Saturday, October 29, 2011

By Michael

Eleanor loves flan.
When Eleanor was in the womb, strangers on the bus or Metro would ask Windy when she was due. Windy would tell them October, 31 and then add, “Halloween!” or something like that. On more than one occasion, she got a very strange and somber response, a shaking of the head and sincere condolence. “Maybe the baby will come early,” they would offer.
Well, she did come early, a couple days early. And nobody is more pleased than Eleanor that her birthday is associated with such a magnificent holiday. My girl has enjoyed dressing up and making her own style for as long as I can remember. Even when she was tiny, she would screech some of her first words to remind us that she needed no help getting dressed, “Me do it!”
Her nickname is Boo.
Most kids are eager for their next birthday milestone. It’s clear because they will state their ages in terms of how close they are to the next milestone, “I’m almost 10.” Eleanor doesn’t seem to care about the milestone as much as just being older. She yearns to be older. She carries a strong sense that there is a mysterious adult world that is beyond her age. She wants to penetrate that world today, to know it now, everything. Since she could speak, she has been attuned, hyper attuned to anything that might serve as a clue. She asks a lot of questions.
Eleanor loves flan so much, she
asked at a local restaurant if they
would teach her how to make it.
Here she is at her cooking class.
Eleanor didn’t want a party this year. She wanted only to hang out with us, shop for Halloween accoutrements, and get ice cream at least twice. She asked to go out for lunch and to spend late afternoon-till-dark on the beach, using her mask in the water and exploring on the rocks. It all happened, just as she wished.
No, it was better.
I don’t just love Eleanor, I love her company. She is a neat person to spend time with. She is perceptive, sensitive, and clever. She is surprisingly innocent despite her desire to be worldly. She spends so much time in her own head, focused on a thought, an insect in her hand, or the look of her own shoes striking the ground as she runs, that it is challenging/frustrating/exasperating to teach her to notice the street as she crosses it.
I love that since we started our journey as a family in May, Eleanor has bonded with her sister in a way that was unimaginable one year ago. The two girls are yin and yang, night and day. I’m heartened to have learned recently that Eleanor appreciates the value of this more than anyone.
I’m eager and excited to begin my ninth year with her, spending more time in her company than ever before.
Happy birthday Boo.

Eleanor loves key lime pie too. You can't really tell from this picture, but Tami from
s/v Andiamo III made Eleanor a key lime pie in her favorite color tonight, blue.
Fortunately it still tasted really good.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Uhg, The Rigging
By Michael

Crevice corrosion attacked this chain plate right where it passed
through the deck. The resulting stress crack will result in a rig
failure if left unchecked.

To quote myself from yesterday’s post, “I am pleased.”
Even though they looked okay to my naked eye, I had the two upper chain plates cleaned up really good today. I knew that all of the surface rust and staining would have to be removed to determine whether any problems lurked.
Problems lurk.
I’m not pleased.
We’re going to replace these two chain plates and pull the four lowers sooner rather than later. And pitting I found on the underside of these chain plates leaves me considering pulling the fore and aft external chain plates. Especially at the bow, if not sealed well crevice corrosion could be eating the thing away, unseen. There is no evidence of rust, but I’m going to look again, closely.
The chain plates I pulled are ½-inch-thick, two inches wide, and two feet long. Seeing cracks in this beefy stock may make sense after more than three decades, but has me worried about the others.
This is a better view of the crack. Windy says she sees others, this is the most apparent.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Rigging
By Michael

Here is the port-side upper chain plate, visible with the wood
trim removed. Note the tell-tale signs of long-term water
intrusion. Note the Japanese characters penned on the plate;
it's likely this thing had never been removed and cleaned
in the past. After 33 years, I was afraid of what I would find.

