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 “No, after you. I insist.”
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…

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

One day there is life; the next day not so much.

A few weeks ago, Russ Harper died of a heart attack. I don’t expect most of you to know who he was, and it is to my great regret that I didn’t know him as well as I’d liked.

I had stumbled upon his blog when I was researching Barra. As the owner and skipper of S/V Spiritus, he had been a fixture here in Marina Puerto de Navidad for the past couple of years. His posts, especially those on the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia in 2015, gave me more insight into the town and marina than any other cruising guide or online source. When I finally did meet Russ, I told him how much I appreciated his blog and how I’d love to get together over some beers and talk more in depth about his travels and experiences, but as it so often does, the days turned into weeks and good intentions went by the wayside. Conversations were limited to the ten minutes here and there on the docks, in the water taxi, in passing, and nothing of any real consequence—just chats about bright work, new equipment, and that old standby…the weather.

In fact, the last conversation I had with Russ—the day before he died—was about recycling. The marina had just started a recycling program—something that, outside of the big cities, is just starting to catch on in the outlying areas. They had set up six very colorful bins and apart from one labeled “Plastico”, the others were up for interpretation. Together we speculated what Mexicans would consider “organico” vs “inorganico” given the current contents of each bin, questioned why there would be one for grass clippings when we all lived on boats, and wondered why “aluminum” was conspicuously absent given the shear amount of beer consumed by cruisers. In the end, Russ made the statement, “Well, it makes no sense. But it’s worth the effort.” We then said our goodbyes and once again said, “Let’s get together!”

Upon hearing the news of his death the following morning, I immediately began to search for meaning in those last words as if Russ was knowingly imparting some last-minute wisdom. What makes no sense? Our lives? Or how others perceive the paths we have chosen for ourselves? Maybe it’s life’s inevitable curveballs that make no sense? The “bad things happening to good people” thing. What’s the effort? To change? To endure? To always see the bright side? Or perhaps it was, after all, just about the recycling.

But what I should have been focusing on was that we never did “get together” and that the opportunity for any meaningful conversation—about people, places, and experiences (i.e. the stuff that makes us who we are)—was now gone. And I wondered how many other opportunities I had missed because I always assumed there’d be enough time. Enough time to meet and get to know new people; to rekindle old relationships; to really, truly learn to sail; to discover new interests; to go on new adventures; to write that book. But there isn’t enough time, is there? How can there be when you don’t know how much time you have left?

Now obviously we can’t spend every waking moment checking off items on the mother of all to-do lists and is it even possible to “live life to the fullest each and every day”? What does that even mean? For one thing, it sounds exhausting. For another, it probably gets lonely because you’ve become “that guy” i.e. the one with so much “get up and go” that after a while everyone wants you to just “get up and go away” because no one should be that gung ho all the time. It’s just not natural…and it’s arduous to be around.  I would also think that it gets depressing because—let’s face it—there are certain dreams that may be unattainable unless you win the lottery and/or find a magic lamp. And besides, some days you might not want to live life to the fullest. Maybe you have other things to do…errands and stuff…and a half-assed effort will do just fine. Or maybe some days your only motivation should be to lounge around in your jammies and watch tv all day. The great thing about being an adult—being human actually—is that we can change our priorities to suit our mood. It’s one of the things that separates us from the animals…at least from the ones that don’t wear jammies.

