Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mazatlan: Returning to the Sea of Cortez, Following the Western Flyer

Tomorrow morning we set off from Mazatlan for Topolobampo, a port about 222 nm up the coast located in an estuary. We will be entering and sailing in the Sea of Cortez again, the objective of this last leg of this two year sailing journey. 

We originally set out from San Francisco  in October 2015 planning to sail south along the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Central America, go through the Panama Canal and head up the East coast of the U.S. via the Western Caribbean and Bahamas. Well, as we sailed, life continued to go on in its mostly unpredictable ways, things happened to us, to others. We changed our plans to adjust to new realities, new circumstances and turned around when we got to Panama and have been moving with purpose to return to the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California.

We spent about a month in the Sea of Cortez in 2015, from November 10 until December 8. We have visited a lot of great places since, but nowhere else has held either of our interests as much as the Sea and both of us wanted to return. We even talked about taking Intermezzo back to the Sea from the East coast while we were still on our original plan. That’s a long trip back. That’s how strong the draw of the Sea of Cortez is.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m reading John Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez as we have been heading there. Apparently the strong draw of the Sea of Cortez, the Gulf, is not a feeling unique to us, as Steinbeck writes:

“And we wondered why so much of the Gulf was familiar to us…Some quality there is in the whole Gulf that trips a trigger of recognition so that in fantastic and exotic scenery one finds oneself nodding and saying inwardly, ‘Yes, I know.’…Trying to remember the Gulf is like trying to recreate a dream. This is by no means a sentimental thing, it has little to do with beauty or even conscious liking. But the Gulf draws one, and we have talked to rich men who own boats, who can go where they will. Regularly they find themselves sucked into the Gulf. And since we have returned, there always in the backs of our minds the positive drive to go back again. If it were lush and rich, one could undersatnd the pull, but it is fierce and hostile and sullen. The stone mountains pile up to the sky and there is little fresh water. But we know we must go back if we live and we don’t know why.”

Steinbeck pretty much captures the nature of the attraction, the draw of return for me.

I looked at the route taken by Steinbeck and company’s boat, the Western Flyer, and what a coincidence, they went north into the Sea from Cabo San Lucas and turned around at Angeles Bay, exactly where I planned on turning around this season, before laying the boat up for the summer. It occurred to me that we could follow Steinbeck’s route and observe what has changed over the 77 years since his voyage. To do so would provide some structure and purpose to our own expedition and perhaps raise the literary sophistication of my blog posts a bit.

So that’s the plan. We head west across the Sea from Topolobampo and pick up the Western Flyer’s route at Isla Espirtu Santos. Then we’ll head north in short hops until we reach Angeles Bay, and turn around to head south by rounding the north end of Isla Angel de la Guardia, crossing over to the East coast of the Sea at Isla Tiburon. We’ll ultimately cross the Sea again further south to get Intermezzo to Puerto Escondido (near Loreto) to layup for the summer.  That’s the plan right now, at least. Always subject and open to change.

Route of the Western Flyer, from Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

La Cruz to Mazatlan: Getting Cooler, Blobs, Islands, Coral Tragedy, Burnt Sardines

We arrived in Mazatlan early this morning and will rest for a couple of days here at Marina El Cid.

We left La Cruz on schedule at 9 pm on Monday night after a fine dinner at the marina. When we were at the fuel dock topping off our tanks, we found out the marina offered a free slip if you ate dinner at one of the two restaurants there. That worked out great as it eliminated the need for us to re-anchor outside the harbor and eat leftovers while bobbing around waiting for our departure time. Instead we took hot showers, enjoyed a relaxed meal and then just untied our docklines when it was time to go.

It’s a lot cooler in these waters than it was down south. Monday night it was cold enough that we had to put on long pants and light fleece jackets. I guess it makes sense; we’re 800 nautical miles further north from where we started.

I have been enjoying observing numerous luminescent “blobs” in the water during our night passages. I believe they are a type of jellyfish, as I sometimes see luminescent strings streaming out from the main blob body, just like tentacles. The blobs are about six to eight inches in diameter and create a bright florescent green globe of light at or just below the water surface that blinks on for several seconds and then goes dark for about the same period. We pass through these blobs all around the boat, visible from a distance of 300 feet or more. When we run over a blob with the motor running, it seems to get quite excited and glows even more brightly and for longer, as it twists and turns in the propeller’s wake. Sometimes the propeller catches the blob and chops it into smaller blobs. I like to believe that the blobs are like earthworms or starfish and that when we unintentionally chop one up, the pieces all grow into new big blobs to decorate the ocean. If that’s not the case, I feel bad but there is no way to avoid these creatures at night, they are everywhere.