Sailboats are characterized by masts, those tall sticks used to hoist and support sails. Like most, our aluminum mast is not built strongly enough to both support itself and to bear the enormous forces imposed by the wind in the sails (this is by design as the weight of an aluminum mast capable of such loads, would be prohibitive). So, heavy cables (called stays) are attached to the mast and led to the deck, three on each side and one each at the bow and stern. Stays, in turn, are connected to large solid points attached firmly to the hull. These large solid points are called chain plates. Collectively, this whole system is called the rig.
A nightmare for any boat owner is the prospect of losing the rig, meaning losing the mast. If this happens, the sailboat loses its primary means of propulsion and likely sustains damage (or injury to the crew) from the mast and stays crashing down to the deck and cabin top. And once down, the whole heavy mess of twisted, broken metal has to be either discarded or secured to prevent further damage, such as puncturing the hull and sinking the boat.
Unfortunately, potential failure points are often difficult to identify: hidden where a stay attaches to a fitting, aloft where stays attach to the mast, or in the dark places where chain plates pass through the hull.
We had our rig inspected before we bought Del Viento and knew we had likely failure points: distorted connections where wire cable attached to fittings (swage fittings), visible cracks in the same connections, and evidence of water penetrating the sealed areas where the chain plates pass through the deck. The first two problems we addressed by replacing all eight stays. Total cost was about $3,900. This includes labor costs in Mexico and 16 Norseman mechanical fittings, all new turnbuckles, and hundreds of feet of wire cable we brought down from the States.
The top of the chain plate extends through the
deck and attaches to a turnbuckle fitting. In this
picture, I've removed the deck collar plate and dug
out all of the bedding from around the chain plate.
The rust staining you see on the chain plate here,
combined with what I saw on the collar plate, and
the evidence of water leakage below, were the
causes of my concern. 
But all new standing rigging does nothing to prevent a dismasting if there remains a weak link in the proverbial chain. Our remaining potential weak link was the chain plates.
Chain plate failure is uncommon. On a good, solid boat chain plates are overbuilt. On a well maintained boat chain plates are re-bedded on occasion to prevent water from seeping and weeping into the sealed space where the chain plate passes through the deck. The danger is that water here can cause and accelerate crevice corrosion of the stainless steel. Unchecked over time, this corrosion (totally hidden from view) can lead to a catastrophic failure of the rig.
Our rigger (Rob) noted that the bedding around our chain plates is an old product (popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s) called Dolfinite. It is still available, but I suspect its use to seal our chain plates is an indication that they’ve not been cleaned out and re-bedded in a long time. Also, there is rusty evidence of water leaking on most of our chain plates. Topsides, where the through-deck holes are sealed with a plate around each chain plate, more rust is evident.

The heavy fiberglass strut with the
chain plate removed. The rust stains
are superficial. Note the through-
deck hole at the top.

All of this led me to believe we may have serious crevice corrosion on our chain plates and may have to replace them before we can sail anywhere. To determine whether or not we have a problem, I had to remove the chain plates. (Note: the fore and aft stays on our boat are external, meaning they do not pass through the deck, creating the need for a collar of sealant, devoid of oxygen and where water may penetrate, causing corrosion. For this reason, problems with these chain plates are less likely to be hidden.)
I started with the uppers.
Stays on the sides of a mast are called shrouds. Shrouds generally extend either from the deck to the top of the mast (uppers) or from the deck to about halfway up the mast (lowers).
I first loosened the port side upper stay, until there was no longer any tension on the plate. Then I went below and removed the pretty wood trim that hides the port-side upper chain plate from view. Rust stains were on all the bolts and on the chain plate itself. Up around where it passed through the deck, there was additional rusty evidence of long-term water penetration. Then I removed the six massive 15/16” bolts used to attach the plate.
I learned that these bolts pass through nuts that are fiberglassed to the back of the strut to which the plate attaches and completely inaccessible. This is fine, but what if one of these is stripped or breaks free? Remedying that would be a major undertaking.
Once all of the bolts were removed, I went back out topsides and pulled the chain plate up through the hole in the deck. There I was, holding the heavy thing in my hand. I was pleased. I am going to have it polished so that I can be certain, but it appears to be one solid, intact piece of metal. I will pull the starboard upper today. If both of these uppers look good, and if the bedding material I dig out from the lowers is dry, I will re-bed all six shrouds from on deck and not pull the lowers at this time.
Once this re-rig project is complete, we can take our first sail as a family. It's been a long time coming.
This is Rob, an expert gringo rigger who helped us replace ours.
Above and behind him is Fisher, his expert gringo rigger

