Friday, December 30, 2011

Not Bad For A Thursday
By Michael


The alarm sounded about this time. We haven’t woken to an alarm since leaving D.C.; I hope this doesn’t happen again soon. But we were anchored out off Punta de Mita and the family aboard Convivia invited us over for coffee, early. Early is what they do.

Tucker and Victoria on Convivia are a couple with strong streaks of technical geek, inventor, and go-getter running through them. And they love coffee. Before leaving San Francisco (and with plenty on their plate having decided to go cruising and with two small children in tow), they decided it would be a good idea to find a way to roast coffee beans aboard. So they bought an extra large barbeque, had some slots cut in the lid, and incorporated a hamster cage-like rotisserie contraption with a handle for turning. They packed their vessel full of green gourmet coffee beans and they roast regularly. Grinding happens below with an elegant, manual, shiny brass device.
We made a thermos of Mexican hot cocoa, cut up some fresh pineapple, and launched the dinghy to visit with our friends for an hour or so over what Windy said was pretty damn good coffee. Then we wished them all fair winds and dinghied back to Del Viento, not sure when we will see this cruising family again. They are headed for the South Pacific this spring, and we are headed to the Pacific Northwest this summer. We could both cruise the oceans of the world for the next 10 years and never again cross wakes. But we made a connection and that is the way cruising is.

Windy hard at work halfway up the mast.
Now on our minds was the earlier (prudent) departure of another cruising family, also anchored off Punta de Mita and bound as we were for the port of Chacala, about 35 nautical miles up the coast (nautical miles are a bit longer than the statute miles you drive in your car, 1.152 times longer).

But alas, as we approached our girl, we could see that her spreaders were drooping, a defeated pose for any rig. Sagging spreaders are not something that can be observed from deck, it takes an away-from-the-boat perspective to see this. And what is important is that sagging spreaders are dangerous. Spreaders should be proud, pointed slightly upward, bisecting the wire stay. Ours were like small broken wings, unable to play their critical role in maintaining the integrity of the mast.
Instead of hauling the anchor, I hauled Windy up the mast to adjust the spreaders while I loosened and retightened each side. They were not like this when we left La Cruz. But en route I adjusted the spreaders on both sides, when they were flagging in the leeward position, probably mistakenly tightening them down after they’d fallen.


Motoring around the northern point of Bahia de Banderas (and finally out into the open ocean), we saw our first Humpback whale breach. It pushed the first 30-feet-or-so of its massive body near vertical out of the water before stalling—hanging for a split second—and falling sideways with a massive splash. We were all gaping mouths, smiles, and shouts. We saw at least 20 more whales throughout the day. We saw a number of spectacular breaches, many tail-up soundings, about 40 blows, and a couple whales that repeatedly slapped the water with massive pectoral fins. We didn't take a single picture.

It was about this time that we saw our first rays of the day, while under sail. They were the brown rays, about a foot in diameter, in schools of dozens, jumping out of the water over and over, creating what looked like a giant fish boil.

I went down below to make a batch of killer guacamole with our remaining cilantro.

We then saw larger rays, jumping/flying out of the water, flashing sparkling white undersides as they flapped their wings in what looked like a bid to fly.

Up at the bow with Windy, Frances and Eleanor made eye contact with another ray as he jumped out of the water and up to deck level, just a few feet away. Eleanor said “He had a small mouth and he was cute!”

While under sail, I took some extra turns of the furling line off the drum, whipped the end, and reinstalled.

One of the larger sea turtles I’ve seen appeared up ahead while Windy was driving. She steered to within a few feet of him and he didn’t dive as they often do. He continued his rest period at the surface and simply kept an eye on us as we glided by.

Windy and the girls spied a pod of dolphins ahead, circling an area of water in what appeared to be an urgent, coordinated hunt for some fish we couldn’t see.

After motor sailing sixty percent of the day, we made it into Chacala hours after Wondertime, but still before dark. On our way in, they called on the radio and invited us over for dinner (we gladly accepted). Like Convivia, Wondertime is planning to cross to the South Pacific this spring. Our paths will soon also diverge, but we learned that they plan to depart from La Paz and to first see some of the Sea, so we look forward to seeing more of them during the coming months.