But I think I’m off-topic (assuming there was one to begin with.) Oh yes…time, tide, no man, etc. You’re not going to believe this, but I’m a huge procrastinator (Exhibit A: This Blog.) and have been all my life. If something could be put off, it was. I literally lived in the last minute. When I was in college, my mother got me one of those subliminal tapes that sounds like waves crashing on the sea shore but underneath it’s really admonishing you to “get off your butt and get some shit done!” but—in the irony of all ironies—I never got around to playing it. But I really think I procrastinate more out of fear than being lazy. The fear of not being liked keeps me from really getting to know people; the fear of criticism gives me writer’s block; the fear of rejection keeps me from voicing my opinions or asserting myself. It’s just easier to put things off and/or hope they’ll go away than to risk being perceived as a disappointment to myself and others. And it dawned on me that I had made all these changes in my life so I could presumably be a better version of myself, but perhaps had stopped short with the scenery. I mean, I could have been an introvert back in Washington and not left the security of a home, a career, and terra firma in order to sink every dime we have into the SS Money Pit, become the proverbial “stranger in a strange land”, and put myself (and my family) through the stress of being a very small dot on a very big ocean.

But I have few regrets because when I look outside, I not only see paradise, I see an incredible achievement. Leaving all that behind for what we’re doing now was the single scariest thing I think I’ve ever done (possibly the stupidest, but that remains to be seen.) But the fact that we did what we set out to do--shed ourselves of our old lives, start a new life on this boat, and see where it takes us—was a victory in and of itself. And if we all suffer death tomorrow due to “Misadventure by Large Squid”, I think we could chalk our lives up as a win. But I have to wonder if I’m selling the dream short by not making the really scary (read: personal) changes?

The afternoon after Russ died, I was talking with Israel, one the marina’s maintenance crew. Israel is one of the warmest and most helpful people I’ve met here and will always smile and nod enthusiastically even though he really has no idea what you’re saying (although admittedly, his English is still much better than my Spanish.) But I think when you’re speaking of someone’s demise, there really is no language barrier. Knowing nods, heavy sighs, and glances over at a now-ownerless boat conveyed what we were both trying to say. But then he said, “Today is life and tomorrow…mmmm…I think no.”

And that’s when the sentiment of a thousand and one motivational posters hit me square in the gut. You really are “here today, gone tomorrow”; you do only “go around once”; it is true that “no one gets out alive”; and when things get tough, yes…you do really need to “hang in there, baby.” But more than that, perhaps it’s just as important to remember that your dreams and goals may give your life direction, but it’s up to you to give it substance. And if you’re not at least making an effort every day to be the person you want to be, then maybe that’s a day wasted—a day not lived.

Now obviously some people are quite happy with who they are and see no reason to change, in which case I guess I’m just babbling to the choir. But this is my wake-up call-to-arms or however you want to say it (mid-life crises will work in a pinch) so suffice to say that had my journey of personal growth followed the same trajectory as the boat and not gotten stuck somewhere around Cape Mendocino, I should by all accounts be able to single-hand this boat, speak a second language, and be shopping around for publishers. As it is, the boat is still a maze of thingies that attach to whatsits that make the dingus do that thing where the front of the boat turns right and maybe doesn’t hit anything. My Spanish-language skills have not yet evolved past the “See Jane Run” stage though I have mastered “say that again?”, “is that what I said?”, “I’m sorry!” and six different facial expressions that convey bafflement (which coincidentally are the English phrases and mannerisms that’ve served me best over my lifetime.) And that book? Well…let’s just say if “thinking about it” could be published in book form, I’d be more prolific than Stephen King.

I know the things I want to do; the things I’d like to change about myself. The question is, what am I going to do about it in the time I have left?

Maybe it’s time to trek out to the Pacific coast, listen to the waves crashing on the seashore, and say to myself, “Get off your butt, get shit done, meet new people, learn new things, write that book.” Maybe it’s time to face my fears, quit procrastinating, and become that better version of myself that I’d like to be. And more importantly, maybe it’s time to “get together” with the Russes of the world before they’re all gone—both figuratively and literally. Some days I’ll do more; some days not so much. And there will be days when I’ll just lounge around in my jammies all day. But I will resolve to move forward. The journey is still ongoing even when it’s tangibly standing still.

Does this make any sense? Maybe it doesn’t. But I think it’s worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Day 318 to 394 of the Third Voyage: In which we wonder, “Good Lord! Where did the last 76 days, 9 hours, and 18 minutes go?”

