secures all the lines to Raven, tests all the systems, and prepares her for any inclement weather. He jokingly says he’ll be back in nine to 21 days and we laugh heartily at the 21 days part because that totally won’t happen! He then boards the bus for the four-hour ride to PV. As First Mate, I am now in charge. Thirty minutes after he leaves and it sinks in, “Holy crap! I’m in charge! Please, please, please, Oh Lord in Heaven, do not let anything happen to this boat that will cause it to catch fire, fill with water, and sink slowly into the inky depths. And if she does, I pray that I go down with her so that I won’t have to face the scrutiny of having sunk the boat within hours of having been put in charge. And also, Dear Lord, should I blow out the mid-cabin electrical circuit because I accidentally run the microwave and the coffee maker at the same time, I pray that we catch fire, fill with water, and sink slowly into the inky depths because the Captain will kill me if I do that again. Amen.”

PV to Cabo San Lucas: The Captain arrives in PV on Friday afternoon. He and Greg do the last of the provisioning and then go out for sushi. Upon their return to the boat, the delivery skipper shows up, surreptitiously stows some bundles under his bunk, then proceeds to light up something that may or may not be a cigarette. They cast off at first light for what will turn out to be a 60-hour slog to Cabo—at an average speed of 3.5 knots. (For reference, we made the Cabo to PV run in just under 48 hours. For another reference, the average person can walk comfortably at a speed of about 3 mph or 2.6 knots.) The winds and waves were right on their nose and, to make matters worse, the Brewer 44 tends to be heavier in the bow which creates a nice “hobby horse” effect. So every time the boat went up a wave, it crashed down the other side with enough force to bury the nose in the water. And to make matters even more worse, the Captain was sick as a dog. But not with seasickness per se. It was either bad sushi or second-hand, whatever-the-delivery-skipper-was-smoking sick. Needless to say, by the time they got to Cabo, the Captain was severely dehydrated, deprived of sleep, and desperately looking for a way out. But not wanting to abandon Greg to a delivery skipper with increasingly dubious skills, he purchased a case of Electrolit sports drinks and soldiered on.

Cabo to Ensenada:  Another 700 miles of more of the same. It’s slow, it’s rolly, it’s a slog. The Captain is feeling better thanks to his Electrolit, but a there’s a new fly in the ointment—one that was buzzing slightly from the beginning, but now has become unbearable. It seems the delivery skipper, who had claimed to have made this run “dozens of times”, had exaggerated a bit. (Okay, so if “dozens” equals “one” then he exaggerated a LOT.) So, he was unfamiliar with the route. He also didn’t have near the experience he said he had, pretty much making the Captain the more knowledgeable sailor on board. Plus, he made a habit of being an hour late for all his watches and it was now apparent that those cigarettes were most definitely not cigarettes.

EARTHQUAKE!!!  Meanwhile, back in Barra, we had an earthquake! I was out walking Otter when I heard what could best be described as a muffled BOOM. It was unusual enough that I looked around for the source, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Back at the marina, people were out on the docks talking excitedly and that’s when I learned that there’d been an earthquake about 60 miles off the coast. The Deck Boss had been on board and she said it sounded like a “mountain falling into the water” followed by a healthy dose of bucking bronco. Other than it got people’s attention, it didn’t do any damage.

Ensenada to San Diego: Greg and the Captain left Ensenada about 180 lbs. lighter as they had jettisoned the delivery skipper before they left. Besides the fact that he didn’t have any Baja or US coastal experience, would never do a full watch, and didn’t know his way around a boat, he still couldn’t understand why he was being let go—even as he was taking his bundles of marijuana out from under his bunk. Greg and the Captain had an easier voyage into San Diego despite arriving in exceptionally thick fog, but I think once they had divested themselves of the delivery skipper’s hash fog—along with his presence—it may have just seemed easier.

San Diego to San Francisco: With the unloading of the delivery skipper, it was now apparent that the Captain was in it for the long haul and he and Greg set out for the 400-mile trek to San Francisco with stops at Newport, Santa Barbara, and San Simeon. Given the circumstances, it wasn’t a bad run with two notable exceptions. The first being the full-blown gale they encountered around Point Concepcion (naturally…would it be any other way?) and the other being the excruciatingly slow rate of speed which tended to fluctuate between an “are we even moving?” two knots and a “would it help if I got out and pushed” four—and this was motoring. Had they tried sailing, they’d probably have been going backwards.