It seemed later than this to us because our travels brought us into mountain time today, so we gained an hour. But dog tired after our day (but not so sleepy after all the chocolate the crew of Wondertime fed us), we retired.
-- MR

Eleanor, Frances, and Leah (from Wondertime) ham it up for a picture in
front of the gingerbread house they constructed and decorated while
anchored out off La Cruz.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Hookers
By Michael

This time of year, open markets in all the neighborhoods
and towns feature everything Christmas, from toys to
decorations. Baby Jesus figurines are everywhere, in
sizes to fit any budget. This one is about 12-inches
long and features a repaired broken leg. None
depict the holy child without mascara.
We made it. Sunday, with little fanfare, we pulled the dock lines aboard and motored out of the marina to stake our claim in the La Cruz anchorage. We set the hook in 23 feet of water just in time to enjoy a sunset from the cockpit, cold beers in hand. It was the kind of sunset that gives the sky dimension and depth that extends overhead and behind you, ribbons of high-altitude clouds saturated orange at one horizon and tinged pink at the other.

The girls laid low, unused to the motion of the ocean—though we were all rocked to sleep and slept soundly our first night, absent the creaking of dock lines we’d grown used to.
Three things remained to do before our first sail. First, when I went to install the Tank Tender sending units into the taped-up holes atop the new water tanks, I found that the threads were not correct. Until they could be corrected, temporarily sealing these holes to prevent water from leaking out when heeled, is difficult. Second, I needed to pull Windy up the mast to adjust our spreaders, to bang on the undersides until they bisect the wire to form equal inside angle, above and below. Third, she needed to install the new spreader boots on the same trip up the mast.

After several trips to the machine shop in Puerto Vallarta to resolve the tank thread issue—I think I wrapped that up. After hauling Windy up the mast yesterday morning, using her 20-year-old climbing harness and our main halyard, she was able to fix the spreader alignment, but not able to install the only boots I could find for sale in Puerto Vallarta, too small. So, she carefully felt the spreader tips with her hands and deemed them smooth enough not to chafe the sail in the short term, and we called that project complete. Then yesterday, we hauled the anchor and went sailing for a few hours. It was, it was amazing. The winds were light, but our fully-loaded sloop with a very high-cut genoa glided around the bay like she was on rails. Surprising to both of us was how steady she was. Either of us could leave the helm long enough to use the head, and the boat would track straight. On the first Del Viento, you could hardly take your hand off the helm long enough to stick it in a bag of chips before she rounded up--no matter how she was trimmed. We were all smiles, all four of us.
Eleanor grabbing some alone time in the
The past couple of weeks have been a blur—the big push. We accomplished a ton of work in that time. Added to the amount of work we’ve completed since arriving in Mexico, it is a formidable list (see below).

Our plans for the near future include wrapping up small jobs aboard (like rewiring the nav lights) and allowing the girls to spend time with their friends aboard Wondertime and Convivia. It’s interesting that we visited both of these boats on our way down in the car last summer, in their respective home ports. I wrote about our Wondertime visit here. The post I wrote about our meeting with Convivia was lost, but they wrote here about our visit aboard their beautiful Cal 43 in San Francisco Bay, the day after the Independence Day fireworks.

Last night Eleanor went carolling with the kids aboard Popoki and Andiamo III. She and Frances plan to do the same again this evening. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and we plan to sail north the day after Christmas, bound for La Paz and our landlubbing friends Tim and Nancy. Wondertime will likely join us for a bit of the way, maybe stopping with us at Chacala and Isla Isabella. Mid-January, Windy’s mom arrives in La Paz for a two-week stay aboard. We plan to take her out to the nearby islands (no, not to drop her off).

Windy and the girls aboard the newly-anchored, newly-named Del Viento.

Windy and I aligning the hailing port on the transom before application. This is
about the last thing we did before leaving the slip.