We’ve been in Barra de Navidad for a little over three months now, which means I’m about two months late updating the blog. But believe me when I say that we’ve been keeping busy. Rather than bore you with the minutia of how we’ve been spending our time, here are the highlights:

Week 1: Got settled into the marina; explored Barra and the surrounding towns; scoped out local tiendas for everyday needs; had 32 10-gallon water bottles delivered to replenish the fresh-water tanks; and ordered a UV-light water filter to convert the non-potable water at the dock into something drinkable because there’s nothing suckier than having to pour water from 32 10-gallon bottles into your tanks when the fill hole is only 1” in diameter.

Week 2: Took stock of the boat including everything that malfunctioned and everything that needs/will need maintenance; moped for four days after completing list of everything that malfunctioned and everything that needs/will need maintenance; pulled the transmission and sent it to JonCo (Barra’s only gringo mechanic) for a complete rebuild.

Week 3: Took possession of aforementioned UV-light water filter and refilled the tanks (general consensus: awesome water!); coordinated the shipping of parts for the transmission; and attended fiesta at JonCo’s house to visit with transmission and commiserate with fellow cruisers, after which we decided that the transmission was lonely and sent our outboard over there to keep it company.

Week 4: Invited for drinks and dinner on Carinthia where we learn too late that Dietmar pours the strongest margarita in all of Christendom—as in how-is-this-even-legal?-proof tequila with a splash of lime and salt. Upon stumbling back to the boat, the Deck Boss falls into the water. After fishing her out—and to avoid an encore—the Captain and Dietmar attach her to a halyard and hoist her safely onboard. I get her bandaged up and put to bed and wander out to check on the Captain who is now passed out on the dock. I promptly fall in the water.

Week 5: Don’t remember week 5 due to a severe hangover from aforementioned week 4.

Week 6: Semana Santa i.e. Holy Week i.e. National All Of Mexico Goes To The Beach Week. Barra is packed. The resort is packed. Music is blaring. It’s a blast. Given the sheer humanity on the Malecon and at the beaches, pools and restaurants, I’d say about three thousand people have descended upon the town—so given the size of the average Mexican clan…about eight families.

Week 7: Semana Pascua i.e. Week after Easter i.e. National Everyone In Mexico That Didn’t Have Semana Santa Off Are Now At The Beach Week. Not as crowded as Semana Santa but still busy—I estimate only six families are in town or roughly two thousand people.

Week 8: The latest round of brightwork—begun in week 6—is completed; the transmission rebuild is finished and it is brought back to the boat for reinstallation; and the engine room blower picks this week to conk out, meaning the engine room is fast approaching sun-surface temperatures.

Week 9: The transmission—despite having been pulled out and reinstalled at least a half a dozen times—decided that it would not go gently into that good engine room. What should have been a four-hour process turned into four days. It didn’t want to swing into place, it refused to align with the bolts, it resented having its screws tightened, and it wouldn’t deign to attach to the propeller without bringing the shaft so far forward that water started to pour into the engine room. On a good note, the bilge pump still works.

Week 10: The Panama Posse is officially formed. Spearheaded by Dietmar on Carinthia (he of the is-this-even-legal?-proof tequila margaritas), the posse is now an official rally open to all boats heading south. The starting point will be in Barra in November of this year. The end rendezvous point will be Panama in June 2018. Check out the website for more details:

Week 11: The Deck Boss and I make our six-month visa trip out of the country. We head to Corpus Christi, Texas which is so hot, humid, and wind-blown that it makes tropical Mexico feels like a temperate zone. Using this opportunity to stock up on boat parts and gringo items, we have had half of an Amazon warehouse delivered to a friend of hers for transport back to Mexico.

Week 12: We spend all week trying to figure out how to squeeze half an Amazon warehouse onto a 52’ boat.

