03-05-2017 – Jaltepeque Estuary, El Salvador

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).

Painting our "New" Rudder

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!

Moving Rudder Back Home

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.

Swimming at Semuc Champey Chichicastenango Market

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.

Family Photo

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.

Welcome Aboard, Jonnie!

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!

Final Touches to Skylight

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

12-22-2016 – Paradise Marina, El Salvador

It’s been a busy month, filled mostly with boat projects. We did take a small break to celebrate Kathy’s birthday, driving up into the mountains for the night, we stayed in a big town called Berlin. There are some nice overlooks nearby and a hike to a lake in an old caldera that we didn’t end up doing. :-) We sat for a while in the town’s square, which was just beginning to be decorated for Christmas. Lots of people passing through, living their lives and surprised to see that there were tourists in town. We had a relaxing evening, and came back the next day feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work.

Where's Lungta?

Our ship has (finally) come in! We moved into this marina almost two months ago, intending to only stay one month. As it turns out, though, our freight shipment was delayed, both in getting it ordered and then again in its tortured progress through the customs office. We ordered quite a few items, having them shipped to a warehouse in Florida that collected our boxes until we said we were done. Our new generator was the gating item, because it turned out they build to order rather than keeping some in inventory. Once it arrived, the container was loaded and put on a ship the next weekend. Four days later it arrived in Guatemala and was trucked across the border into El Salvador. We spent more than a week after that working our way through customs, driving the 90 minutes into San Salvador four times to meet with our agent and the customs officials to keep the wheels rolling. We really saw the “sausage-making” process in action! Usually these shipments are processed under the name of the freight forwarding agent, but for various reasons he suggested that it would be a good idea to do this one under one of our names. (One reason was the size of the order, but another reason had something to do with a previous shipment having been flagged with fines, which might cause delays in subsequent shipments under the same name.) Fortunately for us, we already had the necessary identification card that we had acquired when we decided to buy a car last year. On our first trip into town, we visited three locations to try to get an account set up using this id card, but had troubles because of various people being out of the office. On the second trip into town, we went through the entire list of purchases, making sure that the agent (and his team) understood what they were so that they could categorize them correctly for the customs process. At this point, we thought we were done, but then the actual customs assessment began. A randomized “green-light/red-light” process determines the degree of inspection required for each shipment, and we unfortunately got the “red light”, the more rigorous inspection. The customs official looked through the paperwork and expressed concern that we might be trying to sell the items (illegally, since we just have tourist visas). So our third trip was to meet with her and show her that we were just a couple living on a boat which needed a lot equipment in order to continue on our way. After the morning’s review of the paperwork, we stuck around for the afternoon inspection of all the goods. In the quarantine area of the warehouse, our agent opened all of the boxes and laid the items out in the same order as they were listed on the import papers. When the customs official came by, we walked through all of the items, explaining what they did, why we needed them, and confirmed that the quantity was what had been declared. She had several questions, and suspiciously eyed the tub of thermal paste that we wanted for our electronic components that get hot enough to require heat-sinks. Ultimately she fined us $190 for the mis-classification of one of the items as a gasket instead of a belt. It seemed that she wasn’t satisfied until she found something that was out of order. After that long day, we again thought that we were done. But again we were called in the next morning to participate in the processing of the paperwork. We needed to sign the document that levied the fine, in triplicate, and then take it to a manager at another location for approval (because the manager of the location we were at was out that day). The papers were brought to three more desks for additional copies, signatures and stamps. Finally we had our clearance and the truck was called to bring our stuff out to the boat. It was after dark by the time they arrived at the marina, and the local team of workers stayed late to help unload the truck. We couldn’t have unloaded the almost 600-pound generator by ourselves! We left the three biggest items on the lawn near the marina office, and brought all of the boxes down the dock to the boat.

Still in El Salvador

The next morning was like Christmas for us! We opened all 37 of our packages, stowing electrical components here, kitchen stuff there, and parts for the welder in that box over there. We installed our replacement solar panel and got the generator placed into the newly painted hold. We had spent a week preparing the hold, including installing our bowthruster once again. This *big* motor gets installed in a hole in the floor, connected to a pair of sideways propellers that can turn the boat more quickly than the rudder when needed. Unfortunately it has gotten flooded with salt water several times over the years, when our old generator had problems related to the cooling system. Each time we vow that it will never happen again, but somehow it does. Now we are hopeful that it really will not happen again, because we are installing a new generator which should not have the same problems as the old one. (Hope really springs eternal, doesn’t it? :-) ) We have also installed a new switch which will ring a loud alarm if there is water in the hold. We are very excited about all the updates to this area of the boat! Now the cover to the lower area is on, and we are working on getting the generator installed: fuel, exhaust, cooling water, battery connections, control panel – it’s a couple of days’ work, but we’re happy that it’s all coming together. Dan is getting the welder all put together with lots of new parts, to finish up the work on our rudder. Kathy is putting a new sun-guard cover on another sail. And in between we’re catching up on lots of other smaller projects.

New Generator

Our freezer motor gave up the ghost this last month. It’s been having troubles for a few months now, so we weren’t completely surprised. We had a new motor coming in our big shipment, but it couldn’t hold out that long. We tracked down a shop to see if it could be rebuilt, but the news was not good. The commutator was completely worn down and would cost more to replace than the motor was worth. So we swapped our fridge motor in to the freezer’s place, and have been using the fridge as an ice box for the last 10 days or so. Two or three times a day we move 3 or 4 containers of ice from the freezer into the fridge and 3 or 4 different containers of water the other way. The freezer is running almost continuously (with the fridge’s motor), but it’s making ice – and we’re not short on power, because we’re at the marina. We will swap the new motor into the freezer now that it’s arrived, but we have to adapt a few parts – which necessitates another trip into San Salvador!

Clamping in the Tropics

The other major activity going on with us this month is the search for companions on our travels next year. We’ve had several people contact us and express interest. We’re still exploring the fit with some of these people, but aren’t “full” yet! If you know anyone who might be interested in joining us as we travel to the South Pacific, please refer them to our web-site, www.lungtalife.com, and have them contact us. We’re not always as nose-to-the-grindstone as these last few months! :-)

We’d like to take this moment to wish all of our friends and loved ones (those two categories are not necessarily different!) a wonderful holiday season, taking time to be grateful for the people in your lives and the bounty that we all happen to have as citizens of the 21st century. I know that there are many people on this planet who have not been blessed with as much opportunity and resources, and I feel very fortunate to be living the life I am! Thanks to each of you for supporting us and encouraging us along the way! Here’s to a wonderful New Year – 2017, here we come!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

11-20-2016 – Paradise Marina, El Salvador

Again a long time since the last post, and again mostly boat work, which although engaging to us doesn’t seem like it would be of much interest to readers. (Please let me know if I’m mistaken!)

