We’re in a busy place in time these days, and a lot has happened since our last blog update. It seems that we’re often opening our blog postings with apologies for long delays between posts. Difficult though it is, I’m resisting apologizing yet again. We’re still in El Salvador, but getting close to heading out of the estuary. We’ve been immersed in our project to-do list, getting ready for our passage down to Panama and then across the Pacific. We’ve been talking with some other boaters (esp. Henry and Pamela on Rapscullion) who have been telling us wonderful things about visiting the islands on Panama’s Pacific coastline. So much so that we’ve been considering spending an entire season there, and delaying our Pacific crossing until 2018. All three of our friends who we’re hoping will join us on that trip sighed a big sigh of relief – or even did a happy dance! As we’re constantly reminded, plans in this life are always provisional, and we’re tentatively changing ours again. We’re now thinking that we’ll leave this coming weekend, cross the bar and make our way slowly down the coast to Panama. We’ll spend a few months there and then probably move on to Ecuador, where the turbulent weather of the wet season is much milder. This choice reduces the pressure to get our projects done on a specific schedule, which is much appreciated! As a matter of fact, we were intending to leave this past week when the tides got high, but strong winds made us decide to wait another 10 days or so until the next cycle of high high tides.
Our stay at the Paradise Marina lasted significantly longer than we originally expected. The rudder repair/rebuild project stretched out quite a while when we realized how much our welding equipment had degraded during the “flood” of last spring. We needed to replace many of the parts, and they were included in the freight forwarding experience that we described in the last posting. We started out tacking one edge of a piece of sheet-metal to the trailing edge of the rudder, cutting it to size/shape, and wrapping it over the top of the shaft. Then we clamped it as tight as we could and tacked it in place with the welder. Once the rest of the parts arrived, Dan went to town welding all of the edges and making sure there were no holes left. Once he got going, this last part went quickly. We painted the whole thing four times, once with a primer, and three times with bottom paint (where we used two different colors, hoping that when we see the color change that it will provide a warning/reminder that it’s time to start looking into repainting).
Installing the rudder was a whole project of its own. We had the marina team help us get the rudder into the water. Five strong men hoisted it up onto a trailer and pushed the trailer to a boat ramp next door. Dan had the brilliant idea of tying some big fenders to each end of the rudder’s shaft, just in case it was too heavy to float – we had added nearly two full sheets of sheet-metal, which weighed around 80lbs. The rudder with its two big fenders just barely floated, but “barely” was sufficient for us to tow it from the boat ramp to Lungta’s stern, perhaps 50 yards away. Once it was close enough, we tied on a halyard and hung the rudder (in the water) vertically from the top of our mizzen mast. We opened up the fill port and poured in 25 gallons of cooking oil that we’d gotten from PriceSmart, a Central American CostCo equivalent. When that ran out we jumped in the car and went looking for a local shop that could sell us some more. We got 6 more gallons, which the rudder swallowed up. As we returned from our second outing with another 5 gallons, the marina’s manager Willie produced yet another 5-gallon jug of used oil from a local restaurant that he knew. Finally the rudder was full – and we have 4 gallons of unused cooking oil sitting on our deck! We put the cap back on the opening and moved on to the process of installing the rudder. Although straightforward, it turned out to be much more recalcitrant than expected. We tied lines to the top and bottom of the shaft, some pulling to the left and some to the right. We lowered the rudder until the top of the shaft was just poking into the hole in the boat’s hull, and then tried to align it with the skeg at the end of the keel. We pushed it and tugged it, manually and with ropes from all directions. We used halyards and sideways-pulling ropes from the winches and cleats on the dock. We grunted and moaned and schemed and struggled and *finally* the shaft slid up and into the hole that it belongs in. Then we were able to slip on the “boot” and secure it to the skeg. Hooray!
