Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 291 to 298 of the Third Voyage: In which we have to ask ourselves, “When does this get fun?”

Once…just once…it would be nice to get from point A to point B and not have something go wrong. Lots of other cruisers do it. They set out, get some good wind, have a nice sail, find a good anchorage, go ashore to have a cold beer at a local beachside joint, return to the boat for a relaxing night’s sleep, and, if it’s a good spot, hang out for a few days before heading to the next anchorage. Seriously, people do it all the time. So why can’t we?

We left on the 7th, as planned, and did the short jaunt to La Cruz just across the bay from Nuevo Vallarta. The plan was to stay at the marina there overnight, have dinner at a favorite restaurant one final time, finish the last of the stowing, and top off the fuel tanks prior to heading out the next morning. We delayed the departure by a day to take advantage of an optimal weather window and thus left for Barra de Navidad on the 9th. The plan was to do a series of day hops—no overnighters or incredibly long days—and take our time getting to Barra. There would be a night at the anchorage at Ipala, a couple of nights on the hook in Chamela, and maybe a week at anchor in Tenacatita. Seriously, people do it all the time. We thought we could too.

The trip to Ipala was somewhat uneventful—about 50 nm with wind on the nose so about a 7-hour motor. We found the anchorage despite our GPS being off about 15 degrees (so we did indeed anchor in water and not, as our GPS was indicating, right in the middle of the village) and set the hook on the first try. Before we did though, we tested the gears. Everything was copacetic. Unfortunately for Otter, the wind had whipped up and it was too dangerous for a beach landing, so going ashore was off the table. He would instead have to do his “bidness” on the foredeck (which he absolutely refused to do.)

The next morning, we raised the anchor and turned to head out…and lost the gears. Not a hint of trouble since Morro Bay and now here we go with the transmission again. The anchor was quickly dropped. After our previous transmission troubles, we had purchased a rebuilt spare—just in case—and stored it under the v-berth. But the anchorage had become too rolly to swap them out and we feared that Ipala was not the ideal place to do an operation of this magnitude given the lack of cell phone signal and/or lack of services of any kind. After refilling the transmission with ATF, we regained enough of the gears to make a break for Chamela—another 50 nm south. We talked about just making a beeline for Barra (about 90 miles) but we didn’t want to be coming in at night and underpowered. Plus, the dog was getting anxious.  

We got to the anchorage around 3:00 pm and set to work getting the dinghy ready to take Otter to shore and possibly stake out a nice beachside bar for a well-earned beer. The dinghy was lowered, the outboard was attached and…it wouldn’t start. All the tension surrounding the transmission came to a head at that moment. Bitching, fussing, squabbling, barking, and finger pointing ensued but finally, after about an hour and a half, the Captain finally got the outboard to start and he, I, and Otter sped to shore. We had approximately 10 minutes—just enough time for Otter to pee 16 times, poop twice, and run around like a mad dog—before it was time to clamber back in the dinghy. The tide was coming in and already it was getting difficult to drag the dinghy into and over the waves. Otter, who was having flashbacks of being flipped out of the dinghy in Bahia Asuncion, jumped out and I’m chasing him around the beach while the Captain is trying to drag the dinghy past the breakwater till finally the three of us, soaking wet and extremely irritable, are speeding back to the boat at which point the Captain says loudly, “Isn’t this supposed to be fun? When the hell does this get fun?” And I have no answer for him.

But at least the Chamela experience wasn’t all sucky. Two girls from a neighboring catamaran were going from boat to boat selling rum punch. Extremely potent rum punch. So that was nice. Plus, we finally got to try out our hand-held searchlight—we used it to flag the girls down for a second round.

Unfortunately, copious amounts of rum punch can only provide a temporary respite from your woes and when we got ready to make way the next morning, the mood was still decidedly glum. I made the remark, “Let’s get going so we can see how long it takes for something to go horribly wrong today.” The answer was 15 minutes. As I’m bringing up the anchor, I notice that it’s fluke up—something which, of course, it had never done before. I stop, lean over the edge of the bowsprit, and try to swivel it around right side up. But it’s just out of reach. So I tap on the windlass button, trying to get it to come up in small increments, and it’s ooching up ever so slightly, and then the shank hits the collar and the whole thing whips up and crashes through the teak in the bowsprit like an angry rhinoceros. It was probably two hours before I could utter anything that wasn’t, “Son of a bitch!”