Week 13: The Captain makes his six-month visa trip out of the country and heads to Denver to visit with his family. The other half of that Amazon warehouse is waiting for him for transport back to Mexico.

Week 14: Week 12, The Sequel.

Casa Dulce Casa (or thereabouts)

Pictured: A large family having their picture taken in front of the Barra letters on the Malecon during Semana Santa. The police wanted them to a) remove their children from atop the sign and b) move along. The family responded by a) not removing their children from atop the sign, b) not moving along, c) inviting more people to join in the photo, and d) shouting “POLICIA” instead of “cheese” as each picture was snapped. We were highly amused. The policia? Not so much.

Backtrack:  A little bit about Barra.

Barra de Navidad is a small town of about 7,000 people nestled along the Costalegre (Coast of Joy) that runs between Puerto Vallarta (about 135 nm to the north) and Manzanillo (about 25 nm to the south.)  With the horseshoe-shaped Bahia de Navidad in front, a large lagoon in back, and mountains on either side, it’s the only hurricane hole in Mexico aside from PV. Traditionally it’s a fishing village, but in the last twenty or so years it’s been promoted as a tourist destination. However, it’s more akin to what Puerto Vallarta was probably like forty years ago…before the cruise ships, spring breaks, expats, and Starbucks turned it into “Mexico Lite”. Here in Barra, there are restaurants that cater to holidaymakers and stalls that sell beach stuff, t-shirts, and souvenirs, but the rest is a true coastal working town. There are no supermarkets, no fancy stores, and few paved roads; there’s not even a bank, just an ATM that frequently runs out of cash. But you can generally find everything you need if you look hard enough and if you can’t, the slightly larger town of Melaque is a short bus ride away. If you get desperate, many of the big box stores can be found in Manzanillo and Santiago about 90 minutes away.

So now we shop like the locals do:  we go to one carniceria (butcher) for bacon and pork, another for beef, one tienda for fresh items, and another for packaged goods. All the tiendas sell freshly-made bread. For pastry, most expats patronize the French Baker, but we prefer the little shop up one of the side streets. There’s no sign and no counter—just a makeshift display case that they wheel out when the pastries come out of the oven. Beer is available everywhere although the OXXO (arguably the nicest store in town) carries Indio and you can reload your cell phone while you’re there. On Thursday mornings we go to the weekly market where you can find anything from household items to clothes to fresh fruits and vegetables. In the middle of the market, spread out over a couple tables, the latest DVD releases are available for about $1.50 each. And by new releases I mean a lot of these movies are still in the theatres. The packaging is in Spanish, but the DVDs are in English and the sound and picture quality is pretty decent. I mean…so I’ve been told. 

Although the variety of goods is not as great as in PV, we’ve found the prices to be a little lower to the point where we still do a doubletake every time they tell us the total. Case in point…just yesterday we went to one of our local markets and purchased bananas, apples, limes, bread, cranberry juice, yogurt, cheese, and made-fresh-that-day tortillas and frijoles, and the total came to 130 pesos—that’s roughly $7 dollars. Looking for fast food? There are at least three places in Barra where they grill up chicken on the sidewalks in big, steel drums. A whole chicken with rice, salad, tortillas, salsa, and taquitos runs around 120 pesos. Which is also what we spent on a kilo of thick-cut tocino (i.e. 2.2 pounds of bacon) at the carniceria. The last time I bought bacon in the States for $3.50 a pound it was that already-cooked crap that the Captain immediately dubbed “fakin” and asked that I never buy again.

English is not widely spoken in Barra, but everyone we’ve encountered is patient, happy to repeat things and/or correct our Spanish as needed, and seem to genuinely appreciate our attempts at communication. And where words fail, pantomime fills in the gaps.