The 2011 refit of Del Viento includes, in no particular order:
  • Removed the old boat name, applied the new name
  • Removed the exhaust elbow, had it repaired, reinstalled
  • Installed the CO detector
  • Installed 2 smoke detectors
  • Replaced all the standing rigging
  • Replaced 6 chainplates
  • Removed, marked, reinstalled the headsail
  • Replaced the main halyard
  • Replaced the headsail sheets
  • Replaced the water tanks
  • Cleaned and painted nearly the entire bilge
  • Replaced 2 windlass solenoids
  • Replaced the windlass base
  • Had the davits re-welded
  • Had jack line eyes welded to the companionway stanchions
  • Had 6 supports welded to 6 aft stanchions
  • Had struts welded to the bow pulpit
  • Had a new anchor roller fabricated
  • Had hand-holds fabricated for the dodger frame
  • Relocated old anchor roller as secondary and install new primary
  • Had the teak toe rails and trim stripped to bare wood
  • Applied 7 coats of varnish to the teak toe rails and trim
  • Replaced the gaskets on both main hatches
  • Stripped and painted new nonskid decks
  • Cleaned and painted all interior lockers and cubbies
  • Had all the furniture cushions reupholstered
  • Rebuilt the anchor locker floor
  • Installed a new bilge pump switch and wiring
  • Installed new bilge pumps
  • Repaired the manual bilge pump
  • Relocated thru-hull for the primary bilge pump
  • Cleaned the salt water strainers
  • Replaced the house and starting batteries
  • Rebuilt the floor that supports the house batteries
  • Replaced a lead of 2/0 wire for the windlass
  • Had the hull and topsides buffed
  • Rebuilt the toilet
  • Redesigned and replaced the head plumbing
  • Removed, cleaned, repaired, and reinstalled the holding tank
  • Built a new solar panel arch
  • Installed an additional solar panel
  • Replaced the Racor water separator filters
  • Replaced the fuel return line
  • Installed the wifi booster antennae
  • Installed a new stereo system and speakers
  • Installed 6 fans
  • Installed a 4-inch solar fan in the head cabin top
  • Installed a new propane solenoid and hose
  • Replaced the overhead light fixture in the head
  • Replaced all the interior bulbs with LEDs
  • Removed all the bonding wires/foil
  • Added blocking to the floor of the lazarette
  • Replaced all the fresh water plumbing
  • Reconfigured the selector switch for the galley fresh/salt pump water
  • Regreased the Maxprop
  • Prepped and painted the bottom with new antifouling
  • Had a gel coat crack in the bow repaired
  • Replaced refrigeration wiring connections
Of course, this list omits the hours and hours and hours spent exploring, playing, blogging, cleaning, learning, organizing, socializing, and shopping. I’m not including all of the time spent on the two dinghy motors. In that context, it is amazing to me what we accomplished these past five months. And a few projects remain:
  • Re-bed the opening port lights in the girls’ cabin
  • Install the 7 port lights we brought down with us
  • Install the LED mast head tri-color and anchor light

Thursday, December 15, 2011

By Michael

(Vanity Fair)
Christopher Hitchens died tonight. Much of the reporting I've read is filled with canned references to his "battle" and "fight" with esophageal cancer. It ain't right. I recall clearly listening to an interview he gave Anderson Cooper two months after his diagnosis last year, during his tour for his bestselling memoir, Hitch-22. In that interview he said, "Having to sit through chemo therapy is an almost zen experience in boredom, you can't do much except read, you don't feel great, and you're watching poison go into your arm. People say you should be struggling, battling cancer. You aren't battling cancer, you couldn't be living a more passive moment than that. It feels as if you are drowning in powerlessness."

Hitchens was brilliant. But what resonated with me more than the power of his intellect, was his eloquence. He expressed himself just as clearly in extemporaneous thought as he did in his writing. Peers have said that he wrote nearly as quickly as he spoke.

Though nobody doubts his intellect, to many his thoughts, when contrarian, were strident--and I don't think that is without intent. In our often over-simplified world, where labels are used to immediately peg people, to simplify what should be complex for the need of an audience to quickly digest information and reinforce prejudice, Hitchens was a contrarian. Dare to label, or otherwise characterize him simply, and you will soon be wrong. He was an athiest who believed that life begins at conception. He was a one-time socialist who supported George W. Bush.