Monday night was moonless and pitch black dark except for millions of brilliant stars in the sky. When I looked for the horizon between sky and sea, I couldn’t distinguish it, the black sky merging into the black sea without boundary. With my attention focused on this dark void, it seemed like Intermezzo was flying through space rather than merely sailing through the water. 

Early Tuesday morning we passed by the three “Maria” islands which lie about 55 miles offshore, putting them about 30 miles off to our port as we sailed between them and the coast. Isla Maria Madre is a prison colony and there is an ominous note on the chart which reads, “CAUTION: ISLAS MARIAS SERVE AS A PRISON COLONY. SHIPS SHOULD KEEP WELL CLEAR OF THIS GROUP TO AVOID INTERCEPTION AND DETENTION BY THE MEXICAN AUTHORITIES”. I wonder for how long you are detained if you don’t keep “well clear”? It’s a prison and so it would seem easy to detain someone for a long time.  And exactly how far away is  well clear? Apparently 30 miles was clear enough that morning for us.

Around noon yesterday we arrived at Isla Isabel, an isolated volcanic island lying about 18 miles off the coast, known as the “Galapagos of Mexico” for its huge population of nesting birds and its iguanas. A perfect rest stop, except that its two anchorages have rocky bottoms and, according to our cruising guide, have swallowed more anchors than any other anchorage in Pacific Mexico. I did not want to lose our beloved (and expensive) Rocna anchor there.

The island is about a mile long by a quarter mile wide and rises steeply to about 250 feet above the sea. It is lightly vegetated with short woody shrubs. There are tens of thousands of birds, many peppering the sky in flight above the island, many fishing in the surrounding sea, many on land, nesting, resting or sunning themselves on a bush or rock with their wings outstretched. The water surrounding the island is very clear, ranging in color from deep to turquoise blue.  The sea was fairly calm during our visit, but still the swells would dash violently against rocks or rush onto the rock reefs in tubular surf breaks. It is small but quite a spectacular island and feels very isolated and far away.

There are two anchorages off the island. The first is located a the south end  in a small cove with a beach, a small fishing camp and a research station. We entered this anchorage but the swell was bending into the cove and I didn’t like the idea of anchoring in a rocky bottom with the boat bouncing around. So we proceeded to the second anchorage, located just around the corner on the west side of the island next to two large rock pinnacles. This anchorage was much calmer and we found a nice sandy patch to grab the Rocna and hold us firmly in place.

We had read and heard that the snorkeling was good here, so I put on my gear and jumped in to take a look.  The water was very clear and there were some colorful fish at the base of the rock pinnacle but nothing special. I swam towards the beach with the idea of stepping on land and looking at the blue-footed boobies on shore.  As I got closer to shore, I encountered a coral reef in increasingly cloudier water. It always saddens me to come across  a large expanse of dead coral, which happens far more frequently than finding live coral. If the coral I was swimming in was alive, it would have been spectacular, with bright colors and teaming with life. Instead, it was just a corpse-like grey, draped with ugly, mournful algae. If coral is like a canary in a coal mine environmentally, we are in trouble. I  read about the dying of coral reefs all the time and my own personal experience sadly corraborates with what I read. Even if coral reefs are “expendable” with respect to man’s survival on the planet, their dying out is like losing the most beuatuful gardens on earth, as if every orchid, rose, tulip, every colorful flower along with every beautiful butterfly, bee, ladybug and hummingbird vanished from the land.  Very sad.

After completing my water reconnaissance, I hauled myself back onto the boat and we spent a couple of restful hours at anchor, enjoyed a light lunch and then departed from Isla Isabel to resume our journey to Mazatlan.

The wind blew a solid 15 knots yesterday afternoon, far enough off our port bow to let us sail until early evening. A bumpy, determined beat upwind, but I enjoyed every minute.

Yesterday evening, Renee burned a sardine pasta dish on the stove while I was asleep; I woke up thinking a rubber hose on one of the engines was on fire. Pew.

