Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day 8-9 of the Third Voyage: In which if given a choice, we’d rather have no luck at all.

My dad was a good-old Texas boy and he loved him some Hee-Haw. He enjoyed the music and the corny sketches (if you’ve seen the show then yes, pun intended). I liked to watch it for the chorus line of dancing pigs that would high-kick their way across the television screen during some of the musical numbers (I was eight. And easily entertained.)  I bring this up because after 40 years, I have a Hee-Haw song stuck in my head. If you’re under 40, picture a group of farmers lamenting about their troubles. Their spoken woes are bookended by a song punctuated with moans and crying. The lyrics go thusly:

Gloom, despair and agony on me
Deep dark depression, excessive misery
If I had no bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair and agony on me

If you’re over 40, I apologize. You’ll now have that song stuck in your head for three weeks.

So by now you’re probably guessing that the journey from Turtle Bay to our next anchorage at Bahia Asuncion did not go so well. And you’d be correct. It started out bumpy when the motor on the dinghy wouldn’t start and the Captain and HMS Cliff had to row back to the boat after taking Otter to shore to do his thing. A very agonizing row against the current. But then our luck seemed to change once we got underway—beautiful weather and a fairly smooth ride. Not enough wind to put up the sails, but a relaxing five hours of motoring along the Baja California coastline. Then we made the turn toward Bahia Asuncion and our luck changed. The wind whipped into a state of agitation (to give you an idea of the frenzy, our U.S flag was sticking straight out one way while the Mexican courtesy flag stuck out the other), the water became choppy and confused, and we started getting pummeled by large waves. HMS Cliff was at the helm when we took a wave over the port side and it nearly knocked him off his feet. It was a bumpy ride. And then the engine started to act up. It would rev down then back up. And then it would die. The Captain would run down below to start it back up, return back to the helm, and we’d struggle forward through the slop till the engine would die again and the process would repeat itself. It was grueling, it was miserable, and it lasted for over an hour. When we finally got to the anchorage, we had to drop the anchor in wind and chop but luckily got a good hold on the first try. There was a big sigh of relief throughout the crew and anticipation of a (fairly) restful night before heading out the next morning. And then the Captain and I went below.

Now in my last blog post, I gave the account of the mysterious self-operating fire extinguisher that covered our cabin in halon. After hours spent cleaning and still not getting it all eradicated, I remarked to the Captain that the whole cabin really needed a good wash down. Well, as luck would have it, we got one. But not in a good way. That big wave to port that nearly knocked HMS Cliff down? The hatch above our desk was open—a hatch that neither of us remember opening—and who knows how much water poured in. There was water on the desk, on the shelves, in the drawers, and on the floor. But the major casualty? The Captain’s MacBook. The one that ran our satellite email. The one that ran our GRIB weather software. No MacBook, no accurate weather forecasts. The F-bombs were loud. They were vehement. And they were totally warranted.

We spent the rest of the night drying out our belongings, commiserating over multiple glasses of wine, and trying not to be too downhearted. The Captain and I finally retired for the night and decided to put in a video—you know, get our minds off the situation. That’s when we found out that the water had shorted out our electrical outlets. Now we’re depressed.

The next morning we prepared to set out for our next anchorage at Bahia Abreojos—about 50 nm away. Everything was stowed, the boat was made ready, and the hatches were checked. We went to raise the anchor. The windlass worked for about 30 seconds, then completely died. There would now be no way to raise the anchor except by hand. Using the manual function on the windlass, we can bring up 6 inches of anchor chain per pull. The anchor chain is currently set at 175 feet. Gloom…met despair.

So now here we are. We had planned to stop in three or four anchorages along the way to Cabo San Lucas to break up the trip. But with no way to drop or bring up the anchor except by hand, anchoring would be difficult at best, (literally) painful at worst. So we had a crew meeting and decided that our only course of action is to head straight to Cabo—360 nm away. Tomorrow morning we will set the alarm for 4:00 am—when the wind and water is still—and start hauling up the anchor, which by our estimates will take a solid hour. We will then set out for Cabo. Should only take three or four days.