Saturday, October 22, 2011

By Michael

I've learned from our Ford Escort experience to buy a car
only after several years of that model have been
produced. Having spent most of my working life in
software development, I understand that a car, like software,
is a system that takes several builds before it is a stable,
reliable system. Our dear vehicle was the last iteration
of the Escort wagon when she was deployed in 1999,
and boy was she reliable.
Just after 9:00 p.m. last night, I was pulled over by Mexican police in an SUV. I was in a left turn lane across from the Walmart in downtown Puerto Vallarta. The light was red and they were behind me, lit up like a Christmas tree. They spoke over their loudspeaker, but I couldn’t understand a word. Folks stopped in the cars around me turned to look at me, the back of my head and the inside of my car ablaze from the light of a glaring spotlight. I shrugged at everyone and mouthed, “N-o    e-n-t-i-e-n-d-o.” I must have seemed ridiculous.
When the cars in my right lane moved forward, the police pulled up alongside. I now understood they wanted me to pull forward against the light, across the intersection, and stop. I clarified, in Spanish, whether they wanted me on the right or left. “Izquierda,” the driver responded.
He started by asking me whether I spoke Spanish or English. I offered that I spoke a little Spanish. He then explained my transgression: I should not have used the intersection a ways back to transition to the lateral, the name of the outside lanes from which left turns are made in Mexico. Windy suggested the same thing several times recently, so I nodded and asked, “Really?”
With my license in hand, he pantomimed writing a ticket and told me he would do just that. He said in Spanish that I could pay the $500 peso fine on Monday and pick up my license at the same time. I scrunched my eyebrows in a worried look I inherited from my mom and said, “I don’t understand.” He repeated everything in broken English.
I could see where this was going, but I wasn’t hurrying us along. “Where do I go on Monday? Where is the police station?”
“Do you want to pay it now?” he said.
“You said I have to pay Monday. I’ll need to get my license back. Where is the police station?”
“Two-hundred pesos, you pay now.”
“You said five-hundred, on Monday, at the police station. I’ll need to get my license back. I’m confused.”
He handed me my license in a bid to help me understand. In broken English he made it clear that I could pay now and avoid the hassle and big fine on Monday, my choice. I put the worried face back on and dug around in my pockets, it was still dark in my lap. I knew I had a couple of 500-peso notes and a couple of very small notes folded together. With slight-of-hand that would have impressed Houdini, I presented 70 pesos as all the cash I had. They accepted my offering and drove off.
During more than three months driving in Mexico, I was never pulled over. During our entire road-tripping odyssey from D.C., I was never pulled over. I haven’t been pulled over in probably eight years. Why was I in the left turn lane across from Walmart late at night? To hand over the keys to our car’s new owner, waiting for me in front of Walmart. I was less than a football field’s length away from never driving this car again.
Hopefully we can convince Frances to stay inside the lifelines when we are out sailing.
Lifeline netting is coming soon. Also shown here are the newly completed additions to our pulpit.
The metal cage at the bow is now stiffer and more enclosed. Before we leave,
we plan to add a seat up there, and a second anchor roller.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Saw
By Michael

I asked him how old his band saw was. He bunched his face
up in thought before replying, "No se. Compre esta sierra
mas de cuarenta y tres anos pasado." I smiled and nodded.
I told him that 43 years is a long time, that his saw is
strong, "esta muy fuerte." He agreed. I felt awkard asking
to take a picture of his saw, but I shouldn't have. When
I suggested he get in the frame, he did so without
hesitation, even grabbing a small piece of wood as
a prop.
I found Chuy’s shop (called Los Chotes by the locals) only after two hours of driving around and talking to several carpenters (carpenterias) about the work I needed done. Remounting the windlass on a block about 6-inches tall, I needed a cut out to match the outline of the oblong hawse pipe, so that it could mount flush on deck, beneath the gypsy. I learned there are a lot of carpenters in the local towns, but after visiting several, I determined only one has a band saw. I needed a band saw.
The shop is behind a house in a residential area of Bucerias. There were heaps of unfinished wood spilling onto the street where I parked. Two older men sat out front, shooting the breeze and watching the local comings and goings. I asked if I was in the right place.
The carpenter was interested when I brought out my big block of primavera. I showed him the area I wanted cut and he nodded and walked through a narrow, dark, alley-like passage. “Paso?” I said, asking permission to follow.
After about 25 feet, the space opened into a small, uncovered yard. I saw a huge, ancient-looking planer, tables and lumber all around, and in the middle, a harp-shaped band saw that must be made of cast iron. He set the block down and then went to throw a breaker switch. Before he could return, the thing came to life. The two large metal wheels began to turn, speeding up slowly. It rumbled a bit and sounded like there might be a failing bearing in the electric motor.
He spent 10 minutes carefully cutting until it was perfect. He shut off the breaker and went about looking for drill bits and hole saws with which to make the different holes I also needed. After about 20 minutes, I asked how much I owed.
“Cinquenta pesos,” he said. I gave him 60 (about $4.40 USD) and thanked him for his time.
Having obtained the services of several different tradesmen in Mexico, I find it interesting that no discussion of price seems to happen before work is started. Think about how radical that is. And it isn’t just me; I’ve watched the interactions and transactions of Mexicans before me. The work is described by the customer, the tradesman affirms his understanding of the work and his ability to do it, the customer nods or says, “Esta bien,” and work commences.
I think people accept that the price charged is fair. I think that word-of-mouth is a very potent communication tool in these small communities. The merchant knows that to overcharge a customer would not serve his business interests. Furthermore, in my experience, small jobs happen right then and there, while you wait, even if the tradesman is in the middle of another project. It would be a new experience for me to present a small job to a tradesman and be told (in Spanish), “Yeah, write your name here and a number where we can reach you, this should be done by Friday,” or, “I’m sorry, I need to you stay in the waiting area, no customers allowed in the shop, insurance rules.”
No, not here.

