Almost a month ago, I began a new blog article with “We’ve recently returned from our latest “excursion”, where we stash the boat in a safe place and leave home for a while.” Well, it’s no longer “recent”, so rather than give you the blow-by-blow of our “planes, trains, and automobiles” trip (although more accurately it was a “bus, ferry, and automobile” journey), I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version and then share some other events that have also unfolded in the last few weeks.
In late February we made our way back to Baja, via ferry from Mazatlan. We met Kathy’s sister Jean in Cabo and went to San Ignacio to see the gray whales that had been calving. The hope was that we would find a friendly mother and baby that wanted to spend some time with some nice Gringos. We did indeed see quite a number of mother/baby pairs, some of them breaching or more often spyhopping, where they poke their noses up into the air to see what’s “out there”. We joined up with a boat full of exuberant Italians that were playing with a pair. We each had the opportunity to touch both mother and baby, and to look into their faces. (In case you’re wondering, Kathy decided that a gray whale’s skin feels much like a slightly ripe plum: smooth and fleshy but not overly soft.) A few days later we took another tour in Magdalena Bay, where we spent time watching juvenile males and mating couples and spent quite a while near a mother/baby pair on our way back through the channel.
We spent several days driving around the lower Baja, sometimes on the verge of being lost. We passed through a place that was platted out to be the town of Aguas Blancas, where the only thing missing was EVERYTHING but the already weather-worn street signs; no buildings, no roads, no infrastructture at all but the carefully and hopefully constructed street signs and some advertising, already in need of replacing. It was all in middle of the desert and 200 feet off the beach. We followed another road that led to the town of La Purisma, an oasis in a canyon many miles from what most of us would call “civilization”. It was spectacular, with tall cliffs, lots of palm trees along a river running through the desert and the largest and most colorful bougainvillea known to man. Actually we visited three of these oases, and coincidentally, three missions from the Spanish colonial days that are still active. It was wonderful to spend a week with Jean, and fun to see some places by land that we’ve only passed through when traveling by sea.
After we got back to La Cruz, we dove into the social scene for a couple of weeks, knowing that we weren’t going to be here long. We met up with several of the boats that we had known last year, we visited with a few folks that are land-based locally, and we added a few new boating friends to our list. MaryJo (who was our crew in January) and Alyssa (who headed south with us to La Manzanilla in December) are now roommates and actively planning lots of events for The Octopus’ Garden (aka The Pulpo). We went to a fashion show that they organized, saw Aly perform hula-hoops in the park, and joined them for MaryJo’s birthday party.
We’ve worked on a few projects around the boat that turned out to be bigger than expected, but are satisfying to have done. We installed a small 2.5 gallon hot-water heater near the shower in the forward head, so that we don’t have to heat 15 gallons of water in the full-size one for just a shower. We can now flip on the inverter and take a hot shower 10 minutes later instead of running the generator for two hours. We discovered a new type of plumbing that appears to be widely used here in Mexico. It’s like PVC pipe, but more flexible and coated with a thermoplastic layer that gets melted with a special heat plate tool to join the pipes and fittings. It’s quite easy to get a good joint (unless you try to avoid the special tool and use a heat-gun ), and we expect that the flexibility of the material will result in fewer leaks over time. But we had a bear of a time getting the connection to our old brittle copper pipe to be leak-free! We were without water for a full day, without water in the forward head a second day, and lived with switching the water on whenever we needed it in the forward head for the week that Kathy’s mom was visiting! Fortunately we finally addressed all the side-issues, and are now enjoying good hot showers for much less power. We also installed an outdoor shower (cold only, but fresh water) because it sounds like a really nice thing to be able to rinse off after a dip in the sea, or a couple of hours of working on the hull or… Kathy made some covers for various items to protect them from the sun, including propane canisters, gas cans, and lots of bungee cords that we use to secure things around the deck. Although we love the sun, we also have to be constantly attending to its damaging effects.
