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…