We had another family visit, this time with Dan’s family in New York. We spent the weekend spanning September and October along with 15 others in Maine, staying near Acadia National Park in a small group of cabins. For us this trip will serve in place of the Thanksgiving gathering that we have been attending for the last several years, so on the way up we spent the night at Dan’s Aunt Nancy’s farmhouse, where that gathering happens. We initially thought that this would break up the journey into two smaller segments, but when Dan’s sister Beth said “look at a map” we realized that it took us far enough west that it cancelled out the gains made by being further north. Hmmm, how’d that happen? :-) So we turned our one day’s drive into two! But it was nice to see Nancy, if only for one night. The gathering was partially a celebration of the life of Dan’s father David, and it was great to see his wife Shlomit again. She organized the event, remembering a previous trip there that happened during the New England Fall. Although the colors this year were not at their peak, we did nonetheless keep an eye out for all of the lovely displays of red, orange, salmon, gold and yellow – and were not disappointed! We all enjoyed some hikes and strolls, wandering the spectacular coastlines of this island park. A few people got up very early one morning to watch the sunrise over the fog, but we chose to stay snuggled deep under the heavy covers of our bed. :-) I think our blood has gotten a bit thinner after spending 5 years south of the border! We enjoyed meeting Davis, the (no longer so) new partner to Dan’s youngest sister Aria who, some long-term readers may remember, was with us when we first left Oregon in 2011 on our way to Alaska. They are threatening – but not yet promising – to join us on the next big passage, when we cross the Pacific next spring. But she is also whining about being busy as she works on a PhD at MIT. Sheesh! It was also a treat to see Eve, the sister from Washington (State) that we can never get enough time with, and both of Dan’s sons Jesse and Evan – at the same time! The winner of the (non-existant) photography competition was of Jesse on the coast (sorry it’s small here; it’s the only copy we have!). In addition to the 5 days in Maine, we spent another 10 days in New Jersey staying with Dan’s mom. We popped into New York City once or twice to get some culture, but it also served to remind us just how much we enjoy the quieter life on the water. We came home again with full bags and a renewed energy for tackling our many projects that will help us get across the ocean.

Acadia Vista  Highway Fall Color  Jesse at Acadia

Back in El Salvador, we began laying the groundwork for another fairly major project. Our rudder, which we built in 2011 before leaving Oregon, has developed a number of holes (we have several inconclusive ideas about just what caused them). We found a tiny marina nearby which has a space that was suitable for doing the sort of welding work we needed, and we purchased some sheetmetal in town. Two days before we planned to move down there – for a week of hard work (how naive! :-) ) – our generator stopped, and in what turned out to be a dramatic manner. So we moved in a day early – and negotiated a monthly rate instead of daily. The marina’s staff disassembled the generator for diagnosis and found that a valve stem had broken, causing the valve to get caught in the cylinder and get crushed into the piston. None of those parts were better for the experience. :-) Given the high costs of repair parts for Westerbeke generators, we are now in the process of buying a replacement. We will have it shipped down from Florida by a local man named Pablo, who we worked with last February. As long as we have that shipment coming, we are coming up with lots of other large (and small) items that we need at the same time. It turns out that our (spare) outboard motor was stolen off of Lungta while we were in New York. Shortly before that trip, we damaged one of our solar panels when something unbelievably small fell while we were working up the mizzen mast. :-( And our freezer keeps acting up, making us think that it is a good time to change out the 50 year old motor. We began work on our rudder, but quickly ran into troubles with our welding system because a number of the accessories were damaged in May when they got covered in salt-water. Although we were able to find a few items in San Salvador, the cost and ability to work with the welder we already own (rather than buying a whole new one!) inspired us to order parts from the States and have them shipped – delaying our rudder project by maybe as much as a month. Yikes – these are some big-dollar items for our budget!

Getting the rudder off the boat was a project of its own. Kathy dove three or four days in a row, whenever the current was slack, first tying a rope securely around it and then trying to remove the boot that holds the rudder’s shaft to the skeg of the boat, a finger of cement-encased stainless steel which extends from the trailing edge of the keel. It’s been a bit more than 5 years since it was last removed, but the marine growth added a lot more work separating it. Once it came apart, Dan hauled it up on the halyard and deposited it on the dock. Then 6 men from the marina tied it to a long pipe and scraped/hauled it down the length of the dock and up onto the main pier – fortunately it was high tide and they only had to negotiate 3 or 4 stairs! They left it for us in a small covered workspace, where we’ve spent a number of hours cleaning it up and fitting a new skin. We’ve amassed quite an assortment of tools up there, which they’ve allowed us to keep in their storeroom so we don’t have to lug them to and fro every day. The work is coming along nicely, and is now essentially on hold until our freight shipment comes in with the TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding parts.

Moving the Rudder

It will probably be another three weeks before this shipment arrives, but in the meantime we have a number of “smaller” projects that we can make progress on. We removed a portion of our main engine’s exhaust stack and had a local machine shop build a stainless steel water jacket around it. The idea is that this will channel *much* more of the engine’s heat out of the boat, which would be a welcome relief whenever we have to motor. We also replaced a very rusty bow roller, which directs the anchor chain out to the point on the bowsprit where it goes down. We made it from ultra-high molecular weight (UMHW, or something like that :-) ) plastic, which is super slippery and easy to machine. We had a carpenter install some brass latches into most of the floorboards on Lungta, each of which has a finger that hooks under the joists to hold the board in place even if turned upside down. We bought these before we left Portland in 2011, but weren’t able to do a nice enough job ourselves to want to make a permanent installation to the boat. Once we heard about this carpenter we took advantage of the situation to have the work done. The price was great (we paid him double and were still pleased), and he turned around 16 boards in 3 days. (He would have done them all in one day if we’d agreed to being without a floor for the whole time!) We installed a water-level sensor in our tanks and wrote up a new program for an Arduino computer, like we have monitoring the power consumption from our fridge and freezer. We’re becoming quite enthusiastic advocates of this gadget, and have envisioned half a dozen more projects that could use them – whenever we find the time…

"Pregnant" Exhaust Stack  UHMW Bow Roller

The move to this marina has been a little bit of culture shock, in that our “regular” place is much more developed and this place is much sleepier. We moved from a mooring ball where we were totally self-sufficient, to living on a dock where we have all the power we need from shore and a hose that dispenses (brackish) water at the turn of a knob. All of our friends (which at the moment only means three boats) are at the other marina, so our social life has changed dramatically. There’s a cool stretch of mangroves immediately next to the marina where a large number of egrets congregate every evening. We had no idea that egrets were social animals, since you always see them standing still and solitary along the shore. They gather together with a lot of squawks and cackles, somewhat reminiscent of a coffee-clatsch, and sometimes sounding like squabbling children. They are easily spooked by people make noise on the docks and a dozen or more may take flight, only to circle back around to find a new perch. The manager here called them their “avian watchdogs”.