Thoroughly demoralized, we decided to blow off Tenacatita altogether and head straight to Barra, which was a huge bummer as it was probably the one anchorage I was most looking forward to since the third voyage was being mapped out. The way the cruising guides describe it, Tenacatita is the quintessential paradise anchorage. A five-mile long horseshoe bay with white sand, clear water, and lots of beachside bars. There’s a snorkeling area so abundant with sea life that it’s known as the aquarium. And you can take your dinghy up an estuary through the mangroves at the end of which is a small village nestled in the jungle. How cool would that be? I mean, seriously, people do it all the time. We could have as well, but the prudent course of action was to get to the security of Barra so we could deal with our new cadre of problems. We also figured that with the way things were going, we’d have dropped the anchor onto the head of a whale who in his anger would proceed to bash a hole in our boat. And the outboard would likely be eaten by a crocodile. So on we motored past Tenacatita, buffeted by strong headwinds and choppy seas, and because it couldn’t get any more pathetic, it rained a little too.

But finally, we got into Barra—where apparently, nobody in charge monitors the VHF on the weekends—and with the help of some cruisers got Raven tied up onto an end-tie dock in the Marina Puerto de Navidad. We’ll be here at least a month—licking our wounds, expediting some repairs, and making some big decisions.

To those who are critical of our lifestyle (and you know who you are), go ahead and gloat. But at some point, we will get from point A to point B and nothing will go wrong. We will get to sail without worrying if we’ll have gears when we turn the engine back on. And we will stop at an idyllic anchorage and have that beachside beer. We may even spend more than one night. I mean, seriously, people do it all the time.
Our 10 minutes in Chamela. At least someone had fun.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 286 to 290 of the Third Voyage: In which we crew in the Banderas Bay Regatta..

Disclaimer:  The opinions, observations, and snarky asides in this blog post are the author’s and do not (necessarily) represent the views of the other regatta participants. So now that that’s out of the way…

Until about two months ago, I had never crewed a racing sailboat in my life. My sailing skills are marginal at best, nonexistent in times of crisis and/or when it really counts (such as when racing.) So imagine my surprise when I found myself on Vitesse, a 27’ Santa Cruz, participating in the Banderas Bay Regatta.

I had been out on Vitesse a few times before. It’s owner, Bart, had put up an advert on the community bulletin board looking for crew for the Wednesday Night Beer Can races out of La Cruz and the Captain had jumped all over the opportunity because there are few things he loves more than racing sailboats and beer. I went out with them a couple of times when they were light on crew but even though there was sailing, tacking, gybing, and going around buoys, it never really felt like racing. Probably because it’s loosely organized, everyone waves when you pass each other, and you’re drinking beer the whole time. So it’s more like a fun day sailing. But the Regatta was a real race and not just because we weren’t allowed to drink the beer till after we crossed the finish line, but because everyone took it so very seriously. Some boats used special racing sails, some rerigged, others came from outside the area to participate, and some would only bring on experienced, semi-professional crew.

The Regatta officially kicked off with the Skipper’s Meeting.  Held at the sponsoring yacht club, it’s not so much a skipper’s meeting as a cocktail party where they make some announcements, give a quick rundown of events, and promote the swag in between which there is as much mingling, schmoozing, and smooth jazz as you can handle.  I was only half-way paying attention because I found myself standing directly behind the “Where’s your pass?” lady and was trying hard not to “accidentally” spill my beer on her head.  Two days previous I had arrived at the gate at the top of the docks and was searching for my key fob. I had a big bag of groceries, a very large dog, and an old lady in tow when this woman and her husband pushed past us to the gate. “Great!” I said, “Can we get in with you?” to which she replied, “I don’t know. Where’s your pass?” At first I thought she was kidding. I mean, I get that as marina tenants we have to be vigilant about letting people onto the docks that don’t belong there, but “woman with groceries, large dog, and old lady desperately rummaging for a key fob” doesn’t really scream “I’ve come to steal your dinghy.” But she wasn’t kidding. As I’m fumbling around for my key fob, she’s blocking the gate with her body and going on and on about “I need to see your pass. You’ve got to have a pass. Pass, pass, pass.” And I tell her as I’m searching that I’m on Raven in Slip B-31 and she says, “That’s just a number. That doesn’t mean anything to me.” And I finally find my key fob and marina id card and shove it under her nose and only then does she very begrudgingly let me through. I’ve been worked up about it ever since. Editor’s Note: I know she’s not on our docks so I figure she must be on C and D docks so I’ve taken to walking Otter around looking for her boat so I can let him pee on her dock box. And if she complains I can show her the pass that’s now hanging around his neck in lieu of his collar because apparently having a pass gives you carte blanche to be an asshole.