We motorsailed under another moonless starry sky last night. No luminescent blobs to be seen; I wonder if the water is getting too cold for them? The air continues to get cooler at night; I had to put a jacket on over my fleece.

The next leg of our journey will take us into the Sea of Cortez…at last!

Sunrise off the Mexican coast somewhere north of San Blas 
Isla Isabela, our rest stop halfway between La Cruz and Mazatlan

Rock pinnacle at Isla Isabela anchorage

Isla Isabela western anchorage

Monday, March 27, 2017

La Cruz: Leaving for Mazatlan, John Steinbeck's vs My Outboard Engine

We have spent a pleasant four days anchored off La Cruz, not doing much. We've roamed around town, had a couple of nice meals. We enjoyed a really nice dinner at Marc and Marci’s place on Saturday night; good food, good wine and great conversation. Yesterday we spent the morning at the La Cruz farmer’s market and stocked up on organic coffee, yogurt, strawberries, bread and peanut butter.

But it’s time to get moving again. We have a good weather window of mostly light headwinds with occasional stronger breezes favorable for sailing if we leave for Mazatlan tonight around 9 pm. Before we leave we need to top off our tanks at the fuel dock. And, yes, I will be rigging jacklines and making sure all the hatches are closed before we depart.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much original material to draw upon for a more interesting blog post today. I could delve into my psyche and state of mind, a diverse environment to explore, but of a bit dark of place right now and, in any case, too personal and narcissistic for this sailing blog. I could try to describe in poetic detail my surroundings, the weather, the sea, the search for meaning in it all, but my writing talent is limited in such areas and wouldn’t do the topics justice. So instead, I will write a few words about our outboard motor.

I bought the 15 hp, four-stroke Yamaha for our dinghy a few years ago. It is powerful and quiet. It’s much heavier than a 15 hp two-stroke, but it is about as environmentally friendly as a small gas engine can be. What I appreciate most however, is its reliability. Other than the first annual mandatary service required per the warranty, I have performed absolutely no maintenance on this engine. It has sat around unused for months in Costa Rica and then again in Chiapas. Yet, it  always starts on the first or second pull and then runs flawlessly. We have put quite a few hours on this engine since leaving San Francisco 18 months ago and it has lived in an aggressive saltwater environment on Intermezzo’s stern since, yet it looks almost new, with only a few scratches and little bit of corrosion on some mild steel parts. I’m very pleased with our outboard, which serves faithfully together with the dinghy as our taxi to and from the boat and as a vehicle for exploring estuaries, inlets, coves, islets and snorkeling sites.

Contrast this with the description of the outboard in John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, a book I’m belatedly reading as we sail back to that wondrous body of water.  To avoid a lawsuit for slander by the manufacturer, Steinbeck calls his outboard a “Hansen Sea-Cow” and considers it a living being. “Our Hansen Sea-Cow was not only a living thing but a mean, irritable, contemptible, vengeful, mischievous living thing.” He observed the following traits in it (original text edited here for brevity):
1. Incredibly lazy, the Sea-Cow loved to ride ride on the back of the boat, trailing its propeller daintily in the water while we rowed.
2. It required the same amount of gasoline whether it ran or not.
3. It was able to read our minds, particularly when inflamed with emotion. When we were driven to the point of destroying it, it started and ran with great noise and excitement.
4. When attacked with a screwdriver, it fell apart in simulated death, a trait it had in common with opossums, armadillos and several members of the sloth family.
5. It hated Tex (the mechanic).
6. It completely refused to run: (a) when the waves were high, (b) when the wind blew, (c) at night, early morning and evening, (d) in rain, dew, or fog, (e) when the distance to be covered was more than two hundred yards. But on warm, sunny days - on days when it would have been a pleasure to row - the Sea-Cow started at touch and would not stop.
7. It loved no one, trusted no one. It had no friends

Having once co-owned an ancient British Seagull outboard with my father many years ago, I am familiar with outboards of the Sea-Cow’s vintage and their unique personalities. I observe with some nostalgic sadness that decades of mechanical evolution have rendered my Yamaha devoid of the personality and soul that our British Seagull and the Sea Cow would regularly express. I wonder if that is too high a price to pay for starting every time on the first or second pull and running flawlessly. But I admit, I don’t wonder for long.