Egrets of Paradise

We have the sense that we’ve entered the “chute” in preparing for our next passage. Much of the work we’re doing now is to make Lungta sea-worthy again, after being stationary for almost two years. We’re both excited at what’s coming up and daunted at the long to-do list. We’ve updated our web-site and started actively looking for boatmates to join us. While the timing is related to having company during the 30 day crossing of the sea, we are really hoping for people who become family and end up staying for several months or even years. If this sounds like someone you know, please point them at our web-site, www.lungtalife.com. We’re enthusiastic about communicating with anyone who expresses interest!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

09-05-2016 – Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

The last few months have been fairly quiet for us; we’ve spent a lot of time working on the boat. But we’ve also had a few small diversions from being too single-focused. :-) It seems appropriate that I get this update posted on Labor Day!

Last month we took a trip to Texas to visit Kathy’s family. Her mom Marilyn made arrangements to get two time-share condos in the same complex for the week of July 4th, and all 4 siblings plus spouses and children attended. It’s been more than 5 years since we’ve all been together, and it was great to spend time together! The condos were a bit north of San Antonio, a 4-hour drive from Marilyn’s place. Kathy’s sister Maggie and her husband Frank, live in San Antonio and are planning a dream-home on a lake nearby. On Saturday night the developer of their neighborhood hosted a barbecue & fireworks event, which was a fun way to kick off our time together. We enjoyed a morning walk/swim in the small river behind the condo, watching wildlife foraging at dusk from the back balconies, and catching up with the family. In addition we spent nearly a week with Marilyn in her new apartment, but spent much of our time running errands. We’re moving our “official” residence to Texas, to establish a clear location for tax and legal purposes. We’ve been somewhat inconsistent about our address, between Oregon, Washington and Colorado. We now have a Texas mailing address, drivers licenses and are registered to vote there. Also, we got the boat’s titling updated to reflect Kathy’s name instead of Dan’s father who had co-signed the loan more than a decade ago. And, as usual whenever we visit the States, we came home with some *heavy* suitcases full of stuff for our boat, our kitchen and our closet.

The most important project on our list is (of course!) our engine, which we are thrilled to report now seems to be doing just fine. We brought back a new starter motor from Texas and it quite handily starts the engine right up. After installing it, Dan was able to bleed the injectors pretty quickly, and we’ve now run the engine several times for a total of 2 or 3 hours. We’re essentially ready to call the project a success. We do still have a few odds and ends, though. The tachometer stopped working and is of an old design which is primarily purchased these days by vintage car enthusiasts (can you spell “$$$”?). We’re going to replace it with a digital device, since the joys of sailing Lungta do not require “vintage” instrumentation. We’ll probably change the oil one more time just to be cautious, but we’re pleased as punch.

During this time, a project “volunteered” itself; Dan noticed a crack in a turnbuckle that attaches the bobstays (chains) to the bowsprit, forming part of the entire circle of supports that keep our masts where they should be! We rummaged around in our bins of duplicate parts and came up with a replacement. Removing the old one was no small feat, but since it was already damaged we were able to cut it off with a grinder. Then we replaced the chains as well, which had been on our to-do list anyhow.

Cracked Bobstay Turnbuckle

The biggest project we’re working on now is to replace the skylight in the middle room of the boat (the room we call the Office, where the Nest is located, for those who know Lungta). This light is roughly 4′ by 4.5′, so it’s no trivial undertaking to build. We purchased a 4′ x 8′ sheet of Lexan several months ago, had it delivered from Miami by Pablo, a local frieght forwarder, and have been waiting for the right time to begin this project. We had a lineup of projects that required one to be completed before the next could begin, which is not an unusual thing in boats and other small(-ish) spaces. So we now have new chains on 4 of our shrouds (side-load-bearing cables for the mast), PVC conduits on another section of the wiring for our solar panels, and a refurbished hard dinghy (including new lifting eyes, fresh paint inside and a couple of new corners of teak trim)! Eventually though we got to begin the skylight project! We purchased some local wood called “almendra” (almond) to build the exterior frame and wall-extensions; apparently this is not the same tree that produces the almonds that are eaten, but probably a close relative. For the interior flashing of the trunk, we’re using more of the jatoba flooring that we bought before leaving Portland five years ago – when we thought we were going to replace all of the floors. Plans change; what more can I say? In addition to building the window, we’ll add a couple of new features: a step on either side to make it easier to get on top of the galley trunk without stepping on our new window, and a set of chocks, or cradles, to hold the dinghy secure when we’re underway. This area of the boat will be more functional as well as more beautiful!

The Old Skylight The New Skylight  DSCN3916

There has been lots of planing, sanding and varnishing of the various pieces of wood, which has largely been done by Dan, while Kathy works on other projects, primarily sewing. During the last month, Kathy has replaced two of the sail covers and made covers for the hard dinghy, the liferaft, a gas can and a stack of buckets. The sail covers have been changed from the navy that was the trim color from “the previous decade” to the burgundy that we are using for the next decade or so. She still has plans to replace the fabric trim that functions as a sun-shield on the three sails that have roller furling before the year is over – but the skylight project is in the way of the work-space! (Oops: no photos yet, but I’ll try to add one in the next day or so.)

Other than the trip to Texas and our slowly shrinking project list, the things going on are fairly short-lived. We have had some nice lightning storms, typically starting from huge clouds that build up in the afternoons over a nearby volcano. We saw nothing of the Perseid meteor shower because of these clouds. :-) One day we had a very unusual weather pattern – heavy clouds early in the day, winds from completely the wrong direction – that turned out to be the fringes of a hurricane in the Atlantic that came ashore in Belize. Even though Belize is two countries away, it’s only 200 miles from here! It happened during the national holiday week, and the locals didn’t let the dark weather deter their merry-making. We watched all sorts of water antics as the clouds were building up. Then the navy boat went around and shut things down before the winds got too rough.