We are currently staying in the marina at the Grand Isla Navidad Hotel & Resort. If you want to be impressed, Google it. Because it is pretty damn impressive. It’s considered one of the finest resorts in all of Mexico and it is breathtaking. Spanish-colonial architecture, first-class service, fine dining, 200 rooms, 27-hole golf course, three swimming pools, private beach lagoon, landscaped grounds, etc. etc. etc. Oh…and no guests. It was full over Semana Santa and there have been a few weekends where they’ve hosted large functions, but for the most part it’s empty. I guess this is nothing new. Someone from PV told me that one day last summer they had an occupancy of 15. Not fifteen percent. Fifteen people. Rumors abound as to how they can keep the doors open in which things like, “tax write off”, “money laundering”, and the “C” word are bandied about. But in the end, the one that makes sense is that the marina fees keep the resort going during the slow times.

The moorage rates are preposterously high from November through May. The monthly rate was quoted at $32.80/foot, but if you actually stay for the whole 30 days, you qualify for a discount of 30% off—which is actually only 15% once taxes are added back in; daily rates are so high that if you stay for 10 days, you should just go ahead and stay another 20 at the monthly rate plus discount because it’s the same price. I’d be more specific, but I only got a C in algebra back in high school so I don’t think I fully comprehend it myself. Low season (i.e. now) is much easier as the rate is $0.33/foot/night regardless of length of stay. But the real boon is the option to pay a flat rate for electricity. Given that we held the record for most electricity consumed in Paradise Village last August and September and that our electric was more than moorage both those months, we stand to save some money this year which is very handy given our high “Shit Going Wrong” factor.

Which leads nicely into a new section we’d like to call, “Now What?” in which we bitch about something else that has gone belly up on this barge. This time around it’s the stove! Not the stove per se—more specifically it’s the solenoid which is a metal gizmo-like thing that gets the propane from your tank to the burners on your stove.  A new one has been ordered, but to avoid customs delays and duties we’re having it shipped to Texas where the Deck Boss and I will be headed end of May for our bi-yearly visa trip. So until then…no stove. Just some grilling, a lot of microwaving, frequent sandwich making, and much dining out i.e. things normally reserved for height-of-summer-heat eating. Now the solenoid should be plug and play, but of course it isn’t. Because manufacturers can’t just leave well enough alone, they have to “new and improve” everything until it renders the whole system obsolete at which point they’d be happy to sell you the “new and improved” version of whatever it is you’re trying to fix. So the solenoid is shipping with a bevy of additional items to get the new to fit with the old. We went ahead and ordered a new regulator as well because we may as well “new and improve” it all at the same time.

Editor’s Update: Upon arriving back in Mexico with all the parts, the Captain successfully fixed the stove and the galley is once again open for business…just in time for it to be too hot to cook.

Dispatches from World War C.  Though conventional warfare—sprays, gels, borax, and myriad natural remedies—has been effective in population control, total eradication has eluded us. Dare I say that our roach foes have proven to be more cunning than originally thought. It’s not uncommon to have nary a sighting two nights in a row only to walk in on a free-for-all on the third. I believe they also might be building up a tolerance to the copious amounts of RAID sprayed liberally throughout the galley. Either that or there’s a brisk trade in gasmasks on the black market. I’ve taken to putting pantry items (tortillas, crackers, bread) into sealed plastic bins and fresh fruit into vegetable tubs in an attempt to starve out the enemy. We’ve even resorted to removing Edgrrr’s food at night which has just served to piss him off more than usual (and that’s saying something) but just like a bad game of whack-a-mole, once we clear them out of one part of the boat, they pop up in another (as evidenced by the fact that I recently found two in Edgrrr’s litter box which only reinforces my opinion that just when you think a cockroach can’t get any nastier, they think of ways to up the ante.)

I have ordered some Advion Cockroach Gel Bait which is supposed to be the be-all-end-all of roach eradicators (and with a name like “Gel Bait” it sounds like if they don’t get snuffed out, they’ll at least get hauled away in handcuffs.) Barring its success, it may be time to drop the bomb on them…literally. You may be wondering why we haven’t already and the answer is twofold. Firstly, there are the animals to consider and the pain-in-the-butt factor of keeping them off the boat for the however many hours/days this will take. Secondly—and most surprisingly—I haven’t found any in Mexico.

