Sunday, March 18, 2018

Day 653 to 665 of the Third Voyage: In which we’re trying to take it all in stride, but it’s kind of hard when that stride is more of a severe limp.

When the average cruiser goes to Zihua, they anchor comfortably, spend countless hours exploring the town and nearby beaches, sample the many restaurants, and maybe go on an excursion or two. And when they go this time of year—during Guitar Fest—they will probably take in some live concerts as well. The average cruiser is also inevitably fixing something at one time or another. It’s just part of the gig. I’m beginning to think that the difference between us and the average cruiser is that not only are we always fixing something, we’re fixing a lot of somethings all at once, and one of those somethings is such a major something that it brings the whole journey to a screeching halt. We’ve been out to sea for almost three years now and I would wager we’ve only been “cruising” maybe six weeks of that.

We don’t anchor comfortably—we come in hot without any gears and just hope we can throw down enough chain to keep us from swinging into next year. “Exploring” is wandering through the barrio, trying to locate a welder. And the most recent excursion we’ve been on was to the local AutoZone trying to track down oil filters and temperature gauges. We do like to hit the restaurants however. It’s a great opportunity to get off the boat, clear your head, and drink copious amounts of alcohol to steel yourself for whatever has gone wrong on the boat while you were eating. Editor’s Note: In the evenings, while hanging out on the aft deck, we did get to enjoy some of Guitar Fest as well—at least what we could hear over the sound of the generator. We would have turned it off, but it was so nice to know that SOMETHING was still working.

I guess what I’m leading up to is that this is getting old. In fact, I’m pretty sure it died somewhere along the way and we’ve just been flogging its reanimated corpse.

After limping back into Zihua, the days flew by in a blur of mechanics, welders, and more shit going wrong. The mechanic came out and worked on the transmission. The next day, the new stanchion was picked up and installed. The day after that, the new brackets for the dinghy wheels were completed, picked up, and installed. The mechanic came back the next day and replaced the oil cooler with a new one we had on board. That same day, we lost water pressure and what did come out was dark brown and kind of chunky. The Captain replaced the filter on the water pump, switched tanks, and re-primed the system. The next morning, we had 20 10-gallon water bottles delivered; fuel was delivered in jerry cans that afternoon. That night our anchor light quit working. Later that night, I had a bout of stomach flu and spent all night in the head blowing it out both ends, delaying our intended departure the following day.  While I recouped, the anchor light was replaced, yet the anchor light still refused to work. The steaming lights are being used until we figure out what’s wrong. But finally—FINALLY—it was departure day! It was calm seas and light winds and the anchorage at Bahia Papanoa—a mere 39 miles away—was beckoning. So we raised up the anchor, made our way out of the bay, set a course south, and one hour in—one FREAKIN hour in—and the transmission temperature shot up past 220 degrees. So we throttled way back and turned around. There was no wind, so sails were useless. All we could do was hope that the transmission had enough oil and oomph to get us back to Zihua. Needless to say, it was a very quiet trip back. But make it back we did, and with just enough gears to anchor. And then the navy hailed us over the VHF. Earlier, we had called Memo asking if he could line up a panga in case we needed a tow. Said panga had tried to hail us over the VHF, but for whatever reason, they could not hear us. So the navy apparently took that as a bad sign and hailed us believing we were in trouble. We tried to tell them we were okay, that we were safely anchored in the harbor, but they insisted on our coordinates which we duly gave them. Five minutes later, and they came blazing out in their spiffy go-fast boat and did the usual navy routine of circling us two or three times while a crew member video recorded all the action. I could sense that they were a little disappointed that it wasn’t a bona fide search and rescue, but at the same time really jazzed to be out in the go-fast boat. They took our information and gave us their direct phone number to call in case we ever found ourselves in need of searching and rescuing and as quickly as they arrived, they were gone.
We suspect they zoomed around the bay at top speed doing some “searching” before having to go back and finish their paperwork.

The next week was another blur of mechanics and welders. Why the welders again? Because we discovered that the wooden block on the rail—the one we attach our outboard motor to while underway—had developed a huge crack and was all ready to give way, probably with the outboard still attached. And with our luck, it would give way overboard rather than onto the deck. So the Captain and ABS Brian engineered a metal bracket to go over it and contracted with the welder to fabricate it, thus earning them “Repeat Customer of the Month” status having most likely paid his rent for the rest of the year. In the meantime, our mechanic repaired the transmission and out we went for a sea trial only to have the damn thing overheat and blow its back seals again at around the 20-minute mark. Once again it was a slow and quiet trip back to the anchorage. We were all thinking of contingency plans because long-term anchoring will make major engine repairs rather difficult. We were wondering how do we get to a marina of any kind without gears; can we get into the Ixtapa marina even though it’s shallow and full of crocodiles; how do we convince the Mexican navy that we need some search and rescuing all the way back to the boatyard in La Cruz? And our poor mechanic has that look on his face that we’ve seen plenty of times before. Specifically, he has started to take this personally. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that we’ve left a lot of highly capable mechanics adrift in our wake—all taken to task by our transmission. But this was something new. This was—for all intents and purposes—a new transmission. It had been carefully stored in the dark recesses under the v-berth since it was last rebuilt in San Diego. Why would it blow the same seals as the previous tranny? It didn’t make sense. It had to be something else. Something in the cooling we suspected. So our mechanic took the offending parts away along with the new oil cooler we had him install. Two days later and he thinks he’s found the problem—a bad oil pump and some incorrectly placed seals in the tranny. He reinstalled everything and we went out for a sea trial. The temperature held. The pressure held. We increased the RPMs. The temperature went up slightly, but not exceedingly so—just what was to be expected. We decreased the RPMs and the temperature decreased as well—something it has never done. Before, when it was hot; it stayed hot.

Could this be the answer we’ve been waiting for? Could this be the last of our transmission problems? Do we owe our transmission(s) an apology? Should we have been burning an effigy of the oil pump all these years as well? Only time will tell, and sooner rather than later as we plan to leave tomorrow (even if we have crippling hangovers from the victory dinner we’re planning tonight.)

And not a minute too soon. Zihua is a nice place, but I wouldn’t want to spend more than a few days here. And we’re going on three weeks. I mean, it’s a nice place. And beyond the cleaned-up touristy part, it starts turning into a proper Mexican town complete with a very large public market with vendors of everything from carne, bread, and fruit to purveyors of household goods, tools, personal items, and clothes. It was a lot like what we found in Barra only much bigger and all crammed under one roof. You can pretty much find anything. Apart from paper towels. In my best Spanglish, I would ask for “toallas de papel” and they kept handing me toilet paper at which point I resorted to pointing at my rear and saying, “No para bano. Para limpiar.” And after they quit laughing, would send me away empty-handed. In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t stomach flu after all. Maybe I was hexed by an old woman who didn’t appreciate my NSFW pantomime.

Aside from the market, we hit a few of the restaurants. None exactly stood out, and I’m beginning to suspect many of them used raicilla (a Mexican moonshine that’s used in lieu of tequila) in their margaritas and perhaps that accounted for my ills (because it couldn’t possibly be quantity, it must be quality, right?) We did have one opportunity to take a taxi through the hillside communities bordering the bay and they’re as swank as much as most of Zihua is poor. But that’s kind of the dichotomy we see in Mexico—a lot of hardscrabble neighborhoods bordering areas of large, gated homes and upmarket condos. Few people say it aloud, but the consensus seems to be there are gringo/cartel/politician parts of town and then there’s everyone else. But I digress.