But I digress.

The first day on the water was “Start Your Heart Out” Practice Day. As in a day to practice your starts. The start is very important because it’s not like all the boats can line up in a row and start sailing at the sound of a horn. You have to time a running start at the line without crossing early (or else you have to turn back and go through again) or crossing too late (in which case you’ve probably already lost because every second counts.) So the race committee boat put out a couple of buoys and we practiced our starts by going around and around and around and around. It was bad enough at the stern where I was, but even worse at the bow where the Captain was. He was so dizzy after 18 starts that we were half way back to the marina before he opened his first beer. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to finish it because on the way back, we decided to practice a spinnaker set and the wind kicked up, caught it, and blew it so far out that we started tipping over…way over. Brian was at the helm and immediately starting yelling to “Douse! Douse! Douse!” and I’m thinking, “I don’t want to douse! I want to be upright again and not clinging to the side as we’re doing a big old Titanic into the water. It was only later after we were upright again that I learned that “douse” meant to bring in the sails and that what we were doing was actually “capsizing”.

The next three days were race days. Now Vitesse is a 27-foot boat and there were six people on board--everyone with a job to do. Neil ran the foredeck—working the jib, preparing the spinnaker sets, etc. Scott assisted Neil, skirted the jib, and manned the halyards and lines. Richelle trimmed sails and released on the tacks and jibes, Brian and Bart each in turn manned the helm and tailing winches. My job was to time the starts, top and drop the spinnaker pole, and help douse the spinnaker (douse as in bring it in, not capsize the boat.) When not working, we were all rail meat. In the racing world, rail meat describes the people that scramble from one side of the boat to the other to put as much weight on the high side so as not to capsize the boat (as in tipping over, not bringing in the sail.)

Now the challenging thing about a 27' boat is that winches, lines, halyards, cleats, travelers, and doused sails (the ones on the boat, not in the water) are squeezed into not a whole lot of room. There is all manner of things to hit, bump, scrape, rack, stumble over, and uncomfortably sit on. Add six people all doing their various jobs on top of one another and your chances of hitting, bumping, scraping, racking, stumbling over, and uncomfortably sitting on something increases tenfold. The race itself consists of intensely chaotic moments of tacking and jibing when everyone is moving at breakneck speed, frantically doing their jobs, and barking at one another punctuated with very long stretches of hanging out on the rails watching the scenery go by, musing about what cocktails that mega yacht in the distance is serving, and wondering what the hell you’re sitting on and do you really want to know.

After each race, you get points for how you finished based on the time it took to complete the course (1 for first, 2 for second, 3 for third, etc.) and after the third race the points are totaled and whoever gets the lowest score, wins. Vitesse came in third on the first day, fourth on the second day, and last on that awesome day when the wind totally died on our last leg and then the heavens opened up and rained on us while we were desperately trying to bob toward the finish line. But here’s the thing…regattas are open to all boats (so instead of apples racing apples, it’s apples racing apples, oranges, kumquats, and watermelons) so each boat is given a PHRF “rating” number. The rating is based on make, model, age, weight, height, breadth, depth, paint color, zodiac sign, and number of beers on board. Long story short, the J-Boats that we raced against had to give us 30 seconds per mile which is how we came in 2nd overall in our class. Not too shabby for a beer can crew.

So I guess I’d have to say that sailboat racing is equal parts adrenaline, anxiety, awkwardness, and complete bedlam but not without a bit of fun thrown in. The Captain would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t think I will unless the boat is bigger, fully automated, and has comfy cushions. Oh…and the only thing in danger of capsizing is the cocktail shaker.    

A special thank you to Bart for the opportunity to be part of the Vitesse crew. I learned a lot—mainly that I’m not really cut out for real racing. I’m more of a beer can girl.
Pictured: Sailboats hovering around the start line during practice day. Only a fraction showed up so you can imagine what it was like when all 23 boats were present. It was hectic, confused, and a little stressful. And that was just inside my head.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Even Longer Sixth Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 216-285) in which odds are good that we might, maybe, perhaps be leaving so here’s what we’ve been doing in the meantime.

Big news, Ravennaires! After nine (!) months in PV, we’re finally ready to move this party south! We are technically four months behind schedule (not counting the four months we spent hunkered down here for hurricane season) so to all those people who planned to transit the Panama Canal with us last July, hold tight…there’s a 50/25/25* chance that we might make it this year so don’t give up on us yet!