Now if you’ve ever walked down an average street, been on a bus or ridden in a taxi, eaten from a street vendor, or otherwise spent more than five minutes in this country, you’ll quickly realize that there is little oversight when it comes to public safety. The infrastructure and retail establishments of just one four-block stretch of Paseo de Mazatlán here in Barra would give OSHA, FDA, USDA, EPA, CPSC, and a hassle of other acronyms headaches for weeks. Between the steep curbs, uneven and/or missing paving stones, potholes the size of kiddie pools, no discernable traffic laws, dozens of unleashed/unfixed dogs roaming around, exposed electrical wires, rusty rebar sticking out of everything, unregulated pharmacias, and at least a dozen food stands that are probably not licensed let alone inspected, they’d be writing out violations so fast they’d have to establish National Carpal Tunnel Day just to recuperate. You pretty much live in Mexico at your own risk. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you read the fine print on the back of the immigration form, you’ll find that it’s actually a liability waiver. So the fact that a good roach bomb can’t be found is pretty indicative of how hardcore they are.

Editor’s Update: So far, the Advion Gel Bait just might be living up to its hype. In the mornings, we are finding juvenile carcasses littered about the countertops. At night, there is little activity when on roach patrol—perhaps the occasional adult stumbling around like it’s on a bender. Overall, it’s quiet. Almost too quiet. Like they’re plotting something…

Aerial view of Barra with the Grand Isla Resort in the background.

Gutter view of Barra with an entree in the foreground.

Pictured: A typical street in Barra.
Not Pictured: The two-foot-deep pothole. If you fall in and get hungry waiting for a rescue, don’t worry. There’s a stray dog down there selling tacos.
Meanwhile back at the boat...

Edgrrr is the only crew member who has yet to “go swimming”. This is as close to the water as he likes to get.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Day 299 to 317 of the Third Voyage: In which we decide to spend another seven months in Mexico…for Barra or for worse.

Warning: the following contains language that might not be suitable for children and/or people with delicate sensibilities. I’m very sorry, but that’s just how it is right now.

So here’s the thing—no matter what you might think—cruising is not easy. Non-cruisers think that it’s a life of ease where you can just weigh anchor and head out to wherever on a whim. Days are spent happily sailing. Nights are spent drinking beer under the stars. Yes, there are moments like this—when time, tide, weather, and attitude permits—but the overall reality is a bit different. Few of the cruising guides talk about the daily doses of “oh, shit!”, “what happened?”, “how did that…?”, “will it…?”, “why won’t it…?”, and “son of a....” that go down whenever you leave, arrive, dock, anchor, moor, sail, motor, or otherwise do anything on, with, or around a boat. And if the thing that’s going to fuck up is not currently fucking up, all the ways it can fuck up are swirling around your head along with the inevitable conclusion that, “if it does, we’re fucked.”

In our lubber days, the Captain and I owned an historic home that we were slowly restoring (and/or renovating where the house was too far gone). There were no small projects—just a Pandora’s Box of blowups. The simple act of switching out a light fixture led to a complete rewiring of the house. The removal of a few cracked tiles in the kitchen floor necessitated the complete removal of said floor, to the point of exposing the cellar below, because the previous owner had thought it wise to cut away some of the floor joists to make room for his pot-growing operation. A newer addition at the back of the house had to be demolished after the removal of an interior door caused the walls to pull away from the main house because the previous owner thought 1000 square feet of cobbled-together wood would just magically stay attached with a couple of nails (see aforementioned pot-growing operation of which he was his primary customer.) Remember that movie, The Money Pit? It’s not a comedy…it’s a cautionary tale.