I think what kind of killed Zihua for me was our mooring situation. This is the longest we’ve ever been at anchor. And whereas it does have its charms, it does get a little old when you have to dinghy to shore every time you want/need off the boat. And we used the dinghy a lot. The dogs went to shore twice a day. The mechanics had to be dinghied to and from, sometimes more than once if a part is needed. Memo had to be dinghied in so he could dive the bottom and clear us of barnacles. The welder was dinghied in at least once to look at our stanchion set up. Dinner in town? Get in the dinghy. Market? Get in the dinghy. Trip to AutoZone? Get in the dinghy. Trip to Sam’s Club to procure a new AC unit when ours died? Get in the dinghy, but then bribe one of the beach pangas to bring us back with the thing because we didn’t think it would appreciate a dinghy ride. After a while, you don’t even want to go shore again (at least I didn’t.) Although I must say that here in Zihua they have a nice set-up. There’s a group of guys who hang out at the beach (they may even live there—we’re not sure) and when they’re not playing cards and getting stoned, they help guide you up on the beach, watch your dinghy while you’re gone, and then help you get back out. It’s stellar service for a 10-20-peso tip and makes the frequent shore trips much more bearable. Editor’s Note: Yes, we did get the Deck Boss back in the dinghy and I’m happy to report that there have been no further mishaps. On a related note, ABS Brian did fall out of the dinghy and into the water while trying to secure it to the ladder. So once again, Edgrrr is the only member of the crew not to have fallen into the drink.

I would be remiss to mention that we did go on one true excursion. ABS Brian loves the Shawshank Redemption. If you’re familiar with the movie, you may recall the Zihua connection. If you’re not familiar with the movie, here’s your spoiler alert: Tim Robbins escapes from the aforementioned prison and makes his way to Zihua where he’s last seen restoring an old fishing boat. And if you do see the movie and you’ve never been to Zihua, here’s another spoiler alert: the beach scene in the movie was shot in the Virgin Islands. I don’t think they planned that, I’m sure the boat just broke down in transit to Mexico and they went with it. At any rate, to capitalize on the movie, there is a Shawshank Redemption Restaurant, so we set out to find it and procure a t-shirt. Spoiler Alert: We did find it, and it’s not worth the t-shirt. It’s a small place facing the street in a modern-ish building in a quiet part of town. So there’s no beach (Virgin or otherwise), no real ambiance, and nothing particularly “Mexican, “Maine”, or even “Hollywood” about it. They have a couple of blown-up stills from the movie—neither one extremely poignant (unless a picture of Guard #2 is particularly noteworthy)—and bars in lieu of a front wall along with one of those mugshot signs you can hold up in front of you for a picture so all your friends know you were booked on suspicion of being cheesy. Editor’s Note: Such was the underwhelming nature of the place that when it was suggested that we take a picture with the mugshot sign, the overwhelming answer was, “No. That’s okay.” I’ve got to say, that even in a country where copyrights are merely suggestions, this one is a huge missed opportunity. Zihua has no shortage of dingy brick buildings with bars (real bars) in lieu of front walls that most likely did house criminals at one point in their history. You could easily take one of those, furnish it in early Attica, throw up some Rita Hayworth posters, and serve chipped beef and frijoles on tin plates. Dessert would be flan with a rock hammer in it. You wouldn’t even have to update the bathroom—just advertise it as a real-life “sewer escape” experience. I guarantee, the line to get in would be around the block. But until then, I guess this one will have to do.
Then there's this work on art. The only part of the restaurant that really says, “criminal”.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Day 646 to 652 of the Third Voyage: In which if it’s always darkest just before the dawn, then this must be the longest F$%!! night of our lives.

Holy Merde. Where to begin? I guess the best place is just before we left the anchorage at Las Hadas. The Captain went below into the engine room to check fluids and as he was stretched out over the engine block to get to the generator, the boat did a bounce and he bounced with it and came down on his ribs on the side of the engine housing. The ribs that have twice been broken in the past. Surely THAT won’t come back to haunt him, will it? Of course not!

We brought up the anchor and headed over to the fuel dock in the Las Hadas marina. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Las Hadas means “The Fairies” in Spanish. I think this is very apropos because they must be snorting a lot of pixie dust to think it’s okay to charge what they do for diesel—easily the most expensive we’ve seen in Mexico. Editor’s Note: We had planned to top off in Barra, except that a 130’ mega yacht got there first and not only proceeded to drain them dry but then decided to just squat there while the crew did some boat work. I guess when you’ve just spent the equivalent of the GDP of Ghana on fuel, you do feel entitled to a little free rent before you head into the marina to fork over the equivalent of the GDP of Bolivia on moorage. But back to Las Hadas…it’s my feeling that if you’re going to charge premium prices for fuel, you could at least put some of the profit back into the infrastructure. The “dock” was made up of this spongy, almost plastic-like material that seemed too lightweight to withstand any real strain, let alone support a cleat with a large boat attached to it. It bobbed around furiously and only sort of stayed in place via steel rods attached to the seawall. And they placed it right across from the marina entrance so as to get maximum swell. We got tied up as best we could, but during the fueling process, one person would have to hold the pump handle still while two others struggled to keep the boat in close because the outgoing swell would want to drive it out a good two to three feet. I must admit, the whole thing was kind of comical and I totally would have gotten a picture had not the likelihood of a diesel spill and as well as getting bucked into the water been part of the equation. With full tanks and empty wallets, we headed out around 4:00 pm. The plan was to journey through the night and arrive at the anchorage at Caleta de Campos the next morning. That was the plan. And we all know how Raven plans work out.

Our first hint that we should have turned around, gone back to the anchorage, and started over the next day was when the wind came up while we were at the fuel dock. We brought in the lines and fenders as we headed out into the bay—a little windy, but not too terrible. Within ten minutes we were bucking big waves and taking water over the bow and I’m down below frantically securing hatches and getting a face full of water for my efforts. But I guess I deserved it, because I naively believed the weather forecasts when they called for “calm seas” and other such bullshit so I left open a couple of hatches to combat the stifling heat below decks. Mental note: From now on, assume all weather reports are bullshit and plan for tempest regardless.

We really hoped that things would smooth out once we got out of the bay and, technically speaking, it did. Zero winds, little waves. The problem? Monster swell. It would pick up the entire boat, tilt it over to one side about 35-40 degrees, swing the stern out, bring us up and over, tilt the other way about 25 degrees and settle roughly into a trough for a few minutes before repeating the process. Things were getting flung all over the boat—even the stuff that was tied down (such as the Deck Boss)—and made for a very uncomfortable voyage. The kind where at about four hours in, you’ve started mentally fleshing out the “Boat for Sale” ad while wondering if there will be anything left of the boat to sell. But whereas the boat could handle it, the engine thought otherwise and sometime around 3:00 in the morning, decided to overheat again. Normally we would have shut off the engine and raised the sails, but with no wind that wasn’t an option, so the decision was made to throttle back and find a speed that the engine could hang with and thus we found ourselves once again slinking through the night, hoping the engine wouldn’t die, and hanging on for dear life as we spun through the swells—feeling not unlike the proverbial turd in the toilet bowl.

Somehow, we found ourselves near Caleta de Campos ahead of schedule—by about two hours—and had to make a quick decision…do we throttle way back and/or wander around in the ocean in order to hit the anchorage during daylight hours or do we push on to Zihuatanejo, our next major port of call? We weighed the pros and cons. If we decided to stop, we’d probably have to bob around for a couple of hours waiting for the sun to come up before heading in to the anchorage—it being unfamiliar and all. That’s a con. But once there, we’d be out of the swell. That’s a pro. Well, MAYBE out of the swell. Because if the swell extends into the anchorage, it’ll be more of the same. That’s a con. But if there is no swell, we can get a break from the bouncing. That’s a pro. And put the boat back together. Another pro. But what if the swell and/or the weather in general is even bigger when we head out the next day to Zihuatanejo? That’s a big con. But here we can maybe get some sleep. That’s another pro. And maybe get a beer. Big pro! But even as the pros added up, it came down to one of my favorite adages, “You can endure anything if you know it’s going to end.”  So, we figured if we were already miserable, why not go ahead and continue to be miserable for another nine to ten hours because at least we know it’ll end in Zihuatanejo. Plus, I should have my boat ad completed by then.