This is one taco stand we haven't tried. They sell only head tacos. Yes, head tacos.
The entire cow head is boiled until everything falls off (and out of) the skull.
What remains is put between a tortilla and called a head taco. This stand is in
La Cruz and belongs to Carrillo. The smaller print on the sign assures patrons
that their tacos will include cheek, eye, brain, snout, etc.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"We're country."
By Michael

Life is good for the Robertson girls. They miss daily some
of the people and animals that were a part of their D.C.
lives, but never any other aspects. One thing neither
Windy nor I anticipated is how this new life would bring
the two together. From the first day of our road trip, we
noticed a marked difference in the way they enjoy and
appreciate each other's company. Though this is likely
driven by circumstance (love the one you're with),
as a parent it is gratifying nonetheless.
In the summer of 2006, Brittney Spears used two words to explain why she zooms down PCH with her infant either in her lap or improperly restrained in the back of her convertible. Since that episode, I have several times--in my most culturally insensitive unflattering way--mocked her retort, and with a southern accent. I should probably stop.
Over the years, we spent hundreds of dollars to properly restrain our kids. We explained the importance of always being strapped in and we delighted when their little hands became strong enough to manage this task on their own. We saw the girls through several rights of passage: from rear-facing clip-in, to rear-facing infant seat, to forward-facing infant seat, to toddler seat, to booster seat, and now to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.
La Cruz is a first-gear town. Not by ordinance nor enforcement, but by common sense. Toddlers and dogs seem to always be on the cobblestoned streets of this little pueblito. Sidewalks are narrow or non-existent and so families spend their siestas on plastic chairs shaded by street trees, in the street. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, taco stands spill themselves and their customers onto the streets, often restricting two lanes to one. No cones nor concrete barriers, just people out in the streets: eating, sitting, talking, playing. There are no stop signs.
I think I was the first to tell the girls they don’t have to wear seat belts while we drive in La Cruz. They were overjoyed with the novelty of it. Days later they were crawling forward into the front seats with us. When Eleanor and I went together to collect the bundles of laundry from the lavanderia, I let her sit in the front passenger seat alone, unrestrained. Later still, on my special night out with Frances, I let her sit up front on my lap and steer on the gravel road that extends to the marina parking lot. And today, when the girls and I went out to get ice creams and pick up more laundry, I opened the back hatch and let them sit back there for the trip.
“Guys, don’t fall out or Mom’s not going to let you do this ever again.”
“We won’t. Thanks Dad.”
I guess we’re “country” too—though Eleanor did make a bid to sit on top of the car and I hardly hesitated before saying no. That’s tough love.

We had a team of metal workers at the boat today, three of them. Here a worker is grinding
one of six new stanchion support pieces in his vice. They are also fixing some cracks on
the davits, fabricating two vertical supports and one horizontal support for the bow
pulpit, and installing hand rails on the dodger sides. We will decide tomorrow if we
want them to make an additional anchor roller for us. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Not Your Father's Mexico
By Michael

Windy and the girls exiting one of several Starbucks in
Puerto Vallarta. This one was near our villa and when the
Internet was unavailable at the villa (as it often was), I
would escape here to post to this blog or do other
business, usually late at night. The place was always
packed, up until midnight, with middle-class Mexicans
and their ubiquitous wi-fi devices.
Ah Mexico, the land of minivans, dog walkers, and joggers.
Sound familiar?
It wasn’t to me either, but it’s true—and surprising because I thought I knew Mexico. Before 2010, I made at least a dozen trips here, ranging from 3 days to 4 months. But only my 4-month trip (1997) found me on the mainland; all my other visits were up and down the Baja. So the Mexico I knew was based primarily on my Baja travels—and Baja is in a class by itself. The Mexicans refer to it as la frontera, the frontier. Baja is akin to mainland Mexico as Alaska or Hawaii is akin to the United States. And furthermore, until 2010 I hadn’t travelled anywhere in Mexico for 11 years. So my perceptions were both narrow and dated.
I first noticed the cars. Heading south on Mexico's Interstate 15 this summer, the cars that passed us (and everyone passed us) weren’t held together with chicken wire like the ancient Datsun pickups I knew from my time in Baja pueblos. These cars were identical to the cars that passed us on U.S. Highway 101, except for the Mexican license plates. Granted Interstate 15 is a toll road and therefore exclusive, but having spent more than two months driving the non-exclusive streets of Puerto Vallarta, La Cruz, Bucerias, and Mezcales, I can report that new and late-model Honda Odysseys, VW Jettas, Ford Focuses, Toyota Siennas, Jeep Cherokees, and Nissan Sentras are common. When I drive our 1999 Ford Escort to the Home Depot, ours is usually among the sorriest of vehicles in the lot.
I remember reading and preparing in the years before we sailed south on our first cruise in 1996. We didn’t have an animal aboard, but I remember pet food being a topic of conversation among cruisers preparing to depart, about how difficult it was to find in Mexico and about strategies for provisioning large quantities for Fido. Those days are gone. In Banderas Bay, pet stores are everywhere (even in the local mercado behind the PV Walmart, and even in tiny La Cruz). And is your pooch is too good for Purina? You want Science Diet or Iams? It’s here.
Of course, my point is that these stores aren’t here to cater to U.S. tourists or expats who bring their pets down. Mexicans are keeping dogs and cats. This year, I have seen many more well-fed dogs on leashes than I have skinny street dogs.
And sometimes, Mexicans with dogs on leashes are jogging. And I see Mexican joggers without pets. And I see Mexican joggers in pairs. Until this trip to Mexico, I had not seen anyone out on the street jogging along simply for the sake of exercise. But after two months, it seems as normal as back home (and the number of joggers is surely lower in this summer season of oppressive heat and humidity).
All of my observations support the fact that there is now a large (and growing) middle class in Mexico. A while back, I stumbled on a New American Media article by Louis E. V. Nevear that Latitude 38 published online almost a month ago—it’s worth a read.
From my own research, I learned that Mexico is the 13th or 14th largest economy in the world, by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), according to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the CIA (and these rankings list and rank the European Union (E.U.) states individually, the Mexico ranking would be much higher were the E.U. ranked as one entity).
My 1970s education had me thinking in terms of first world countries and third world countries. I figured Mexico must be somewhere in between, but I didn’t know where. Well, those terms are passé. Today, countries are grouped into one of four categories by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita: Low Income, Lower-Middle Income, Upper-Middle Income, and High Income. Mexico is an Upper-Middle Income country.
For perspective, I compared Mexico’s GNI per capita to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) that dominate economic headlines. All but India are classed with Mexico as Upper-Middle Income (India is classed Lower-Middle Income). Comparing the GNI data used to group countries, Mexico is a close third behind Brazil and Russia.

