Thursday, April 21, 2016

Countdown to the Third Voyage: In which we patiently wait for the generator to get with the program and wonder if people think we’re stupid or something.

Apparently, when we said we were going south the generator took that to mean that it was time for it to go south too. Only it was the wrong kind of south. Once settled in the anchorage, we fired it up and immediately heard a subtle clanking sound coming from the engine room followed by flickering lights on the electrical panel. At that point we didn’t know if it was mechanical or electrical, major or minor but we did know that the journey would be delayed. But if the generator had to take a dump, I guess the timing was good because, and let me go back to Mantra 2 (of 18…because you can never have too many mantras):  Better here than out there.

We had a crew meeting right then and there and it was decided that we could just as well get the generator repaired or replaced at our first stop in Mexico: Ensenada. There is, after all, a boat yard right next to the marina we’ll be visiting. And it’s not unprecedented. People do it all the time. Raven’s previous owners spent a good three years in Puerto Vallarta and had a lot of work done there. Aside from a devastating bottom job (stop sniggering land lubbers…it’s not what you think) all the work had been quite competent as well as less expensive than had it been done stateside.

But then we talked to our mechanic. He offered to come out to the boat while in the anchorage and give us a prognosis. And after running it for approximately 30 seconds, decided it was very likely that the generator needed to be replaced but he wouldn’t know until he could run a pressure test and that we should probably start looking at ways to rip up the cabin floor in order to gain better access to the engine room. Oh…and given his current work load, it would be one to two months after the pressure test before he could get to us. With mouths agape, we made mention that were thinking of taking the boat down to Ensenada and having the work done there, especially if he was so busy. He then proceeded to tell us that (and I’m paraphrasing here) all Mexican mechanics were quacks and that over half of his jobs consisted of repairing botched work done in Mexico. Now our mechanic is highly rated, frequently referred, and did a great job diagnosing and repairing our last few engine concerns. So we took his advice, tucked into the closest marina with space available, and waited for the pressure test to determine what exactly we were in for. And thus it unfolded like this…we arrived at the marina on Monday, the pressure test was supposed to be done on Tuesday, which got pushed to Wednesday, which got pushed to Thursday, which got shuffled over to one of “his guys” who would come on Friday. When the time of his arrival came and went, the Captain gave this guy a call and was told (and I quote)…”I’ll be out when it stops raining.” Now it rarely rains in San Diego, but a system came through and intermittent rain was expected for the next three days. Concerned about yet another delay, the Captain called our mechanic and was told (and I quote), “My guys don’t work when it’s raining. They might get wet feet. In fact, nobody works when it’s raining. If you can find a mechanic that will work when it’s raining, they’re incompetent.” Now maybe it’s because we spent over 25 years in Washington State where if you didn’t go out when it was raining, then you would never go out, but this just didn’t make sense. For one thing, engine rooms are typically “inside” the boat and not prone to getting wet (and if they do, then you have bigger problems). And for another thing, it’s a boat. And boats and water generally go hand-in-hand. And thirdly, it’s a boat—because it bears repeating that when working on something that sits in the water, one may get a little wet now and then. And lastly, did I mention that it’s a boat? Even the guy who came out to inspect our anchor windlass (IN THE RAIN) thought that was a pretty flimsy excuse for not doing a pressure test. At any rate…feeling a little betrayed and a lot stupid about believing his diatribe against Mexican mechanics, we cut our losses and called in another mechanic. Sam came by the next day (Saturday!), diagnosed it as a faulty valve, placed a call to the manufacturer to have new parts shipped in, and feels we should be up and running around the 27th. And it was raining and everything!

So what does this do to our timeline?

Successful cruising is reliant on how not reliant you are on time. (Have another beer. It’ll start to make sense.) In other words, if something goes kablooey, the process to get things un-kablooeyed will be much less stressful if you don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time. Conversely, if something goes amazingly well (such as anchoring in a spot where the fish are abundant and come up on the line attached with their own wine pairing) then you may as well extend the hot streak. That being said, we do have a timetable. Or rather, our insurance company does. For there is this thing called The Box. The Box is an area of the globe between roughly 12 and 23 degrees latitude and various degrees longitude (depending on the ocean) where the majority of hurricanes are likely to hit. Many underwriters will not insure a boat while it’s in The Box during hurricane season (June 1st to November 30th). Or if they do, the deductibles are so high that you’ll probably just recoup the cost of the phone call you make to hear them say, “What part of ‘you’re not covered in The Box’ did you not understand?’”

That’s not to say that you can’t get insurance that covers The Box. It’s just frightfully expensive. I’ve seen some quotes so high it’d almost be cheaper to just buy a fleet of boats, put them all over the Caribbean, and play “law of averages”. Editor’s Note: We were speaking with an insurance broker (unnamed to protect his audacity) at a boat show in San Diego a few months back. He said to us—in a totally straight face—that insurance companies no longer recognize a hurricane box, that since any place could potentially be hit by a hurricane the box was simply extended to cover the entire planet and that we should just get used to policies that start in the five digit range. Apparently he thinks we disembarked from the S/S Turnip Truck.