But finally, after almost three weeks at sea, they arrived in San Francisco Bay. After a day and a half of celebrating (i.e. wining, dining, and recuperating), the Captain arrived back in Barra—a full 21 days after he left.

But two days before he got home…HURRICANE!!!  No, not in Barra! As Hurricane Franklin made its way over the Yucatan Peninsula and into the interior, it’s remnants combined with a low in southwestern Mexico to form Tropical Storm Jova. But don’t worry, we didn’t hit by Jova either. But we did get some mighty strong winds due to all the atmospheric goings-on. As in winds that necessitate going out on deck every fifteen minutes to secure something else that has wrestled loose. The main culprit was the cover. Raven has a massive canvas cover over the pilothouse and foredeck to protect the topsides from the sun and aid in our quest for coolth. It also—apparently—has a design flaw in that the entire back half—a full 150-square feet of heavy fabric—is attached to the top of the pilot house with two snaps. Two. Fricking. Snaps. Each less than ¾ inch in diameter and so far under the eyebrow that the canvas must be completely taut just to reach it. Each time I’d finally get the canvas stretched back and snapped into place (which took considerable effort), a 35-mph gust would blow it back out. After battling with it for over an hour, I stopped and asked myself, “What would the Captain do?” I knew one thing for certain…it would involve parachute cord. Most men rely on duct tape. A few swear by zip ties. The Captain is a cord man. He buys it in bulk on large industrial spools and it’s the one item that doesn’t get stowed. It’s always out, always at the ready. And whenever something goes awry on Raven, I am immediately dispatched to procure the parachute cord and a rigging knife. So here I was, spool of parachute cord in one hand, knife in the other, the Deck Boss valiantly trying to keep hold of the cover even as the wind is ripping it from her fingers, when I finally have my “Captain” moment. I threaded the cord between the snap and the fold in the canvass and then tied it best I could around the nearest halyard. And by tied, I don’t mean in a professional sailor knot like the Captain would have used—more in a rabbit goes around the hole and up the tree and past the badger and back into the hole or something like that (I obviously flunked Knots 101.) But if you do that about seven times, it will hold. And it did. It wasn’t pretty, but it held until the Captain got back and was able to do a better job of it. I think he was secretly proud of me. Even though he almost ruined his rigging knife trying to slice through my knots.

But the important takeaway to all this was that the Captain spent three weeks at sea and didn’t crack and the Deck Boss and I managed Raven on our own without it catching fire, filling with water, and sinking slowly into the inky depths.

Updates from World War C. Six weeks after the Advion was first deployed and enemy sightings have been few and far between. One was spotted in the aft head and promptly neutralized. Another was caught in the galley. We suspect he hitched a ride on some incoming groceries as part of a reconnaissance mission and dealt with him as we do all such infiltrators: with a swift execution.

What now?  Oh, this one is a doozy. We haven’t been able to properly use our dinghy for over a year due to the ongoing problems with the outboard. Let’s just say that when the length of your dinghy ride is predicated by “how far do I want to row back when the outboard dies”, it makes the trip rather short (answer: end of the dock and back.) It’s been especially tough here in Barra. There’s a huge lagoon to explore, canals that go up through the heart of the town, and water-side restaurants with their own dinghy docks—all of it off limits to a dinghy with an ill-tempered outboard. So you can imagine our excitement when the new outboard arrived. We took it out for its (extremely successful) inaugural run and there was much rejoicing! Then the Captain left for three weeks. Two days before his return, I noticed that half the dinghy had deflated. Turns out that the PVC end cap on the starboard pontoon had broken away from the rubber. The Captain tried valiantly to save it but if you have a dinghy, you know that once a seal is broken, it’s pretty much all over. We contacted the manufacturer as well as the place from which we bought it and were told that we would need to ship the dinghy back up to Seattle at which point they would evaluate what (if anything) was still under warranty but that most likely the end cap was not covered. Plus, we would be sans dinghy for a couple of months while they assessed and/or fixed and/or ignored the problem. In the succinct words of the Deck Boss, “Well screw that!” So now the search begins for a new dinghy. (It’s still a kick-ass outboard, though. And one day, we will have an outboard AND a dinghy that both work…at the same time.)
Et tu, Brute? Et tu?