DSCN3875 DSCN3900

The morning after a different storm, we awoke to see a black plume of smoke rising from the water about half a mile away from us. Our trusty binoculars helped us realize that a sailboat was on fire, and we could see the huge flames. It turns out that it had been hit by lightning the night before and smoldered all night. In the morning the flames finally broke through the deck and were not manageable. The boat was towed away from the other boats and deposited on a sandbar to burn itself out. The owners were away filling the cruising kitty, and we can only imagine what it felt like for them to learn that their boat was a total loss. :-(

We’ve developed a rhythm of getting up early to work outside, moving inside during the middle of the day, and heading for the swimming pool at 4 in the afternoon. It’s a nice life!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

04-28-2016 – Peruvian Amazon Tour

The Amazon River is the stuff of legends, and we were excited to have a chance to experience a bit of it while we were in South America. In the Atacama Desert we experienced one of the driest environments on Earth: thousands of square miles virtually devoid of life. In a startling contrast, the Amazon has to be one of the most varied and densely packed biosystems on the planet.

We started researching options to visit there soon after entering Peru, and even considered an Amazon trip while we were in Ecuador a month later. It can be challenging to get to the Amazon basin from the population centers of Peru and Ecuador, which is both a blessing and a curse. There are few roads and fewer airports, though there are an increasing number of eco-resorts, some of them quite luxurious, and most quite pricey. Since we were traveling on the cheap, we continued to look for other options. :-) We decided to try to arrange a tour guide from a small town in northern Peru (rather than pre-booking), and spent the better part of a week getting there.

We had been communicating with our German friends whom we had met in Colca Canyon, Alex & Maria, and it turned out that their trajectory was almost identical to ours. We ended up in Yurimaguas within 36 hours of each other. We had each done some research into local tour options, and came to an agreement over lunch at a great deli that even had Black Forest cake for dessert! We booked our tour together that afternoon and the next day hopped on a “fast boat” down the Huallaga River (pronounced something like “wa-YA-ga”) to the smaller town of Lagunas, on the edge of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. The fast boats are covered boats perhaps 80 feet long, but only about 8 feet wide. They are set up similar to an airplane, with maybe 30 rows of seats, 2 on each side (at the widest). We left just before dawn and traveled about 60 km as the crow flies, but with the twists and turns of the river it took roughly 5 hours. When we arrived, we noticed that the town’s waterfront was flooded (a good indication of the water levels that awaited us), and we had to hop from one rock or shaky board to the next for 25 yards, to get far enough up the main road to reach dry ground. There we met up with one of our tour guides. He took us to our hostel for the night and told us where to meet in the morning.

Inside the Fast Boat  Flooded Streets in Lagunas

We had dinner at a family restaurant a few blocks away that had a couple of monkeys for pets. The littlest one (that they called Pancho), had a 4′ harness which kept him leashed to a small shelf that was his home. He was very active and playful, and kept moving from the shelf to the nearby door frame to another space in the next room and back again. Sometimes he would climb up on one of our shoulders and enjoy a bite or two of bread from our lunch. Although we were enamored with Pancho, we were also saddened by his limited circumstances. After dinner we took a stroll around the town – and found that there really wasn’t much town to stroll! There is one main paved road, with a dozen short crossroads that might have been paved once but are clearly not maintained. :-) The locals live in very simple houses and get around by walking or taking a motorcycle taxi. We were surprised to learn that the town’s power is supplied by diesel generator, and is only on for a few hours in the morning and a few more at night. It seemed like there should be a better way to generate power from the river, but we were visiting during the rainy season, when the river was in flood, and there is far less water during the dry half of the year.

Pancho

Although we’d booked a tour for four of us, there were actually six of us, because another American couple, Leslie & Matt, started at the same time as us. They had booked a 7 day excursion and we had booked 6, though, so we traveled together until the halfway point. Our guides met us at the hostel along with two moto-taxis which were loaded to the brim with gear. We traveled maybe 45 minutes over a very bumpy dirt road and then stopped at a beautiful grassy property along a small river with a ramp and dock that we used to load all the gear into three hand-made dugout canoes. Matt & Leslie had their own canoe and two guides, we had a canoe with one guide (Rainer), and Marie & Alex had a larger boat with two guides and most of our gear and provisions. Each canoe had an extra paddle, and one guest in each boat was usually paddling along with the guide(s) – although the guides all insisted that it was unnecessary.

Loading Up the Dugouts

From the moment we entered the dugouts we entered an strange scene in which the river was indistiguishable from the land. There was water everywhere and the dense verdant jungle rose out of it teeming with life. Frequently our guide would steer us directly into the jungle into an almost imperceptable gap in the trees and we would be surrounded by the jungle only to emerge minutes later into an area where the blue sky was again visible. In drier times this must have been a river.

The first day we traveled downstream on a small river which was moving rapidly, so we barely had to paddle. (Isn’t there an old adage, “What goes down must come up” or some such?). There were many twists and turns and it was impossible to get a good sense of what direction we’d traveled or how far. At some point we joined up with a larger river, perhaps 30 feet across, called the Marañon (which means “cashew”) which moved a bit slower. We were on the water nearly all day, with only one break for lunch. The river was brown and murky with dirt picked up along the way, but it was clean enough that the guides used the water for cooking and washing. Most of the time we had trees overhead.

Paddling our Dugout  Tropical FlowersLook Up!

We saw lots of birds, including parrots and macaws, eagles and ospreys, egrets and storks, and lots and lots of song-birds. For Kathy, the big sighting of the first day was the plethora of blue-and-yellow macaws flying overhead in small flocks and perched noisily high up in the trees. Our guide, Rainer, who grew up in that jungle, pointed out a group of small bats sleeping underneath some bare branches over the water, by shooing them away in a cloud. Lunch was held in a lodge on stilts over the water. During the dry season it would be high and dry, but for us almost all of our stops involved getting out of the canoe onto a set of stairs rather than stepping onto ground. The meals were simple fare, but plenty of it. Most days one or another of the guides would go fishing in the evenings, and although they caught a variety of (mostly unfamiliar) fish, we were most intrigued at the idea of eating piranha! There are a number of varieties of piranha, but our favorite, the red piranha, was about 9″ long and had a tomato-red patch on its belly. The teeth are incredibly sharp! Piranha have such a fearsome reputation from the movies that we were all a bit nervous at the thought of swimming in the same river where they were caught, but the guides did so we all joined in each day at our midday and evening stops. It was so refreshing! We only saw a few fish while we were swimming, and never a piranha, but when the table scraps were thrown into the river after a meal the water would almost immediately roil with activity.

