It’s been a few months since we posted anything to the blog, mostly because there wasn’t that much to say. We have mostly been home on the boat in the estuary near the Bahia del Sol resort – where we were the last time we posted! However, we are no longer at anchor. Since we have decided to stay another year, we realized that our anchor is degrading (slowly, but inexorably) by the constant exposure to saltwater. Rather than paying a monthly rental fee, we went to the source and commissioned a mooring to be custom built for us. Bill is an ex-pat who came to El Salvador with his wife Jean on a sailboat, dreamed up and organized the Annual El Salvador Rally, and moved ashore on an island near where we keep our boat. They have been extremely instrumental in helping the cruisers that come through every year, as well as supporting the local community. Bill runs a mooring field, and has developed a design and a process for making them. So we asked him to make a extra-large one for our extra-heavy boat, and a week or so later it was delivered. At low tide, they brought two pangas alongside it, and tied it to a stout beam laid across the two boats. As the tide rose, so did the boats, until the 4000lb block of cement was hanging from the beam. They waited until the tide was nearly at its peak and began to slacken – which happened moments before sunset – and then when the mooring was above the place we wanted, they cut the ties with a single stroke of a machete. There was a big splash and the pangas jumped as the mooring dropped 20′ to the bottom. There is a length of heavy chain attached to the mooring, to which we have some “bridle” lines that secure the boat. (We pulled up our anchor before attaching the lines, so there was a bit of timing involved.) Over the next couple of days we fiddled with the placement of the bridles, but we were secure that first night on the mooring. He charged us about $500 for the whole event and being on a mooring will exert far less wear-and-tear on Lungta’s gear. When we leave, we’ll donate it to one of the locals who does a lot of work for the cruisers and is interested in starting his own mooring service.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to learn that we’ve been fairly busy these last three months working on some boat projects. The biggest project was a repair project where we learned more about the details of the construction of our boat. For quite a while we’ve noticed some streaks of rust coming down the hull from various places, and a few of them originated underneath the wooden rail that caps the gunnels (the tops of the hull walls). In addition, these rails were bending or twisting slightly (but distinctly) upward, being pushed away by the expansion of rusting steel. We needed to find what was rusting and stop the process, removing and replacing it wherever it was damaged. When we removed the caprail we found that there was a steel bar perhaps an inch wide and a quarter inch thick at the top of the gunnels. It was apparently used to provide some structure for the welded wire mesh that’s the framework for all the cement, but somehow came in contact with saltwater and began rusting. Although some of the wire mesh was also rusting, it was fortunate that we addressed it fairly early and didn’t have to replace very much of it. Breaking away the cement attached to the wire mesh was quite challenging! After the worst of it was removed, we rinsed the entire area thoroughly, encapsulated it in epoxy and re-covered it in cement, forming it and smoothing it to recreate the outer curve of the hull. Then we encased the whole area in another layer of epoxy (to reduce the likelihood of saltwater incursion ever again) and replaced the caprail. We initially did two eight foot sections, but noticed a third section that was beginning to show the telltale signs. Unfortunately the third section of wooden rail split as we pulled it up. We tracked down a lumber yard that was nearby and happened to have some local-grown teak. We purchased a rough-hewn 10′ plank, about 12″ wide and 3″ thick. The yard wanted $18 for about 10 board feet of teak, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to pay any less than $20. These last couple of weeks we’ve been uncovering the hidden caprail from this plank: first by tracing and cutting out the broad shape, then routing a channel underneath to cup over the cement gunnel, planing it to the right height, and routing the corners to a pleasing rounded edge. Finally we still need to sand it all perfectly smooth. We’ve met a local, Reymundo, who does a lot of wood finishing for the cruisers, and have decided to have him sand and varnish the entire caprail, including the portion that we’re replacing. By the end of January it should all be as good as new – and beautiful too!
Another project that we’ve been working on is to replace the fittings that connect the chains at the bottom of our rigging cables to the chainplates on the hull. We replaced these shortly before we left Portland, but were unable to find stainless steel parts so we bought plain steel. These have rusted a good bit in the 5 years since, not enough to be risky yet, but certainly unsightly (remember those streaks of rust I mentioned earlier?). There’s a really good machine shop in town, and we came up with a design of our own (rather than try to purchase specialty parts that don’t exactly fit the bill). We ordered bronze material from the U.S. and had the shop cut the bars down to pieces that will make the connection. We’re polishing those pieces up so they are smooth and shiny – at least initially! We’ve replaced 8 of the 14 so far, and expect to have the rest in place before the end of January.
On one trip into San Salvador, we found a shop that makes stoves and steel bedroom furniture. Our old camping stove was getting old; the burners were getting finicky and the legs were starting to rust away. We poked around the shop and ended up talking with the owner about custom-building a stove for us. Although most of his stoves were made from plain steel, we needed ours from stainless steel. We also asked for a wind-shield and a drip tray, and he powder-coated the whole thing in a perfect dark burgundy color. Just a week later we went back and picked it up. It’s beautiful, and we’re thrilled! We’ve also made a new friend: Fernando is likely to come for a visit next month.