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Regarding Week 17.  Neil’s mother, Linnea, passed away on July 5th after a lengthy illness. Though it was not unexpected—and she is, through her faith, unequivocally in a better and more peaceful place—it is still a profound loss for the family.
It was her love of boats that first stoked Neil’s passion for the sea and sailing and, in turn, it was that passion that started us on this journey. It was always her dream to join us on one of our voyages and it is with deep regret that her health would not allow it. She had also expressed interest in getting a specific tattoo on her big toe. So, in her memory…

RIP Linnea. We will make sure this ladybug steps ashore in all the places you had hoped to but never got the chance.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Day 394 to 403 of the Third Voyage: In which so much happened in two weeks that I’m already posting!


Editor’s Note: Okay, confession time. Not that much really happened. I just went off on so many tangents that I figured I should post something before the whole thing went into War and Peace territory. That, and the two weeks in question was about six weeks ago so technically I owe you one (well, maybe two.)

Week 15:  Summer has officially come to Barra and it’s everything we could have imagined. Hot? Check. Humid? Double check. High UV? Checkmark can’t see its shadow so it’s got to be over 10. But I must give us snaps for handling it with a bit more grace than last summer. The bitching has been minimal and I think we’ve finally come to terms with the fact that life in the tropics will consist of four seasons: hot, hotter, Good God, and That Wasn’t So Bad. With one summer in Mexico already under our belts, we are better equipped to handle the heat. Now we just quietly sweat like wildebeests as we go about our daily business. We figure as long as we’re staying hydrated, avoiding sunstroke, and bringing towels to mop up the puddles we leave behind, there’s no reason why we can’t be outside enjoying ourselves. I mean, lots of people change their clothes four times a day, right?

Of course, the upside of summer (and the thunderstorms that barrel through, dump 600 clouds worth of rain in about 20 minutes, and leave a steam bath in their wake) is that all of Barra has exploded in color. The hillsides that were once dry, brown, and brittle are now resplendent in varying shades of green, all manners of flowers are blooming, and the air is alive with hummingbirds and butterflies. Unfortunately, the mosquitos are also abundant and OFF! is a prerequisite whenever going outside. I’ve taken to carrying a can with me everywhere because you never know where they may be lurking. Alas, the OFF! doesn’t seem to work as well on the flies which have also hitched a ride with the sun and the rain. Most restaurants are outdoors and any not on the beach or lagoon (and thus getting a little moving air), are susceptible to a sizeable invasion. We spent one uncomfortable evening at a café down a side street from the church. There was no breeze and the tables were surrounded by planters (i.e. insect summer homes) and we spent the entire meal eating with one hand and swatting away flies with the other. (Of course, it was arguably the worst food we’ve had since coming to Mexico so it’s entirely possible that the infestation of flies was less environmental and more a commentary on the food.)

Week 16:  Now just because we’re handling the heat better, it does not mean we’re giving up the quest for coolth. We have, however, given up on the central air. Having to flush out hoses and clean strainers of sea life once a week was just too much work for what we were getting out of it. Let’s just say that when the unit can only cool the raw water intake a good five degrees and the water is easily 90°, it’s not a good return on your labor investment. Last summer, we got two of those large, floor-unit ACs (the ones that weigh about a ton and exhaust out through the window via a gargantuan hose) for each of the sleeping cabins. They take up a lot of real estate, but they do work. And if you can sleep at night, it makes it easier to survive the day. So, the cabins are bearable, but the pilothouse and galley are still sweatboxes. We placed a huge fan on the companionway steps to move the air around, but then we thought, “This is silly. We’re on flat-rate electric. As long as we’re already using enough watts to power a small city, we may as well get a small AC window unit to place in the companionway opening and get rid of this big, noisy fan!” Cut to a couple of days later…we bring home a small AC window unit (the only one that will fit in the opening) and find that it does a nice job of keeping the 18 inches in front of it nice and cool but not so much the rest of the area. So, we have now put the fan in front of it. In fact, pretty much right back where it was. It’s just as big and as noisy, but now it’s moving cooler air around the boat--enough where we can use the galley and get a couple more hours use out of the pilothouse before it gets too warm.