So wish us luck. Or better yet…don’t.
No photos were taken during this portion of the expedition. Which is good because given our luck as of late, I probably would have dropped the phone into the water. So please enjoy this instead...
You're welcome.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 3-7 of the Third Voyage: In which nothing ever goes to plan and you only have yourself, the universe, and a fire extinguisher to blame.

The crew of S/V Raven has been in a better mood. The optimistic “woo-hoo” we felt at the start of the journey had the ever-loving crap beat out of it. And we’re not really sure what we did to deserve it.

It’s a long stretch of coastline between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas—over 700 nm—and we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we didn’t think it would suck the life out of us so soon. The original plan was to leave Ensenada in the morning on the 22nd for Cabo Colonet—a 65 nm journey—anchor there overnight and do a leisurely 45 nm to Bahia San Quintin the next day. You know, ease into it. But did we stick to the plan? Hell, no! The winds were favorable, we felt ready, and we were raring to go. So we opted instead to leave in the early afternoon of the 21st and make the 110 nm trek directly to Bahia San Quintin—a journey we estimated would take 20 hours under sail and get us there around mid-morning. I think we were about eight hours in when it became apparent that we may have been overly ambitious. For one, it had been well over seven months since we’d done that long of a voyage and an overnighter at that and we were severely out of whack. And for another, we were really rusty at our weather skills. Because even though the weather forecast called for winds out of the NW at 15 mph and 4 foot waves at 12 seconds apart we should have known that really meant winds out of absolutely everywhere at 20 mph and 6 foot waves at 6 seconds apart. So what started out as a nice sail, quickly turned into a Cape Flattery flashback—the waves would push us way over one way and slingshot us back the other turning the inside of the boat into a rock tumbler, the wind changed direction so often that the sails became useless even as a stabilizer and we were forced to motor through the chop, and the temperature dropped into the 50’s which necessitated so much layering we could barely put our arms down. Adding insult to injury, the unusually strong current put us at the anchorage early. Namely three in morning. So we got to anchor in an unfamiliar bay in the dark. Fun times.

We wouldn’t do that again. Next time we would stick to the plan. We decided we would haul anchor at 6:00 am the next morning, do an easy sail about 56 nm up the coast to Fondeadero San Carlos, spend the rest of the day on the hook, and head out the next morning for Cedros Island. After a night at anchor there, we would sail a few short hours more and make our triumphant entry into Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay)—the unofficial halfway point between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas. Alas, time, tide, and dodgy weather forecasts threw the plan out the window as when we reached Fondeadero San Carlos, the wind had picked up so much—about 15 mph more than what was predicted—the anchorage had become unsafe. So there was no choice but to make for Cedros Island, another 80 nm away. However, about three hours in, that plan seemed dubious as well when it became apparent that our arrival time would be somewhere between 1:00 and 4:00 in the morning. Not something we were keen on doing as these anchorages were not the easiest to negotiate even in broad daylight. So a new plan: put the balls to the wall and make for Turtle Bay—a good 50 nm beyond Cedros. We fired up the engine, kept the sails flying a la jib and jigger, and hauled ass—at one point maintaining a pretty impressive 9.5 knots. Seemed like a good plan except that—barring a few hours when passing by Cedros Island—the seas were not very kind. Eight foot waves, coming at around six seconds apart (for the lubbers, think of getting hit by an eight-foot tall punching bag, then only getting a six second break before it hits you again. Yeah, it’s as fun as it sounds.), spray over the bow, the wind just relentless. The constant pounding took a toll. And when Turtle Bay came into view just as the sun was rising, the talk on board was not about being relieved, fulfilled, or even happy. It was more along the lines of, “are we really sure we can do this?” And when the engine suddenly decelerated several times, even after turning on the fuel pumps (this problem has been our nemesis—it’s the one quirk that none of our mechanics have been able to figure out), the disposition on board went from doubtful to depressed.

But the day was not done with us yet. We had planned to anchor, put away a few things, and sleep. However, something had happened in the first patch of rough water outside Bahia San Quintin that defies explanation. It was either a miracle, a poltergeist, or Edgrrr grew opposable thumbs and exacted his revenge on us, but somehow the fire extinguisher in the passageway to the back cabin came loose from its locking bracket, tore away its safety tie, pulled out its pin, and proceeded to empty its contents all over the back cabin. Halon—an incredibly fine powder—covered everything. How fine of a powder? So fine that when I started the shop vac, it sucked it in one side and immediately blew it out the back, covering everything in the pilothouse as well. It took three hours to get the worst of it; it’ll be weeks – or maybe even months - before it’s finally eradicated.