Coincidently, last week I watched a 100-minute formal debate between Hitchens and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (I was just talking to some other cruisers about it at our full-moon bonfire.)  The two debated the motion: Is religion is a force for good in the world? This was one of the Munk Debates filmed in Toronto November 2010, in association with the BBC and Intelligence Squared. Hitchens is funny, serious, and thought provoking. He is well into his treatment and left hairless by chemo. If you want to celebrate Hitchens or learn more about him, I encourage you to take time from your day to watch.

If you've read this far: I can report that while blog posts have been scarce lately, progress in our quest to get out of the slip has not waned. We plan to leave as soon as Saturday...and go sailing. More later.

9/11 was a turning point in Hitchen's personal and professional lives. His post-attack
position that the U.S. should unseat Saddam Hussein was controversial and
alienated some of his closest friends, notably Gore Vidal. This is a picture of
Hitchens in Iraq in 1975, a time when he likely developed an understanding an
affinity for the Kurds. (Washington Post)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

15 Years Ago Today
By Michael

On December 7, 1996, after a couple letters, a couple phone calls, and a single visit, Windy and I set off on our first voyage relative strangers. We liked it, and that's why we're doing it again.

Windy and I left our Ventura, California slip on a cold, clear morning.
Pictured on the left is our friend Tim Fitzmorris who later flew down
to crew on our Panama Canal transit. On the right is my dad (l) and our
friend Bill Cornick (r).
The Ventura skyline behind me. This is my excited face, really.

New Year's Eve in a cruiser's bar in Cabo San Lucas with our friends Lyn and
Connie Breedlove (l) and Dar Rice and Michael Dion (r),
of Principia and Mimosa, respectively.

Windy swimming with a friend at Los Islotes, an islet at the northern end of Isla
Espiritu Santo, in Mexico's Sea of Cortez near La Paz.

Windy intrepidly gliding past bigger friends in the flat calm, 100 miles offshore
enroute to Mazatlan, Mexico. These were members of a larger pod of sperm whales.

We didn't start the trip as a couple, but by the time this picture was taken, we were.

A motorcycle we rented in Guatemala.
A vista in the Guatemalan highlands.

About to be boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard from a U.S. Navy launch
from the guided missle destroyer in the distance. We were in the Bay
of Panama and they were looking for drugs.
Windy and our friend Tim on the foredeck during our canal transit.

Windy and my mom thought the Panama Canal transit was hilarious.

Spotting howler monkies from the fresh water of Lake Gatun, Panama.

Having fun on Columbia's Isla Providencia.
Prepared to abandon ship and waiting, so tired I could hardly keep
my eyes open, trapped anchored 100 yards off Maria la Gorda, Cuba--
a lee shore with 50-knot winds blowing from 1997's tropical storm
Andres. The anchor line chaffed through shortly after this was taken
and we were able to motor sail off, barely.

A pretty dawn in June, a few hours from a Key West landfall and the end of our trip--
at least for 15 years.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tank Progress
By Michael

Eleanor and the 3-year-old tanks at the machine shop.
Presumably because they were leaking, the previous owners of our boat replaced both the original, 30-year-old stainless steel water tanks in 2008, in Guaymas/San Carlos and used the services of reputable welders. When we bought the boat in June 2010, one of the tanks was leaking slowly and on both tanks, epoxy was smeared along the inside seams. So the tanks we just tore out of the boat enjoyed a lifespan in the 12- to 18-month range. That’s shocking. And while I’m still not sure why they were so short lived, I now know where they failed.

·    All of the interior baffle welds were rusting and weeping on the outside of the tank.
·    The welded seams were corroded and leaking in places.
·    Pin-holes were near the welded seams and appeared sporadically at other places.
My theory is that the tanks failed due to a combination of electrolysis and poor welding.

