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.

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