So we’re feeling a little vulnerable right now. But we’re hoping a good night’s sleep followed by a full day in Turtle Bay to explore, have a hot meal, and put the boat back together will strengthen our resolve. Will it bring back our “woo-hoo”? It might. But I’m not planning on it.
Pictured: Anchoring at Bahia San Quintin in the middle of the night
Not Pictured: San Quintin. We couldn't see it either.
Pictured: Really?
Not Pictured: The fire extinguisher being hung, drawn, and quartered and its remains being fed to a great white shark.
Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay)
Turtle Bay is a small town of around 1,200. Although apparently very lively during the height of cruising season, it was a little sleepy during our visit. Not a whole lot open and not a whole lot of people out and about although lots of cars cruising around…and around….and around (we’re pretty sure the same three pick-up trucks passed us a few times each). The town is dry, dusty, and there are quite a few abandoned and boarded up buildings, but the houses are tidy, brightly colored and most come standard with a barking dog. Didn’t get to meet a lot of people, but those we did were extremely friendly. Need anything at all? Ask for Pedro (The one with one arm. Not the other guy.) He’ll give you the hook-up.

A very happy Otter! After three days on the boat, he finally got to do his business “proper-like” on terra firma (none of this “on the foredeck b.s.”). To make up for lost time, he pooped four times and peed so long he got a cramp in his haunches. I know. TMI.
Looking for a bodega? Look for the Tecate Beer sign!
Looking for anything else? Good luck! 

The corner across from the clinic is wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, the sidewalk isn’t.

Pictured: A typical street in Turtle Bay.
Not Pictured: The biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen. At least two inches long, it was ambling along in broad daylight with a look on its face that said, “Go ahead. I dare you.” It was kind of disturbing. I know we’re heading into big-bug territory, but I was kinda hoping for a ramp-up period.

Pictured: A speed bump. No, really. A speed bump.
Not Pictured: Speed limit. I don’t think there is one.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Day 1-2 of the Third Voyage: In which we arrive in Mexico, are greeted by the navy, and discover that our Spanish-language skills leave a lot to be desired.

We delayed our departure a couple of days for the arrival of a very special guest. The Captain’s Dad (henceforth to be known as Honorary Master Seaman Cliff or just HMS Cliff if I get lazy) was able to join us on this leg of the odyssey and we’re thrilled to have him on board.

And so it was that we set out from San Diego in the early morning of May 19th for a ten-hour journey to Ensenada. About an hour out, San Diego faded into the mist, Tijuana appeared through the haze, and we tranquilly crossed the invisible water border into Mexico. The calm did not last. Not five miles into Mexican waters and we spotted a fast-moving boat barreling up the coast. It turned suddenly, came our direction, veered off slightly behind us, and then came back toward us. A few moments later and we were hailed over the VHF by an officer of the Mexican Navy who requested to speak to the captain. After inquiring as to our port of departure, our destination, the number of people on board, and if we were in possession of “drugs or anything else that might be illegal” we were instructed to turn off our engine and prepare for an inspection. A few moments later and the boat—carrying at least seven very serious looking naval crewman, including two manning machine guns—came up alongside us and one of the crew extended out a long pole with a net on the end. The Captain dutifully put our passports and boat papers into the net and we waited—bobbing in the water—for the officer-in-charge to examine our documents. After about ten minutes, they returned our documents, thanked us for our cooperation, and zoomed off toward a fishing boat in the distance. Once underway again, I think it took a good 15 minutes for everyone on board to get over the shock of what had just happened and another five to all agree that that was about the coolest thing ever. After all, how many people can say that they’ve been intercepted by a navy boat and, for all intents and purposes, held at gunpoint until it was determined that they were not there under nefarious circumstances. Editor’s Note: the Captain asked me if I got a photo and I had to admit that I didn’t because I didn’t want to be whipping anything out in case the guy with the machine gun had an itchy trigger finger. Like I said, it was cool after the fact. At the time it was just surreal. The rest of the journey into Ensenada was uneventful. Which was good because I think we had had enough excitement for one day.