Hyacinth Macaws Overhead  Butterflied Piranhas

We slept in a different place each night, but always in a building with space for sleeping pads and mosquito nets. Sometimes there were raised bed-frames, sometimes not; sometimes there were room dividers, sometimes not; usually there were other parties in the same building. It was fun to see other parties at our stops along the way, but the meals were always prepared by one’s own guides without much sharing between groups. The guides personally pay for all of the provisions and equipment, and get paid a flat fee for their services. I think the tour agencies make a good bit on these tours, and for the guides it’s a good job but they’re definitely not getting rich! The guides would typically socialize amongst themselves in the evenings, rather than mixing with the guests (we were told that some guests would be horrified to have the guides eat at the same table with them!). The guides are often a couple, as was the case in our two-guide boat. They complete some coursework in tourism and the environment, and have to spend a year as an apprentice. They have to provide the bedding, the pots and pans and plates and silverware, and often even the canoe. But they get to meet people from all around the world, develop a deep knowledge of this ecosystem and its inhabitants, and spend the majority of their time doing what they love. None of them spoke (much) English.

An Evenings Lodge  Cooking the Evening Meal

We saw lots of wildlife on this trip, some of it fairly close-up, but also some of it waaay off in the tops of the trees (like the sloths, who are solitary and reclusive) and some “drive-by” sightings where you mostly just get a sense that something moved by quickly. Nature television has spoiled us! :-) According to Rainer, there are six kinds of monkeys in this area, and we saw five of them. At the time we knew all of the names, but I’m sorry to report that those names have slipped away when no one was watching. Our presence tended to spook the monkeys and they would generally move deeper into the jungle when they saw us. Photography is a real challenge! We saw dozens if not hundreds of monkeys swinging through the trees and leaping from one branch to another. We have little photographic evidence, however. One of the largest of the species is the howler monkeys, which we’ve seen in a couple of locations in Central America, but I’m not certain they are the exact same species. Here they are called “monos rojos”, which just means “red monkeys”. We enjoyed their surreal sounds at dusk and dawn every night, surging like a big wind in the canopy, and during the daytime we heard territorial “conversations” between troops of howlers. We never tired of these guys. There’s a kind of lizard with a red head that lives in this area that can skitter across the water using its tail, moving at an unbelievable speed. We saw 2 or 3 of these, but it’s one of those shooting star experiences where as soon as you notice it, it’s over.

A Sloth above the Canopy  Monos Rojos

The third day out, we took a side-trip to a magical place that had a unique plant, a huge lily-pad roughly 10 feet in diameter. It had thorns on its perimeter that were very sharp, and new leaves that hadn’t yet rolled out were like a porcupine! They are found nowhere else on the planet. The area they were in was very still, and the waters offered beautiful reflection images. The place had the air of being in a sacred space, a cathedral, a scene directly out of the Jurassic lost in time, and it was easy to imagine that we were the first people to ever be there and a Tyranosaurus might appear any moment. In this same area we had several very brief encounters with the pink Amazonian freshwater dolphin. We never got a good look, but we got the sense that they were playing with us, popping up just out of sight or an instant after we had turned away.

Giant Lily Pads  Turning a New Leaf  Tranquil & Reflective

The next night they took us on a night paddle just after it got dark. Rainer started out specifically looking for crocodiles and caimans, and managed to catch a small one. Don’t ask us how – he just reached into a bush, wrestled around for a minute and came back with this two-foot-long baby caiman in his hand! We had gotten separated from the other boat, and he handed the caiman to Kathy to hold for a few minutes while he paddled back in the direction where he thought they might be. (We never did catch up to them.) He was amazing at spotting wildlife at night, with a single small flashlight which he strapped to his forehead with an elastic band. And once he found something, he always had an interesting anecdote or factoid to share. One owl he found sitting on a nest, and he told us a local legend that struck similar chords to Snow White or Hansel & Gretel. There were two kids whose mother died, and when their father later remarried the new wife didn’t want them around. The father took them into the woods and left them. Later they returned as this owl which has a long sad call. He found a snake in the bushes, and a few very tiny frogs with huge voices, and perhaps most remarkable of all, he found our way back to the lodge again at the end of the tour! :-)

A Hole in a Roll  The Circle of Life

The fourth day we turned around and began retracing our steps (?) back towards where we had launched, but Leslie and Matt continued on for a bit longer. As we said our goodbyes that morning, we didn’t really expect to see them again. We were now only two canoes heading back upstream, and the paddling was notably more difficult. Rainer was a master at taking short-cuts whenever the river made a sharp turn. This not only made the trip a little shorter, but also got us out of the current and provided opportunities to see different scenery. Often it felt like we were entering a tunnel or cave, built from foliage, but usually it would open back up again quickly. The other boat had a somewhat more difficult time following through the narrow passages that he discovered, however, since it was larger and couldn’t turn quite as nimbly. These shortcuts probably only exist for the few months of the rainy season, and become land during the dry season. While we were eating lunch on this day, it began to rain. The lodge we were in (a misnomer if a lodge implies actual walls :-) ) was not in good repair, and we dodged numerous leaks in the roof. It poured buckets! It slackened off just about the time we were ready to move on, but didn’t really stop for the rest of the day, and it also rained most of the next day, although not as hard. We were visiting during the rainy season, so we had actually been quite lucky to have a string of dry days at the beginning of our trip. We were all dripping wet when we stopped for the night and actually went to bed chilly. Our clothes were all still wet (although no longer dripping) in the morning.

Alex & Maria in the Large Canoe  Bailing a Canoe

The last day of the trip the rain had spent itself. We didn’t have far to go. At one point Rainer stopped and looked puzzled, as did the other guides, as if they’d lost their way. A tree had fallen across the river and completely blocked our way. It must have been 18″ in diameter and hard as nails, so hacking through it with their machetes was not a practical solution. Eventually they figured out a way to lift the bow of one dugout up on top of the log, shift it along in bursts, and drop it in the water on the other side. Things got a little easier when another party arrived and the extra people helped lift and tug the three heavy boats up and over the log. Shortly after that we stopped for lunch at a “wide spot in the road”, a small beachy area. Two or three other parties also stopped at this place with us, some just beginning and some concluding their tours, so there was lots of conversation. An archaic motorized dugout went by with a couple of park rangers. Apparently a guest had gotten ill and they were heading out to retrieve him more quickly. (No motors are allowed in the park except for the park rangers.) When we told them about the fallen log they turned around and headed back to their headquarters for a new game-plan; a short time later they passed us by again with a huge chainsaw and we didn’t see them again. Our friend Leslie had been feeling poorly when we went separate ways and we worried a bit that it might be her who they were evacuating.

