Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Marina Chiapas: Boat Chores

It's hot and muggy here. During the day, the sun blazes but there is often an afternoon breeze that makes it bearable. At night there is no breeze and the hot air just lays heavily. The cabin fans help a bit, but I'm sweltering most of the day and night in 90 degree humid heat. The only pleasant conditions are between about 3 and 7 a.m., when the temperature drops into the mid-70's, refreshingly, pleasantly cool.

I'm getting boat chores done though, despite the heat.

On Monday, I got a ride into town with Memo, the general manager of the marina. (Memo is the short form of Guillermo, like Bill is for William.) I needed to pick up some solvent, he needed to pick up a new pump for the marina's domestic water system. I was able to help him a bit, working out if the motor for the pump was sized correctly. He was able to help me find the methylated spirits I was looking for. His family is connected with a local hospital and we went to the chemical supply store where the hospital gets its chemicals for lab tests etc. They have everything. I bought what I needed and then asked if I could buy some acetone for fiberglass work. I found out that to buy that solvent I needed to write a letter explaining how I intended to use the acetone and produce identification. Apparently, acetone is used to make methamphetamine and the authorities have placed restrictions on its sale here.

Memo and I enjoyed a taco lunch on the way back to the marina. I asked him about the tsunami that I had heard hit the marina in September of 2017.  I thought it was just a few waves that moved the docks around. It was much worse than that. The three tidal waves were so high, they lifted the floating docks over the tops of the pilings that secure them. The tops of these pilings are nine feet above the high tide! The wave inundated the land around the marina, getting high enough to flood out the electrical controls of the travelift, which are about at chest height. Fortunately, the docks jammed themselves amongst the pilings and didn't float away and no boats were damaged or people hurt. Memo told me it was quite a repair job to get the marina back in operation. Looking at the place now, there are few signs that anything had happened, although I notice they park the travelift on higher ground than they used to.

Yesterday I got started on my big project; resealing the perimeter of the forward window on the port hull. Both forward windows have leaked, the one on the starboard worse than the port, but it is in the head, so a little water there is only an annoyance. Water leaking from the port window gets onto the bedding of the berth, which is more than annoying, especially if someone is sleeping there. Neither are big leaks, but leak enough when pounding through head seas to want to fix them. The leaks appear to be due to the original sealant not bonding well to the Lexan window material.

The windows are otherwise securely adhered to the hull, so I decided to just replace the sealant to the depth of the thickness of the Lexan. Yesterday I sliced and dug away old sealant. It wasn't too hard or dirty, but it was hot, sweaty work, crouching on the dock under the blazing sun. When I got the sealant out, I set to removing its residue from the fiberglass and edge of the Lexan with sandpaper. That worked pretty well, but was tedious. And hot.

This morning, I wiped down the surfaces carefully with my newly obtained methylated spirits to get them free of any remaining contaminants. Then I applied the new sealant, Dow Corning 795, a silicone sealant used for structural glazing of buildings and recommended by other Leopard cat owners who have repaired their windows. It was easy to get the sealant into the joint with the caulk gun and I tooled 90 percent of the sealant with a popsicle stick to a nice finish. Ten percent is tooled not so nice. I tried making it look better, but every time I touched it, it just got worse. So I stopped and accepted it as "good enough". I'll probably take a stab at a cosmetic repair after it has cured.

I sure hope this repair works, because I'd really not like to do it again. Especially in the tropics.

I got done with the window repair earlier than I expected so I jumped to pickling the watermaker for while I'm gone for almost two weeks. You have to flush the watermaker every five days with fresh water so microbes don't grow and foul the membrane. If you can't do that, you have to "pickle" it to kill the little buggers. When I last left the boat in Ixtapa, Roy was on board and did the flushing. No Roy this time, so pickling required. It was hot down below as I pickled.

I also got laundry done by one of the marina guy's wife. Doing laundry this way involved no sweltering.

Just a few more things on the list, and them I'm ready to leave Intermezzo again for a little while.

Window Repair: Digging out the old sealant

Window Repair: All cleaned up and masked

Window Repair: Finished, looks good enough five feet away

Window Repair: Finished, but not perfect close up

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Marina Chiapas: The End of Leg 2

Intermezzo arrived at Marina Chiapas early this morning, completing Leg 2 of The Voyage from Ixtapa, a passage of 589 nautical miles.

