Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Getting Warm Again

After a year (and a bit) of buying and refurbishing a house that we made a real home we are back on the road for a winter in Mexico.  We spent last winter in Vancouver, WA and I enjoyed it very much.  It was the first time I spent a winter in the gray and cold for a long time.  We slowly, after an initial burst of business, put many of the touches on the house that we wanted from day one (like a wine room).  Other items, like a back deck will have to wait until later.

We put the gators in the moat and handed the keys to the castle over to our son and headed out.  Visiting friends as we go is another plus to taking any trip and this time is no exception.

Today finds us in Willits, CA at a KOA with a hot tub just outside the door.  Last night we luxuriated in the tub and restore ourselves after a day of winding our way south on the 101 with lots of stops for construction.  The hot tub worked all the kinks out and was worth the bit extra for the site.  A big day for us is 250 to 350 miles and this trip is no exception; especially so when you factor in twisty/hilly roads.  The motor home does really well with the hills because it has a good gear down capability but it is wearing if you do a full day of it.  We will probably switch over to I-5 sometime today to continue our trek south.

Monday, January 26, 2015


     It was seven years ago that Sandy and I started this adventure.  The sailing south, the traveling, the crewing, the rebuilding of many (most) of the systems on Faith and all the rest of the changes we have been part of the fun.  We have turned around and NOT done things when it seemed the right thing to do.  In fact, our motto has been (for a long time now), “If it’s not fun, do something else.”

     Overall we have a very functional boat now.  Things go wrong from time to time but we are comfortable and can fix or have fixed by someone else whatever the issue is.  Our last passage was a case in point.  We have been trying to go to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta) for the last two years.  We have yet to make it there.  When we left La Paz we were smoking toward our destination.  We had the wind on the beam much of the time and it took only eight and a half hours to get as far as Bahia de Los Muertos (a developer is trying to change the name to Bahia de Los Sueños… taking it from being the Bay of the Dead to Bay of the Dreams).  There was a strong diesel smell below and we discovered that we needed to do a little work to get that stopped so we dropped anchor instead of continuing and dealt with the cure after letting the motor cool a bit.  That night gave us another surprise… I got up early thinking we would pull up the anchor and go on but when I stepped into the forward head my foot landed in water.  Oooops.  It took some time to figure out what was likely wrong and to test the theories.  In the end the suspected solenoid valve corrected itself after multiple flushes and we were ready to carry on.  Naturally there was yet another issue that popped up.  We had only old GRIB files to predicted weather along with the morning report on the shortwave net featuring up coming weather and it went from looking promising to looking and sounding difficult to make our voyage completed before the weather turned nasty.  We don’t want to say that we are pretty much fair weather sailors but at this point we are fair weather sailors.

The feathers show winds up around 25 knots in the area we would be sailing.  No thanks

     So, it wasn’t too difficult to make the decision to turn back toward La Paz in the remaining short weather window we had. 

     This brings me to another change that has occurred in the last seven years.  When we stared Sandy was a confident Captain most of the time and the things that caused her pause were few and understandable.  At first she had almost no anchoring experience so was reluctant to anchor close in or in shallower water.  We have discussions of how close to get to shore or other boats but, over time, she has come to rely on where I want to place us.  A few things have helped in that confidence building over this time.  One has been that I am the Navigator/Technician while she retains the Captaincy.  This means that my role is to advise her of options while the real decision is hers to make.  We discuss things but it is not important to me that my opinion has any more weight than anyone else’s.  There are times when I understand that her process carries with it some stress.  Coming into the dock, leaving the dock, anchoring in a crowd of boats… these things would cause me stress so when she cannot sleep the night before or, perhaps, raises her voice a tad I don’t take it personally.  From experience I understand completely.  On our recent return to La Paz we had a several tense moments where Sandy needed to heed my advice and she did but it rose to a new level some stress just prior to getting to the marina! 