So why bring up something as boring as AC? Because to get said AC, we had to go to Manzanillo. And to do that, we rented a car! So why bring up something as boring as renting a car? Because this was our first time driving in Mexico! (And by “our” I mean the Captain. Much like grilling, tinkering, and hauling up the garbage, driving rental cars is a “man task”. My job is to act as navigator a.k.a. provide fodder for the marriage counseling sessions.) Had we still been in PV, I don’t think we would have done it. The taxis move through traffic like an angry swarm of killer beers; there’s a reason the buses are dented, cracked, and held together with duct tape; and the “collectivos” should just plain come with crash helmets (seriously, we were in one where the driver cut through parking lots and up and on the sidewalks to make up time because apparently he had to be at his next stop the previous Tuesday) and if it was just those vehicles on the road, it’d be terrifying enough. But add in all the cars, trucks, motorcycles, and scooters—each driven by an individual who is either blind, oblivious, or late for an appointment—put them on roads that haven’t been repaved since Ricardo Montalban was hawking the Chrysler Cordoba, and it’s utter chaos. I was talking to a guy in PV who was originally from Mexico City (the land of 20 million cars and one traffic light and a perennial top three finisher on Forbes’ list of Worst Traffic in the World) and he said the first thing he did when he moved to PV was get rid of his car because, as he put it, “These people are crazy.”