*Definitely Yes/Maybe Yes/Couldn’t get out of the slip

So how did we manage to get four months behind? Well, practice does make perfect. Those of you that have been following our (mis)adventures since the first voyage, can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve left when we said we would (and if you lost a finger or two in an unfortunate DIY project, you’d be closer to the actual number.) Mechanical malfunctions, bad weather, and vindictive animals have all contributed to our dismal track record of on-time departures to the point where by rights we should just choose a date three years in the future and count any departure prior to two years, eleven months, and 28 days as a win. But maybe that’s something that will come with experience…until then, we’ve taken to penciling in departure dates and then setting up betting pools as to what will cause the delay. Case in point…originally we were going to leave in late-October—which is when our insurance policy said we could venture out while still in the hurricane box—but with active storms still brewing south of us, we opted to wait until late-November. Weather delays are even money—no odds given. Our late-November departure was delayed by the windlass or, more specifically, the arrival of a part so that the new windlass could be properly installed. Editor’s Note: Just because you order the exact same windlass as you had before, and just because the seller claims it will fit the original footprint, and just because the manufacturer swears on a stack of Bibles that nothing in the design has changed, doesn’t mean they’re not all full of shit. In actuality, the manufacturer moved the gear mechanism up about an inch rendering the connecting rod to the anchor locker too short and necessitating the shipment of a longer rod (Said the Full of Shit Manufacturer: “Technically the design didn’t change, it was improved.”) Odds of a delay due to something mechanical, electrical, and/or electronic? On this boat? 2 to 1. Knowing that we would be waiting for a part, the Deck Boss opted to have knee surgery as recounted in the previous blog entry. So now we have surgery, a mosquito-borne illness, and the holidays to account for—a new departure date is set for early-January which is quickly revised to mid-February for personal reasons during which time the Deck Boss takes advantage of this delay by having yet another surgery. New departure date is set for February 22nd!  Aaaaaand…many beers later during what was supposed to be one of our last dinners out with friends before we leave and we somehow get talked into crewing on a boat in the Banderas Bay Regatta which runs February 28th through March 4th. Odds of that happening? 3 to 1 that the Captain would be asked (he’s that good) and 10 to 1 that he’d agree (the rum helped the odds). Editor’s Note: For some reason, they wanted me as well. I think that’s what you call a sucker bet.  So our new departure date has been penciled in for March 7th. Odds that we’ll be up for leaving after three straight days of racing on a 28-foot boat? 100 to 1.     

So right now I’m sure there are a few people thinking, “Whoa! Another surgery?” and there are others going, “What mosquito-borne illness?” and I’m congratulating myself that I’ve tricked you into reading further than you were planning. Starting chronologically, yes, it’s true, the Captain contracted chikungunya. How did this happen? Not all mosquitos carry a virus so if you get bit, it’s a crap shoot. And the Captain rolled snake eyes. The day we brought the Deck Boss back to the boat after her knee surgery was the first day he got ill. What started as just an icky feeling quickly escalated into what was symptomatic of the flu—sporadic fever, extreme fatigue, and intense joint pain. It was over a week before he had enough strength to get out of bed* and another week beyond that before he felt “normal” again. During this time, we took him to see Dr. Gutierrez who surmised it was either chikungunya or dengue fever, neither of which has a cure. We were hoping for the latter as dengue is one and done. Unfortunately, the dice came up chikungunya, which stays with you for about five years with symptoms flaring up every few months until it eventually peters out. So we have that to look forward to.

* Now for those of you who knew the Captain in his lubber days, you’ll recognize the gravity of this statement. Because this was a man who never took a sick day. Never. Ever. He could have had small pox, intermittent blindness, and an axe stuck in his head and he’d still be at work. I once had to forcibly haul him into an emergency room one afternoon because he’d broken his rib playing hockey the night before and was having trouble breathing. Luckily the rib had punctured his lung, because if it hadn’t I’d still be hearing about “the time you dragged me away from work over nothing.” We went through the same thing a few months later. It was the crack heard round the warehouse and all I got on the way to the emergency room was “I’m sure it’s just a sprain. I can’t believe you made me leave work early for this!” (It was 6:30 pm.) Luckily, he had broken his ankle so I could distract myself with the medical paperwork while he went on and on about how he’d “probably miss half a day of work” due to the surgery. Editor’s Note: After the surgery, he insisted I drive him to work. After much arguing, I finally relented. Of course, he was so looped up on pain meds that he just slept on the floor of my office, but technically his 100% No Sick Days record still stands.