Electrolysis: All of the tanks and thru-hulls and mast step and even a chain plate, were bonded with a combination of heavy-gauge wire and copper strapping. Experts still argue amongst themselves over whether or not bonding is a good practice, or a bad one. In my reading, I learned that even proponents of bonding concede that there is a lot of room for error in terms of conduit size and adequate attachments, and that error can serve to magnify and even create problems. Whereas by not bonding metal components in a boat, you lose the theoretical advantages of bonding, but avoid the pitfalls. I don’t think bonding is necessary and I removed all of the bonding aboard Del Viento. Hopefully isolating the new tanks will contribute to their longevity. As an aside, when I was in the water cleaning the hull and zincs the other day, I happened to reach up and noted current in the port-side cockpit drain thru-hull. It is above the waterline and obviously attached to something inside that is producing the current. I have to tear Eleanor’s bed apart to determine the cause, so I haven’t done this yet.
A pin hole is clearly visible here, just adjacent to the crimp weld. There are
many others along this seam, a half-a-dozen or so visible in this picture.
Poor welding: There is no reason the interior spot welds on the baffle tabs should be apparent on the outside of the tank as they are. But every one of these welds is corroded on the outside of the tank and leaking. My understanding is that it takes an experienced welder to not “overdue” things. I think these welds were overdone. The tank seams were crimped and then welded. I think this was not the best approach, resulting in crevices where crevice and pitting corrosion can occur—and it looks like it might have.

This is how all of the interior baffle welds look on the outside of both tanks.
I’ve got the new tanks in the boat and installed. Tomorrow I am going to fill them with water to ensure there is no settling or position changes that will happen when they weigh 450 pounds each. Then I will continue working to get the floor joists in their exact positions before I glass them to the hull. From there, attaching the flooring and replacing all of the furniture will be time-intensive, but straightforward.

Here is how things looked just before I dropped the
new tanks in: all freshly painted with BilgeKote.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Fine Day
By Michael

Frances rode her bike into the marina the other
day. I recovered it for her. A little WD-40 and
she is good to go.
Yesterday, nobody worked on the boat. Instead, we crewed on a friend's boat, Wondertime, for the first leg of the Banderas Bay Blast, a 3-day sailing race event sponsored by Latitude 38 and to benefit local children.

It was very, very nice.

We left the dock midday and crossed the starting line outside the La Cruz marina about 1:45. For the next few hours, we charged ahead, tacking north towards our destination: the anchorage off Punta Mita.

When we crossed the finish line at dusk, the committee boat sounded a blast and announced our finish over the VHF. We dropped the hook, whipped up some fresh guacamole, and opened some cold beers. The sunset was unreal: a huge, fusia ball on the horizon. But to our dismay, the finale was precisely obsured by an anchored power boat several hundred yards off the port side.

Today Windy and the girls bussed over to Paradise Village Marina to watch Wondertime arrive from their downwind, second leg of the race. The kids are all eager to play in the pool. Tomorrow they'll return to Paradise where Eleanor and Frances will participate in the chili cook-off as members of the La Cruz Kids Club.

Here are the Wondertime and Del Viento girls during the race. I guess this was our
foredeck crew, here managing the twin head sails.
I'm remaining here in the La Cruz to work on the boat. Our tanks arrived today, our anchor roller modifications were completed yesterday, and the four new chainplates for the lower stays will be here by Wednesday. Everything has come together and suddenly the ball is in my court; our escape from the marina hinges on my efforts. Racing on Wondertime yesterday was a good catalyst for the push to our own finish line.


Note: we first met Michael and Sara and their girls Leah (5) and Holly (3) in Olympia, Washington on our car trip from D.C. to Mexico. They arrived here in La Cruz about a week ago and Frances could not be happier to have a playmate her own age in Leah. The two get along like peanut butter and jelly.

Here is our foredeck crew post-race with a pirate. This pirate is Richard Spindler, publisher
of the sailing magazine Latitude 38. I met Windy 15 years ago through an ad she posted in
Latitude 38.

This picture I took from the Latitude 38 blog, 'Lectronic Latitude. Wondertime is a
Benford 38, a ketch with both a headsail and a staysail. The pinkish blob on deck
in this low-res pic is the girls and Windy sitting atop the cabin on the windward
side. In fact, today 'Lectronic Latitude posted this picture and a few more
featuring Eleanor and Frances and other cruising kids.
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