But here it is a little different. For one thing, the Costalegre area is not as populous as Banderas Bay so already you have 5,000 less nut jobs on the road. Plus, Colima is one of the wealthier states so they can afford nicer roads. Editor’s Note: Barra is in the state of Jalisco which doesn’t have as much money for infrastructure as Colima. The Grand Bay Resort & Marina, which is situated on a peninsula across the lagoon from Barra, is in Colima. That was by choice because the resort wanted to be associated with the “classier” state as did some of the beachfront communities along the Pacific Coast. As a result, the state line wiggle waggles all throughout the area as Jalisco tries desperately to hold on to as much real estate as they can. Consequently, the road conditions can go from good to extremely dodgy in any given stretch depending on which state you’re currently in. All this pettiness culminates in “the bridge”. This single-lane bridge, which spans a shallow ravine that acts as part of a natural boundary between the two states, sustained some damage during Hurricane Patricia back in 2015. The Colima side is a beautiful, red-brick paved road. The Jalisco side is pot-holes and dirt track with a little paving material thrown in to keep up appearances. The bridge, on the other hand, has become the proverbial hot potato. Neither state wants to pay to have it fixed, so each tries to foist it off on the other. In the meantime, the bridge continues to fall into a state of disrepair. Who will win? (Or lose, as the case may be?) Like many similar situations in Mexico, I doubt if it will be resolved in my lifetime.
The Bridge. Only one car may cross at a time. God forbid a Colima official should arrive at the same time as an official from Jalisco. It’d be an endless game of "Oh, no, I insist. After you." aka "You smelt it, you dealt it."
The Jalisco side of the bridge. You may choose between the crumbling original road or the soft dirt track that people appropriated out of the shoulder. One will rattle your spleen out through your belly button; the other may swallow your car whole. What about oncoming traffic? I’m pretty sure you have bigger things to worry about.
Once off the peninsula, we took the detour through the fruit plantations to avoid the bustling center of Cihuatlan and then—with the exception of the military checkpoint—it was nonstop all the way to Manzanillo. The interstate is a two-lane highway, but given the vast number of slower-moving vehicles that drive way over on the right-hand side to let the faster cars pass, I guess technically it could be called a four-lane highway. We’re still not sure what the speed limit was. We saw lots of signs admonishing drivers not to drive on the shoulder, but aside from the “Reduce Speed” signs coming into every village, there was no indication as to how fast you could or couldn’t go and absolutely no guidance as to how much you should reduce said speed. But if you don’t heed the speed reduction signs, don’t worry. The speed bumps at the entrances to the villages will tear out the entire undercarriage of your vehicle bringing you to an abrupt halt so you won’t have to worry about taking out someone’s taco stand. Editor’s Note: We thought the speed bumps in Jalisco were bad, but they’ve got nothing on Colima. Colima likes to group their speed bumps into sets of six with just enough space in between that your tires will get stuck if you go too slow or rip off the axel if taken too fast (“just right” is somewhere between bumping your head on the ceiling and losing a filling.) Once again, whatever Jalisco can do, Colima can do better. Except that bridge. Screw the bridge. That’s the other state’s problem.
As we got closer to Manzanillo, we saw the first of the “No Tell Motels”. They’re easy to spot because they’re surrounded by high walls and look to be the nicest structures in any given town. If you haven’t already guessed by the name, these are establishments that rent rooms by the hour. But unlike the questionable “hourlies” in the States (such as the awesomely-named Bugs Bunny Motel in Denver), these are a bit different. For one thing, there are no witnesses to whatever you are or aren’t up to. You drive up to a machine, select a room and pay for a block of time (in cash of course), then drive your car into an assigned garage and shut the door. The room is accessed through the garage. Any room service is ordered over the phone and delivered via a Lazy-Susan contraption in the wall. It sounds skeezy, but from what I understand, they’re a favorite choice amongst expats who are travelling and just need a place to crash overnight. Evidently, if you don’t mind lots of strategically-placed mirrors and a few pieces of interesting-looking furniture, they’re not only inexpensive, but also extremely clean and incredibly secure (more so than most motels.)  Just don’t turn on the tv.
But back to Manzanillo. Regrettably, we didn’t get to spend any time exploring the city this time around as we needed to hit Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and a boat chandlery and be back before the late afternoon thunderstorms hit. We weren’t so concerned about driving in the rain in Colima; we just weren’t thrilled with the prospect of getting stuck somewhere around “the bridge” and having the local authorities quibble over who was responsible for pulling us out.
Now I must admit that after four months of shopping at our little local tiendas, it was weird being back in a big box store. Apart from fresh foods, there’s not a whole lot of variety of your basic pantry staples at the local markets. But in a way, it’s kind of nice to only have to choose between the small or large jar of mayonnaise as opposed to facing down an entire wall of different brands, flavors, textures, styles, sizes, and container compositions. I mean, dude, it’s mayonnaise. I’d just assume not have to put more thought into my condiment than when I bought my first car.
But there was one small milestone in Manzanillo. With the Captain lost amongst the aisles of the Home Depot desperately looking for the nuts, bolts, drill bits, weather stripping, two by fours, and other bits and bobs that keep the boat together, I managed to successfully procure an AC unit entirely in Spanish. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like it should be too hard. You find the unit, put it in a cart, and take it to the checkout stand. But this is Mexico. And it ain’t the land of the hat dance for nothing. We learned this early on…Mexicans are not into stocking. It doesn’t matter how big, small, cheap, expensive, or popular an item is, it will never be reordered and/or restocked until enough people have complained about its availability. And when the delivery DOES show up, it will be dumped on the floor with a bunch of other stuff and take up to a week to be sorted on the shelves (seriously, I thought one of our tiendas was on a fault line because the packaged goods were always scattered about in huge piles. It was two weeks before I realized they had a floor...and shelves.) In this instance, there was a big empty space under the AC unit floor model where inventory should have been. In Spanish, I asked, “Do you have this one in stock?” (He checks the computer and gives me the affirmative nod.) “You do? Great!” (He just looks at me but doesn’t move.) “Um, could you get one for me? I’d like to buy it.” (He goes back to the computer, then starts looking toward the ceiling.) “You have one, correct? Because I’d like to buy it.” (He says something and points upwards.) “Oh, it’s up there on the top shelf? High up there?” (He continues to look and then asks me if I only want one.) “Yes, please, only one.” (He calls in a manager and they look at the computer, then look upwards.) “Yes, I realize it is high up there. What’s that? No. I only want one.” (They go to get another guy. He returns and they all look up.) “Yes, it is very high. No. I only want one.” (They then proceed to rope off half the store while they go get the cherry picker. Twenty minutes later and they have completely blocked half of the home and garden section with a pallet the size of a small semi.) “What’s that? Yes, that was high up there. No. I only want one.” (They pull apart the pallet to procure my AC unit and then prepare to lift the pallet back into place.) At this point I feel like I should suggest that maybe they leave some out as it’s obviously a very popular unit but then decide against it. I wouldn’t want to mess up their system. Editor’s Note: If you ever need to purchase an AC unit in Mexico, just memorize the following and you’ll be golden... “Me gustaría comprar un aire acondicionado. Si, es muy alto. No, gracias, solo uno.”
The next day, we decided to do a little sightseeing and headed out to the coastal town of La Manzanilla. Begin tangent:  Flights out of the Manzanillo airport are generally much more expensive than Puerto Vallarta (and longer as 99% of the time you must change planes in Mexico City), so much so that all our recent visa trips have included a four- to five-hour bus ride from Barra to PV. The buses (Primera Plus – accept NO substitutes unless you like stopping every six blocks and sitting next to livestock) are very comfortable, have all modern conveniences (including WiFi), and are well maintained. Unfortunately, they still must drive on the Jalisco highways and this one in particular winds up, down, around and around as it makes its way through the mountains along roads that are okay at best, nonexistent at worst (Seriously. We went through a “construction zone” in which nothing had yet been constructed. The bus trundled along in the tire tracks made by a bulldozer along a dirt road with a cliff face on one side and a ravine on the other.) Long story short:  if you suffer from motion sickness, it will be the longest ride of your life. End tangent.
So as I was saying, the next day, we decided to do a little sightseeing and headed out to the coastal town of La Manzanillo which is only a marginally better drive than when on the Primera Plus bus because at least you’re lower to the pavement and can’t see just how steep of a drop off it is. But it’s worth the trip. Why? Cocodrilos! La Manzanilla is situated next to a large estuary that empties out into the Bay of Tenacatita and is home to hundreds of crocodiles. They’ve built a nature sanctuary that doesn’t keep the crocs in (they’re free to come and go as they please) but for less than a dollar admission you can walk around it on a raised platform—about a mile around—and see the animals from above. The walkway also includes two suspension bridges that sound fun on paper but not so much when the Deck Boss is behind you making it bounce violently up and down while giggling maniacally. We ended our crocodile encounter with lunch by the beach where we ran into “squirrel guy”. “Squirrel guy” frequents all the Costalegre beach towns and is hard to miss as he’s generally the only person carrying a large boom box and wearing two squirrels. He sells baked goods and candy bars from a large basket and for a few pesos you can wear his squirrels for a while.
They’ll all be wearing squirrels in Paris next fall.
These are American Crocodiles—not American Alligators. They didn’t spend eight years in croc school to be called an alligator, thank you very much.
It was squishy, sweaty, and extremely awkward. I think the feeling was mutual. Please note, however, that the proper way to hold a baby crocodile is with the pinky finger extended.
One side note about our experience with Mexican car rentals. We arranged the car rental via the concierge at the resort. Thrifty brought us a car—a new model Nissan Versa—from their lot at the Manzanillo airport. The rate was 900 pesos a day or roughly $50 US (putting the total with tax at around $120 US.) The guy had all the usual forms and took all the usual information. He also had one of those old-fashioned cachunker machines for our credit card (if you’re under the age of 30, have an old person explain it to you) and duly made an impression of our Visa card using an old Amex form. He then took phone-camera photos of the front and back of our Visa card as well as the Captain’s driver’s license. Good to go. Two days later he comes to pick up the car and explains that the photos didn’t come out so he once again takes front and back photos of the Captain’s Visa and license. Are we done here? Apparently not. Four hours later and he comes by the boat and asks if he can retake the photos as they still didn’t come out. Are we done now? Guess so, because four hours later I get an alert from Capital One saying a charge from Thrifty came through for $500 US and is this correct? I hit the “No” button and the Captain’s Capital One card spontaneously combusted in his wallet. One month later and we’re still trying to sort it all out.
Next time they want to take photos of our license and credit card, we’ll tell them they’re down there.

