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.