We arrived in Ensenada about four in the afternoon and headed into the Cruiseport Village—so named because of the giant cruise ships which loom over the marina—and attempted to find our reserved slip. As we were tying up, a security employee with a clip board came over and it was soon after that I realized that even though I had successfully completed the first three sections of Rosetta Stone, my Spanish-language skills were woefully lacking as I could barely decipher his mile-a-minute Spanish. After several attempts (“Lo siento. Repetir, por favor?”), I latched onto “llame” and “barco” and told him the boat name was “Raven”. He immediately began shuffling through several pages of boat names while muttering, “Raven, Raven, Raven”. At long last, he exclaimed “ah ha!” and pointed at the list. I looked at the name and it said, “Doodle Doo”. At this point, two things hit me: firstly, my pronunciation must be really terrible and secondly, who the hell would name their boat the “Doodle Doo”?

The next morning, we cleared into the country. Now the Captain and I had been to Canada numerous times and all it took was a passport and a quick game of 20 questions and you were usually good to go. Mexico was a whole different ballgame. Now if you’re going to clear into Mexico, Ensenada is the best place to do so because it is the only port where all the government agencies and the Banjecito are under one roof so there’s no running around all over town. So the process goes like this (and feel free to skip this part if extreme bureaucracy makes you nauseous): First stop is immigration where everyone presents their passports and fill out forms, then it’s over to the Banjecito to pay the immigration fees after which you go back to the immigration counter, show them your fee receipt, fill out an additional form, and get your passport stamped. Next you visit the Port Captain where you present your boat documents and crew list, then it’s back to the Banjecito to pay your port fee upon which you return to the Port Captain (and hope he’s still around), present your fee receipt, and get your crew list stamped. The next stop is back to the Banjecito to get your “Temporary Import Permit” (don’t ask, just know that without it they can seize your boat), complete more paperwork and pay the “TIP” fee. Final stop is Customs where you get to fill out yet another form but thankfully do not have to trot back to the Banjecito as this is a freebie. Total time: two hours (and we had all our paperwork in order—we met a few people who were on day two and even three just trying to get cleared due to document discrepancies.) Editor’s Note: Mexican regulations state that if there is any fishing gear on board, everyone must have a fishing license whether they fish or not. So we spent an additional half hour at a separate location getting our licenses which, interestingly enough, cost more than all the other government fees put together. So if you’re wondering which arm of the Mexican Federal Government wields the most power, it’s Fish and Game.

The rest of the day was spent provisioning at Costco and the local Supermercado in preparation for the long trek down the Baja Peninsula to Cabo San Lucas. We felt somewhat prepared as we had our English-Spanish translator phone app to figure out what the labels said and what the product exactly was because just because it’s in the fresh meat section and has a dancing pig on the package, one should not assume it’s a pork product. (It was in fact chicken or as the translator put it quite ominously, “feather package”.) We also had a currency converter app to determine pesos to dollars and let me throw something out to other cruisers heading south…stock up on your gringo-favorite items in the States but do all your fresh food provisioning in Mexico. The total bill was less than half what we would have paid in San Diego.

Loaded down with two weeks’ worth of foodstuffs, we headed back to the marina and were stopped at the entrance by a security guard. He asked for the name of the boat, we told him “Raven”. He flipped through the pages on his clipboard muttering, “Raven, Raven, Raven”. He radioed the marina office. He consulted another guard. A third guard came up and joined in the search through the list. Eventually the security guard from the day before came by, said that he recognized us, and waived us through. As we gathered our shopping bags and headed in I’m pretty sure I saw him point toward us and say to the other guards, “Doodle Doo”.

Pictured: An Ensenada street scene and yes, that is a pharmacy. Can you believe it?
Not pictured: The thousand and one chotchkie vendors following us trying to make a sale. This was self-preservation. When "no, gracias" doesn't work, taking random photos at least buys you a few seconds of peace.
Pictured: Celebratory champaign upon arrival in Mexico featuring our fine plastic stemware.
Not Pictured: The owners of the "Doodle Doo" as that certainly ain't us!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Eve of the Third Voyage: In which we say goodbye to San Diego…finally.