Updates from World War C:  The conflict has entered the next stage. The Advion seems to have worked as prescribed, but given our past experiences we are hesitant to proclaim total cockroach eradication in case the enemy is merely lying low--hiding their numbers and their intentions. To preserve this tentative peace, we have begun stockpiling weapons and deploying periodic doses of Advion as a show of force. The cold war has begun.
Now what?  What broke and/or failed and/or totally let us down now? This time it was the electrical socket in the cockpit. We had it installed specifically so that we wouldn’t have to run extension cords through the pilothouse when using power tools and other electrical stuff out on deck. It was not the easiest of installs due to all the wires that had to be snaked and squeezed amongst the thousands of other wires currently running through the walls on their way to the main control panel. And now it’s gone kaput. Unfortunately, we found this out while filling the water tanks. About half-way through we realized the UV-light filter wasn’t getting any power which meant we were basically putting unpotable water into the tanks. This necessitated emptying said tanks of the tainted water by running every tap on the boat for about half an hour till we got an acceptable reading on the particle counter at which point we had to run an extension cord from the pilothouse to the UV-light filter outside in order to start the whole tank-filling process over. Luckily, we have extra wire on board and the Captain found some new switches at Home Depot. Now he just has to trace through about 4,000 feet of wire to figure out where/why/and how much of the wiring needs to be replaced. Yes, now he “just" has to…