We had a couple of CouchSurfing guests for a couple of nights. George and Julian are two young Germans who were traveling from Mexico down to Costa Rica on the cheap. They are both VERY tall, fun-loving and friendly. As they passed through El Salvador, they found our page and requested a stay. They had no idea how far the Costa del Sol peninsula is from San Salvador, but they did manage to get here by bus. They happened to be visiting the same weekend as a big fishing tournament. The tournament finished each night at 5:00, when everyone had to have their daily catch in to the officials for measuring and weighing. Afterwards they had a big dinner with an open bar (sponsored by one of the tournament sponsors, Cana de Flor rum!) and live music. Our young friends – and many of our older friends as well! – enjoyed the party along with the tournament participants! There was dancing and a daily slideshow from each of the participating boats. Our friend, Jose Ramon, who is the owner-manager of our favorite machine shop in San Salvador, had a boat in the tournament. We enjoyed running into him on the first night. His boat was in the top three, and caught several beautiful tuna – which he generously shared! We had two very nice meals from the chunk of fish that he offered us.
In mid-November we traveled to New Jersey to visit Dan’s mother, and spend Thanksgiving with the extended family. There were more than 20 people this year, and 3 of them were new babies. The demographics are changing! It was, as always, a festive and stimulating affair in the 200-year-old farmhouse in upstate New York. The weather this year was very mild, even pleasant. We were never threatened with snow, and it’s 70 degrees on Christmas! Quite unseasonable! We stayed with Dan’s mom the rest of the time we were there, three weeks altogether. We went into NYC a few times, once to see a play that Dan’s nephew’s wife, Alexandra, was in. It’s interesting to see someone that you know acting quite different than you are used to. It’s also really exciting to see Alexandra’s acting career beginning to take off! We spent another afternoon visiting a friend that we met in La Cruz maybe 3 years ago. Lex is an author who was spending some “reclusive” time in Mexico, hoping that it would help him get writing. I’m not sure how well he met that goal, but we enjoyed spending time with him then, and were pleased that we had an opportunity to meet up with him again in a completely different environment! As usual when we go back to the States, we went on a shopping spree, mostly via Amazon. We came home with lots of parts and pieces that will further more of our projects.
The most involved, and perhaps the most interesting, is a home-grown monitoring system for our boat. More than once we’ve had troubles with the balance of power coming in via solar panels vs. power going out mostly to our refigerator/freezer. When we’re at home, we turn on the generator and charge the batteries right up, but when we’re gone that’s difficult. We’ve purchased a tiny computer motherboard called an Arduino, and a ton of electronic parts that will allow us to sense the voltage level at the batteries, the temperatures in the fridge & freezer, the water level in our bilge, and whether it’s light outside. There are also relays to turn the fridge & freezer on or off and components that will help us connect this system to the internet so that we can see the data when we’re on the road. Now we need to figure out how to put all the pieces together in a way that’s useful to us – and write a program to make it go! We’ve been working on this project an hour or two a day, most days since we’ve been back. It’s addicting!
We’ve got some irons in the fire, but not much else to report. We’ve just received a delivery of bottom paint, our latest attempt at finding a solution that lasts more than a year. It’s expensive and a lot of work to haul the boat out of the water to repaint, and we’re always hopeful that our latest discovery will allow us to go longer. The last round was a year and a half ago, when we tried CopperCoat. Although it has indeed been more than a year, it has not held up well enough for us to justify the high cost. We’ve had mixed success with this paint; there are significant areas of the hull where it didn’t adhere well, but where it did adhere it works great. We knew that this product was finicky to apply but thought we’d done a pretty diligent job of applying it. Oh well, on to the next round! We’ve mentioned previously that we’re searching for a place to haul out – and may have found one, but we’re still working on getting a quote and a schedule. Stay tuned. We ordered the paint through a chandlery in Guatemala, and learned that they also do business with a place that can regalvanize objects – like our anchor, that isn’t in use at the moment! When the paint was delivered we hauled our anchor up to shore and dropped it in their truck to take back.
We’re having a low-key holiday season. It’s kinda odd celebrating winter holidays in the tropics. Images of snowmen and snowflakes just don’t seem to work. Regional and warming foods like turkey and eggnog or hot chocolate seem out of place. But there are lots of parties and fireworks, and a celebratory mood around town. There are several fireworks stands set up on the road down the peninsula. On Christmas Eve, there were fireworks up and down the estuary into the wee hours of the night. There’s a New Year’s party next week at the resort from 12 midnight until 9am, which will have an open bar on the beach, music and dancing – all for $125 apiece. Yikes! Perhaps we’ll just enjoy the music from the boat.
I’m hoping to get this posted while it’s still Christmas, so that we can wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Follow your dreams – it’s what makes for a life well-lived!