The highlight of the final day and night of sailing was yesterday afternoon’s booming reach under full mainsail and Code 0.  We hissed through the smooth water at 7 knots sailing as close to the wind as the Code 0 would allow to stay on our rhumbline. Looking at the wind instruments, I thought they weren’t working right. How could we be sailing at 7 knots boast speed at an apparent wind angle of 60 degrees in only 8 knots of apparent wind speed? I puzzled over this until I figured out that the boat was going so fast in such light wind that we had turned the wind blowing behind us into wind ahead of us.  Just like a fast racing sailboat would do. I’ve never done that on Intermezzo before, a heavy, short waterline cruising cat.  It was a blast for three hours until it got dark and not prudent to have so much canvas up only one of us on watch, so we rolled up the Code 0 and unfurled the jib. We continued sailing at a more moderate pace until midnight when the wind died completely and we motored for the rest of the night in no wind, almost mirror-calm seas.

We tied up in the friendly and professional Marina Chiapas, which Intermezzo has visited twice before and washed the boat before it got too hot.  We chased that with a cold beer at the restaurant next door. Then Roy cleaned up his side of the boat so that he could leave to fly back to Canada to catch his daughter’s regional basketball games.

So, now I’m solo again until I fly out on Friday. Before I leave I’m going to tackle a significant project, in addition to all the minor "leaving-the-boat-behind-chores"; re-caulking the bow windows which leak a bit in big head seas.

I can’t upload pictures when I post to this blog via satellite, so catching up here with a few pictures from Leg 2:

Piedras Blancas outside Bahía Zihuatanejo

The gale forecasted for the Golfo de Tehuantapec that we had to wait out

Intermezzo at anchor in Bahía Organo, one of the nine Bahías de Huatulco
Returning from our kayaking excursion to Bahía Maguay 

Sunset enroute to Puerto Chiapas

Captain and Crew at the end of Leg 2

Intermezzo in Marina Chiapas, waiting to start Leg 3 to and through the Panama Canal

Saturday, March 9, 2019


15.36N 93.80W
Enroute to Puerto Chiapas

It's flat.

The sea is very calm, the humidity makes the air fuzzy, we can't see land, no topography on any horizon. The swells are so far apart, even they seem flat. As flat as waves can be, that is.

I remember this from my first crossing of the Tehuantapec. After all the excitement of potential gales and heavy seas for the first half, the second half is just a long slog of...flatness. Like driving across Kansas after the Rocky Mountains.

Do I sound bored? I'm not really. Plenty to do. But flatness pervades.

Roy saw a whale. I didn't. That was exciting for him.

Two fishing pangas came alongside earlier today. I gave the first pair of fishermen two Cokes, the second pair some precooked rice, salsa and cookies. (Our provisions suitable for charitable giving are sparse.)

We snagged two fishing lines, one due to my inattention, the other due to bad luck. We freed ourselves quickly.

We most of the afternoon yesterday and last night in light airs, the boat making a steady 3-4 knots. This morning the wind died to nearly nothing and we've been motoring since. If we keep up our present speed we should arrive at the harbor entrance to Puerto Chiapas about 0600 tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, it's flat.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Crossing the Tehuantapec

15 54N 54 52W
Enroute to Puerto Chiapas

We're ghosting along again, sailing gently downwind. Crazy how just 24 hours ago it was blowing 35-40 knots here.

This afternoon, a panga with three fishermen came alongside and asked if we'd seen any of their fishing gear- the buoys, flags, strobe lights, and hooked lines between them that they leave drifting to catch fish. They must not have been able to retrieve them before the gale. I figure they are halfway to the Philippines by now. I felt kind of bad for them losing their gear; it's a big financial setback. I feel worse for the fish hooked to that gear which are now just "by catch" instead of food. Well, I guess their food for something; nothin goes to waste in the ocean.