2010 GNI Per Capita (in USD),
World Bank Data
United States
$47,240 (high income)

Mexico (with Brazil and Russia) is classed with 51 other countries as Upper-Middle Income, and just beneath the threshold required to join the 70 states in the High Income category.
In fact, as Nevear reported in his New American Media article, the head of Mexico’s Central Bank managed the Mexican economy so well over the past few years, that he gained attention as a possible successor to Dominique Strauss Kahn at the IMF (a position since filled by Christine Lagarde). And Mexico’s Finance Minister is credited with policies that have successfully concentrated growth domestically, thereby insulating Mexico as much as possible from the economic troubles of the U.S. and the world. To wit, Mexico’s GDP grew 5.5% in 2010 and is on track for a 4.5% increase this year.
Thankfully for diversity's sake, despite her economic prowess and progress, our neighbor to the south isn’t morphing into a reflection of the United States. Mexico is still delightfully Mexico, with all of her lovely differences intact and apparent—just with a Starbucks around the corner.

These guys are just finishing loading a 15-foot box truck with
pinapples, stacked 14 high and 18 wide. They may not be
a part of the middle class I'm noticing, but are likely part
of a lower-income working class that plays a big role in
powering the economic engine of Mexico. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In The Clear
By Michael

This is how Hurricane Jova looked to us today, from
the deck of Del Viento. Note all of the lines and fenders
around the Beneteau here; that is how we all looked,
preparing for the worst.
Jova spared the Banderas Bay area. Other than a brief spat of about 20 knots of wind late last night, we've experienced uncharacteristic drizzle, cool air, and cloud cover for the past 48 hours. Unfortunately, the pictures I saw of Manzanillo (near where the hurricane made landfall) don't look too good. There was a lot of flooding and a 21-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son lost their lives in a mudslide. Many other smaller communities, including Zihuatlan, Melaque, Barra de Navidad, and Chamela, were also hit hard.

With today's drizzle keeping me inside, I decided to tackle our head problems once and for all. This meant ripping out all of the existing plumbing to re-route it, and hopefully finding the source of our ongoing problems. At best, it is an unspeakably nasty job and once started, there is no turning back. Windy and the girls disappeared for the day.

This is what the inside of all the hoses I removed looked like,
and some looked even worse at some of the T's and other
junctions. Things should work a lot better with this replaced.
Be very glad this picture is not scratch-n'-sniff.
Marine sanitation hose is very stiff and some of the hose in our system is wire-reinforced. Once I loosened hose clamps, none of the hoses would pull from their barbed connectors, and that makes sense. I remember installing this hose on our last boat, it meant soaking the ends in boiling water for a few minutes to soften it up enough to pass over properly sized fittings. Of course, being a boat, all of this unwieldy hose is installed in very hard-to-reach places and passes through multiple bulkheads. I ended up using a hacksaw, Dremel, big wire cutters, and bloodied knuckles to remove everything in pieces. Unfortunately, it rained almost all day. Accordingly, I had the hatches closed tight. It smelled bad, really bad.