Crossing the Log

We finished up our trip by paddling a very short distance to the launching place. We helped pack all of the gear back up into two of the motor-taxis that were waiting, and we spent a few minutes saying goodbye to the guides who had made our trip so memorable but whom we would never see again. It’s always a bit inconceivable to realize just how different our lives are from local people in these less developed countries. They live so close to the bone and have so few opportunities compared to us. It’s humbling. We had been tickled to see the guides (Rainer in particular) showing interest in our game of chess a couple of nights earlier. None of them knew how to play, but there were three or four pairs of eyes watching. We gave them a basic intro to the game, and then later gave our travel set to Rainer. Perhaps we have touched his life in a little way as he has touched ours.

Back in town we checked back into our hostel, hung our still-wet clothes out to dry and took a nap before dinner. We had a very early morning departure on our fast boat, so we didn’t stay out late. When we got on the boat we ran into our friends Matt and Leslie, and we asked them about their return trip. It turns out that it was Matt who had been sick, although it wasn’t dire. He was suffering the symptoms of a kidney stone and wanted to be somewhere away from the middle of nowhere if he was going to have to deal with that situation. The guides and rangers had responded quickly and effectively, whisked them back to town, and got them situated in a nicer hotel for the night.

The six of us enjoyed an afternoon together in Lagunas. We had a running joke out in the jungle about ordering a strawberry milkshake, and so we were tickled to find an ice cream shop that could make that very confection. :-) We were all heading towards Ecuador, but had slightly different schedules. We traveled together that day to Tarapoto (via Yurimaguas – none of this is straightforward!), and then made separate plans. We got tickets to the town nearest Chachapoyas (called Pedro Ruiz Gallo, for those who are playing along) and the others went on to the next stop. We were told to be sure that we go to the municipal bus station across from a particular cemetery – to distinguish it from the older municipal bus station across from a different cemetery! This is where our previous blog posting picked up, and we will now resume our “normal” chronological postings.

Strawberry Milkshakes - Mmmmmm!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

06-24-2016 – Ecuador & Costa del Sol, El Salvador

After we left our fabulous expedition in the Amazon Basin, we decided it was time to move on. Peru was an amazing place to visit, but we still had quite a ways left to travel before getting back to El Salvador – and we had airline tickets to visit Kathy’s family in Texas in late June. So we headed for the next country north, which is Ecuador. But there was one more spot worth stopping on the way. :-)

The town of Chachapoyas is situated in another really beautiful area, and the drive included a long stretch in a striking canyon along the Utcabamba River. For several miles, there are sheer cliffs right up against the road and for a few short stretches the road goes through an undercut section of the cliff. Beyond the canyon the road winds up again and the town is actually located up in the mountains with a great view in all directions. It’s the capital of the Amazonas Region, but due to its location off of the highway it feels a lot sleepier than that would imply. It turns out that this region is jam-packed with relatively undeveloped archaeological sites. We heard a story about an archaeologist who came here a few years ago to document the area’s potential, and left two years later having identified over 200 different sites worth investigating! The only site that we visited in the region is the best-known, the fortress-town of Kuelap. Kuelap was built in the 7th century, but little else seems to really be known about it. The culture came to an end as the Incas came to power. The city is built up on a high mountain with a double wall around it. There are dozens of round structures inside, most of which look quite similar and are presumed to be single-family houses. The thinking is that they had storage below (including pens for the guinea pigs that they ate) and tall thatch roofs above. A number of the buildings are decorated with zigzag patterns of flat stone. There is also a section which is enclosed in yet another wall and which has a number of buildings with other purposes, mostly assumed to be religious and governmental. The most distinctive of the buildings has been called “The Inkwell” because of its odd shape. Many theories have been floated about its use, from water storage to prison to religious ritual. Recent thinking is that it was related to astrological time-keeping, because it has the ability to show precisely when the spring and fall equinoxes occur, similar to other structures across the ancient world. We saw lots of orchids and bromeliads growing in the trees, and llamas grazing near the entrance. Oh, and the entrance was really cool! You come from below looking up this very tall and imposing stone wall, and come across a skinny slit about 40′ long which narrows down until it’s just wide enough for one person to get through at a time. For many years this has been assumed to be a way to prevent invaders from coming in, but a recent theory is that the walls have just settled closer together over time. There’s so much more to figure out!

Fortress Town of KuelapEntrance to Kuelap  Kuelap Neghborhood  Decorative Walls

We didn’t stay long because we were looking forward to hooking up with our friends, David and Joan, who have a house in Ecuador. It took us two full days to get there, using 6 different transport vehicles (we went from Chachapoyas to Bagua Grande to Jaen to San Ignacio to La Balsa to Zumba). It was actually pretty humorous! Several of the vehicles we took were collectivos, where cars or minivans line up to take passengers but only leave when enough people have arrived to fill one up. One of the vehicles we took overfilled when the driver stopped to pick up two women who were by the side of the road along with 5 children. There were 11 people altogether for an hour, 3 with a child in their laps! Another driver was driving so quickly and roughly down twisty mountain roads that one of his passengers, a pregnant woman, got car-sick and had to stop to throw up in the bushes. He conveniently had a roll of plastic bags to offer her so that we wouldn’t have to stop the next time. None of these people spoke English, and most didn’t really speak Spanish very well (better than us :-), just not fluently). They were very tiny, dark-skinned, soft-spoken people. We were intrigued but didn’t really make much of a connection with anyone since we were all in transit. The border crossing at La Balsa was very basic, not a frequently used one at all, and when we arrived there seemed to be no one around. A guy sitting on the stoop of a shop across the street came over to tell us that the border guard would be back in the next hour and to just make ourselves at home. It turned out that the local officials were playing volleyball until the next bus came by, and sure enough, he came back sweaty and in workout clothes, just as the transport pulled up! The transport from there was somewhat unusual: a semi tractor pulling a covered trailer, open on the sides, with a dozen wooden benches. We were initially the only ones aboard, but a few more jumped on in each small town we passed through, and by the time we arrived in Zumba just after dark it was pretty full. There was a flurry of activity as everyone paid the driver and gathered their belongings, and then we were on the street looking for a place to spend the night. We easily found a hostel, but when Dan reached for his wallet it wasn’t where he expected it to be. We checked in and immediately went back to where we had exited the vehicle, but the wallet was nowhere to be found. In the morning we went to the bus station early to try to catch the vehicle and/or the driver before they got out on their rounds. We did manage to talk with him, but no one had turned it in. :-( (Fortunately no one has tried to use any of the cards.)