When you cross the Tehuantapec, you're supposed to "keep one foot on the beach" and follow the shoreline to avoid big swells from strong northerly winds. Well, the winds are light and from the west, the waves are small, and winds are forecast to diminish. So, I'm going to live a little dangerously and cut right across the gulf, reducing our sailing distance by 20 miles.

We're sailing in a patch of phosphorescent jellyfish. They're all over the place, about a foot in diameter, flashing like miniature green fireworks. The keep me company on this dark, moonless night.

Departed Huatulco for Puerto Chiapas

15 53N 95 40W
Enroute to Puerto Chiapas

We got up early this morning, recovered our stern anchor with aplomb, weighed the Rocna and were off. We're on our way on the last two days sailing on Leg 2 of The Voyage, heading for Puerto Chiapas, our final port of call in Mexico.

Roy and I both noted the nice smell of the land in Huatulco as we departed. It's lightly spicy, slightly sweet, a bit floral, like a potpourri you might have in your closet or chest of drawers to make your clothes smelling nice, hinting of the fragrance of a chai tea.

We sailed nicely close hauled in about 8 knots of wind, making a steady 5-5.5 knot over the ground. Then at noon the wind died so we furled up the jib and are motoring, heading offshore to see if we can find the wind again. It's a beautiful blue day with light chop on the nose, gentle swells from the starboard bow.

We've been catching and releasing bonito like crazy all day. They aren't the tastiest fish, but I think we might keep a small one later to make into poke for dinner.

I've been exchanging emails with our new crew for Leg 3, John and Kim, and I finally spoke to them briefly this morning while we still had cell reception. They owned a catamaran and cruised for seven years in the Caribbean, notching up over 7,000 nm under sail. They're from Missouri, are looking to buy a new catamaran and are excited about making the Panama Canal transit, something that's been on their bucket list. I'm looking forward to them joining the boat later this month and meeting them in person.

Yesterday we replaced a malfunctioning switch for the electric winch and then took a kayak trip to the bay next door, Bahía Malguey, which has a long line of palapa restaurants along the beach. We saw lots of people. We ate tacos and ceviche. We drank beer. We had paletas (frozen fruit bars) for desert. We kayaked back. A very nice finish to our time in Huatulco.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Bahia Organo: Tamed the Swell

Last night Intermezzo lay beam to the swells coming into Bahía Jicarol and rocked so badly it made for a challenging night's sleep. I say "swells" because there were two swells, one coming from the east the other from the southeast. When they combined, the boat was rocked violently for several waves at a time, then would subside into tolerable rocking, only to be shaken again in a few minutes. It was far from a peaceful night at anchor.

This morning we moved the boat to Bahía Organo, a larger, deeper bay that provides protection from the larger easterly swells. Only the smaller southeast waves make it to where we dropped anchor. To ensure our comfort, we set an additional stern anchor to keep the bows of the boat points into the swell. Much, much better.

Bahía Organo is another beautiful bay, with a steep, sandy beach at its end, rocky cliffs on each side. I swam to the beach and took a walk on a trail through the jungle that leads to the highway about a kilometer away. It is dry season, so the much of the vegetation is brown and dormant, interspersed with larger trees with green leaves, green vines and ground cover. The jungle gives of pleasant dry, spicy, almost-burnt smell as it bakes under a hot sun.

The Tehuantepecker blew hard today but is still forecast to subside on Friday. We're planning to leave early that morning. So one more day, lazing around, waiting and then we're underway again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Bahia Jicarol: Rocking and Rolling

We're rocking and rolling here at anchor in Bahía Jicarol waiting out a Tehuantapecker. The gale force winds in the Golfo de Tehauntapec spread out like a fan, sending swells right into the little bay in which we are anchored, Intermezzo often lying abeam to them and rocking back and forth with gusto. This afternoon we shifted the boat as deep into the bay as we could without getting too close to the rocky shore, but it hasn't helped much. We'll move to another bay with better protection tomorrow.

Last night I realized I'd left my hat on the beach when we went kayaking there. (For those of you who follow this blog, you'll remember that I lose my favorite hat more often than I like, but somehow I've always recovered far.) I was a little annoyed at having to kayak back to the beach in the dark to retrieve it. My annoyance turned out to be a treat. The bio-luminescence was amazing, a dense bright stream of sparkling stars flaring out from the bow of the kayak, a pool of sparkles with each dip of the paddle, a trail like the Milky Way behind me. When I returned to Intermezzo with my hat, Roy had to go out for a paddle to enjoy the plankton fireworks.