Kathy’s mother Marilyn came to visit for a week in late March, and we took a break from (most of) the boat work. We took her for a short sailing trip, stopping in Punta Mita on the north-west corner of Banderas Bay. We hadn’t been there before, but lots of our friends enjoy it, so we showed her something of what it’s like to go adventuring. We saw several whales along the way, at a distance, but breaching dramatically and repeatedly. She also enjoyed seeing a passing school of dolphins and watching the pelicans and blue-footed boobies dive-bombing kamikaze style into the water in pursuit of dinner. They seem to dive so confidently and then come up so pleased with themselves, it is quite charming. Bringing the dinghy in past the surf break was a little unnerving for us, but we talked with a few people beforehand and got the scoop on how to approach it. We timed it just right, and looked as if we were old pros. We went to a great pizza place that we’d heard of, run by a very sweet Swiss woman who also bakes multi-grain bread and something like challah – we got a loaf of each! We had a really nice sail in both directions, and impressed our neighbors by leaving the anchorage under sail (as opposed to motoring). Her last full day with us, we ventured into Puerto Vallarta and beyond, in search of the Botanical Gardens. We enjoyed a small lunch in the restaurant on the hill looking down on the whole park, a peek through the orchid and vanilla greenhouse where we saw some plants of amazing colors and shapes, and then a nice stroll around some of the hilly trails in the jungle. It’s a small non-profit organization that has done a nice job putting together a beautiful natural sanctuary.
This last week there have been several scary events in the anchorage, where boats dragged their anchors and were at risk of serious damage. The first one actually went on the rocks, but just barely, and after a couple of hours of hard work 6 or 7 dinghies and 2 or 3 power boats were able to pull them back onto the water and brought them to the marina to check for damage. The second one drifted clear across the anchorage, missing quite a few other boats, coming to a crunch on Lungta! It was a largish catamaran (40 or 45 feet long), and it ran into our bow-sprit and got tangled up in our anchor chain and the chains going up to the tip of the bowsprit. We were just working on fending it off and keeping it from damaging the anchoring system, our solar panels or anything else, when 3 or 4 dinghies materialized out of nowhere and joined us in addressing the situation. Someone had noticed the crisis and put out a call on the radio and everyone who could came out to help. We put our spare anchor and some heavy line on the catamaran, and our friend Bo from Aquarelle figured out how to start the boat and maneuver it. Eventually the group was able to get it to a good anchoring place, drop both the original anchor and ours, and get a message to the owner who had been in Puerto Vallarta for the day. Our boat sustained very little damage, essentially only scratches, and the “other guy” had a good bit of work but all relatively minor compared to the potential damage of running aground. Whew!
The third event was the most dramatic yet. On Monday afternoon a call went out on the radio for help, as a boat out in the bay was having engine troubles and wanted someone to tow them in before they were blown aground. They had tried to deploy their sails, but their boat is an unusual design that does not go into the wind very well, mostly just down-wind. Unfortunately the winds were blowing directly on-shore, so without an engine they were in trouble. They didn’t manage to deploy their anchor until they were already in surf, and the breaking waves prevented them from getting a good set on the anchor, so they ended up hard aground. The only good thing about the situation is that the ground they hit was very smooth sand, no rocks at all; as a matter of fact, it was a prime swimming beach for a fancy resort hotel! The boat is an unusual one, a Chinese junk built in 1925 and brought to Washington state for the 1974 World’s Fair in Spokane. It had a colorful but sad series of owners – including a brothel – before it came to be owned by an artist, the father of a friend of ours in Portland; over the course of the next 20 years or so, Sergei and his father lovingly restored it to a beautiful showpiece. The Flying Dragon is not really designed to be a sea-going vessel so we were extremely surprised to see it appear in Mexico roughly a year after we last saw it in Oregon! A youngish couple had bought it and brought it down the coast with her 11-year-old son. The Flying Dragon is about 50’ long and weighs about 20 tons, including at least one ton of rocks stored in the lowest hold of the boat.