Many thanks to the great American writer John Steinbeck for helping me pad my blog today. I hope I do the master some justice. It’s humbling to write in his presence.

Sunset anchored off La Cruz

Handmade hats and baskets at the La Cuz Farmer's Market 
The elegant schooner "Shearwater", anchored next to us off of La Cruz

Our Yamaha, reliable but devoid of personality

Thursday, March 23, 2017

La Cruz: A Bashing Passage, A Couple of Lessons Learned

Our passage from Barra de Navidad to La Cruz was comfortable motoring followed by a few hours nice upwind sailing and then 10 hours of bashing against 20 knot headwinds and wind waves steepened by the effects of an opposing northerly current. Those ten hours were far from pleasant, but we endured them.

Not without incident however. 

I confess to have fallen to some complacency after the previous relatively peaceful passages. Before setting out for La Cruz, I failed to rig jacklines, the lines running up from the cockpit to the bow of the boat to which we can clip our ourselves to prevent falling overboard in rough weather. I also did not double-check that our deck hatches were dogged down.

The first oversight compromised our safety in the heavy chop as we approached and rounded Cabo Corrientes. Fortunately, I only had to go forward once to lower the mainsail while the seas weren’t quite as rough and I proceeded very, very carefully. If one of us needed to go on deck for something more difficult under rougher conditions, we would have had to rig something up at the worst time. No damage done, but bad risk management. One of my cardinal rules of sailing is: Stay on the boat.

The second mistake resulted in over an inch of water on the cabin sole when a large wave broke over the starboard bow and green water rushed along the deck. Some clothes and a few other items got wet but, again, no damage done. If I hadn’t happened to go below right after the big wave to get something, however, we would have shipped a lot more water during my watch and probably ruined my laptop and some other gear. 

So, what were the root causes of these two errors. One was pure complacency; until now we have been sailing in relatively calm waters where we don’t have to pay too much attention to the boat and can read, look at the scenery, etc. The other was distraction. As the end of our two year sailing adventure comes closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and what’s in store for the future. That thinking has been pretty intense at times. In this case, intense enough that I didn’t pay close enough attention to what I am doing now.

I’m resolved to correct these errors. We’ll go back to a more formal pre-departure preparation. And I’m resolved to make a greater effort to stay in the present and let the future unfold as it may…later.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

En Route to La Cruz: Shipwreck Revisited, Nothing Much Else

We’re on our way to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (“La Cruz”) after spending two restful days in Barra de Navidad. The time spent there was quiet and uneventful; we ddn’t do much, but we did have a couple of nice dinners on shore.

We visited Barra de Navidad on our way South late last January with additional crew members, Marc and Marci.  On our way into the harbor, we noticed a ship wrecked against the cliffs at the south of the bay. I mentioned it my blog post of January 31, 2016. Well, the ship is still there, but is apparetnly being dismantled, with a helicopter making trips in the mornings and evenings to drop off workers. It looks like its going to be a long job.

Our passage to La Cruz is about 130 nm and will take a little over 24 hours. We chose to leave this morning to miss some stronger winds near Cabo Corriente forecast for later this week. It looks like this will be mostly a motoring passage, with wind on the nose most of the way.

When we get to La Cruz, we’ll stop for a while to take care of some administrative work (like filing my taxes). Fortunately, Marc and Marci are going to be in town at the condo in Nuevo Vallarta and we’re looking forward to visiting them and catching up on life.

Boring post, I know. But the record needs to be kept complete and up to date.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Enroute to Barra de Navidad: Sailing!

We have covered about 120 nm of our 203 nm passage from Zihuatanejo to Barra de Navidad. The best thing about the passage so far? We've been able to sail a good portion of the way, almost 50% of the time so far. We haven't enjoyed this much time under sail for a long time. It's fantastic!

It's the natural beauty of being propelled along by the wind that I'm passionate about. Motoring is an unfortunate consequence of wanting to be somewhere by a certain time, counter to the planet's nature. If we tried to sail the whole way to the Sea of Cortez, I figure it would take us about 25 days of continuous sailing, as we would need to head way offshore to tack back into the coast. By hugging the coast and motoring when needed (unfortunately, lthe majority of the time), it will take us less than 10 days of sailing, with plenty of brief rest stops at nice ports along the way. I think I'll buy some carbon offset credits for the diesel we burn for such comfort and convenience to be environmentally responsible and to spit symbolically into the face of our current climate change-denying head of th EPA.