Today we got the Code 0 sorted out from our furling failure and hoisted, ready to go. I also spent a fair amount of time underwater, replacing the propeller anodes and cleaning the props, sail drives and slime along the waterline.

The weather forecast is looking good for a Friday morning departure, when the Tehuantapecker subsides.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Approaching Bahias de Huatulco

Yesterday was another great day of sailing, a near copy of the day before but with stronger winds. I could write again about the wind, water, sky and dolphins, but I would be repetitive. I must mention the flying fish, though. We went through a patch of them and their aerobatic skills were amazing. They would glide sometimes for hundreds of yards less than a foot above the water, carving their flight at high speed between and over the waves, their baby-blue wings outstretched, small blue-silver bodies glistening in the sun. I like to imagine that flying for them is like surfing is to us, a fleeting joyous thrill in a foreign medium, air for them, water for us.

We had some unique excitement yesterday afternoon, though. At 1630, the winds were blowing steadily a notch over 20 knots true, my limit for flying the Code 0. Furling this big sail in such strong winds is sometimes a challenge. It took me a couple of long passages in varying conditions to get the knack of it. Apparently yesterday I was a little rusty.

The sail rolls up by twisting a very stiff "torsion rope" along its luff (front edge of the sail) by pulling on a line that rotates a furler at the tack (bottom corner of the sail). In strong winds, if you don't get the sail in just the right position, with just the right tension on the sheet (the line that controls the sail), the torsion rope twists itself like a rubber band as it tries to roll up the sail. At some point, the rubber band wanting to untwist prevails over the sailor trying to furl and the sail suddenly unrolls itself with urgency. Compounding the fiddlynature of this process is that the boat slows down as the sail rolls up, which increases the apparent wind speed and thus the force on the sail.

Well, after several failed attempts, I finally got my touch back and the sail rolled up. Only I forgot to instruct Roy to make fast the furling line and sheets, which caused the last bit of the sail to unroll itself backwards. We tried to make things right, but it just wasn't going to happen in 20+ knot winds, hanging out on a bowsprit in pitching seas. A small mess but one that couldn't be cleaned up while the sail was hoisted, so we dropped the 99% furled Code 0 and lashed it to the deck. We'll hoist it up again and sort things out at anchor in calm conditions later.

Last night we sailed along in mostly Force 3 winds (10-15 knots TWS) under just the jib, making a steady 5 knots progress in gentle following seas. Another beautiful, peaceful night.

We're heading now to Bahía Jicarol, a tiny secluded bay for which we have little information: a chart with little detail, a "community edit" description of the anchorage on the Navionics electronic chart and a blurry aerial image from Google Maps. We'll check it out and if it looks good, drop anchor and wait out the Tehuantepec blow there. Or maybe move on after a couple of days to check out one of the other bays in the interim. The Bahías de Huatulco consist of nine pretty little bays with sandy beaches fronting a jungle landscape. We passed them by on the last two trips up and down the coast in 2016 and 2017. They looked so beautiful as we sailed by, I remember feeling some regret at not taking the time to stop. I'm glad to have a chance to explore them now. That's one good thing about a "Tehuantepecker" blowing for a few days.

Sunday, March 3, 2019


16 00N 098 08W
Enroute to Huatulco

We had a peaceful sail last night, ghosting along again in light winds. The Code 0 keeps the boat moving along at over 3 knots in only 4 knots of apparent wind (about 6 knots true wind speed). Nice.

The only mildly exciting time of the night was managing a two "vessels meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses" situation (e.g. potential head-on collision) with a big ship. COLREGS requires both vessels to turn to starboard. The big ship didn't. Intermezzo did. It's called The Rule of Gross Tonnage. We passed each other with plenty of room, 2 miles, to spare. Actually not even mildly exciting, but it gave me something to do besides gazing at the sea, the stars, the dolphins and babysitting the autopilot.