Andean Hills

Peru-Ecuador Border  Ecuadorian Transport

We took a bus to Vilcabamba, where there was a hostel/resort that our friends from the Amazon (Alex & Maria, Matthew & Leslie) were staying and we’d heard great things about – including that they offer a free yoga class! We were looking forward to seeing our friends, Joan & David, who we met a year previously in Chiapas, Mexico. They own a catamaran that is in the boatyard there, but now live in a house that they have recently built on a hillside near Vilcabamba. We checked in and started to settle in for a relaxing evening. We had been out of touch for a while, so we each pulled out our tablets to check email, news, etc. Dan found it first: an email from some boating friends back in El Salvador that said Lungta was taking on water and they wanted information about pumps, thru-hulls, etc. Yikes! Our boat was sinking! We franticly responded, and began making arrangements to get back home ASAP. We had dinner with our Amazon friends and explained why we couldn’t stay. We contacted our Ecuador friends and told them that we weren’t going to be visiting them after all, after all the build-up. :-) They offered to take us to breakfast, take us to the airport, whatever we needed. We were so touched at their warm-hearted response, and relieved that we would get to spend at least a few hours with them! We arranged to meet up with Joan & David the next morning. We had dinner with our Amazon friends, and were surprised to see that the menu featured German food – our German friends said it was the best spaetzle they’d had in years! We had all been planning to head north into Ecuador, and expected to run into each other several times more, but we had just had a sea change and weren’t on that itinerary anymore. Kathy got up early and enjoyed the sunrise yoga class with our four fellow travellers – the studio was beautiful, and the instructor was really good. Afterwards we all said our goodbyes, and we checked out after only one night. :-(

David & Joan met us at the hotel reception, and after some long-delayed hugs we all piled into their Land Cruiser. We drove into Vilcabamba, which is much smaller than we’d imagined. It’s a sweet town, but quite a destination for Westerners, so it isn’t as “authentic” (whatever that means) as it used to be. Joan & David also shared with us some of the local politics, which made it more real but also less charming. :-) We had a nice breakfast, and visited the post office which also sells airline tickets. We’d been able to research the tickets but not purchase them at such short notice the night before. If we hadn’t been able to purchase them here, then we’d have to take an overnight bus to get to Guayaquil to catch our flight back to San Salvador the next morning. Fortunately the very competent young woman behind the counter was able to get the system to work and produced our tickets with a minimum of difficulty. The bright side to this is that we would be able to spend a few hours with David & Joan and then take a one hour flight to Guayaquil. The ride to their house was more of the same spectacular countryside that we’d been enjoying for the last few days: jungle-covered mountainous terrain with windy roads and sparse human habitation. Their house is perched on a steep lot that wasn’t previously thought to be buildable. :-) They managed to come up with a design and then find and organize local workers to build it into (close to) what they had envisioned. It’s a sweet house with an octagonal floorplan, with a loft bedroom upstairs that has a view all the way to Sunday. We spent a couple of delightfully lazy hours sitting on their porch visiting – in lieu of a week’s visit followed by a road trip through some portion of Ecuador! It would have to do. Then they took us to the airport in Loja, another hour or so north. We spent the night in an AirBnB room, and got a red-eye ride to the airport for a 7am flight back home.

Our Friends' Ecuadorian Home

Our friends SaM & Dave met us at the airport two hours later in our car, which they had enjoyed and taken care of in our absence (although they’d had some troubles with the alternator and/or battery – there was a new battery sitting in the back floor, in case the car wouldn’t start while they were out and about!). It was wonderful to see their wide smiles as we got off the plane! We jabbered all the way home, both catching up on our various activities while we’d been gone and learning as much as we could about what had happened with Lungta – who was helping and how, what had been done, observations that might be clues as to what had gone wrong. As soon as we got home, we got to work, and we’ve hardly slowed down since! Well, truthfully, we haven’t been that single-minded. We have been working on the boat quite steadily, but we’ve also been living our lives pretty normally; we eat and sleep, we play chess many days, we check our email and FaceBook accounts regularly. :-) Our lives right now are closer to when we had working jobs, in that our days are filled with projects, but we still alternate that with the activities of normal daily life – and some of our projects are boat improvement projects as well.

When we got home, with our expectations set for crisis mode, the boat was oddly peaceful and serene. Just 24 hours earlier, there had been close to a dozen people running all over her pumping out water and looking for leaks, but now the excess water was gone and everything seemed normal – if you didn’t look too hard. :-) There had been water up to the floorboards in both the front and back sections of the boat, with the center portion high and dry, which meant that the main bank of batteries (under the kitchen floor) was just fine. The forward section included the watermaker and the aft section includes the main engine. The first project was to make sure that the pumps were functional – the bilge pumps in both sections were not working, and we spent a day or so putting them back in functional order. The main pump turned out to be just fine, except that its batteries were dead; once we switched it to use the main batteries we had a working bilge pump again. We have since replaced those batteries and rewired the pump to use the main batteries instead of the starter batteries. The main batteries are constantly being charged by our solar and wind generators, but the starter batteries are only topped off when we turn on the chargers. When we are home, the chargers are turned on daily whenever we want 110V AC power for anything (like charging our tablets or using the microwave). We’ve also added a second backup pump in the main bilge, so this should never happen again. In the forward section we had to redo some wiring that had corroded away from being immersed in high water (that was salty). By the end of the first day, we had secured the boat and begun to form a theory about what had gone wrong. Although some of the pieces are still a little murky, here’s what we think happened: something (probably in the watermaker) broke and caused a water leak from our big water tanks; the pump that maintains the water pressure for faucets continued to pump water out that leak until the tanks were empty, which moved roughly 500 gallons of water from the tanks in the low center of the boat to somewhat higher up and in the forward area, causing the boat to bow down; this lowered the head (toilet) to below sea-level which pushed water up through the toilet, constantly flowing into the boat; once the forward bilge pump stopped working that process accelerated. The fuzzy sections include what was the original domino in the chain and how long there was a leak before the bilge pumps stopped working. The catastrophe happened because of several relatively minor failures compounding (a very common observation in risk management circles!), none of which would have been much of a problem if we’d been home.

