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…