This morning I switched fishing lures. We haven't had a bite on the two we've been trolling from sunrise to sunset. I also did laundry, which might have been torn off from where it was hanging on the lifeline to dry and hurled violently into the sea when Roy decided to jibe the Code 0. I'm being dramatic. The wind was light. The sail wafted gently into place. It wasn't the least bit exciting.

The wind started building at 1100 and continues to get stronger. We've run the engines much, much less than we have on previous passages along the Mexican coast. It helps that we're not going upwind this time!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

We Bounded Along

16 18.1N 99 01.6 W
Enroute to Huatulco

The wind piped up as expected around noon today and we were soon bounding along.

But just beforehand, we hit the seaweed lottery. We were motoring along in light winds on the port engine. I was on watch and had scanned the sea ahead of us before attending to something inside and all looked. Several minutes later I heard a crunch and the engine faltered. I dashed out quickly to the helm and threw the engine into neutral. We had run over a patch of thick seaweed about three feet in diameter. Figure the odds of the one running propeller on a 20 foot wide catamaran hitting the only patch of seaweed for as far as the eye could see in any direction. It took a little while to clear the prop of weed, but no damage done and we were soon back on our way.

Today's sailing was marvelous. We romped along, the sail filled and pulling strong on the sheet. The sea was a sharp metallic blue color with small white caps that sparkled like diamonds. Nimble wind waves passed under and lifted the boat from behind, while more ponderous swells from abeam rocked us gently. The sky was an almost-white pale blue on the horizon, light blue overhead, the sun such a bright white you couldn't look at it for a second. Glorious!

I did yoga today on the forward deck under the blazing hot noon sun. It was a good workout and my neck feels much better. It's hard to get good exercise while making a passage, but a good series of yoga postures works every muscle in your body and feels great.

The ECMWF wind model and routing worked well for us today. Though I haven't done any formal verification, this model seems to be the most accurate of the ones available to us via PredictWind. I set a couple of "wind waypoints" on the chartplotter based on the wind model routing which took us a bit further offshore. We certainly weren't disappointed by the wind when we got there. But who knows, maybe the wind would have been the same had we followed our rhumb line. Can't be in two places at once fo know.

I've been catching up reading Economist magazines from the past few weeks, started reading H Is For Hawk (Helen MacDonald) and I'm on Day 33 of Sam Harris' "Waking Up" meditation course (highly recommended).

Life is good.

Passing by Acapulco

16 35N 99 48W
Enroute to Huatulco

We sailed most of last night, not starting an engine until 0500 this morning when the wind disappeared. We ghosted along with the Code 0 pulling lightly from the bow, collapsing gently with a crinkling sound every once in a while when the wind shifted or we slid slowly down the slope of a swell. The autopilot clattered quietly as it held its course. Acapulco was a long smear of twinkling lights ahead, it's lighthouses blinking bright white, on and off. A constellation that clearly forms a cross stayed fixed in position to the south- I wondered if it was the Southern Cross, not sure if it is visible this far north of the equator. The sea was calm but every so often a little whitecap would break with a noisy hiss alongside the boat.

Most people, including me, think of sailing from Mexico towards Panama as traveling south. Yet from here on, most of the coast runs in a more east-west, so we are making more distance eastward (longitude) than we are south (latitude). It puts us on a good angle for wind, when it decides to blow.

The forecast is for light winds until this afternoon. According to the latest ECMWF model, we might enjoy decent winds from then on until the night if we head a bit further offshore. So that's where we're heading.

I made a radical navigational change yesterday- switched course display from "Magnetic" to "True". OMG! How bold! (What a nerd!) In the past, I thought it better to know our desired course per magnetic north in case the electronics failed and we had to use the compass and paper charts. Intermezzo's compass deviation is so great on some headings, due to its proximity to electronics, that I realized that doesn't really make sense. It's better and easier to know the true course and work out magnetic variation and deviation manually to determine a ship's compass course to steer, if the need ever arises. The other 99.99% of the time, working with true direction makes periodic plotting on the paper charts much easier.

