6-4-2014 – La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico

We’re very pleased to be on our way to the start of our next, and likely last, summer in the Sea (of Cortez).  We took a little longer than expected to get going, but now that we are finally moving it’s lovely.  Today we’re moving along smoothly anywhere from 3 knots to 6, almost exactly in the intended direction (only off by a few degrees, which will be easily made up the next time the wind changes).  We were delayed by all of the usual suspects: boat work, fun and weather.

The biggest item was a repair project that we’ve put off for several months now, repairing our bowthruster which was damaged when it got flooded with salt water caused by a leak in the generator’s cooling system.  The generator has long been repaired, but the bowthruster, which is installed in a hole in the floor of the hold that the generator is in, turned out to be a much more difficult project to accomplish.  The bowthruster is a device intended to help turn the bow of the boat when we are in tight conditions, usually marinas.  We don’t need it often, but when we do it’s immensely useful given the mass of our cement boat.  It’s essentially a pair of smallish propellers, pointing right and left, installed in a horizontal tunnel at the very front of the boat just below the water’s surface, and driven by a large electric motor.  You may be surprised to learn, however, that large electric motors don’t take well to being splashed and even partially submerged in salt water.  At one point it just stopped running – one of the terminals on the motor, where the cables to the battery connect, had just corroded away.  This repair was more than we could do ourselves: we needed to remove the bowthruster and have it rebuilt by a shop that specializes in electric motors.  Having installed the motor ourselves (and also having done this very same repair before), though, we knew that there were just four bolts holding the motor in place.  Getting to those bolts is no easy feat, but Kathy can squeeze into the small space to reach them – with the right set of tools, of course.  Unfortunately, those bolts were frozen hard, and it took a lot of effort to get them free.  We ended up hiring two different people to try their hand, and eventually got the motor out by breaking the heads off the bolts (not usually the recommended technique, but this allowed us to remove the motor, and get the motor into the shop while we continue to work on the bolts in parallel).  Dan welded nuts onto the remaining ends of each of the bolts, and we bought a heavy-duty impact wrench (like a power drill on steroids).  This ultimately managed to get 3 of the 4 bolts out; the 4th we gave up on, deciding to leave it as a nubbin which will prevent the motor from spinning but not helping to hold the motor onto the prop-assembly.  After that decision it was a piece of cake: the motor was rebuilt in 3 days, we “popped” it back in and it all tested just fine.  While the space was empty, we painted the hold and improved our system to pump water out of the area.  Hopefully we can avoid going through such gyrations again!

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The bowthruster repair was by far the biggest item on our list.  We did a number of other smaller projects while we waited for a weather window.  Also, since the water warmed up and was beautifully clear, we jumped in and did a thorough job of cleaning the bottom.  We realized that the bottom paint isn’t in as bad shape as we were worried, so we’ve decided not to repaint right away.  If we’re diligent about cleaning (Dan is proposing spending an hour every day!), perhaps we can get by for another year before it’s necessary.  Time will tell… 

But our life is not all about work, as you well know!  We also played a good bit during this time.  Our friend Jeff on Final Escape has an old windsurfer that Dan has been interested in for quite a while.  Although Jeff is not yet certain he is ready to sell it, he does admit that he hasn’t been using it, and he suggested loaning it to us for the summer.  Score!  But we only spent one afternoon playing with this new toy, because we got drawn by the lure of our kitesurfer which we bought last summer but never learned how to use.  This month we took a couple of lessons, one doing kitehandling from the beach and one actually in the water learning how to steer the kite while dragging behind it through the water.  What a blast!  But the lessons are expensive, so we decided we would spend some time practicing on our own before taking more next year.  It turns out that once the rig is set up, it’s fairly straightforward and safe to play with it in the water.  The controls are subtle, though, and it will be useful to practice before we try to add the board to the mix.  But it’s a lot of fun, zipping through the water with the kite at your beck and call.