With the house, we had spent 10 years righting the wrongs of the past 118 years; surely, we could do the same with a 30-year-old boat. And I do think we’ve done an admirable job in the past five years. But the stress of fixing, maintaining, restoring, and updating a boat is different from a house because (usually) when you fuck something up on a house, it doesn’t catch fire and/or sink underneath you. Believe me, two of the scariest questions you can hear on a boat are, “What’s that smell?” and “Where did that water come from?” Number three is, “What’s beeping?” Now obviously, those questions are just as scary in a house as well, but at least a house will not leave you stranded 10 miles off shore or bobbing helplessly in a remote anchorage. When your house acts up, you can get the hell out and/or call in a professional. When you’re at sea, there’s really no place to go and the only “professional” for miles around is you; so you’d better hope that the schematics for the exhaust manifold match what’s in your engine room and that the troubleshooting guide says something other than, “Contact your nearest service center”. Add a foreign country to the mix and any hope of getting help and/or a tow are greatly diminished. Your only recourse at that point is to contact the navy and hope there’s enough tequila on board to pay your way to the nearest port.

And that’s just when you’re underway. Dockside living is not foolproof either—mainly because the worst thing that can happen to your boat is for it to remain immobile. It’s the rolling stone/moss factor. Many of our biggest problems with Raven were the direct result of her slowly wasting away at the broker’s marina for over three years before we purchased her. Sure, they turned over the engine once a month-ish, but the gears were only engaged long enough to move her deeper into “no man’s land” to make room for the brand new, shiny boats. By the time we came along, they had to move a dozen boats just to get her out for the sea trial. This is why a generator that had relatively few hours on it took a shit after three years and why a work-horse transmission seems destined for the glue farm way ahead of its time. Ditto for sails, electronics, winches, windlasses, wiring, plumbing, etc. etc. etc. When at dock for long periods of time, we are diligent about running all the systems on a regular basis—not just to keep them in working order but to try to determine what’s about to go south, what needs some extra TLC, and what’s just having a “me” moment. I think that’s why we got so bummed out after this last jaunt down the coast. It seems like with all the work we’ve put into this boat and the ungodly sums of money it’s taken to get her back to her glory days, it’d sure be nice for a reprieve from the “shit going wrong” factor…if even for a short time.

But it’s not just older boats. Last summer in PV, a brand-new, top-end sailboat berthed next to us and within two hours of being at dock, they had the manufacturer on the phone and were trying to troubleshoot why a brand-new engine was already making “that noise” and why there was an excessive amount of water in the bilge. Harsh words were exchanged and I don’t blame them. If I had just spent half a million dollars on a new boat, I would wholly expect not to have any problems whatsoever for at least…say…eight months.

I know, I know. First world problems. Believe me, I’m not “woe is me-ing” right now so much as just venting because it can get frustrating. Yet despite all the setbacks, compared to the life we left, this one is infinitely better and I am grateful for the opportunity to do this. And we are slowly beginning to accept that the constant parade of things going wrong is part of the cruising experience. I like to think that we have made some progress. For instance, during our first year of cruising, the Captain could go from zero to pissed off in about 3.5 seconds. These days he’s a lot slower to ire and—much like our piece-of-shit outboard--there are a few false starts and occasionally a big roar, but it usually sputters out quickly. The Deck Boss, though amazingly adaptable for an 80-something on her first boat, has come a long way as well. It used to be that 75 degrees in the pilothouse and spotty wi-fi would put her in a bad mood for hours. Now it’s not uncommon to hear her say things like, “It’s a very pleasant 82.” and “That download only took two hours! Woo-hoo!” Speaking for myself? I think I may be going in the opposite direction. I used to be the one with the infinite patience and the “Pollyanna” outlook. Old me: “It’s not working? That’s a bummer! But these things happen and I’m sure if we all work together, we can figure it out. Go team!” New me: “This blows. I’m getting a beer.” Of course, that might be progress as well.