Knowing that we would be sitting tight for a month (or more) waiting on the generator, we had made a list of everything else that could potentially give us trouble, had each one inspected, and performed any needed repairs. These included the roller furling systems on the main and mizzen (letting out and bringing in the sails is kind of important, especially when you’re on a sailboat); the windlass (because bringing up 300 feet of heavy chain by hand is a task of Sisyphean proportions); and anything sticking out from the underside of the boat like propellers, shafts, and rudders (because steering comes in handy). Check, check, and check. And with the new generator in place…checkmate. Game over, time to go. If anything else decides to crap out, it’s just going to have to wait and “averiarse en Mexico” because it’s time to make a run for the border.
That’s not to say we haven’t enjoyed our time here in San Diego. Granted, we’ve spent the majority of the past seven months preparing the boat (and us) for the voyage south, but we did a lot of fun things as well…
We procured an inexpensive rental car from Dirt Cheap Car Rentals (yes, really!) and got to know the city. Did you know that you can get anywhere in San Diego in ten minutes? Coming from Seattle where it takes ten minutes just to get to the next traffic light, it was so refreshing to actually spend more time driving your car than just sitting in it. Editor’s Note: We managed to lose the car keys after an afternoon spent in the bar at the Hotel del Coronado. They were eventually turned in to security but I had to describe the keys and the car they went to before they would turn them over. Google the Hotel del Coronado and you’ll understand why nothing knocks you down a few pegs like, “It’s a Ford Focus with a dent on the fender; a crack in the windshield; 247,000 miles on the odometer; and the key fob reads ‘Dirt Cheap’.”
We rented small boats in Mission Bay in a vain attempt to teach me some sail trimming skills and were surprised to discover that despite having been kicked out of three different summer camps as a kid, the Deck Boss was very skilled at the tiller. Editor’s Note: The Deck Boss claims she was never “kicked out” rather she was asked “not to return”. She’s vague as to why and we’re too scared to ask.
We had countless visitors (it’s amazing how a warm, year-round climate will attract people you haven’t seen in years) and we saw all the sights and did all the touristy things. From museums and attractions to boardwalks and theme parks, we discovered all kinds of wonderful things, learned a lot about the world around us, saw spectacles, interacted with animals, went on exhilarating (and sometimes very wet) rides, and found that not all park concessions are created equal (Best beer selection: SeaWorld and San Diego Zoo. Worst: Knott’s Berry Farm. Seriously? $11.50 for beer and all you have is Bud Light? More like Knott Very Fun.)   Editor’s Note: We talked the Deck Boss into going on the Jurassic Park water ride at Universal Studios. There’s an epic photo taken on the final plunge where she has the Captain’s t-shirt wrapped completely around her head and face mummy-style so as not to get wet. We so wanted to buy it but she threatened to stab us in our sleep if we did.
We even crossed the border into Tijuana to see what all the fuss was about (I’ll save you a trip, here’s a typical street scene in downtown TJ: pharmacy, pharmacy, NFL gear shop, pharmacy, cantina, donkey painted like a zebra, pharmacy, guy selling Viagra out of a coffee can, pharmacy, cantina, mariachi band, store selling sombreros and “Day of the Dead” stuff (all made in China), pharmacy, disco, guy selling Cialis out of an old cigar box, cantina. As this last cantina advertised a bucket of ten beers and a platter of nachos for $17 we figured we’d cut the rest of our pharmaceutical tour of TJ short.
We did have one bad experience in San Diego that came courtesy of a foul-tempered skunk and specifically Otter getting hit square in the face by said skunk. Now I’ve passed by squished skunks along the side of a road and I thought those were bad, but I tell you what… if Satan himself crawled out of a sulfur pit, ate two jalapeno chili cheese dogs and farted in a barnyard, it wouldn’t smell nearly as rank as a fresh dose of skunk. And the fact that the skunking went down at 1:00 in the morning was just the rancid cherry on top of the sh*t sundae. I won’t go into the details of what we went through trying to get the dog de-skunked, or how everything that came in contact with him had to be destroyed, or how it took three months before the smell completely went away, but suffice to say that we have become skunk-averse and paranoid. Otter is no longer allowed off leash after dark, he is forbidden from sticking his head into dense bushes, and any whiff of eau-de-skunk in the air results in an automatic detour to the other side of the city. It’s gotten so bad that a black and white cat appeared on the docks a couple weeks back and we nearly drop-kicked him into the water for looking “shifty”.
But I think it’s safe to say that, skunking aside, we really fell in love with San Diego. So much so that we found ourselves having philosophical “what if” discussions. What if we had moved here when we were married instead of Seattle? How different would our lives have been? Would we have eventually taken the beach, sun, and SoCal lifestyle for granted? Would we have lived here for 25 years, gone to Washington on vacation, fallen in love with Seattle, and wondered how different our lives would have been had we moved there instead? I guess life is filled with “what ifs”. Kind of like, “what if we sold everything, moved on a boat, and set out to wherever?” Our “what if” may very well turn out to be a “what the f***” but I don’t think we’ll ever look back on this and wonder, “what if we had stayed home?” Some “what ifs” are worth the effort.
Pictured: San Diego Love (aww!)
Not Pictured: The actual message..."Eat. Spray. Love. You're welcome. Signed, The Skunk"