We had hoped to have our projects done and be back in our “usual” spot on the mooring by the time our series of visitors arrived, but it didn’t play out that way. Michael and Cate arrived the day after the rudder clicked into place. We picked them up at the airport and were all happy at how easily the relationship picked up right where it had left off. Their faces and voices were as familiar to us as if we’d seen them only a few weeks ago, when in fact it had been very close to a year. We met them on the cruise boat that we took around Cape Horn, and have stayed in contact over the last 11 months. They stayed with us for a month, testing the water so to speak, to determine whether they might be interested in joining us on our trip across the Pacific. They settled in easily and we all enjoyed our time together, although Dan & Kathy continued to spend a lot of our time working on our boat projects. These two are voracious readers, and we were surprised to find a number of books back on board that we had recently put into the book exchange. We enjoyed many great conversations together, mostly in the evenings over dinner or under the stars. Michael, Cate and Dan all enjoy playing the guitar, and they spent hours teaching one another songs or techniques. We spent one afternoon at Lynn & Lou’s Sunday pool and barbecue gathering, where they had the opportunity to meet more than a dozen other cruisers. Another half day was spent poking around the mangroves on the other side of the island nearest our boat. There were lots of birds and very few people. The four of us spent almost two weeks on a roadtrip to Guatemala, where we did a whirlwind tour of Antigua, San Antonio on Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Todo Santos and Semuc Champey. These were five of our top six favorite places that we’ve already visited (only missing Tikal), and provided a broad overview of what the country has to offer a traveler. Unfortunately we took turns getting sick, so most days there was *somebody* not feeling well. Our time together passed quickly, and it was a shock when the day printed on their return tickets arrived. They have gone back home to do a short contract and replenish their travel kitty, and to think about when they will be back and for how long.
Although we were sad to see Cate and Michael leave, we were excited that Kathy’s sister Jean was arriving two days later, with her new boyfriend James. We had a full day in between, trying to make good progress on our project list while there was no one else around who might tempt us to dawdle. During this period we put our mizzen sail back up, with a new strip of sunguard in place, we replaced a leaky valve in the house water system that was causing the pump to lose its prime frequently, we secured the new skylight to the pilothouse roof, and we made progress on a half dozen other larger projects. While Jean and James were with us, we continued to work daily but also spent plenty of time visiting (but never enough!) One afternoon we again puttered around the mangroves behind the nearby island, enjoying the many birds nesting and flying overhead. These two are enjoying their new relationship, and are experimenting with new foods, new activities, learning what the other likes and what makes them tick. It’s always nice to be around a couple in love. James spent the last afternoon with us dangling a line in the water, trying to tempt a fish to play along. Although he couldn’t entice a finned friend to dance with him, he enjoyed himself and Kathy enjoyed some sister-time with Jean. Our last night together we had dinner at a restaurant with seating on a dock over the water about a mile up the estuary from Lungta – it was fun to see our boat from our table.
Two busy days after Jean and James left, our next crew-mate Jonnie arrived. Jonnie is also a sailing novice, and is excited but nervous about the adventure ahead of us. She’s been with us about 2 weeks now, and seems to be fitting in well. Kathy is thrilled to have a yoga partner, and we’re all enjoying the conversations and meals together. She’s been taking lots of photos and posting them to FaceBook, so those who are our FaceBook friends have already seen some of her impressions of El Salvador and our life on Lungta. A couple of nights ago we watched the sunset – and then noticed that there was a volcano erupting about 50 miles north of us! We’ve installed a handhold and an additional step to the “trapeze ladder” on Lungta’s transom, so that Jonnie (who is quite a bit shorter than either of us) can climb aboard from the dinghy more easily.
Our two biggest projects have just about been completed (at least to the level of being seaworthy). The big skylight in the middle of the boat has been replaced with a beautiful new sheet of plexiglass, and framed in a hardwood frame that Dan has crafted almost single-handedly. It doesn’t yet have the hardware that we dreamed up: latches, pneumatic shocks and a hinge. We have also rebuilt our watermaker, building and programming a control panel similar (but still not full-featured) to the original – at a significantly reduced price! Woo-hoo!
We’re enjoying ourselves with Jonnie here in El Salvador, but also really looking forward to moving into the next phase of our travels. Hopefully the next post will be from somewhere beautiful a bit south of here!