I would be remiss to mention that the swell did eventually die down around seven in the morning and that we had glassy waters all the way to Zihua. I would also be remiss to say that we gave a damn because by this time we were tired, banged-up, demoralized, and thoroughly disgusted with our whole situation. The Deck Boss was one big bruise, the dog was sick, the cat was pissed, the Captain was not only suffering the vestiges of chikungunya but could barely stand up straight as his ribs hurt so bad, and because things couldn’t get any more stupid, I had developed an eye infection and there was now a bloated prune where my right eye should have been. If it hadn’t been for the unwavering optimism and encouragement of ABS Brian, I’m fairly certain we would have turned the boat around and headed back to Barra. But onward we plugged, till at last Zihua was in sight.

Okay, faithful Ravennaires, stop me if you’ve heard this one before:  We pulled into the harbor at Zihua, sidled into the main anchorage, prepared to drop the anchor and…no gears! Yup! It’s everyone’s favorite moldy oldy…the transmission!  Once again, it appeared to have blown its back seal meaning that once the gears were disengaged (i.e. bringing them into neutral to slow our speed and ready the boat for anchoring) they wouldn’t go back into gear (i.e. making it quite difficult to steer and thus avoid hitting the other boats in the anchorage.) So after a split second of WTF-ing, we dropped the anchor as fast as we could and hoped that a) it would hold, b) it would hold us far enough away from the other boats, and c) barring either of those options, it would just drag us all to the bottom and put us out of our misery.

Remember during the last blog post when I interrupted the narrative for a special edition of NOW WHAT? Well, here we go again. As we’re sitting on the back deck discussing our options (and yes, drinking and wallowing—it’s what we seem to do best anymore), it came our attention that one of the stanchions had broken off at the base—one that helps to carry the weight of the davits, the dinghy, the outboard, the solar panels, and the satellite dome. And no, not the one that broke last time and which we had fixed. No, this was the OTHER one. Because apparently misery loves company, and since bad luck likes to travel around in threes, we searched around and sure enough found some additional structural issues (because in our case, bad luck likes to travel around in fours, fives, and sixes as well.)

It was at this point that the Raven crew pretty much decided to call it a day. And I don’t mean fall into bed in a drunken stupor. I mean we decided that maybe we weren’t cut out for the cruising life—that we were “destination” people and not “journey” people, if you know what I mean—and that we should just limp our way back to Barra, negotiate a long-term moorage rate, and figure out what we wanted to do. Maybe that would entail living aboard but travelling via more traditional methods. Or maybe becoming lubbers again. Or maybe we would start our own sailing rally, the Raven Rally, wherein we would stay put and everyone else would come to us. We would live vicariously through other cruisers and host large parties where the rum punch would be served up cold in the burned-up husk of our transmission. I think the back seals would make great coasters.

By the next morning, we were still resolved to go back to Barra, although we were entertaining reasons as to why we shouldn’t as a courtesy to ABS Brian who was just as resolved to keep us moving forward. Editor’s Note: I have mentioned that he hasn’t read the blog, right? By mid-morning, the Captain had procured the services of Memo, one of a couple of go-to guys here in Zihua who got our broken stanchion into the hands of a welder by noon, and by mid-afternoon had lined up a mechanic. Editor’s Note: We made a pact that if the transmission ever let us down again, we would finally swap it out with the refurbished one. Technically this is something we could do ourselves, having become quite adept at removing/installing transmissions, but with the Captain’s sprained ribs causing him great pain, we opted to hire this one out. Plus, it’s like 180° degrees down there.

Feeling a little bit better about things, we went into Zihua to have lunch. Now I’ve never been here before, but I can see the allure. It’s muy tranquillo and quite charming. Lots of pedestrian walkways, lots of little artisanal shops, lots of restaurants. This is “old town” Zihua. And whereas it does feel a little fabricated in parts—sanitized for the touristas as it were—it’s quite a magical place and, like all Mexican towns, comes alive at night with street vendors, musicians, exhibitions, and lots and lots of lights.

Editor’s Note: Beyond the tourist zone is the bustling Zihua/Ixtapa metro area of about 105,000 people. All the big box stores are here as are a host of supermarkets, banks, department stores, services of every kind, etc. etc. Unfortunately, cartel violence plagues parts of the city, but as Memo told us, “Gringos are the safest people in all of Mexico.” I mention this because I know a lot of people that refuse to travel to Mexico because they think it’s lawless and violent. Mexico definitely has its problems—as all countries do—but unless you’re putting yourself in danger—going to areas of known violence, frequenting certain establishments, seeking out illicit entertainment,’re quite safe. The only malfeasance we’ve encountered in our nearly two years here came from a taxi driver who charged us 600 pesos for what should have been a 220-peso trip.

But I digress. We had a nice lunch, met some fellow cruisers for some margaritas, and after considerable conversation thought that maybe we should keep to the plan and keep heading south. And then we set out to retrieve the dinghy for the trip back to the boat. We got the Deck Boss in the dinghy and proceeded to push it into the surf and that’s when one of the dinghy wheel brackets bent and sent the entire thing careening to one side, sending the DB sprawling. It took considerable effort to get her unstuck. Once off the beach, we found that the waves had come up a bit and that, combined with the wake caused by heavy panga traffic, meant that there was considerable chop upon approaching the boat. Between the bouncing of the boat and the bouncing of the dinghy, the DB had a helluva time negotiating the accommodation ladder and proceeded to pull all the muscles that hadn’t already been pulled in the launching debacle. Upon finally getting on board, she declared that she would never again set foot in the dinghy.

The negotiations on how many beers she will require to rescind her ban are ongoing.
But that and a broken dinghy wheel were not our only worries, for while we were gone, our anchor lost it’s hold and we had dragged dangerously close to a neighboring boat. After a few moments of WTF-ing, we decided to turn over the engine and see if we had any gears left at all, and luckily had enough juice to move us forward about 30 feet before conking out again. We reset the anchor, called it good, and decided to head back to Barra as soon as we were able.
And thus began the great vacillation…
The mechanic is blowing us off:  Going back to Barra
The mechanic will definitely be here tomorrow:  Going south
The existing dinghy wheel can’t be fixed:  Going back to Barra
The welder was able to fabricate an entirely new dinghy wheel bracket: Going south
The key to the outboard went missing; the entire boat was tossed looking for it:  Going back to Barra
The key to the outboard was found in someone’s pocket:  Going south
The generator is not charging the batteries:  Going back to Barra
If you want the generator to charge the batteries, it helps to turn on the breaker:  Going south
I think I’ve gone blind in one eye:  Going back to Barra
Oh wait, no, it’s just the ointment: Going south

And so on and so forth.  But with the steady encouragement of ABS Brian, we came to realize that despite all the equipment malfunctions, all the crappy crossings, and the unreasonable amount of bad luck, the boat was still floating, everyone was (more or less) healthy, and that despite all the setbacks we have had an incredible journey thus far. We’ve logged almost 5,000 sea miles to get to this point. Maybe it’s too soon to give up. Maybe we owe it to ourselves to see if we can get just a little farther. Maybe we will finally hit our stride.
Okay…I guess we’re going south again. Or maybe back to Barra.
This statue is of Jose Azueta, a famous Mexican war hero, firing his machine gun into the harbor. As you can see, he obviously owned a boat, too.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Day 638 to 645 of the Third Voyage: In which…seriously? We can’t even make it 50 miles before something goes wrong? Seriously?

We left two days after the engine was fixed, and a day after the jib furler was repaired. Primarily because we were anxious to get going, but also to avoid Jose.

