Thursday, October 6, 2016

Boat Maintenance and the Art of Zen

It's Wednesday evening and we're sailing from Golfito, Costa Rica to Isla Parida, Panama. I haven't written a blog post for a few days because I have been feeling, shall we say, "challenged" by things wrong on the boat. I'm going to start getting up to date with posts on this passage.

We stayed in Bahia Ballena to get as many repairs done as we could, especially the wind instrument at the top of the mast. To make my climb up efficient, I figured on also replacing the anchor light bulb with an LED and replacing the main halyard while I was up here. We got everything ready and I started climbing the mast with our ATN mast climbing rig, basically a bosun's chair and foot straps attached to ascenders. You move the foot ascender up, stand up to take weight off the chair, slide the chair ascender up, sit down, move the foot ascender up, etc....climbing up a static line alongside the mast like an inch worm.

Well, the swells in the anchorage didn't seem at all significant while standing on the boat, but as I went up the mast, trigonometry worked against me, amplifying the rolling motion of the boat and swinging me violently from side to side unless I held on to something. Tough going. By the time I was half way up, I was having a really hard time operating the ascenders while at the same time stopping myself from bashing into the rigging. I looked up to the top of the mast and realized that it was going to be impossible to work on the delicate wind sensor, unscrew the masthead light fixture and fiddle with the halyard all at the very top. I decided to abort the mission and started to descend. Going down was even harder than going up as the swells had increased.

I felt pretty frustrated from my failure to get the work done at the top of the mast, but I had plenty of things to do back at sea level. When I used the main head that morning, it failed to perform its job properly. So I recommissioned the guest head in the port hull. Like the main head, the guest hadn't liked sitting unused for four months and its joker valve, which prevents wastewater from flowing back into the toilet, wasn't doing its job properly, either. And the watermaker was still leaking from the carbon filter housing. Plus when I dug into the locker below the aft port berth, I found a small puddle of fresh water at the bottom, source unknown. Oh, yeah, and earlier that morning we determined that the broken lock on the sliding door is not repairable without spare parts from its Italian manufacturer. So, I set to work repairing the two toilets, while brainstorming on how to stop the leak from the watermaker. Investigating the puddle in the locker could wait, as could
figuring out how to procure the spare parts for the door lock. The toilet repairs went smoothly and were successful, for which I was grateful and rewarded myself with a cold beer, after thoroughly washing my hands. At least the day wasn't a complete loss.

We had a surprise visitor first thing in the morning while we were contemplating the day's repair work. When I got up in the morning, I looked over the two other boats in the anchorage. The lines of one of them looked familiar and I remarked, "That looks like George's boat", while thinking that there was no chance of that being true. George is the heavy drinker I had befriended back in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador way back in April. No way could he now be in the small Bahia Ballena anchorage in Costa Rica at the same time we were. Well, I thought wrong. Along came George puttering up to Intermezzo in his dinghy. We greeted each other with smiles of amazement, although George seemed less amazed than we were. After 25 years of sailing all over the world, I guess this has happened once or twice to him in the past. I myself was astounded. And happy to see him. He is a very friendly, helpful and mellow guy.

After we caught up on each others' comings and goings since April, George invited us over to his boat, Thalina, in the evening for a homemade pizza dinner, accompanied by "rum and yellow shit", plus whatever we wanted to bring. We told George we would bring salad and beer, the latter a hedge against the risk of rum and yellow shit not going so well with pizza.

When evening came and it was time to head over to George's for dinner, I went to unlock and lower the dinghy . After my mast climbing failure and working on the boat all day, I was more than a little peeved to discover that the padlock securing the dinghy to its davits had frozen up. We tried penetrating oil, banging it with a hammer, spinning the combination wheels, but no luck as the our scheduled six o'clock departure for dinner on Thalina came and went. I had purchased the best quality padlock I could find in Mexico and so it was immune to sawing with a hacksaw and the hasp too thick for my small bolt cutters. I could have got the evil angle grinder out and fired up, but that would take a lot of digging around and setting up. So I regretfully cut the swaged loop of the expensive stainless steel security cable with the hacksaw, feeling at about my wits' end with respect to dealing with the boat.

The cable cut, we lowered the dinghy. At this point I wouldn't have been surprised if it didn't immediately sink, but it didn't. So, for sure I figured that the outboard wouldn't start and, if it did, it would immediately catch fire, but it did and didn't. My spirits lightened from pitch black to a murky gloom and the prospect of having a stiff rum and yellow shit when we arrived at Thalina seemed far more attractive than it did earlier in the day.

We motored over to George's and apologized for being so late, explaining our troubles. George, who has lived on a boat for 25 years accepted it all as a normal day afloat and said he was glad we were late because his yeast hadn't proofed and the pizza dough still needed a little time to rise. This delay seemed to afford the opportunity for him to have had one or two additional rums and yellow shits. I looked at the concoction he was drinking and decided I'd start with a beer.

George baked two pizzas and they were delicious, one topped with sliced hot dog (which I would normally find disgusting), the other with tuna (which I would always find delicious). The rum and yellow shit (lemon Tang, it turns out) was drinkable and I somehow downed two of them. Certainly not the healthiest of meals, but very enjoyable and we enjoyed George's friendship and company in Thalina's comfortable, well-travelled salon.

When it came time to go, we bid George goodnight and returned to Intermezzo. When I went to raise the dinghy back up on its davits, the winch seemed to really strain lifting it. As the dinghy slowly rose out of the water, I saw a stream of water shooting out the hole that drains the interstitial space between the dinghy's hull and floor. Not good, the extra weight of the water causing the strain on the winch. It turns out that somebody pinched (British English for "stole") the drain plug over the summer while Intermezzo was resting at Puerto Azul. Add another thing to fix to the list. Fuck.

I really struggled with keeping an even mental keel through the day, often not very successfully. I tried to breathe through my frustrations and disappointments, tried to just accept them as they are, tried to accept that I have little control over things, tried to keep perspective that all this was happening on nice boat in a beautiful place, that many, many people have much bigger problems than a missing dingy plug. When I was successful, I felt reasonably calm and able to face the challenges. When I wasn't, I felt angry, snapped at Renee and wanted to throw in the towel on sailing completely. I was not at my best this day and was not a pleasant person to be around for myself or Renee.

The next morning I received a text message from a good friend with words of encouragement which helped start me off with a better frame of mind than the day before. The swell in the anchorage seemed less than yesterday's, so we decided to attempt the masttop repairs again. My second attempt at climbing the mast started off better, but by the time I was up to the spreaders, the swell had increased and the boat had swung on its anchor so that it was beam on to the waves. I started being thrown from side to side again, but persevered and climbed upwards another ten feet or so, continually using one hand to stabilize myself. Looking up at the top of the mast, I realized that there would be nothing to hang onto up there and that, again, making repairs would be impossible. So I inch-wormed my way back down to the deck, another wasted effort climbing in the hot tropical sun.

I maintained better spirits through the rest of the day as Renee and I tried to stop the watermaker from leaking (but only slowed it down) and tackled other items on the to do list. We were leaving Bahia Ballena early the next morning to sail for Golfito, so I went to bed early, not in a good mood, but not as feeling as despondent as I did the night before.

Enough for now. It's early Thursday morning, we're now in Panamanian waters and approaching Isla Parida under sail in peaceful conditions. Time to enjoy the moment.

I'll cover our passage to Golfito in the next blog post.