Tomorrow I'll head to Zaragoza (the only decent-sized chandlery within 100 miles) to buy a few meters of new hose and a rebuild kit for the Whale pump used to empty the holding tank. That will take care of the discharge side of the head plumbing system, and I can move onto the intake side...and this project isn't even on my list from a couple days back.

Storefronts all over Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding towns were taped up in advance of the
hurricane, from mom-and-pop bodegas to larger stores, like this Mega supermercado in Bucerias.

Monday, October 10, 2011

This Might Get Loud
By Michael

See that "S" above the two M's? That is Puerto
Vallarta. The little notch in the coast is
Banderas Bay. The bay is surrounded by a
rugged, hurricane-disrupting range.
(from NOAA data compiled at
Hurricane Jova’s predicted path shifted north and west over the past 24 hours (much closer to Puerto Vallarta). All three Banderas Bay harbors closed today and will remain closed until this thing passes. It is a category 3 hurricane with winds of 110 knots, gusting to 140; seas are running 38 feet—nasty stuff. But while all of yesterday’s models indicated likely strengthening of the storm to a category 4 by landfall, that now seems unlikely and Jova may in fact diminish in strength as it gets closer.
People here in our marina (La Cruz’s Riviera Nayarit) are beginning to get busy preparing. Half-a-dozen boats came in from the anchorage outside the harbor and took available slips. Most folks now have a web of dock lines securing their boats. Fenders are everywhere. Canvas awnings are disappearing. Only half of the two-dozen fishing pangas across the marina are still in the water; I expect the rest to be removed tomorrow.
Everyone is buzzing with hurricane talk, recounting their past experiences and their predictions for this one. The morning VHF net is all about preparations. Mike Danielson of PV Sails is giving detailed reports in scheduled broadcasts.
Unless this thing makes a geographically-unlikely direct hit on Puerto Vallarta, I still think it will break up quickly after making landfall just south of us. According to the National Hurricane Center in Florida, “RAPID WEAKENING IS LIKELY ONCE THE CORE OF THE TROPICAL CYCLONE MOVES INLAND AND OVER THE MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN OF SOUTHWESTERN MEXICO.” And mountainous it is: very rugged with peaks reaching more than ten-thousand feet. I think we will see some extreme tropical weather here, but nothing that will put our lives or boat in danger, so long as we prepare and play it safe.
Windy and I are preparing for very heavy rain and intense squalls. We are removing our dinghy and sun shade tomorrow, but leaving the sails up. I plan to wrap the main with a line over the sail cover and add some turns of the sheets around the head sail. After that, we’ll add some dock lines and fenders, pull the boat another 12 inches from the dock, clear the decks of everything, unzip the dodger windows, secure the solar panels, and hang on.
In the event it gets worse than we anticipate, we do have an offer from an expat living in town to use his home as a shelter. And unless it is raining very hard tomorrow, I plan to hold my weekly Spanish Class for Kids here at the yacht club. I think the theme will be weather.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oh, The Weather Outside...
By Michael

...isn't frightening, yet.

The buzz around Banderas Bay concerns a big storm that turned into a hurricane yesterday: Jova. Initial forecasts had Jova tracking directly over Puerto Vallarta; now they are projecting landfall about 100 miles south of us.

As I wrote here after studying hurricanes and the greater Puerto Vallarta area, we are topographically protected all around. The high mountains that surround us have served to effectively deflect or diminish named storms. We aren't as safe from hurricanes as say, San Francisco, but the number of direct hits over the years--and the weakness of those who do make it here--is so low that nearly all marine insurance companies will cover boats that remain in the area over hurricane season. Consequently, I don't think we are in danger from this one, though we may get some erratic and dramatic weather.

As of yesterday, there was a lot of hurricane talk at the marina, but no overt preparations being made. Today I notice a lot of dock lines doubled up and extra fenders out. We'll keep a close eye (pardon the pun) on this one and may have to take down our beloved sun shade.

In other weather news, daytime temperatures feel like they may have dropped a degree or two, and overnight temps are definitely dropping a bit; I'm waking up lately with a sheet covering half my body, so cozy.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The List That Keeps Me Up At Night
By Michael

Look at the element inside this two-micron Racor
fuel filter. I replaced this and there is no more
surging and nearly dying. I also replaced the
cracked, undersized fuel return line and the
worn, stretched v-belt. I had the wet exhaust
mainfold repaired. Except for changing the
lube oil, all engine-related work is done.
Despite the oppressive heat and humidity keeping things from progressing at more than a snail’s pace, we are completing projects. It is almost conceivable that we will be ready to start our life at anchor November 1—though I think we may push the date back a couple days to be here for the Dia de los Muertos celebration. Regardless, a lot remains to be done:
  • Remove and reinstall the windlass to mount it on a taller base
  • Remove and replace seven port lights
  • Ready the back-up anchor for deployment
  • Remove and replace the standing rigging
  • Apply at least one additional coat of varnish
  • Ready the dinghy/motor for reliable use
  • Apply the name on the hull
  • Get rid of the car
  • Install lifeline netting
And there are probably many more things on Windy's list that I am forgetting. Additionally, I would like to install our new LED mast head tri-light and we will likely have over $1,000 worth of stainless work done to reinforce the stern rail and stanchions where we board, to put handholds on the sides of the dodger, and to install additional tubing around the bow pulpit to reinforce the structure and to create more of a safety cage up there.