Roy and I are both suffering from mild discomforts. Roy has a mildly infected eyelid that's bothering him but looking like it will get better on his own. I have a stiff neck that limits comfortable sleeping positions, which has nothing to do with being older. It is punishment for not doing a minimum of 30 minutes of yoga each day like I vowed to do. My body is talking to me. So boat yoga starts today on the forward deck at noon, under a blazing tropical sun. Good medicine!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Good Day’s Sail

17 02 N 100 53W
Enroute to Huatulco

We had a good day's sail today. The wind piped up around 13:30 so we hoisted the Code 0 and a reefed mainsail, reefed so as to not shadow the foresail when sailing deep downwind. I had set a course to put us about 10 nm offshore where the wind was forecast to be blowing a bit stronger than closer to the coast. It seems like that was a good idea.

Once offshore, we altered course eastward to parallel the coast which put us deeper downwind. What the mainsail was doing for us was the same as what it was taking away from the Code 0, so we dropped it. It's much more peaceful and easier sailing that way, especially at night.

We rigged up fishing lines but didn't catch anything. Dinner was tuna patties, sautéed vegetables and pinto beans. Simple but tasty. After dinner, a pod of dolphins came by to entertain us, featuring tail slaps and leaps out of the water. It was quite a nice show.

The two long day watches worked out well. We switch to four-hour watches for the night. We'll see how that works out tomorrow morning.

Zihuantanejo: Departing on Leg 2

We weighed anchor this morning, setting sail for Puerto Chiapas vía Bahías de Huatulco. There is still a gentle shore breeze from last night, the sea is calm with a soft hazy sky. It feels good to be on the water again, resuming The Voyage. We're motoring right now but the wind is supposed to pick up this afternoon; I'm looking forward to hoisting sail when it does.

Intermezzo left Marina Ixtapa on Wednesday afternoon after topping up the diesel tanks and paying what felt like a king's ransom for a month and a half of docking. We motored the short distance to Bahia de Zihuatanejo and dropped anchor just off Playa de Ropa, a spot we enjoyed on two previous visits.

Yesterday we provisioned and prepared the boat. We took the dinghy into town to pick up groceries at the Mercado Municipal and the Mega grocery store- the mercado has cheap fresh produce, the Mega has the rest. We opted not to buy fresh fish at the panga beach as we expect to catch our own along the way.

Zihuantanejo has a great dinghy beach, complete with "valet parking". A friendly guy with a whistle guides you into the beach as if your dinghy is an airplane approaching a gate, complete with various arm movements, facial expressions and endless tweeting on the whistle. Once grounded, he helps you haul the dinghy up on to the beach into a designated parking space. The best part is knowing that your dinghy is being closely watched and is safe and secure. Friendly, quality service for 20 pesos.

Roy returned to town in the afternoon to pick up his laundry and get a massage. The two of us made yet another trip last night to enjoy our last dinner on shore at La Palma Grande, a little restaurant which makes its own tortillas by hand. The tacos were great. Our multiple trips endeared us to the dinghy parking guy who got paid his pesos each time we landed.

I also had the opportunity yesterday to figure out the shared expenses for Leg 1, now that I knew how much the fuel for the last trip cost. My crew is contributing towards food and fuel, so Pete and Roy received "invoices" for their respective shares. Intermezzo's insurance, docking and maintenance cost quite a lot, so I'm very grateful to have help with the consumables.

Roy and I are trying out a different watch schedule on this passage. Instead of Intermezzo's four-hour daytime and three-hour nighttime watch schedule, we will have two six-hour watches from 0800 to 1400 and 1400 to 2000 and three four-hour watches, 2000 to midnight, midnight to 0400 and 0400 to 0800. This gives us a bit longer sleeptime at night and a longer chunk of off-watch time during the day to rest, relax and do chores.

The weather forecast for this passage looks pretty good until Tuesday, when a big blow is forecast for the Golfo de Tehuantepec. We will wait that out in a sheltered anchorage in Huatulco, until probably Friday when the blow subsides and we can scoot across to Puerto Chiapas. We expect light to moderate winds during the daytime and mostly calm conditions at night on our way to Huatulco. Since we're in no hurry to get to Huatulco to sit and wait, we'll try to sail as much as possible, probably doing some "bobbing around" when becalmed. It will be nice to save the (expensive, $5/gallon) diesel fuel and enjoy the peace and quiet.