Jose washes boats at the marina in La Cruz and he does an excellent job. But when your “turf” only covers four of the eleven docks and many of the boats are larger yachts with their own crews, the pickings can be slim. So what he lacks in inventory, he makes up for in frequency. He showed up at our boat about ten minutes after we arrived and offered to not only wash the hull and topsides, but take everything off the decks and wash them, too. We negotiated a price and he showed up with his crew (i.e. his kids) a couple of hours later and did a bang-up job. He then offered to come out a few days later and wash it again. We explained that that wouldn’t be necessary as we were about to go into the yard. And no, we really didn’t think we needed to “look good” in the slings because we were going there to have work done, not enter a beauty pageant. And no, leaving the dinghy behind so you can wash it every day is not something we’re interested in. A week later, we splashed down, worked out the airlock problem, and got back into a slip. Jose was at the dock waiting for us to arrange our next washing. Fine. After all, we were dirty from being in the yard. Two hours later, he showed up with his crew (i.e. his other kids) and gave us a thorough washing, after which he upsold us into having the stainless polished. Fine. The next day he arrived with his crew (i.e. nieces and nephews) to clean and polish all the stainless. He then asked when he should return to wash the boat. We’re sorry, Jose, but the boat is still pretty clean from when you washed it yesterday. Not to be deterred, he showed up every morning after to ask if we were ready to be washed again. And when that didn’t work, he started showing up every afternoon as well. One morning we told him we were leaving that afternoon and wouldn’t be back. And no, we didn't need it washed right before we left. And no, Jose, whereas we do appreciate your offer to wash our boat from a panga as we’re heading out, we don’t think that will be necessary. We’re really sorry, Jose. We’re leaving, and we won’t be back. Eight hours later and we were back, as was Jose. We tried to explain that we were turning and burning—that as soon as the mechanic and electrician were done, we were out of there, and didn’t have time for a wash. Fine, he said. The morning on our day of departure, he stopped by to wish us a good voyage before adding that he would be back that afternoon in case we changed our minds about washing the boat. A couple of hours later, we shoved off—about 45 minutes earlier than planned. I’m pretty sure it’s because the Captain spotted Jose walking down the dock and wanted to get the hell out of dodge before he showed up at the boat to announce that he would be waiting for us in Barra with a soap brush.

So off we headed toward Barra, with plans to round Cabo Corrientes late afternoon/early evening. The forecast had called for 20 mph winds and small seas, so of course—OF COURSE! —we got little wind and big seas. Let the rockin’ and rollin’ begin. But that turned out to be the least of our worries. Around 9:00 pm, the engine started to overheat and the oil pressure began to drop so we turned it off, hoisted the jib, and headed a little further offshore to keep us off the lee. This worked fine for about an hour, but then what little wind we did have became so fickle that it required constant adjustments and corrections on our part to keep the sail from luffing. Editor’s Note: Luffing is when the sail loses wind, gets saggy in the middle, and then flaps around wildly doing absolutely nothing to propel the boat forward and making an incredible racket in the meantime. Not being a very competent sailor, my instructions were to watch the dial that showed a forward-facing outline of a boat with a needle indicating which direction the wind was coming from. If the needle got below 90, I was to steer five clicks to the left until the needle moved. If the needle went over 120, it was five clicks to the right. After two solid hours of staring at the dial and making constant adjustments, my head hurt, my back ached, and I couldn’t understand what people saw in this whole sailing thing.

During the Captain’s watch, we lost what little wind we had so he decided to turn on the engine and see what happened. He found that if he kept it just slightly above idle, the temperature and oil pressure would be stable; anything more and the temperature would shoot up. So that’s how we found ourselves creeping through the darkness at a blistering 2.5 knots. When the sun came up, we put up the stay sail and managed another half knot. After a while, we started to increase the throttle a little bit at a time until finally we were able to get it up to 1400 rpm with the temperature holding steady. We decided our best course of action at this point was to duck into the anchorage in Chamela and give the diesel a rest.

At this point, I’m going to take a break in the action for a special edition of Now What? Because when you’re trying to troubleshoot engine problems, of course you want to be worrying about the structural integrity of your stern. In this case, one of our stanchions had broken loose. Normally, this is not a huge deal—we’ve had broken stanchions before (see Day 20 of the First Voyage)—except that this stanchion helped to carry the weight of the davits, the dinghy, the outboard, the solar panels, and the satellite dome. If it failed completely, the load on the remaining stanchions and braces would increase, and if one of those decided to go, we could theoretically lose the davits, the dinghy, the outboard, the solar panels, and the satellite dome. As a temporary fix, the busted stanchion was lashed to the ones next to it in a bid to keep it from giving way altogether.  

And we’re back.  The next morning, with fingers crossed, we went to start the engine and…nothing happened. We immediately assumed it was something major because why wouldn’t it be? We pulled all the stuff off out of the engine room to get clear access to the diesel. We then checked the oil, the filters, the coolant, etc. and figured it must be the solenoid because of course that’s the ONE solenoid for which we don’t have a spare. Just when we’re about to pull everything out from under the v-berth to see if the solenoid off the old generator would work, the Captain suddenly had the bright idea to check and make sure that both gear stations are in the neutral position (we have one in the cockpit and one in the pilothouse.) One of them wasn’t. We put it in neutral, turned the key, and the engine turned over first time. Given our history of equipment failures, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve become accustomed to thinking that there are no easy fixes­—that the solution will be just as big as the problem. I think that’s a better rationalization of what transpired. At least it sounds better than “brain fart”.
Pictured: The engine room. All those tool bags and parts bins on top must be removed before we can access the engine. Each one weighs a ton. We’re going to start calling this the 24-Hour Fitness Room and hang signs that say, “Feel the Burn”, “Lift with the Knees”, and “Please wipe off the equipment when you’re done”.

I am pleased to report that the journey from Chamela to Barra was pleasantly uneventful—the engine purred along nicely and at its usual RPM—which made it that much nicer to be “home” because really, it does feel like home. Which is why we resolved not to spend more than a few days there because any more and we wouldn’t want to leave. Upon arriving at the marina, we immediately buttoned up the boat and headed to Pipi’s where we spent a lost afternoon amid chicken wings, burritos, four rounds of drinks, and two additional rounds “en la casa”. The next day we set to work addressing our problems. The Captain and Able-Bodied Seaman (ABS) Brian did a thorough inspection and it was determined that there was probably some residual oil still mixed in with the diesel from the problem before the last problem in which the engine totally died and that the engine just had to work through it (hmmm…that’s almost a metaphor for life really.) The stanchion turned out to be an easy fix as well. We contacted the guy who retrofitted the accommodation ladder and he came out via water taxi, assessed the situation, removed the broken stanchion, took it back to his shop, and returned three hours later with a new stanchion. He charged us all of 350 pesos or around $18 USD. Viva la Mexico!

We stayed one extra day to go to the market in Melaque for some extra provisioning and then set out the next day for Manzanillo. Once again, I am happy to report a smooth journey. Having resolved not to go back to Bahia de Santiago—the sight of the infamous dinghy dumping--we are now anchored outside of the Las Hadas resort. The engine seems fine, most systems seem to be working, the generator is doing it’s thing. We are questioning the integrity of our inverter, however, but have decided to not worry it until there is actually something to worry about. Unfortunately, the Captain is having a chikungunya relapse. Joint pain, slight fever, nausea, and general malaise have taken the place of swimming, exploring, and general vegging. While he’s recuperating, ABS Brian and I have been making twice daily dinghy runs to take Otter and his dog, Zoe, to shore. So far, there have been no dinghy mishaps although today I did smash my little toe on a big rock and then step on a sticker bush for good measure. Because seriously…how could I not? 
Pictured: Las Hadas Resort. It’s where they filmed the movie “10”. 
Not pictured: The beach that Bo Derek runs down in that one famous scene. That was filmed in Bahia de Santiago on the other side of the hill. Fun fact: She was actually running from the killer wave that dumped her dinghy. They used early-generation CGI to digitally remove the look of terror on her face.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Day 636 to 637 of the Third Voyage: In which we hope to break the Raven cycle of “Debacle, delay, depart, repeat.”