After the bowthruster was installed, we began watching the weather for a good window to depart.  We waited through a week of northerly winds, while a hurricane brewed up south of Banderas Bay.  Hurricane Amanda went on the record books as the largest hurricane in May, but it didn’t last long.  It petered out after only a couple of days, and then its remnants promised rain to Banderas Bay.  The winds turned southerly in front of this cloudy weather and we decided to go for it, but we took a course first up the coast towards Mazatlan before crossing over, being cautious of the unsettled weather.  It took three days to get to Mazatlan, a little slow for most, but not unusual for us.  We had periods of beautiful sailing interspersed with little to no wind, which sometimes drove us to motor for a few hours.  At night we saw lightening and heard occasional thunder, sometimes uncomfortably close, but had no real problems. 

We had two strange events happen in this period.  The first was a deluge of mosquitos, dozens or perhaps hundreds over the course of a couple of days.  So many that we concluded we must have had a hatching somewhere on board.  We never found a particular area where they were congregating (except on our ankles 🙂 ), and when we checked all of the likely places for standing water we didn’t find any smoking guns.  We added a bit of bleach to the three bilge areas on the boat, just in case.  After 3 or 4 days they dwindled away, and we are hoping that they don’t resurge.  The other odd thing happened at night, as mysteries often do.  We were traveling 5-10 miles off-shore in a relatively uninhabited region, as far as we know.  There were no boats around, as far as radar, radio and visual scanning could tell, but we heard an unfamiliar motor sound.  We searched all over the boat for the source of the sound, perhaps a pump that had gotten triggered but wouldn’t turn off.  We couldn’t isolate the sound to any particular location, and over 30 minutes or so it increased in volume so we could hear it everywhere: in the boat and on deck.  Because of the way that the sound seemed to come from all directions, we concluded that it was traveling through the water instead of the air.  Sounds that come through the hull are typically impossible to pinpoint.  The sound lasted for a few hours before fading away.  We’ve never heard anything like this, nor talk about this phenomenon.  Perhaps it will turn out to be similar to the snapping shrimp that we first encountered during our trip down the California coast, but we think it’s more likely to have a human source that we will never identify.

The day we turned away from shore towards the Baja, an unexpected kink was thrown into our plans.  The jib halyard (the rope holding the top corner of the foreward-most and second largest sail) broke, causing it to flutter and flap and lose its effectiveness.  We made a quick turn back to Mazatlan for the night.  We were able to sail on the remaining 4 sails, although not as efficiently, and anyone who didn’t know us would be hard pressed to recognize that we were “limping” in on reduced sail!  In the quiet winds of the following morning, Kathy took a ride to the top of the mast and tied the line back in place.  It had worn through only a foot from the end, so we were able to reuse the line.  We’ll replace it with a stronger material later this season.

As we passed through Mazatlan, we saw the ferry that we had taken to La Paz last year.  It arrived just before us, and departed again before evening.  We reflected back to meeting the captain of the ship, and wondered if he remembered meeting us and had any notion that the sailboat in front of him belonged to folks he had met…

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Back on our way the next morning Dan noticed that there was a small tear in the same sail.  It’s unlikely that we damaged it during our work earlier in the day, but it is an unfortunate coincidence.  We decided not to go back again, but rather to watch it for a day and see what happens.  The next morning the tear was twice as long, nearly a foot, and we were concerned that if it got too much longer then it would rip catastrophically.  So, while we still had lighter morning winds, we lowered the sail and pulled out the sewing machine for a “field repair”.  The process went exactly as one would hope, and within 30 minutes we were putting the sail back in its track.

We’ve been sailing in superb conditions ever since, with moderate winds from the south or southwest, slowly rolling seas, and temperatures averaging 80.  Our new barometer keeps showing the graphic that rain is due, which raises our eyebrows a bit, but we think it must not be calibrated for near-desert climes.  Every now and again one of us says “pinch me”.  Life is good.  We’re enjoying being on the water again, with the slower pace that it brings.