Pictured: Early morning in the TJ tourist district
Not Pictured: A pharmacy. It took some doing to get a photo without one, but luckily the guy selling Extenze out of an old tackle box showed me exactly where to stand to get a good picture.
An interactive display at the Museum of Man's Cannibal Exhibit wherein you pretend to be lost at sea and draw straws to see who gets killed and eaten first. We're hoping it's not a harbinger of things to come.
In case you're wondering who drew the short straw, let's just say I think I would pair well with a nice Pinot Noir.
A big thank you to Sam and Gary at Record Marine Services. Without their herculean efforts, we’d never have been able to continue our journey. Seriously guys, it’s been emotional.
Pictured: Preparing the old generator for removal
Not Pictured: The 21-raspberry salute as it was hauled off to the junk yard 
Pictured: The new generator being lowered into the engine room
Not Pictured: A choir of angels, the Hallelujah chorus, and high-fives all around

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Quick Update on the Third Voyage: In which we announce a new departure date (the animal edition)

So what’s up with the generator? I know you’re dying to know! Well, after a thorough diagnosis followed by an “incendiary” series of snafus by the machine shop (“incendiary” in the sense that after planing the head out of level twice, our mechanic was just about ready to torch the place), a switch to a new machine shop, new gaskets which turned out to be the wrong gaskets even though the packaging said they were the right gaskets, a vexing question regarding torque, multiple conversations with the manufacturer, countless hours in the engine room, and the subsequent discovery that the block may be compromised as well, it was determined that the difference between trying to fix the old generator and just buying a new one was approximately one boat buck. The new generator goes in next week. We shouldn’t have been surprised. Given Raven’s track record, any major project that doesn’t take six weeks, involve sixteen people, span three states, cost more than the GDP of a small country, and result in the mechanic throwing his hands up at least once and swearing that they’ve “never seen anything as effed up as this [insert item here]”, then it should probably be looked upon with extreme suspicion.  

So with that, we have a new departure date: Thursday, May 19th.

Until then, we will continue to prepare the boat, ourselves, and the furry creatures for the voyage south.
Pictured: Our new generator
Not Pictured: The owners of Downwind Marine swimming Scrooge McDuck-like in a huge pile of cash


Pictured: The "Yappy Hour" menu for dogs at our new favorite joint, the Point Break CafĂ©. 
Not Pictured: Otter thinking, "Screw the kibble. From now on, all my meals shall be a la carte!"
Pictured: Otter noshing on his selection aka the Garbage Plate and a Pint of IPA.
Not Pictured: The aftermath. He liked the beer, but as evidenced by the singed fur on his butt, the beer did not like him. Seriously. It’s like something crawled up there and died. New rule: No beer.

Meanwhile, back at the boat...
Pictured:  Edgrrr asleep with his face in the cup holder
Not Pictured: Rhyme nor reason