After assuring that the boat was securely floating, we turned our focus on the main engine. It had been flooded with saltwater, which isn’t generally recommended for diesel motors. :-) There was oil all over the engine hold and the storage areas under the floorboards (including dozens of oil and fuel filters). Although our bilge is normally pretty oily, this was extreme! When we pumped the oil out of the engine (should have been 7 gallons, but we only got about 3), we also removed 15 gallons of water – not a good thing! We also removed 10 gallons of water from our transmission housing. We filled the engine with 5 gallons of “lightly used” oil donated to us by one of the other boaters who had just recently changed his oil. We surmised that water had gotten into the engine through the opening intended for the dipstick; water would have trickled down that hole as the oil floated out. Yuck! The starter motor was also a mess – it turns out that electric motors don’t like swimming in saltwater either. :-) We took that into San Salvador on the first of many trips in to the “big city”, a 90 minute drive that we’ve come to know well! We are so grateful that we have our own car now, rather than depending on the local bus system to get us back and forth! We took our car to a small mechanic shop to have the A/C fixed, and they were able to get the starter going too, by replacing a relay, a simple fix. So we went home again with air conditioning in our car and a step closer to a working engine. This was the first of what turned out to be many short-term successes in a process that has become a bit of a saga! We installed the starter again and were able to start the engine within just a couple of days. If that seems to good to be true, you’re right!

Our plan was to change the oil and start the engine frequently for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, after a couple of days we got less diligent and the engine sat unused for a few more days. When we tried to start it again, it wouldn’t catch. We noticed that there was more water in the oil so we changed it again. Then we turned to the fuel system, which we had previously thought had been spared because the top of it was above the high water level. After a couple of hours of trying to pump fuel through, we found that there was water in its oil as well. Ugh! The high-pressure fuel pump is one of the integral parts of the main motor that is unreplaceable. It’s more than 40 years old and no longer supported. If we couldn’t get this part working, then we would have to replace the entire engine. It took us a few hours to remove it; there are dozens of connections and many were hard to remove because they hadn’t been touched in more than a decade. We also tried to remove the six injectors, but only got one out that first day. We asked around and got a recommendation for a good diesel lab that might be able to rebuild the pump. We brought it in to the shop the next day and promised to bring in the rest of the injectors as soon as we could get them out. That turned out to be an extremely challenging endeavor! We ultimately brought in not one group of professionals, but two, and crafted a custom tool to help pull them – which needed to be beefed up twice and still ended up bending under the load! Ultimately we got all six of them out and the shop did a great job restoring them and the pump to working order. Slightly more than a week later we came home again with our (60 lb) pump and spent a day getting it installed again. Figuring out how to connect it back to the engine in such a way that the timing will work was quite the endeavor, but I won’t bore you with all of those gory details here. :-) The next day we worked on getting the injectors working. The engine would start – hooray! (again :-) ) – but there were leaks. We started the engine perhaps 10 times that day before the starter gave up the ghost again. We’ve spent the last week or so trying to get it sorted out so that we can get back to sorting out the fuel system problems. This project is providing lots of fodder for our emotions – in both directions! :-) It does appear that we’re now working on “peripheral” issues, and that the engine itself will live to take us further down our journey. (We’ve asked for a quote from the only shop locally that could even possibly remove and replace the engine, but they haven’t yet put it together. We expect that it will be a few tens of thousands of dollars!)

In the gaps between working on the engine, we’ve accomplished a few other things. :-) Before we left on our South American adventure, we hired a local man named Reymundo to refinish the cap rail around the boat’s perimeter. Reymundo is a very competent, reliable and pleasant person, and we were thrilled not only with the work he did but also at the chance to get to know him a bit better. We’ve also hired him to clean the bottom of the boat (he’s really thorough, and fast too!), and to keep an eye on Lungta while we were away (he’s the one who sounded the alarm when the “flooding” happened, and saved the day). But I digress. When he was preparing the caprail, he removed the solar panel wires that were secured to the wood to keep them out of sight. Rather than secure them the same way, we decided to install a PVC conduit underneath the shiny caprail. So one of our “bonus” projects this last month has been to install that conduit and run the wiring. It looks so much neater than before! We ended up purchasing quite a bit more PVC than we needed, though, and found another project that used some of it. :-) We have built a “corral” to hold our swim ladder, spare gas cans, buckets, etc. This is in the place where we’ve previously kept the motorcycle and then later our bicycles. As with the motorcycle, we decided that we just weren’t making good use of the bicycles – and were spending more time maintaining them than actually using them! We gave them to Reymundo (to thank him for rescuing our boat) and have already repurposed that space. The deck feels more spacious and organized!

Container Corral

Yesterday something unusual happened. We got a call on the radio, inviting us (and all the other boaters that are still in town) to come to the marina and share in a meal made by the participants in a television cooking competition show. The show, Top Chef, starts with 12 participants and runs for twelve weeks, eliminating one cook each week. Each episode is filmed in a different location, and this was the third in this season. We were told to arrive at 2:30, but when we did we found that they were still setting up. There were many dozens of people involved, and at least 8 cameras – one of them on a huge boom perhaps 20 feet long extending out over the water. We hung out with our friends David and SaM for more than 4 hours, talking with some of the judges (all of whom spoke English quite well!), watching the cooks at work out on the docks, speculating on what the rules were, etc. Somewhere around 6:30 the clock ran out and they participants were told to quit cooking. All of the people in the marina were herded towards a large group of tables, but most of the folks in the resort had already left for the day, so the seating was spotty. One of the contestants passed out from the heat, and the cameras rushed in along with the first-aid respondents. :-) Just as each team was beginning to portion the food out into 50 plates, a cool gust of wind kicked up many of the light-weight plastic plates – the sort of wind that precedes a real downpour! We jumped out of our chairs and rushed for the dinghy. We hadn’t closed up the boat for the evening, because we had no idea we’d be gone all afternoon. :-) We raced home through churned-up water, and arrived with only minutes to spare before the rain began pelting down. There was a good bit of lightning too, but we were safe and sound – and hungry! – back at home after a little adventure. You never know what life will look like when cruising!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off