Folks came out to help them that evening, and they spent all night trying to pull them off. High tide was near 4am, but ropes kept breaking and the waves kept marching the boat further up the beach. By morning they were sitting in less than a foot of water. They put out a call for more assistance (but volunteer, because the family has virtually no other resources than this boat that is their home), ranging from power boats to pumps to heavy ropes. Dan realized that, although we aren’t a power boat with a lot of pulling power, our anchor system could be used to help bring them back out on the water by providing a steady pull whenever the waves lifted them just a little bit. They found a back-hoe that could be used to scoop out sand from behind the boat or to lift or tug on the boat as needed. A rigging specialist showed up to offer help with setting up bridles that would safely bear the loads. We motored over and dropped our anchor, then went ashore to participate in a planning conversation, where it was decided that we should relocate a little bit to one side. It’s funny how sometimes things that go smoothly under normal circumstances develop problems when they are more critical (or perhaps more public). Somehow our anchor got twisted in the chain rode, such that it was upside down with one of its flukes wrapped around the chain going up to the boat. Just lowering it like that would not allow the anchor to set and this was not the time to accept marginal holding! So while Kathy stalled the shoreside team via radio, Dan and two other guys (Merle from Kenta Anae and Frank from Fluenta) pushed and prodded the anchor until they were eventually able to take the weight off and unloop the chain from the anchor’s fluke. Finally we were able to get a good set on the anchor, and extended out 350 of our 400 feet of anchor rode (200 feet of chain followed by 150 feet of rope). A swimmer brought a tow rope out through the surf and a dinghy brought it to Lungta. We tied it to another bridle on Lungta’s stern. After taking in the slack, we tried to just maintain a steady pressure using our relatively substantial anchor windlass, taking in any additional slack that appeared whenever they were able to turn the Flying Dragon’s bow a bit more out to sea, or the waves picked up the boat ever so slightly and allowed it to inch seaward. We used the motor to take the pressure off of the windlass most of the afternoon, and even to try to pull the boat off the shore once we gained more confidence. Although we originally thought that we were really just trying to keep them from getting pushed further ashore until another bigger effort could be made at the high tide at 4am, over the course of the day it began to look like we might be able to get them off before then. A couple of power-boats tied into the tow rope and each pulled as well for a few hours, and it was clear that progress was being made. As the Flying Dragon inched off the beach, we maintained the pressure on our anchor line, inching Lungta slowly away from shore. When Flying dragon was about 30 feet off the beach, we ran out of rope and needed to switch over to pulling on the chain. As Dan was working on this switchover along with Merle and Frank, and just as the sun was setting, the power boat Island Grace was able to pull the last bit to get the Flying Dragon out of the surf. Flying Dragon was towed in to the Nuevo Vallarta Marina, to the great joy of Regis, Sybil and the hundreds of people who had either participated in the rescue, listened to the unfolding story over the VHF radio, or just witnessed the events on the beach while staying in the resort hotel.
We were ready to go home, so we went to pull up our anchor, but something went wrong and after about half of it was up a loud bang came from the windlass and it stopped working. The brass “key” that keeps the shaft turning along with the motor’s sprocket had sheared. This is an unusual event, but not new. This design feature is to protect the shaft from shattering or some other more serious damage to the windlass in the event of an overload. We recognized what had happened and quickly switched modes to finish pulling the last 100 feet of chain and the 230 pound anchor up manually, using a long rope to get a bite on the chain and bring it back to the biggest winches we have, at the back of the pilothouse. We took turns cranking and retieing the knots that grabbed onto the chain. It took us close to an hour to get it all up, and we were exhausted! Another hour later we motored into the anchorage and fell into bed.
The next morning we surveyed the “damage”: our dinghy had developed a significant leak because of a gash it got when we were trying to untangle our anchor from its chain; and the windlass shear-key needed to be replaced, along with a large fuse that protects the windlass and had blown for reasons that we still don’t understand. On Wednesday we got our dinghy patched, but it had to stay unpressurized for 24 hours, so it didn’t go back into the water until Thursday. We also found an electrical shop that had the large fuse we needed for the windlass. Apparently they’re used widely in house electrical boxes, not for individual circuits but rather for the whole house. We found one with a cool design; they call it “renewable”, and you can unscrew the cap to open it up and replace only the fusible element rather than having to buy a whole new fuse. We got one fuse and 12 replacement plates (hopefully a lifetime supply!) for the same price as two whole fuses would have cost – hurray! We also tracked down a machine shop that could help with the shear-key. They could get material and cut it to size by mid-day Friday. Thursday we disassembled the windlass, and as often happens when you’re tired it didn’t go easily. We broke a dead-blow hammer in the process, and we now have hundreds of teeny-tiny lead pellets rolling around on the deck. But we did eventually get it apart, removed the sheared brass key and installed a new one that Dan was able to fabricate from a larger piece of brass we had on board. So on Thursday evening we went to bed exhausted but essentially with our boat functional again – still a shambles, but functional!
Now we’re going to resume our previously scheduled program. We’re going to do a bit more socializing for the next week, finish up a few more smallish boat projects, and head north into the Sea of Cortez. We have been planning to go directly to a boatyard and do some major painting, and we’ve let the marine growth on the bottom get out of hand. Then we were told that the boatyard is full and we thought we had been caught in a big blunder. Our haul-out plans have been on-again, off-again a couple of times, but today it looks like we’ll be able to haul out in May instead of shifting it to October. We’re looking forward to having a pretty boat again! Lungta is looking scratched up and much the worse for wear these days.
So now you’re caught up with Life on Lungta. Hope spring has all of you feeling renewed and excited about the things that are happening in your life!