So, we’re back at the marina thanks to local panguero Jesus and the efforts of every security guard in the immediate vicinity. We got back to La Cruz under sail and met up with Jesus about half a mile out from the marina, but since nothing—NOTHING! —can be easy, our genoa furler decided to stop working just as we needed to reduce our speed. Luckily, our new crewman, Brian, took the wheel and kept us out of the anchorage (and thus avoided pinballing off all the moored boats) as the Captain and I struggled to get the sail in—me handling the lines while he cranked it in three inches at a time. Editor’s Note: We are so thankful to have our friend Brian join us for the next month as we make our way toward El Salvador. Not only is he an awesome guy, but he has a ton of sailing experience. We’re also thankful that he hasn’t read this blog and therefore has NO idea what he’s about to get himself into. At any rate, we got Raven tied up to Jesus’ panga and he slowly towed us into the marina where four security guys were waiting to catch lines and guide us into one of the 100’ foot slips. We really appreciate the way they manhandled us into the slip and threw their bodies between the boat and dock to keep us from hitting. And we really appreciate that they didn’t get mad when we remembered after the fact that we have a bow thruster that could have totally helped with that.

The next day, our mechanic came out to see what was acting up in the engine room and found that, basically, a hose clamp with one job to do, didn’t do it. So, the oil went onto the floor instead of wherever it was supposed to go which caused the oil pressure to drop, which pissed off the engine, which led to our bobbing around in Banderas Bay. But after a couple of hours in the engine room, followed by a test run of the engine for another couple of hours, we’re confident the problem is solved. In summary, the engine had a screw loose. Which is pretty much how you could describe this entire endeavor.

On to the jib furler…and yes, this is the same one that had been fixed in the yard. And it was working perfectly until we really needed it to and then it didn’t work at all. Whereas before it had been a fuse, now it seems to be the solenoid and/or a component within. Editor’s Note: I really have no idea what a solenoid is or how it works, but apparently it does NOT rely on the power of the sun so, no, I won’t be asking that question again. The electrician is coming out this morning to see what can be done, and we’re hopeful that he can get us fixed up. But no matter what he is or isn’t able to do, we WILL be leaving this afternoon. We still have a main, mizzen, and stay sail and we can always tackle the jib furler down the road.

But if there’s a positive takeaway from the past three days it’s that we finally got to sail. And it was awesome!

Unfortunately, when you need to be towed into the most accessible slip in the marina, this is your neighbor.  The cockroaches say, "Hola!"

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Day 607 to 634 of the Third Voyage: In which it’s always something. And if it’s not, I guess that’s something too.

We had to wait about a week before there was room for us in the yard, so we set about making our project lists, tracking down parts, and generally trying to stay busy. This became crucial because we found if we stayed focused on the work at hand, we wouldn’t realize how much we really don’t like it here anymore.

Marina Nayarit is a good marina—nicely maintained and well run—but I really wouldn’t want to spend any considerable amount of time here. It’s big, it’s busy, and it’s overrun with gringos. It’s pretty much like every other large North American marina only with a Mexican village attached—a Mexican village totally overrun by gringos. And whereas I liked visiting La Cruz when we were living in Nuevo Vallarta, it’s a different experience when you’re here full time and it’s high season when the Norte Americanos outnumber the locals 12 to 1. For one thing, there’s no ATM here so you have to take a collectivo or bus to Bucerias to get Pesos. And when you’re having work done on your boat, it’s a cash business. So the Captain and I were making the one- to two-hour round trip every other day to keep ahead of the workers. For another, we can’t seem to find a tienda within walking distance that sells anything aside from beer and snacks. So it’s back in the collectivo to go grocery shopping at Chedraui or MEGA (aka the Mexican equivalents of Safeway) with the wall-to-wall gringos and prices to match. Furthermore, La Cruz is about as far as you can get from anywhere else in Banderas Bay, so every trip becomes a day trip. When we needed to go to Puerto Vallarta to visit the “marine supply” store (I call it a “marine supply” store because the “totally useless, why do we still come here, we should know better by now” store is a mouthful) it was a $50 round trip cab ride (the Deck Boss don’t do chicken buses.) To make the cab ride worth it, we took a side trip into the Zona Romantica to have lunch at Las Muertas, which used to be our favorite brew pub in PV, but it was chockablock with gringos and you couldn’t have a conversation over the din inside and the traffic noise outside, and we really didn’t enjoy ourselves. I think it’s safe to say that we’re over PV and Banderas Bay in general. It’s big, it’s busy, and it’s overrun with gringos (I think I’m starting to see a pattern here.) I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on gringos—being one myself and all—but I think there’s a difference between an expat community and a seasonal invasion. Barra has an expat community—a group of people who, for the most part, live there year-round. They support the local community, shop in the bodegas, eat at the mom and pops, participate in the festivals, and have Mexican friends and neighbors. Banderas Bay has a thriving expat community as well, but they are grossly outnumbered by the massive amounts of Norte Americanos that come down here for a few months every winter and manage to bring their entire culture with them. They roam together in large packs, do all their shopping at Walmart, frequent the gringo-owned establishments, and play copious amounts of pickle ball. More than half of the vendors at the Sunday market are Norte Americanos hawking non-descript jewelry, European baked goods, and dream catchers to people just as pasty white as they are. And I totally get wanting a taste of home. We’ve been overindulging in the gringo food since we got to La Cruz. But if you’re only in Mexico for three months out of the year and spend all that time hanging out with your compatriots, doing yoga, drinking Frappuccinos, and building up your Native American macramé collection, maybe you should have bought a condo in Yuma instead. Just saying.
It's Mexico Lite! Same great charm. Half the Mexicans!

But I digress. When we left Barra for La Cruz, we had a list of approximately two items:  bottom paint and the roller furling. By the time we got here—three days later—the list had grown to include having both heads overhauled (something we’ve done ourselves in the past, but opted to hire out this time because--and the pun is totally intended--it’s a crappy job); the rigging inspected; the knot meter replaced; the cutlass bearing checked; the propeller/spurs examined and zincs replaced; and the winches serviced. And once we got Raven out of the water, of course—of course! —we discovered a new problem that had to be addressed, namely some blistering around the aft water line caused by our stern riding about a foot too low in the water. This necessitated a wonderful weekend wherein the Captain and I got to tear apart both the forward and aft cabins, pull everything out, move the heavy stuff up front and the light stuff back, and all while on the hard under a blazing sun and the interior temp hovering around 95°. Oh yeah. Living the dream…
If the dream is getting back in the water before they find anything else wrong.
Of course, while the boat is in the yard, we can’t be living on it. So while Otter went to doggie beach camp, the rest of us (minus Edgrrr… buttheads can totally stay on the boat, especially when they insist on walking over your face with their claws out while you’re asleep) moved into a rental--a two bedroom efficiency apartment that the owners referred to as the “submarine” unit because it was underground and accessible via one of those stone circular staircases like you see in old castles. It was very nice, very clean, and very loud. And not in a “these walls are thin” kind of way but in a “the whole place is covered in tile and every noise is amplified tenfold” kind of way. If someone dropped a dish towel in the kitchen, you could clearly hear it in the back bedroom. But that’s the way of the tropics. Tiles, marbles, granites, etc. are the building materials of choice because they’re cool and resilient and less prone to mildew and critters. Being in the basement meant we had windows high up—open to let in air and light—so we could hear everything reverberating off the tiles in the rest of the villa, which meant when someone dropped a dish towel two floors up, you looked around to see if it was yours. And since villas are generally located in neighborhoods and Mexican neighborhoods are populated with chickens, we got the full fowl experience as well. Naively, I thought a rooster’s job was to wake the farmer up, call that good, and just do chicken stuff the rest of the day--you know, scratch in the dirt, eat grubs, and keep the hens in line. But apparently, I don’t know how roosters work. Starting around 4:30 in the morning, the first rooster would do its cock-a-doodle-do which would then be answered by every other rooster in a five-mile radius doing their cock-a-doodle-dos which would be rebutted by the original rooster which would start the whole process over again and this went on…all…freaking…day. Honestly, it was non-stop rooster racket till about 7:30 at night at which point the street dogs would take over for a few hours. 
With the cacophony of noises all through the day and night, it was not surprising that at around 3:30 one morning we were awakened by a loud “wump! wump! wump!” followed by the barking and howling of every dog in the neighborhood and quite possibly a disgruntled rooster or two before things died back down. What was surprising is that the Deck Boss had been the cause of it all. We learned the next morning that she had gone into the bathroom, noticed something dark on the floor, bent down to inspect it, and realized she was staring down a scorpion. He scurried, but she was too fast for him and called down the thunder with the closest thing at hand…a plastic wastepaper basket.