(To solve the anchoring too close to other boats I gave Sandy a golfing range finder so that she is certain that we aren’t too close other boats)

     The entrance to La Paz is a little narrow, not horribly so but certainly it is important to follow the channel markers.  As I looked in toward the entrance I was advising Sandy of quite a bit of traffic in the channel.  My eyesight is markedly better than hers.  There were also several boats aiming for the entrance and some under sail coming out of the channel.  Boats under sail have the right of way over boats under power.  Additionally, there was a tanker at the tank farm that more or less marks the entrance.  The tanker was nearly blocking entrance.  We had one ketch with only the mizzen mast under sail that seemed to be meandering in the vicinity of the entrance and another, larger ketch gaining on us from behind under motor power.  While all this was going on I noticed that there was a Mexican Navy boat exiting La Paz… it was nearly invisible in the overcast light against a gray background of some condos that are still under construction and cement colored.  The Navy here tends to be fairly fast but this time they were making a cautious exit.  I lost rack of them for a few moments when they were hidden behind the tanker but eventually I saw them popping out of the last set of channel markers and that was when I noticed that the tanker might be moving!  The navy exited, the large ketch gaining on us motioned us ahead and, finally, the “mizzen ketch” wandered off to other places.  Then I saw clearly that the chain links on the anchor for the tanker were traveling up into the haws pipe and there was a very slight roil at the stern of the ship while the first buoy disappeared behind the bow. 

     “Go behind, aim for the stern,” I said.

     Sandy, “What?” 

     “The tanker is moving out and I can see the anchor chain coming up,” said I.

     “I don’t like this,” said Sandy.


     “I understand but you need to do this and we can’t go in front of the tanker,” said I.


     “Oh, but I don’t like this,” claimed Sandy as she executed the perfect change in direction.  There was more that was said as we steered a good course away from trouble and the ketch behind us followed us in but a few years ago that would have been much more difficult to have discussed while executing.

     This was followed by one of our combined-experience-worst-dockings-to-date so not everything is perfectly done (certainly not every time) in our world but we get along with what we do. 

     There are folks that don’t understand that I don’t NEED to be the Captain on s/v Faith.  My joy is clear when coming into a marina and the guys with the clipboards show up.  I get to point to Sandy and tell them that she is the captain and they need to talk to her.  My joy is also often reflected in the opposite look of consternation the clipboard guys’ exhibit.  Score several points to me for not playing into their hands.  It works in the port captain’s office too even though I am there to translate and support the captain in being the best Captain she can be.

     We have changed and evolved together and are still enjoying the adventure.  We are also talking about not continuing to cruise... it may be time as things become more expensive AND complicated.  We like Mexico but perhaps we can check off more items on the bucket list if we do other things.  We can't just walk away from sailing and cruising but it is time that we start discussing the possibilities.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Season Begins Anew

As I write this we are still in Vancouver, Washington putting together the final items on our list for going south again.  We have the house sitter lined up and the motorhome will be getting the oil changed in the coming week.  When I think about all the “stuff” completed last year it makes me think that this year we will actually be making it at least as far as La Cruz de Huanacaxtlé.  At least, I think we stand a pretty good chance of it.

What Faith looked like before she left Portland
What Faith looks like now.

Last season we added the new auto pilot, a new fresh water driven toilet in the forward head, a new water heater, the new arch with two more solar panels and a wind generator, a new seat cushion in the cockpit, a variety of small improvements and the use of our XM radio, along with other smaller adaptations.  This year we are replacing the aft toilet, fresh portlights and gaskets, installing the new controllers for the solar panels and wind generator, have new mounting attachments for the grill, a new antenna for the XM radio, a new (to us) 55# anchor, new hallway carpeting (yes, I know, long story to follow) and generally bringing the boat up to cruising snuff (I picked up a new LED bulb for the anchor light).  We are taking down several LED lights to experiment with for the cockpit and salon.  There are things that will be put off for a bit too but we likely will need a fresh coat of bottom paint and, hmmm, probably a few things that I cannot foresee at the moment.  We picked up a new handheld VHF radio too and we may be able to have the old one repaired when we get to Guaymas.  I have also been toting around a type of radio/internet connection for the past 6 years that I might get around to installing this year.

Arch in process at the welder's shop
At haul out May 2014

Where am I going with all this?  To point out that cruising is about constant work… even when you are not, strictly speaking, working on the boat you are thinking about working on the boat.  Even though our list is shorter this year it still involves doing a number of things. 

Last season, at the tail end, we had an incident that forced us to have work at that time too.  We had replaced the motor mounts and a carrier bearing for the propeller shaft (oh, didn’t I mention that before?) and it led to a problem on the last day.  When we sailed into San Carlos we had anchored, finally, in a bay just outside the marina entrance (long story over on Sandy’s blog about that) and backed down on the anchor as we always do to set it.  In the morning we got set to leave and take our slip in the marina in preparation for hauling out.  As I raised the anchor Sandy put the boat into gear and raised the throttle on the motor fully expecting to go somewhere.  Hmmm, no sign of water churning in our wake.  Hmmm, no going forward.  Hmmm, put the anchor down and go investigate.