Right now we're sailing along nicely under the Code 0, the wind blowing 10 knots from the South. We're diverting from from our rhumb line to Barra de Navidad, heading offshore to catch some stronger winds and anticipate a westerly wind shift forecast for later this afternoon. Being further offshore when that happens will give us room to alter course towards the coast and keep sailing until the wind is forecasted to die later this evening.

Our ETA for Barra de Navidad is around 10 am tomorrow morning. Remember, you can see where we are and follow Intermezzo's track by clicking on the link on the right sidebar.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Zihuatanejo: Fuel Oops, Brief R&R & We're Off to Barra de Navidad

Intermezzo arrived in Zihuatanejo early this morning. We dropped anchor close to shore off the Playa de Ropa, ate some breakfast and caught up on sleep. We swam to the beach around noon, got some much needed exercise, jogging and beach yoga, and then cooled off with a piña colada at a local beach bar.

The remainder of the passage here since my last post was motoring into light headwinds on mostly smooth seas, with a few hours of bumpy wind chop. The forecasted wind that would have let us sail materialized in terms of strength but, unfortunately, not from the predicted direction but rather from nearly dead ahead. A familiar story.

We did have a bit of excitement around 9 pm when the starboard engine slowed and then stopped. I figured it was clogged primary fuel filter but it looked pretty clean. I replaced it anyway,  but shortly afterwards, the engine slowed and stopped again. I had noticed a bit of diesel bug crud in the glass bowl of the Racor fuel-water separator and wondered if there was similar crud in the fuel tank that was clogging the fuel pickup. That would be a problem.

As the trusty port engine kept us moving along, I spent the rest of my watch working out a troubleshooting plan to diagnose and solve the fuel problem. If it required draining contaminated fuel from the tank and replacing it with clean fuel, that could be tricky depending on the quantity of fuel in the tank. To get a feel for what might be involved, I took a look at the engine hours run since I filled the tank. Hmmmm…more hours than I thought. Hmmmm…enough hours that the tank might be nearly empty.  Hmmmm…perhaps that is why the engine stopped?

When Renee came back on watch at midnight, I transferred fuel from one of our 8-gallon jugs into the starboard engine’s fuel tank. Voilá, the engine started and ran fine! I dumped another jug of fuel into the tank and went to sleep, grateful that it turned out to be such a simple solution.

That I didn’t consider that we were out of fuel from the start isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds. We normally run the two engines for equal, alternating six hour intervals.  If we had done that, the starboard engine couldn’t possibly have run out of fuel. But we didn’t run the starboard engine hardly at all on our passage from Puerto Chiapas to Huatulco because the water pump was leaking. So, on this passage we ran the starboard engine a lot longer than the port engine to even out the total engine hours. I had forgotten that.  On top of that, I think the tank might not have been completely top upped at the last fill because the Pemex fuel dock we stopped at was for big commercial boats/ships and we had to use an unusual adapter on the fuel nozzle so that it would fit into our tank fill opening.  So I feel more relieved that the problem was solved than dumb for letting the tank run dry.

We looked at the weather for the next few days and our best move is to weigh anchor in the morning and set sail for Barra de Navidad, with a quick stop to top off on fuel (!) in Ixtapa. It looks like we might catch more opportunities to sail with less swell than what’s forecast for a few days from now.

So, after a very brief R&R pit stop in Zihua, we’re back at sea again tomorrow.  That will help us make up some of the time lost to the water pump repair.

Full moon sailing off the Oaxaca coast near Puerto Escondido, a special place with special memories

Sunrise as we approach Acapulco

Funny to watch this bird trying to land on mast, only to get its bottom poked by our antenna as we pitched and rolled in the swell.

Sunset enroute from Intermezzo's salon

Zihuatanejo from the Playa Ropa anchorage

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

En Route to Zihuatanejo: Another Little Engine Problem, Playing with Dolphins

We paid our bill and slipped our docklines at Marina Chahue just before 1 pm yesterday and headed over to the fuel dock to top up our tanks and fill our fuel jugs.