Veni. Vedi. Wump wump!

We spent a little over a week in the yard; the only delay caused by weather because it had been bone dry until we hauled out so of course it had to rain. But we finally splash down, get out of the slings, put her in reverse, and…we’re not getting any water through the engine. Editor’s Note: Naturally you don’t want water IN your engine, but you do want water COOLING your engine. Or else it blows up. And that’s no bueno. We do an emergency tie up to the fuel dock and the mechanic comes out and spends a couple of hours trying to get the mother of all airlocks out of the hoses. As we’re waiting, we’re racking our brains as to why this happened, and we make a mental note to try closing the sea chests during the next haul out and suddenly I’m either having a déjà vu or I’m remembering that we made a similar mental note when we hauled out three years ago and this happened. I guess mental notes aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. I’m sure I’ll think the same thing when this happens during our next haul out a couple of years from now. Mental note: chalk it up to déjà vu next time.
Speaking of water cooling things…our plate freezer requires seawater to function. It pulls the water up, does something science-like to keep stuff cold, and spits what it doesn’t need back out. Obviously, we can’t use the plate freezer while the boat is in the yard propped up on jack stands, so the Captain and I went out and found a large cooler, packed it tight with the contents of the freezer, filled every last inch with ice, closed it tight as a drum, and crossed our fingers it would honor the pledge on its label to keep things “fresh for seven days.” When we were back in the water, I opened the cooler. And let’s just say that unless Coleman’s notion of “fresh” is “putrid stink of a decaying body” then we have differing opinions of what “fresh” should smell like. I guess it could have been a typo. Maybe the label should have read, “flesh for seven days.”
But it’s our own fault really. We obviously learned nothing from the “Great Fish Freezer Fiasco of 1997.” What was this, you ask? Well back in our lubber days, the Captain used to fish. A lot. And we ended up with a lot of fish. We ate it, gave it away, and had a lot of it smoked, but we always had too much for the refrigerator, so we got one of those big floor freezers, stuck it out in the shed, and ran an extension cord to the house. What could go wrong? Well, a lot actually. Especially if the electricity goes out one night and never comes back on to that particular outlet, and you don’t realize it because it’s just easier to eat the fresh fish instead of going all the way out to the shed, and then you get to doing other things and totally forget you have a freezer out there at all. Fast forward about a year and we’re packing up and moving to a new house and that’s when we realize, “Oh yeah! The fish freezer! Let’s see what’s in there!” Death. That’s what’s in there. Death and the primordial soup of fetid fish that it apparently feeds on. The stench was incredible. Like roadkill basted in sewage, stuffed with a jockstrap, and left on the side of an Arizona highway for six weeks. I caught a faint whiff and was dizzy for hours. The Captain, who lifted the lid and bore the full brunt of it, immediately threw up. There was no way we could dispose of it ourselves, and burning down the shed was not an option, so we had to contract with a hazardous materials company to take care of it. They arrived in full hazmat suits with respirators, sealed up the freezer crime-scene style, and hauled it away. It was most likely taken to the Hanford Site and buried alongside 40 years of nuclear waste. On a positive note, we bet a lot of our friends that they couldn’t open the freezer without hurling. Not one person was able to do it and we managed to raise $400 towards the $2000 hazardous disposal fee.
That was twenty years ago, and the Captain still has nightmares, so it fell to me to clean out the cooler which I duly did with the use of industrial strength garbage bags, rubber gloves, and a heavy shirt tied around my face. Once the offending offal was out, liberal doses of bleach and sun brought the cooler back to its more innocent state. We will put it on deck and use it for non-perishable storage. And never mention this again.
Which brings me to a special edition of Now What? in which the plate freezer decided to quit working. We called up Scott Powers who was our go-to guy in Nuevo Vallarta when we were here in 2016 and he was able to ascertain that the problem was due to a build up in the hoses. One acid flush later and it was good to go. We’re not sure why the freezer decided to crap out when it did, but it probably got a whiff of the cooler and thought, “Oh, hell no!”
So, we’re back in the water. Why haven’t we left yet? Well, we met a guy who thinks he knows the solution to our mysterious engine problem---the one where it will rev down and then back up, seemingly at random. Multiple mechanics have thrown out their opinions, and we’ve tried all myriad of “cures” but the only thing that seems certain is that it’s “some kind of fuel delivery issue.” So the high-pressure fuel pump was removed and sent away for a rebuild and lo and behold it was found to contain a stiff and slightly corroded governor switch—a switch that would absolutely impede fuel delivery. And while the engine room was torn up, he also changed out some tee-pipes that are of a slightly smaller circumference than the fuel lines, which may also be causing the fuel to choke. Fingers crossed that this may be the fix we’ve been waiting for pretty much since we bought the boat.
At this point, I would love to say that after enduring boat work, equipment mishaps, scorpions, and soul-crushing stenches, that we’d pretty much run out of “somethings” that could possibly happen, but the list just wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the vet. Because nothing says, “it’s always something” like your dog getting into it with a pit bull. In fairness to Toro, the aforementioned pit, Otter brought it on himself. He loves other dogs but has no manners when it comes to approaching them for the “meet and greet.” His excitement trumps decorum and, if given the chance, he runs up on the other dog at top speed—regardless of who, what, where, how, and if that arm was even in its socket to begin with—and then wonders why the other dog gets defensive. At least most dogs get defensive. Toro went after Otter like he hadn’t eaten in a week. For about 15 seconds there was a furious tangle of black fur and teeth and yelping and growling and tumbling and I’m trying to pull Otter away and the other owner is trying to pry Toro off him and other guys are turning hoses on both dogs and as quickly as it started, it was over. Otter and I hurried away as soon as Toro let go—him visually shaking; me having a coronary. We immediately took him to the vet for treatment. Luckily, Otter’s thick fur and skin and the fact that he was wearing a collar and harness that covered part of his neck and shoulders saved him from serious injury. He has some pretty gnarly puncture wounds but, barring any complications, twice daily cleanings and antibiotics should heal him up nicely.
For the record, though…the Captain walked by Toro and noticed he had a pretty good scratch on his nose. So Otter got in one good one.
At least you can’t say he got his ass totally kicked.
And that, faithful Ravennaires, brings us to today, February 13, 2018. The eve of the day in which we’re going to see if three times really is the charm and attempt to head south again. Fingers crossed that “something” won’t rear its ugly little head again…

Friday, January 19, 2018

Day 603 to 606 of the Third Voyage: In which we’d call it a success if Mother Nature wasn’t such a bitch.

Upon reflection, the journey from Barra to La Cruz was remarkable in that nothing really went wrong from an equipment standpoint. Editor’s Note: I should clarify that…nothing really went wrong from an equipment currently working standpoint. The transmission didn’t give us any problems, the generator and electrical systems did their thing, and the dinghy/outboard performed as it should. With the exception of one engine flutter, we had no mechanical problems whatsoever—which I think may be a first. Yeah! One in a row!

As each hour went by without any major problems, we would look at each other and—without saying a word so as not to jinx it—knock on wood. In fact, we knocked on so much wood that it’s probably time to varnish again. Of course, we didn’t temp fate too much. When we got to Tenacatita without any problems (either in the journey or in the anchoring), we opted not to spoil a good thing by launching the dinghy and attempting a beach landing on a shore that is known for not being very friendly. Otter had had a two-hour walk/poop-a-thon right before we left, so we knew he would be a trooper till the next day and/or go on deck if he was full to bursting.

He’s not allowed to use the head until he learns to aim. And operate the pump. And light a match.