Because if there’s one thing we’ve discovered from talking to the long-time cruisers is that the longer you’re out here, the more you’re able to take everything in stride. Either you learn to accept that shit happens or you run out of shits to give—either way, it’s imperative to your mental wellbeing to just let that shit go. But then we have also discovered that there seems to be a correlation between how long you’ve been cruising and how much alcohol you consume (I believe the current ratio is 5:1 as in five drinks for every one year out cruising. Per sitting.) But one of the great things about the cruising community is that we are all simpatico because everyone—everyone—has problems. We were recently invited to a fiesta at the home of JonCo, Barra’s only gringo mechanic. There were about a dozen other people there and we all had three things in common: we were all cruisers, we all had shit-going-wrong stories, and we all had an engine, transmission, and/or outboard currently sitting in JonCo’s shop. Is it a coincidence that JonCo puts up his own 148 proof moonshine to sell to cruisers? I think not.

So what’s up with the seven extra months in Mexico?
Once again it all comes down to hurricane season…and visas. Our current visas expire on May 23rd which gives us roughly seven weeks to get out of Mexico. Editor’s Note: More importantly, our Mexican fishing licenses expire on May 21st and I’m fairly certain that the penalties for a lapsed license are greater than being in the country illegally. Now seven weeks seems like a long time but we have a lot of ground to cover. From Barra, it’s approximately 820 miles to get out of Mexico and another 230 to get to Bahia Jaltepeque in El Salvador, which isn’t technically out of the box but is the next hurricane hole. To get completely out of the box, we’d have to go a further 105 miles to Nicaragua—and do it by June 1st. A lot of cruisers could easily do 1000 miles in seven weeks. Hell, some could do it in a week if they went straight through. But as the Deck Boss so succinctly put it, “When was the last time we got out of a country in under two months?” And thinking back to our involuntary, extended stay in Canada, the extra six months we spent in San Diego, and the eight additional months we’ve already spent in Mexico, I’d say she has a point.

So as soon as we limped into Barra, we had a decision to make. Do we expedite our repairs, make a run for the border, and hope like hell that we don’t break down in a less hospitable spot i.e. someplace that is not a hurricane hole (which is basically the remainder of Mexico) and/or in Acapulco (in which case we’d rather take our chances with a hurricane)? Or do we settle in here and wait out another season?

Luckily—and here’s the silver lining—this was an easier decision to make than last time where we kind of had to talk ourselves into staying in PV. Everyone told us we would fall in love with Barra de Navidad, and everyone was unequivocally correct. When we first got here, we were already about 75% certain we would stay just given the late date and the repairs that had to be made. By day three, we had already bypassed the 80s and were at 93%. By day five, we decided to stay and by the end of the first week, we were very comfortable with our decision. So what’s in store for the next seven months? We know there will be repairs (lots and lots of repairs), ongoing maintenance, brightwork (yeah fun.), a new outboard, soaring summer temperatures, the ongoing war with the cockroaches, and the inevitable parade of shit going wrong. But there will also be lots of exploring, some anchoring excursions to Tenacatita (once the boat is working), a trip out of the country to renew our visas, new experiences, and new friends. And there will be Barra. I’ll blog about Barra in the coming months—mainly so you don’t forget about us, but also because maybe you’ll become as smitten as we have. But for now, I’ve got to go. The Captain needs my help—the light fixture in the head quit working…because of course it did.

At the entrance to the lagoon there is a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Judging by the all the nautical gifts and tokens left there, I'd say this is where all the locals go and offer up their "please don't let shit go wrong on my boat" prayers.

Dispatches from World War C.  Apparently, cockroaches get seasick. During the voyage to Barra, we had quite a few wobble out of their hidey holes, do a little sidestepping like they’d had too much to drink, then fall on their backs with their little legs kicking around (aka prime squishing position.) Who knew? Tell you what…I’m still laughing about that one. Little bastards.