Our 350 nm passage from Huatulco to Zihautanejo approaches the limit to our range if we have to motor on both engines, unlikely but possible. The 30 gallons of fuel in the jugs provides a large margin of comfort and the opportunity to forgo a subsequent fuel stop if we run on one engine and/or make some distance under sail.

We left the fuel dock at 2 pm and headed out to sea in hazy sunshine, light headwinds and a gentle swell. After motoring on the starboard engine for a while, I decided to take a look at it to make sure there was no leakage from the new water pump. To my dismay, somehow the hose from the engine to the coolant reservoir had ended up on top of the spinning alternator which chopped a nice chunk out of it. I guess all my activity in the engine compartment moved the hose, but I'm not sure how I could have missed the problem when I ran the engine to test it.

Fortunately I remembered that the crew that delivered Intermezzo from South Africa had captured rain water from the hardtop using a small piece of rigid tubing and I also remembered where it was. It was the perfect diameter for splicing the broken hose back together. I completed the repair in 15 minutes and we were back in business.

We motored the entire night under one engine, making a solid 5-6 knots boat speed against a 5-10 knot headwind. It was a beautiful night with a full moon in a partly cloudy sky.

A large pod of energetic dolphins came to visit me while I was on watch shortly after midnight. I went up to the bow to watch them swimming just below the surface, juggling for position with one another, breaking the surface intermittently in shallow jumps to take a breath of air. I was wearing a headlamp and turned it on to its bright white setting to shine it on the dolphins just below and ahead of where I was sitting on the bow.

The dolphins seemed to enjoy having the addition of the light to their playtime. They would jostle each other to fall under its beam and then would twist their bodies slightly to look at the light, their eye sparkling up at me with its reflection. I could aim the beam at a spot in the water and a dolphin would race over to it to follow just behind it. This game amused me and, I hope the dolphins too, for about an hour.

It's just after noon and we continue to motor along on a calm bright blue sea under clear skies. The wind has shifted enough to port to allow me to unroll the jib and its adding about a knot to our boat speed. I'm hoping it will continue to shift more and we can roll out the Code 0 and turn off the motor. Or maybe it will shift a little less and the wind speed will build and we can hoist the main. Anything for a little relief from the hum of the motor and some piece and quiet.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bahias de Huatulco: Water Pump Replaced, Off to Zihuatanejo

Intermezzo’s leaking fresh water cooling pump on the starboard engine has been replaced!  We're heading to Zihuatanejo this afternoon.

I flew back to San Francisco last Thursday via Mexico City and Los Angeles, arriving late that night. Bob Hennessey at KKMI let me know that the replacement water pump was ready for me, so I drove down to Richmond on Friday morning to pick it up. I thanked Bob and his team sincerely for their interest and efforts on Intermezzo’s behalf. 

I had booked my return flight to Huatulco for Sunday morning in case the pump needed an extra day to arrive, so I had some time to kill. I should have made more of an effort to visit with friends, but I was in a bit a a funk and ended up sort of vegging out on my own. I managed to rouse myself to enjoy a nice lunch with Brigitte and Jean, get a good haircut from Rose, and for a short visit with Carol to chat and drink some wine.  I also fit in a hot yoga class but the heat was a challenge after six weeks of practicing at room temperature and I struggled physically, but kept a good mindspace and benefited from the mind-body challenge.

The flight back to Huatulco on Sunday was uneventful, except that I left my iPad on the plane, a device that I am particularly fond of and serves as our backup navigation system. I was groggy and forgot that I had put it in the seat back pocket. I filed a lost item report with the airline, but haven’t heard back from them. I’m writing it off as a goner and have changed all my passwords etc. as a precaution against the remote possibility that the person who has it can hack through the passcode, which is pretty difficult to do. 

We spent yesterday taking off the old water pump and installing the new one. The old pump came off pretty easily and I began removing the various fittings that needed to be transferred to the new pump. All was going well until the last fitting, which I couldn’t get off because I didn’t have the right tools.  We tried various combinations of tools we did have to try and kludge a solution, but no luck.

The great thing about Mexico is that if you ask, people go out of their way to help. So I went over to the the boat across the dock where several guys were working on its engines and showed them my problem. They chatted among themselves for a minute and then told me I should go to “Amigo Nacho’s”, a metal/machine shop in town. Then one of them, Carlos, offered to take me there in his car and we were off.