The girls occupying themselves in the wet sand at the other side of the marina,
on a hot, rainy afternoon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In Pursuit Of Medical Insurance
By Michael

The girls use clips, cloth, cups, chairs, and all manner
of things to create forts, stores, restaurants, and pet
homes on the deck.
We decided to buy worldwide catastrophic comprehensive health insurance. I knew of only two insurers in this market: Lifeboat Medical Insurance (the company that Lin and Larry Pardey went with) and Seven Corners. It seemed that Lifeboat accepts only paper applications while Seven Corners works online. Also, whereas I thought they were competitors, I learned that the Lifeboat policies (sold by Kuffel, Collimore, & Co to members of the Charter Yacht Society of the British Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Charter League) are simply repackaged versions of Seven Corner’s Reside plan, with Seven Corners administering.
I contacted Seven Corners. Their worldwide catastrophic comprehensive medical insurance policies are underwritten by Certain Underwriters of Lloyd’s of London. I disclosed all our family’s infirmities, per the application. I expected the underwriters to come back with a list of exclusions based on the information I provided. I did not expect the exclusions to be unnecessarily comprehensive.
For example, on the application, they asked:
Within the past ten (10) years, have you or any applicant been medically advised, referred, counseled, treated, had surgery or been treated, diagnosed or currently taking prescription medical for diseases or disorders of the eyes, nose, ears and throat (including, but not limited to: nasal septum deviation, chronic sinusitis, cataracts, glaucoma, allergies or hay fever)?
I disclosed my half-dozen bouts of iritis over the years. (Iritis is a spontaneous and painful inflammation of the iris muscle. Nobody seems to know what causes it, but if untreated, it can lead to terrible cataracts and ultimately blindness--though it is so painful, I cannot imagine anyone not receiving treatment. Fortunately, treatment is both effective and straightforward, involving steroids.) Following my disclosure, Seven Corners offered us coverage, but with the following exclusion (and there were others):
Any illness, disease, or physical disorder of the eyes, including any complications thereof - Michael, Permanent
It seemed like a pretty broad exclusion given my disclosure, so I asked for more specificity and offered an example to clarify: “If Michael accidently stabs himself in the eye with a fork, that injury will be covered, yes?”
A manager underwriter got right back to me:
For the eye rider there is a chance there could be coverage for an accident depending on the medical facts and the diagnosis from the doctor. The eye rider excludes treatment for any illness, disease or physical disorder of the eyes and also any complications of illnesses, diseases and physical disorders of the eye. The most the plan would likely cover would be to stabilize the eye injured during the accident but once stable coverage would typically cease. This would be determined by the medical facts and diagnosis, it is pretty difficult to adjudicate a hypothetical claim as there is/are no actual fact(s) to review.
Whoa. Not exactly the response I was looking for. In short, I injure my eye in an accident and they will only cover the costs of "stabilizing" the eye because I have a history of eye muscle inflamation? And too, what have the Plain English Campaign folks been doing since 1979? They clearly have a lot of work remaining.
Fortunately, I learned there are other players in this market; I am going to continue shopping around. Unfortunately, some of the companies seem obscure and with spelling errors on their websites. Additionally, there are so many agents out there that it is sometimes hard to know when I am applying for the same coverage from the same underwriter through different agents. I’ve got some emails out and I welcome any advice or information.

This cute little gal is one of the Manos de Amor orphans we hosted on Mexican Independence
Day. It is a lovely picture and I forget her name. I will get it when we do our Halloween event
with them. I suspect our version of Halloween has caught on here, as the bigger stores are all
brimming with the same kind of seasonal merchandise we would see in the States. Mexico's
Dia de los Muertos is November 1 and I can't wait to see what that is like. From what I've
learned talking to folks, a family's particular celebration is open to all passersby,
whether at the cemetary or in the home.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Are We Doing This?
By Michael