Speaking of dinghies, the Captain was decompressing on deck with a Cuba Libre and a fat cigar when he spotted an unmanned dinghy floating past. He got on the VHF and put out an APB to the other boats in the anchorage and was preparing to launch our dinghy when a neighbor came zooming by to intercept the wayward dink. It was soon reunited with its owner who later stopped by to say thanks and assert that “this has never happened before!” Really?  Because this kind of stuff happens to us all the time. We were just surprised that wasn’t our dinghy floating off into the sunset. Never mind it’s still in the davits—with our luck, it’d not only break lose, but it’d take the davits with it and float off with the tangled wreck of aluminum trailing behind it—the epitome of a floating disaster. Editor’s Note: That’d make a good name! If we ever got another boat, I’d totally christen it “Floating Disaster”. It’s much more poetic than S/V Shitshow.
The next morning, we headed out to Bahia Chamela. It was another calm crossing, another straightforward anchoring. We launched the dinghy without any complications, the accommodation ladder got Otter effortlessly from the boat to the dinghy, and we had a fairly painless beach landing utilizing our new dinghy wheels. And this time we got to spend 20 minutes ashore! Editor’s Note: Otter got to spend 25 minutes ashore because he opted to jump out of the dinghy about 50 yards out and swim the rest of the way. Such is the power of the full bladder. Why such a short amount of time? Because it doesn’t matter how flat the waves are coming in, they’ll be shoulder high by the time we want to leave (whether that be five minutes or five hours from the time we arrive.) With that in mind, we wanted to give ourselves at least three hours to figure out how to negotiate the surf without a repeat of Santiago and we were wasting daylight. That’s when we decided to cut out all the middle stuff (i.e. the capsizing, the crashing, and the figuring out what to do next) and asked a local pangero for assistance. He timed the waves perfectly and helped us push the dinghy past the surf line—it took all of three minutes (and was probably the easiest five bucks he made all day.) 
The next morning we got an early start for the seven-hour motor to Ipala. Everything was fine. Everything was peachy. And then we made our turn toward Ipala and that’s when the gale hit. It’s going to sound like I’m making this up, but I’m not (if I was, it’d be more spectacular and there’d be UFOs) …the waves literally went from two to four feet and the wind went from 12 mph to 30 with gusts up to 42 in LESS THAN 10 MINUTES. We had no warning—there was nothing in the weather forecast—but this was instant reality. There was no going into Ipala now. It’s not really protected enough for winds this big and we could already make out white caps in the harbor. If there was no room for us, or if we couldn’t set an anchor, we didn’t know if we’d be able to get back out without getting pushed into the rocks, so we veered off to head toward Cabo Corrientes. As the Captain is bucking the waves, the Deck Boss and I are down below trying to lash down those larger items that we were waiting to stow while at anchor in Ipala—tasks made more difficult by the bow constantly rising up then crashing straight down, causing everything to shake and move about. When we finished, and I got the Deck Boss safely stowed in the pilothouse (ruing the fact that I had neglected to install seat belts), I made my way back up to the cockpit. By now we were taking copious amounts of water over the bow and there wasn’t much left to do but ride it out. Editor’s Note: this passage was not unlike our one through the Strait of Georgia (See Day 20 of the 1st Voyage) where we had to endure rough seas, howling winds, and facefuls of water for hours on end. The only difference was that this time we weren’t freezing. So, I guess that’s something. Luckily, this little episode only lasted two hours, after which the seas and the winds calmed down a tad and, aside from some always-nauseating side-to-side action coming around the point into Banderas Bay, the nasty stuff was behind us. And by the time we got deeper into the bay, it had smoothed out completely.
Now the sucky thing about having to bypass Ipala was that it would put us in the bay after dark and when the sun set, it did get dark. Really, really dark. As in…no moon. Which made it all the more disconcerting when we heard a loud THUNK and felt the boat shudder. We immediately ran around and throughout the boat trying to ascertain what had fallen, broken and/or died but found nothing. So we decided we had either been broadsided by a sea turtle or snagged a crab pot, in which case our very expensive line cutter had earned it’s keep and kept our propeller from being fouled.
Around 10:30 pm, we reached the anchorage outside of La Cruz. At least, we thought it was the anchorage. We couldn’t be sure because we couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t make out any shapes, and if there were any anchor lights we couldn’t distinguish them from the lights on shore. So the Captain brought us down to around 1-2 mph and we glided carefully through the water; he’s looking at charts, trying to ascertain our location in accordance with the depths and the markers while I’m up at the bow, desperately looking for other boats. Editor’s Note: This is probably a good time to mention that I have terrible vision. I’ve always been extremely nearsighted, only now I’m at that age where I need reading glasses for up close. To combat this, I wear two different strength contact lenses:  one to see far away, one to see close up, and somehow my brain makes it all work--except when it’s pitch black and I’m trying to make out shapes and my brain decides to just give up and make everything blurry. So I had to close one eye and look through the stronger lense and now I realize that Popeye wasn’t a victim of sun exposure, just bad optometry. But I digress. We’re gliding through the water, and I think I see a boat but I’m not certain, and the Captain says to alert him when I definitely, positively, 100% see a boat, and I’m hoping to God that I definitely, positively, 100% see a boat before we definitely, positively, 100% hit one. And then the Captain says, “Screw it. We’re going for it. Hit the anchor.” And we do. And we hold. And as our eyes finally become adjusted to the dark, we start to see boats silhouetted all around us. It wasn’t until the sun came up the next morning that we were able to appreciate the fact that we had managed to anchor among 44 other boats. We also both agreed that anchoring in the dark was probably the most stressful thing we had done thus far. Storms are stressful, gales are stressful, and equipment malfunctions are stressful, but none of those involve taking out 44 of your neighbors so we’re quite pleased with ourselves, although it’s not something we care to repeat anytime soon.
The next morning, we moved into a slip in Marina Nayarit where we will await our haul-out. Can’t wait to see how this turns out…
Pictured: The anchorage at night.
Not Pictured: Well...that's pretty apparent.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Day 597 to 602 of the Third Voyage: In which we prepare to go north so that we may go south.

We wanted to go south. We REALLY wanted to go south. South puts us closer to the Caribbean, our ultimate destination. And, more importantly, it puts us closer to our OTHER destination which is out of the hurricane box. A place we need to be out of by June—a scant 20 weeks away. And even though we should never, EVER, put ourselves on a time table, we really, REALLY, want to be in El Salvador by April 1st—which is an even scanter 11 weeks away. Figuring in two weeks for a haul out, we have nine weeks. Editor’s Note:  That seems like a lot, but the official Raven algorithm for determining an ETA is thusly: Take the total nautical miles to be travelled, divide by 5 knots average speed, multiply by the likelihood of something going wrong (which is holding steady at 87%), add a zero to represent the likelihood that this figure will change, divide by 24 hours in a day, multiply by two because each day seems to take twice as long, put the whole thing in a cocktail shaker, and then pour it onto a calendar because who knows what day we’ll actually leave. By this equation, we need 32 weeks to get to El Salvador, give or take a year.

But the prudent thing is to go north, even though it adds another week of travel time. North is Banderas Bay aka Puerto Vallarta and vicinity. There we can find haul out yards, paint, parts, and skilled workers. We’re familiar with the area, we know people there, and our favorite steak place is in Nuevo Vallarta—so it’s a no-brainer really. Plus, if one more major thing goes wrong, there are lots of boat brokers there as well.

The Captain sees this as a setback of sorts. But lots of cruisers go back north to haul out, so I’m trying to look at it as a 270-nm round trip detour—the mother of all scenic routes as it were. Once there, we’ll have the bottom painted, the roller furling fixed, and take care of a couple other little issues while we’re in the yard. The alternative would have been to make for Chiapas—750 miles to the south—but with our two primary sails out of commission, we were a little nervous about setting out without knowing what kind of services we might find there. A bottom job is one thing; finding a rigger who knows something about first generation electric furling systems is another. So a detour it is, but we’re not going to rush it. We’re going to stop in Tenacatita—the anchorage we had to blow off on the way down because the gears were acting up. We’ll anchor in Chamela and see if we can spend more than 10 minutes ashore this time. And we’ll tuck in to Ipala where last time we didn’t make it to shore at all. Who knows? Maybe we’ll finally, FINALLY, have a good cruising experience. It could happen.