So the Deck Boss did indeed have another surgery—this time on her hand. She suffers from something called Dupuytren’s Contracture which her doctor, Dr. Marron, calls “Spiderman Syndrome” because it’s near impossible to pronounce Dupuytren. This is basically where the connective tissues in the hand contract to the point that your fingers bend toward the palm and you can no longer extend them fully. It primarily affects the ring finger—hence looking like you’re about to fling some serious webs and/or hang two and a half instead of the usual ten. The corrective procedure is not without risks and could severely affect the use of the hand (of course, not doing anything about it WILL severely affect the use of the hand) but the Deck Boss liked her odds and long story short…the surgery was a success. Editor’s Note: For those suffering at home where the operation is generally classified as elective, the procedure took about two hours and the recovery about three weeks. Total cost: $1200.

In preparation of might, maybe, perhaps leaving, we have been doing some provisioning—mainly stocking up on those items that might be harder to find down the road, especially things for the boat. Banderas Bay has a good smattering of marine supply stores (well…if three is considered a good smattering) but our options might not be this good again until we hit Panama City. And that’s a long way from here…literally, figuratively, spatially, geographically, and longitudinally (it’s really frickin’ far!) In preparation for the journey south, we’ve scrubbed the boat inside and out, polished and treated all the teak, replaced frayed lines and halyards, organized lockers, pulled up soles to clean (and RAID) the bilges, updated our inventories, tested all the electronics, and had the engine room checked out by a mechanic. I think we each have a mental list of what might possibly blow up when we leave but we’re careful not to say anything aloud or even write anything down. Because the last time we did, it came true (Reference blog post of May 18, 2016. Exhibit A: Windlass.)

Now since I don’t have any kick-ass pictures of us cleaning, scraping, fixing, or shopping and because you really don’t want to see any post-surgery photos (trust me), I’m kind of at a loss as to what to put here for your visual pleasure. So I thought I’d go with a picture of the local Hooters.
They have a different concept as to what sells chicken wings here.

And finally, because you’re dying to know…

Update from the front lines of World War C. The battle for galley dominance against the cockroaches continues with casualties on both sides, notably numerous fatalities on the roach side and my dignity on the other. Trench warfare is ongoing with the introduction of sticky traps. This is basically a little cardboard tunnel with a tantalizing treat pellet stuck in the middle of an extremely sticky floor. I lay them out at night and in the morning gloat over the victims stuck in the gooey mess each wearing their best “oh shit!” face. Thanks to the sticky traps, I have identified that we are dealing with two types of roaches. Long, light brown ones (Cockroacheus Totallus Assholius) and a round, dark brown variety (Cockroacheus Completus Bastardius) of which the former is infinitely more stupid because they have been known to run INTO the tunnel when the light is turned on. We have coupled this with those plug-ins that emit a high-frequency sound that is supposed to drive pests out of your home. We used them at the print shop with great success to combat a vermin problem. The jury is still out as to whether they’re keeping down the roach population, but at least we needn’t be worried about an infestation of rats, mice, hamsters, or gerbils. And as a bonus, they have a blinking blue light so you know they’re working. We put them in the heads and they make great runway lights when you’re trying to find the toilet in the middle of the night.

A couple of days ago, the war was escalated with the introduction of Inse Control Gel.  Aside from the RAID, I’ve been trying to utilize as many non-toxic pest solutions as I can. Not because I’m morally opposed to full-scale roach slaughter but because there are pets on board and they do have their not-so-bright-moments. Like when Edgrrr got pissy because there was a dog hair in the water dish and swished his tail so furiously that he got it stuck in the roach tunnel. Or when Otter tipped over a bowl of borax trying to get to a container of margarita salt (don’t ask, we can’t figure it out ourselves.) But Inse Control Gel is the WMD of World War C. When I finished translating the text on the box, I read it to the Captain…”The gel is appetizing to the cockroach. To the consumed they do not feel poisoned therefore they do not loose their eggs so it comes to them and they all die.” “What does that mean?” he asked. “I have no idea.” I replied. “But I like that last part.” So carefully avoiding any areas where pets (or humans) could come into contact with it, I squeezed out little dollops of the appetizing gel (or as the translator app said, “treat balls”) in strategic areas around the galley. Best case scenario, it will cause mass genocide. Probable scenario, it will gradually deplete the population until time, tide, and even more lethal products finally eradicate them. Worst case scenario, the little bastards will use the gel to make foot ware that allows them safe passage across the sticky floor in the roach tunnel to get to the treat pellets.

Do we have a chance of winning the war? It may be a longshot, but as Han Solo so succinctly put it, “Never tell me the odds.”