Frances chose to wear her balerina outfit for her fancy night
out with Papa. We went to the lighthouse bar in Marina
Vallarta for Shirley Temples, then found a restaurant that
serves macaroni and cheese, then rode the merri-go-round
at the Liverpool mall before getting frozen yogurt and
calling it a night. Here she is showing off her nail polish
prior to leaving.
Do you know what a holding tank is? When boats are grouped together in tight quarters in protected, shallow waters (such as a marina), the prudent thing to do is to pump your toilet waste into a tank on board, holding your toilet paper, piss, and crap until the boat is in the open ocean (3 miles offshore, by law) or until you have the means to have the tank sucked clean by a shore-based pump (there is always a little window in the hose so you can verify the stuff is indeed pumping out of your tank).
Our 25-gallon holding tank lives under the nicely upholstered bench seating that surrounds our eating table. Usually, it is easy to forget it is there because there is no odor and because we try not to crap in the toilet on board while here in the marina, better to use their facilities. But alas, kids have to go in the middle of the night, and on rare occasions (tourista!) we just gotta go, now!
We are having holding tank problems. The thing isn’t venting as it should, but I can’t find the problem. The onboard manual pump we use to empty the tank into the ocean isn’t working consistently, or maybe there is an undiagnosed clog? The other night, the tank filled and literally swelled like it was going to burst (the vent is supposed to prevent this). It was weeping at the seam (yeah, yuck) and the boat reeked (you can imagine…no, don’t). Then in the middle of the same night, it started to rain hard and we had to close the hatches, sealing ourselves into the stink. It was impossible to sleep. The temperature increased. The unbearable smell got more unbearable. Then the rain abated…hatches flung open…fresh air! We gulped it down like we’d been trapped in a submarine. We emptied the tank this morning at the marina pump-out facility. Things aboard are much improved and a long-term fix is underway.
But we had a house with two bathrooms, each with a toilet that just flushed (no pumping and turning valves), day or night. They didn’t smell and we didn’t store our excrement in a tank we sat on around the dining room table. Why are we doing this?
I struck out on my own relatively early in life. And I left the nest with no illusions about how difficult it would be. Growing up, my mom told a story from her college years, how she was so poor she would go to a local diner, ask for a bowl of hot water and then add ketchup to it until it resembled tomato soup. Along with the free crackers sitting on the table and a glass of water, she would call it a meal.
I don’t know why, but I left home eager to struggle like that on my own. I wanted to make my own way at all costs. I wanted to know that my life was a product of me, of my efforts, of my successes, of my failures. I wouldn’t accept anything else.
Having just jumped out of our own comfortable nest in D.C. and into this cruising life, I can’t help but see a parallel. Cruising isn’t comfortable like living in a home. Even in a marina, I walk the length of a football field to take a shower at night. Doing dishes at anchor will be just like our old boat: we will stand on one foot and pump water with the other, salt water (saving our fresh water for just a quick rinse at the end—because outside of a marina, fresh water is lugged aboard in 6-gallon containers).
Am I somehow drawn to a more difficult life? A sucker for a struggle?
Obviously, we had a desire to spend more time together. The cruising life is rich, yet relatively inexpensive, allowing us to work less and live more. But what if we could have stayed in our D.C. home and I didn’t have to work? Would we still give up toilets that flush, always available hot water, excellent Internet connectivity, and air conditioning?
Yes…unequivocally yes.
This life is rich. And the adversity sucks—it just does—but not to the extent you may imagine.
For example, aboard Del Viento at anchor, a shower is different than it was in our D.C. home. Like on our first boat, we’ll fill a 2-gallon solar shower (purpose-built plastic bag with one black side to absorb solar radiation) with fresh water and leave it on deck to warm up. In the evening, I’ll crank it up in the air using the main halyard and a winch. I’ll then open the valve and stand under a small, weak stream of water, turning it off and on between lathering and rinsing to conserve water.
Isn’t that terrible?
Nope, because I’ll be standing on the foredeck of my boat. I’ll be surrounded by beautiful water and a nice vista, the sky turning the rich colors of a glorious sunset to come, frigate birds are hunting high above me. It is unbelievably beautiful and at most anchorages and there is often not another boat nor soul in sight. I’ll appreciate that I'm washing the salt off my skin so that I’ll sleep better on the clean cotton sheets in my berth.
Every drop that falls out of my solar shower is worth gallons and gallons of the stuff I took for granted pouring out of my D.C. shower head. And that is why adversity is such a small price to pay for the life we chose.
And that is why this lifestyle change is not akin to leaving home, in search of a struggle that will define me or allow me to see who I am in this world. This time it is not about the struggle, it is about enrichment. You know how when camping, after a day of hiking, whatever hot meal you get from your one-burner butane camping stove tastes like the greatest…thing…ever? Day-to-day in this cruising life my sensibilities feel heightened in that same way about everything. Not so good when dealing with a bulging holding tank, but absolutely extraordinary for the evening showers at anchor to come.

Here I am at the start of my project to replace the windlass solenoids. It turned out to be a
bigger job than I anticipated. In the end, my whole body would find it's way through
that square hole at the head of the v-berth and into the anchor locker.
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