Amigo Nachos is a pretty big shop with half a dozen guys working on various metal fabrications and repairs. I showed them the stubborn fitting on the old pump and they said they could fabricate a special wrench for me in a few hours for 600 pesos. I left the old pump with them and returned to the boat to eat lunch and do chores.  At 3:00 pm, Carlos drove me back to Amigo Nachos and there was a custom made wrench waiting for me. We quickly pulled the fitting off the old pump and installed it on the new pump. I thanked everyone profusely, paid my bill and headed back to the boat. Now I have a wrench on board in case I have to replace the pump on the other engine; a great investment.

The installation of the new pump went pretty smoothly, athough my back was a bit stiff from crouching in the engine compartment all day. I fired up the engine and let it run under load, tugging against the docklines  for a half hour to make sure there were no leaks and the engine was being cooled properly. It passed the test.  We had a nice dinner to celebrate after we showered and put alway all the tools.

Renee went grocery shopping this morning as we wait for the tide to rise so that we can visit the fuel dock to top off our tanks and fuel jugs. We hope to be underway by around 1:00 pm for the 360 nm passage to Zihuatanejo, which will take three days. The weather forecast is for light winds, gentle seas. We’ll probably have to motor most of the way, but the predicted wind direction should provide some opportunities to pull out the Code 0 for some quiet light wind reaching.

New water pump- obtained! 
Old water pump- with fittings to be removed and crud inside

The sklled, friendly, helpful crew at Amigo Nacho's shop, enjoying there afternoon comida

My new custom made pump wrench, hecho en Mexico

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Puerto Chiapas to Huatulco: Crossing the Tehauntapec and the Boat Lay Up Curse

Our weather window for leaving Puerto Chiapas to cross the Golfo de Tehuantapec last Sunday afternoon held firm, so we spent Friday and Saturday working hard to prepare Intermezzo for the passage.

On Saturday night, I updated the software for the chartplotters and, to my horror, the main chartplotter froze and would not boot up. We have redundant navigation systems (iPad plus paper charts), so it wasn’t a disaster, but we have our helm station navigation system tweaked to work really well and after thousands of miles of using it, can operate it in our sleep. Which is almost the case sometimes during night watches. Thankfully, I managed to get it working again, but the second chartplotter wouldn’t even power up after I did. Strange and discomforting. I was begining to get the feeling like I did when we resumed cruising in Costa Rica in November after the boat was laid up for a few months. A feeling like a boat gets cursed if you leave it sitting around unused for too long.

By Sunday morning, we were down to just a few items on the list, including the pre-passage engine check which is normally a perfunctory exercise as our Yanmar engines are relatively new and have been very reliable.  However, this time I discovered coolant dripping from the starboard engine’s fresh water cooling pump, the drips falling onto the alternator belt and spraying dirty water dots on either side of the engine compartment. Bummer. My belief that boats are cursed when left alone too long is getting stronger.

We were scheduled for our departure inspection by the Port Captain, Customs and Navy at 3:00 pm. Once that inspection is completed, you are supposed to leave the port at once. So I had to make a decision: Was it safe to cross the Tehauntepec with a compromised engine. It didn’t take me long to conclude that it was indeed safe to proceed. We have two engines, the weather forecast indicated we would be sailing for a good portion of the passage and the drip didn’t compromise the operation of the starboard engine, it just makes a mess and uses up coolant, but at a manageable rate.  So I declared Intermezzo fit for the passage and the crew did not object.

The departure inspection was relaxed and basically useless. The Port Captain representative filled out the same form that has been filled out three times previously and drank a glass of water. The Customs representative entered some numbers into her smartphone and flirted with the Port Captain guy. The heavily armed Marines with drug sniffing dog tromped around the cabin not even bothering to look interested in what they were doing. The dog tried to look serious, though.  When the short kabuki performance by officialdom was over,  we pushed off from the dock and were underway just before 4 pm.

It felt great to be sailing again and we fell into our watches and duties easily and naturally. We motor-sailed for a few hours before the wind died and then started the non-leaking port engine. Funny that I felt sort of bad for the port engine having to do all the work on this passage while the starboard engine could just sit there and enjoy the ride. Normally, we are very careful to be fair to both engines and keep their running hours balanced. 