It turned out that the propeller shaft was not connected to the transmission.  There are two bolts that, combined with a cotter key, that hold all that together but they were no longer functioning.  I found the key, fortunately, directly under the transmission coupler and reinserted it.  There wasn’t much I could about the bolts but, I reasoned, if we only went forward the shaft would stay attached and we could limp into the slip.  Cautiously and slowly we did just that and on hauling out had the plan of redoing the attachment before putting the boat away for the summer.  Yes, it worked fine but thankfully that had not happened during any of our much longer passages that year.  We will be looking the fix over carefully before departing this time!!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Yikes!! We've been Vortext-ed!!

We normally have a case of “itchy feet” when we are in a port for too long.  This season of cruising has been short on cruising and long on staying in La Paz, BCS, Mexico.  As has been detailed here and on Sandy’s blog we started out with a longer than usual stay in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico to get some much needed work done on Faith.  The new auto pilot, the painting, the rudder repair and so forth took about two months of our season and we thought we were doing really well with getting so much done and on our way.  It turned out, of course, that we weren’t really ready to leave because we soon discovered that our alternator was toast and we limped into La Paz.

This first problem was solved within two days with a fresh alternator of the correct sort and we could have proceeded with a great season by crossing over to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (Nayarit) on Banderas Bay near Puerto Vallarta (Jalisco).  That was before I had the inspiration to contact Sergio Galinda, a welder of some repute, to give us an estimate on building a stern arch to house and reconfigure how we collect solar power and raise the dinghy and outboard motor.  We had seen his work a few years ago and enjoyed his vision of how such a thing could be created.  The way I thought it would go was not how it turned out to go.  That is, my vision was that we would get an estimate and be told that he was far too busy right now to complete the work right now.  That would likely entail bringing the boat back sometime, say, in the summer, and having the work done.  Surprise!!  Sergio said here is your quote after about fifteen minutes of discussion about what we wanted to do and it was more than reasonable but the scorcher was that he had time right NOW to finish the work, probably before the end of February!

THAT was just too tempting.  We started the work.  Slowly at first the measurements led to the first arch piece showing up and adjustments being made.  Then as things began to fill out we decided that we would be here a little longer than anticipated and signed up with the marina (Palmira) for a second month.  With that I went to retrieve the car from storage in San Carlos and life took a pleasant turn.  We were comfortably installed in La Paz.  We had the mobility we normally do not have while cruising.  We filled in the time with trips to Todos Santos an artsy town, Los Barriles and Balandra beach to name a few.  It gave us full motion to explore La Paz as well.  Going out to eat was a regular feature of our time spent.  We discovered a lot more of what was available in the area.

Before long Sergio was finished and we were left with the finishing touches to install the wiring for the new additional solar panels and wind generator.  I had not brought along the necessary controllers but found much of I needed and got the solar panels working for us… the wind generator would have to wait until I can retrieve the special controller it needs from our home base.  In any case, we also added replacing some foam in the settee cushions and having a cockpit cushion rebuilt.  I also changed several electrical items and rebuild the aft head (oh joy) while hanging around. 

A day or so ago I bought the ferry tickets needed to take the car back to San Carlos and we are starting to think about the end of the season already.  We have friends that have gone on to cruise our other favorite places.  At this point they are heading toward us and we might as well stay just a little longer until they make it this far.

That is the story of how you get vortext-ed.  You get slowly lulled into staying put.  We have seriously itchy feet now but feel like we have had good season with a bit more to follow.  Certainly we have one of my favorite times ahead and will have considerably more comfort because of our improvements.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Side Trip on the Ferry

The Use of a Car

We brought Faith to La Paz to repair the alternator and accomplished that quickly but there was something else we could check on while we were here.  For a long time I have wanted to add some solar panels and a wind generator to the boat and thought we could get an estimate from Sergio, possibly the best stainless steel welder in Mexico.  When we got hold of him it turned out not only could we get the estimate but he had time to build the arch.  We expected the estimate but had figured that scheduling would be a problem. 