So back to the timetable. Technically, we must be in southern Nicaragua by June 1st. Had we left on time, we would have had two months to leisurely saunter down the coasts of Mexico and El Salvador. But with a delayed departure date of May 1st, we will now have one month to travel 2400 nm—a 20-day voyage all the way through, but not a whole lot of time to see the sights. So we have two choices…spend the next seven months in Baja Mexico/Sea of Cortez and wait for hurricane season to “blow over” (don’t worry…I slapped myself) or continue on as planned and keep a very close eye on the weather. Which way are we leaning? Well…let’s just say that someone once told us that there is no box. And we’re not afraid to get our feet wet.
Pictured:  Doggles! 
Not Pictured:  Marbles! (We lost those a long time ago.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The False Start of the Third Voyage: In which we outwit Friday only to be faked out by April Fools’

Time, tide, and marina termination notices generally necessitate comings and goings on the first of each month. And thus we found ourselves ready to head to Mexico on April 1st.

Now according to the lore of the sea, one should never begin a voyage on a Friday. I don’t know where that belief originated, but I’m pretty sure that superstition comes standard with the purchase of a boat.  You may not know a line from a cleat, but suddenly and instinctively you know that Fridays are bad luck.

There’s an old story—not sure if it’s true or not—that an admiral of the British Navy took it upon himself to debunk the myth. He commissioned a new ship to be named—appropriately enough—the HMS Friday. The keel was laid on a Friday, it was launched on a Friday, and—just for good measure—set out on its maiden voyage on a Friday. Neither the ship nor its crew were ever heard from again. I don’t know if the court-martial took place on a Friday or not, but if it did I guess that lends credence to the rumor that the TGI in TGI Friday actually stands for “That Guy’s an Idiot”.

We, however, are not idiots. We know better than to tempt fate by setting out on a Friday. And for the record, we did not set out on a Friday. We had a “repositioning” cruise. Chula Vista, where we have been berthed for the past five months preparing for the third voyage, is at the far southern end of San Diego Bay and is therefore a good two hours from the mouth of the Pacific. And so we left Chula Vista in the afternoon, motored to Shelter Island in San Diego where we topped off the tanks at the fuel dock, and anchored out at La Playa in anticipation of a 6:00 am Saturday start to Ensenada. We are not idiots.

But we are, apparently, fools. Because I’m guessing that in one of the hallowed annals of seagoing lore there’s a warning about doing a “repositioning” cruise on April 1st because why else would the generator—the one piece of machinery that has not given us a lick of trouble in four years—pick this time to crap out?

So what now? Stay tuned. I’m sure it’ll be a doozy.
Pictured: The sun rising over the anchorage at La Playa, San Diego, on April 2nd. The dawn of a brand new day.
Not Pictured:  A new country. We still can't manage to get out of this one.


Monday, April 11, 2016

The Tentative Itinerary of the Third Voyage of the S/V Raven a.k.a. Aruba or Bust

If you’ve been following our exploits, you may remember that the original plan for the Third Voyage was to sail to the South Pacific. You may also remember that this was prefaced with, “While we’re still somewhat young, dumb and naïve…” Well, somewhere off the Washington coast—probably in that first gale rounding Cape Flattery—we lost a little of our naiveté. And the subsequent rough passage down the coast of Oregon where we were getting tossed around, bumped and bruised in what we’ve come to call the “rock tumbler effect” really made us question the “somewhat young” angle. (When it takes six months for a bruise to go away, you know you’re in the early autumn of your chicken days.) Specifically, we wondered how sensible it would be to go that far offshore—three weeks across the ocean with no land in sight—with only a little big water experience and only one truly skilled sailor among us. More specifically, is it fair to do that with an 81 year-old lady in tow?

So with young and naïve off the table, we’re going with “While we’re still dumb, we’re going to sail to Aruba!” Why Aruba? Because it’s as close to heaven as you can get if your pearly gates open on to powdery white sand beaches, crystal blue water, good wind for sailing, and a multitude of those open-air bars that serve local beer and the “best rum in the Caribbean” (which seems to be the unofficial slogan of every island in the West Indies). That and the insurance company demanded I give them a “final destination” when preparing a policy that includes transiting the Panama Canal. But if one must choose a new homeport, what better gateway to the Caribbean is there? And if we can endure those last 480 nautical miles from the South American mainland to Aruba, then I think we will have earned our stripes as seasoned cruisers as well as call ourselves official expats.

So without further ado, here is the tentative itinerary…

Mexico with landfall in Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Barra de Navidad, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, Acapulco, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas
El Salvador with landfall in Bahia Jaltepeque and Bahia de Jiquilisco
Nicaragua with landfall at Puesto del Sol in Estero Aserradores
Costa Rica with landfall in Playa del Coco and Golfito
Panama with landfall in Balboa/Panama City on the Pacific side; transit through the canal; then Shelter Bay on the Atlantic side
Colombia with landfall in Cartagena and Santa Marta

Total distance from San Diego to Aruba: 3900 nautical miles (give or take)

Departure Date: April 2nd, 2016

Spoiler Alert: We've already been delayed (as per frigging usual)

Pictured: The Deck Boss toasting our decision to head south with a shot of Jagermeister, peach schnapps and cranberry juice (aka a Red-Headed Slut) courtesy of The Tipsy Crow.
Not pictured: The next three shots. Couldn't figure out how the camera worked after that but got plenty of pictures of the floor.