The first night sailing was glorious, the sky lit by a bright half moon, shimmers of its pure white light on the ocean’s surface. We sailed quietly through most of the night on a reach under the Code 0.  When the moon set, the sky turned into a brilliant tapestry of millions of stars and the sea turned totally black, the perfect background for sparkling bioluminescent creatures excited by our wake and the white torpedo streaks from dolphins racing alongside and playing with each other at the bows.

The following day (Monday) and night weren’t so pleasant as we both succumbed to seasickness brought on by the confused seas of the post-gale Tehauntapec.  I hardly ever get seasick and don’t like it. (Does anybody?) Thankfully, it lasted less than 24 hours and we both recovered by Tuesday morning.

We hit the strongest winds about three quarters of the way across the Gulf, 20 to 25 knots.  Rather than being a problem, the wind was coming from a favorable direction for us to have a very nice reach and fast sailing through the night and the confused seas settled down to give us a pretty smooth ride the rest of the way to Huatulco.

We arrived in Marina Chahué in Huatulco around 1 pm on Tuesday.  I immediately set to work trying to figure out how I was going to get a replacement water pump for the starboard engine.  There is no Yanmar dealer here and parts for our engines are hard to find in Mexico in general. So I had to come up with multiple options.

After making phone calls all Wednesday morning, I concluded that there was no pump anywhere in Mexico and that it would take over two weeks to obtain from a Mexican dealer. That meant getting one from the US. Express shipping is expensive and scuttlebutt is that often parts get “lost” at customs. My friend Louis offered to carry the part down and sail with us for awhile, but when I looked into the logistics and timing of that option, it just didn’t pencil out. I’m offering him a raincheck for sailing in the Sea of Cortez later in appreciation of his offer. The option that worked out the best (least bad) is for me to fly back to San Francisco, pick the part up and fly back down. It results in a very expensive pump, but we can resume sailing by next Tuesday this way.

So I’m flying out today to pick up the pump.

I want to acknowledge Bob Hennesey and the chandlery at the KKMI boat yard in Richmond. I have been bringing my boats to this yard since 2003 and have always appreciated the professionalism and service there. Over the years, Bob has become a good friend and  areliable, trusted advisor. He really stepped up to help this time. He responded instantly to my satellite email asking for help and had the pump sourced before we arrived in Huatulco. He made sure the pump would be ready for me to pick up on Friday, taking the initiative to order it before I had even confirmed my plans. He worked with the guys in the chandlerly to make sure they had a second source for a pump if anything went awry with the first supplier. I’m so grateful and it is so comforting to have Bob and his team at KKMI there to help when Intermezzo is far from our home port.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Puerto Chiapas: Now We Wait

Saturday's wind forecast for the Golfo of Tehuantepec

Intermezzo is in the water and pretty much ready to sail. We launched yesterday after finishing the bottom paint and changing the lubricant for the saildrives. Today I washed the boat while Renee unpacked and organized the cabin.

But now we wait.

A gale is forecast for the Golfo de Tehuantepec over the next few days. I’ve posted a screenshot from our weather routing software showing the winds predicted for Saturday at midnight. The dots show our planned route, hugging tight to the coastline of the Golfo. The colors and little stick arrows show the wind speed and direction. The dark red area indicates sustained wind speeds of 40 knots, with higher gusts possible. That’s more wind than we want to sail in so we’re waiting until Sunday evening to depart. If the wind prediction models are correct, we should catch the wind from the end of the gale for good sailing and only have a short patch of 20-25 knots towards the end of the passage.

I’m kind of bummed that our departure is delayed for this many days, but it will give me a chance to get over a cold from which I’ve been suffering and for us to finish getting the boat set up for the next couple of months of cruising.

We’re going to sail “purposefully” north, not stopping anywhere for long along the way, just enough time to get rested for the next passage. There is a good Italian restaurant in Huatulco I would like to eat at again and some little bays  that we didn’t have time to visit on our way south that I would like to see. We’ll pick up fuel and provisions in Huatulco, Ixtapa and Puerto Vallarta. If my friend Juanito is available to wax the boat in Puerto Vallarta, we’ll spend a few days there, see if Mark and Marci are around to visit.  Other than the goal is to get to the Sea of Cortez as quickly as we can so we have time to explore the northern part of the sea.

But now we wait.

Painting Intermezzo's bottom

Nice new paint, polished propellers and new anodes

Intermezzo being gently lowered into the water