Night time is a particular treat when we’re underway.  Sunsets are always a significant moment, marking the transition from the heat and activity of the day to the quieter more personal time when we keep a separate watch schedule.  When we get away from the lights of the city, the stars come out in droves.  We all know that there are a lot of stars, but it’s always a moving experience to be reminded by just the sight of the Milky Way.  There are familiar constellations and more to be learned, there are planets and satellites and the occasional shooting star.  The sea also lights up with bioluminescense, sometimes lighting up in bright flashes and sometimes in patches of softer glows, or outlining a fish or dolphin moving through the water.  Right now we have a delicate crescent moon getting a little bigger each night.  We are enjoying having big clear skies again after a couple of weeks of cloudy tropical weather in Banderas Bay and afterwards through the Hurricane Amanda fallout.

During passages, life moves into a slower mode.  Unless we’ve penned ourselves in by a schedule (usually airline tickets), we move at whatever pace the winds support.  We read, play the guitar, meditate, or nap.  Lately a few computer games have found their way onto our tablets (2048, Lexathon, and Doptrix).  We write emails to send later – or a blog!  We putter around the house, making meals and cleaning the dishes.  We occasionally do small projects like splicing a line or reorganizing a portion of the pantry or the workshop.  We enjoy reminiscing about the people we’ve met or the places we’ve seen, and making plans for where we’d like to go next.  These moments don’t make for exciting stories, but they are a special part of the richness of this life.

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Our good friend Bernard from Simple Pleasures is leaving Mexico after 7 years; he’s heading back to California for a while.  He may be back, but we’ll be gone by then.  We’re going to spend a few days with him in the islands north of La Paz before heading north into the Sea of Cortez, and he’ll head south around the tip of the Baja peninsula to begin the “bash” up the Pacific coast. He is one of our longest and deepest friendships here, and it will be sad to see him go. 

We’re scheming lots of plans, some of which I am confident will come to pass.  🙂  We’re now thinking of renting a car and taking a “quick” drive up the peninsula to San Diego, to make some last big purchases.  Our anchor chain is rusting faster than we are comfortable, and we’d like to replace it before heading into Central America where major purchases like this will be harder to organize.  There are also a few heavy electronic items we’re thinking about, and always the special foods that we just can’t find in Mexico.  We’re becoming conscious that our time in Mexico is getting short, that each time we visit a place may be the last time, and that we’re going to be moving further from the States.  It’s exciting, and we’re having fun thumbing through guidebooks and travel guides.  We’ve stepped up our Spanish learning, and we’re thinking about what changes we’ll need to make to the boat and our habits to fit our new locale.  A big one for this summer is to focus on some carpentry projects, in order to consume the “wood-pile” that we’ve had on deck since we left Portland.  We still have three boxes of tongue-and-groove flooring left from our purchase of 8!  Although we won’t resurface the entire interior as we’d originally planned, we’ve found that this jatoba (or Brazilian cherry) is beautiful for many trim projects around the boat.  The biggest project in this category is to replace the main door.  When we remodeled the forward stateroom, combining two small rooms into one larger one, we ended up with an extra door.  The doors of this boat are fabulous, and we had to find a place to reuse it.  It turns out that the sliding door to the pilothouse is not a good choice for heavy weather, and so we’ve decided to replace it with the “extra” one.  But it’s not a minor project.  The new one has an arched top and different dimensions, we’ll need to reframe the entry and make changes for where the door swings.  We want to replace the top panel with glass, and we’ll need to find hinges and a locking mechanism – in materials that can deal with the harsh environment of a globe-traveling sailboat.  But you’ll hear all about that later this summer, assuming all goes well.  🙂 

Not many pictures this time, but I just realized that we forgot to mention last month – or was it the one before? – that Kathy completed a set of chaps for our new dinghy.  So here’s a photo of that.  The “om” symbol on the front is coming to be a bit of a theme on the boat, so we decided to put it on the dinghy as well.  This set of chaps was more challenging because of the curved shape of the pontoons, but the chaps seem to be doing OK.  The off-white color is really nice to keep the heat down, but does get dirty in the blink of an eye!

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Enjoy the beginning of summer, and we’ll be back in a few weeks.

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