Since this post is shorter than usual, please enjoy the following filler:
Tiny truck.
 Tiny bus.
Tiny slice of heaven.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Day 566 to 596 of the Third Voyage: In which we psych ourselves up (but hopefully not out) for a second attempt at going...somewhere.

I think I speak for the whole crew when I say that we’re feeling better prepared this time around. When we returned to Barra, we made a punch list of the things that needed to be addressed—not only the outboard and the accommodation ladder, but a few things that we really should have taken care of before but didn’t, either due to time constraints or because we just didn’t “feel like it” at the time. I’m happy to report that we completed the entire list:

The dinghy outboard has been cleaned, checked, and WD-40ed; it now seems to be in perfect working order and ready for its next beach landing (where hopefully it will remain upright with the dinghy and not go snorkeling.)

We had dinghy wheels installed so that we can get up on the beach with a little less effort and, more importantly, get the dinghy back out into open water more quickly (i.e. before the tidal wave can mount its attack.) Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, the wheels are impeding the range of motion of the outboard. Hopefully, we won’t have to go anywhere that might require turning.

We had two steps added to the accommodation ladder and it’s awesome! It’s strong, sturdy, and reaches all the way down to the dinghy. It has been Otter tested and Deck Boss approved. On the downside, we had two steps (and twenty pounds) added to the accommodation ladder and now need a lift crane to get it into place.
Patent Pending.  We're hoping to sell a ton of these so we can afford to fix whatever breaks next.

We unfurled all the sails to a) check that they weren’t mildewed and/or harboring any critters, b) make sure they still went in and out, and c) remember what they look like. The answers? Not really. Yes. White with blue edges (although I could have sworn the main came with a small label at the bottom that said, “If you can read this, you’re standing too close to the boom again, idiot.”) ***

We replaced the Furuno navigation monitor in the pilothouse. The original had developed an anomaly wherein it cast a sickly-looking pall over half the screen making it difficult to ascertain where we were going. On second thought, maybe it wasn’t the monitor, maybe it was an omen.

We fixed the AIS system. For you lubbers, AIS stands for “Automatic Identification System” and is a tracking system that displays a vessel’s name, size, position, speed, etc. on radar so you can gauge the marine traffic in your vicinity. It’s mandatory for commercial ships over 300 gross tons as well as passenger ships, but leisure boats are getting in on the action as well. It’s a safety thing mostly and, I must admit, kind of a rush when you hear over the radio, “Sailing Vessel Raven. This is Container Ship Goliath bearing down on you at 45 knots. Kindly turn 20 degrees to port before we mow you down. Over.” And you think, “Wow! He knows my name!”

We finally defrosted the plate freezer. We have a pretty good-sized freezer on board—it’s one foot wide, by three feet long, by three feet deep—and sometime in the last year, it developed a faulty seal which led to a deadly cycle of thaw-freeze-thaw-freeze which turned the whole thing into an iceberg of Costco proportions (and not just because most of the food in there was from Costco.)  It took a solid eight hours of heat guns, ice picks, and extremely awkward contorting to finish the task but when it was all done, we had a thorough inventory of food we had totally forgotten about as well as room for more food that we can totally forget about. I’m also pretty sure we found the frozen remains of Ernest Shackleton down there.

And last, but not least…the blog was updated and is now current. Editor’s Note: If it isn’t, you’ll never know because I’ll totally remove this paragraph.

We did add one thing to the list that we’ll address down the line. There’s an exposed control panel next to the navigation station with the switches that operate the engine and various pumps. Edgrrr likes to sleep right next to this control panel—not because it’s comfortable or anything, but because he likes how we get all anxious when he’s that close to boat controls. At any rate, one afternoon, he knocked over the shot glass that was covering one of the toggles and engaged the bilge pump (which is a roundabout way of saying he caused us to belch oily residue into the water.) We decided that it’d probably behoove us to build a teak box to cover the control panel rather than relying on our barware to keep our systems in check. We figure that will be a good project next time we’re a month or so in port. Until then, we’ll block his access with an empty bottle of tequila.

So, as you can see, we’ve been keeping busy. As a result, the time has flown past and apart from a wild kingdom incident, the holidays were very low key. What incident you ask? Well it’s a given that dogs like to chase things, especially dogs of the hunting/sporting variety of which Otter is a combo. His German Shorthaired side likes to track things which his Labrador side is keen to retrieve (he is, in fact, the only dog I know of that will point the ball prior to fetching it.) And the forests around here are rife with things to chase. Iguanas, lizards, snakes, and birds of every variety (including the ever-present chicken) are not immune to his pursuit, but one critter is his absolute favorite. It looks like a fat, furry possum with a really long tail and trash panda markings. Some people refer to it as a “raccoon thing”, I’m partial to “lemur thing”, but the official name is coatimundi. They tend to travel in large, noisy packs which make them easy targets as you can hear them grunting, barking, and snorting from a mile away. And rather than scatter at the sight of a predator, one of them will take one for the team and break away from the pack, leading the predator on a zig zag course through the underbrush while the others calmly head towards the trees. Indeed, on more than one occasion, Otter will have his nose stuck in a bush trying to sniff out one while another four will waddle right past him—bitching the whole time. We’re not sure if he’s that dumb or if they’re that clever but it seems to be effective.

There are quite a few that live up in the hills, but you generally don’t see them on the resort/marina grounds because there’s a guy whose job it is to trap any wildlife and set it free off the property. Of course, he tends to set the animals free just over the property line so that they come right back and thus guarantees him some job security. So it was one evening, that Otter and I were coming back from visiting a friend’s boat when suddenly Otter spotted a band of coatimundi just past the guard house at the marina. He gave chase while the coatis hastened their pace and started to climb into the trees. Just then, one of them stopped, turned around, and took a running leap at Otter like a lemur with nothing to lose. With only the illumination from the street light, all I could make out was a whirling mass of black that looked vaguely like Otter wearing a fur stole and doing pirouettes. I couldn’t tell who had who in whoever’s mouth, but as neither was responding to my yells and stamping, I finally chucked two books at them until they finally broke free of one another and the coati went running after his cohorts. Otter had a few scratches, but was fine—albeit a little amped up. As for the coatimundi, he is probably being worshipped as a god among lemur-things and will get free drinks for life at the local wildlife bar.
Part raccoon, part fashion accessory, all badass.

*** Well…it WAS working.
In the week since it was tested, the roller furling on the main sail has ceased to function. And because things couldn’t get more stupid, the problem seems to be originating with a toggle that switches the system from electric to manual. In other words, we can’t get the main sail in or out—either electrically or via a winch--except through an override gear on the mast itself which advances the sail at about two inches per twist and only if a second person is holding the sheet taut. So basically, it’s useless. We pulled out the manual and of course—OF COURSE! —the one page that’s missing (the one with the gooseneck diagram) is the page we need. The Captain got on the phone with our riggers in San Diego to try and pinpoint the problem and if it’s the part that everyone seems to think it is, it’s not going to be an easy fix and could very well entail removing the sail AND the boom to get to the mechanism in question. It’s not a job for a layman, and it’s very possible that if we can’t find someone locally, we may be flying someone in to do the job.
So okay then. We still have the jib and the mizzen. Technically, we can still head south with just those two sails and tackle the mainsail when we get to Chiapas where we are planning a haul out to have the bottom painted. We can do this. That is, we COULD have done it had the roller furling on the jib not decided that if the main isn’t working then it shouldn’t be expected to take up the slack, so it just up and quit too. With two sails out of commission, we are—in effect—a sailboat without sails. And maybe that’s not detrimental if the engine is reliable, but at this point we’re not so sure we want to take that chance.
So, what are we going to do now? First, we’re going to drink. And then we’re going to wallow. And then we’re going to formulate a game plan. I’ll let you know what we decide…