The Cabin on the California Star

This delays our departure from La Paz but that is just a part of cruising.  It presents us with some issues that we had to think about how to cure.  A big one was that we left the panels and the generator in the RV in San Carlos on the other side of the Sea of Cortez.  Fortunately there is an easy fix.  There is a ferry from La Paz to Topolobampo (say that a few times fast).  It leaves the dock, more or less, at 11:00 p.m. and arrives at about 08:00 the next morning. 

I took the marina shuttle to near the bank and gathered a few Pesos.  Then I found a taxi that dropped me off at the ferry offices where I bought a ticket for myself and a cabin to make the ride more comfortable.  I rode the ferry a few years ago without the comfort of a cabin and it was a bit draining.  I was younger at the time but I decided then that if I were use the ferry in the future I would try the cabin approach. 

At about 08:30 p.m. Sandy and Abby walked with me up to where I could catch a taxi and the guard at the gate called and had me on my way within about ten minutes.  When I got to the terminal a line was forming to board so I added myself and within 20 or 30 minutes was climbing the steps to the interior of the ship.  Finding the reception area was fairly straightforward and figuring out the system to get the cabin key was easily done.  The way it works is to present a form of picture identification that the reception will hold until the key is returned.  Simple.

Situated and ready for the trip I took to walking the boat to see where everything was.  Before we got under way the cafeteria closed for business.  Interesting.  The loading of trucks, cargo trailers and other vehicles took longer than our stated leave time so we were there until the lot was loaded.  Not a problem, I was comfortably reading in my own cabin and before I was tired enough to slip into sleep I felt the motors power up to leave. 

Almost back to La Paz

The crossing itself was excellent.  When I got up in the morning the snack bar was open for coffee and pan.  Good enough.  We docked at about eight and I was off the boat after standing in line waiting with everyone ready to debark.  Next time I will know not to rush into line but, rather, hang out wait for the crush to be over.  Once the line started moving out the place was emptied quickly.  No real benefit to waiting in the line. 

Outside the terminal there were a line of taxis.  When asked they all said $300 pesos for a ride to the bus station… "but it is a looong way to town," they all said.  For thirty pesos there was a bus that goes directly to the bus station.  Yes, it IS a long way but the local bus was perfectly fine for the fifteen or twenty minute ride. 

Once in the Los Mochis bus terminal I booked a seat to Guaymas for about $20U.S. ($245 pesos) and had to wait about 2 hours for lift off.  It was a short wait, really, as I read a book and watched the families waiting too.  The bus was about a half hour late but that was not a problem… where else was I going to go? 

Despite the calm sea there were people with motion sickness on board.

Mexican buses are wonderful transportation for the most part.  The seats are comfortable.  There is overhead storage for your backpack.  There is usually a movie playing, often in English with subtitles.  Usually the person sitting next to you is friendly and strikes up a conversation for awhile.  There are a number of stops, sometimes for extended periods, where you can find a meal or a snack.  Occasionally, the driver allows a vender to ride for a short way while selling all manner of foods.  At the end of a day of travel I am still stiff but that is me getting older rather than the bus getting uncomfortable.  We left the terminal at a little before 11:00 a.m. and we arrived in Guaymas at about 04:00 p.m.

From that terminal I walked about six blocks to the local stop for the San Carlos bus.  I could probably have just crossed the street in front of the bus terminal to catch the local but by then I needed to stretch and walk anyway.

So, that was the trip to the RV park in San Carlos.  I uncovered the car and loaded it with the solar panels, wind generator and miscellaneous stuff to take back to LA Paz the next day.  It allowed me to go to dinner at JJ’s and I slept well that night in RV! 

The next morning it was time to reverse the process with the car.  Loading the final stuff into the car I was on my way quickly.  I arrived in Topolobampo at about 04:00 p.m.  There I ran the car over the scale and paid the $150 pesos requested.  In the terminal I bought the ticket for the car, a cabin and myself ($1106, $786 and $897 pesos respectively).  Since I had a long time to wait for our supposed 11:59 p.m. departure I found a taxi to look for dinner.  On returning I still had several hours to go so just sat reading while the terminal filled up with the entertainment of others going on the ferry.  Long wait made short, I got to board with the car near the head of the line.  My mistake.  They put me on the top deck of the vehicle loading area and I realized immediately I would be a long time getting off the ferry.  I was asleep long before the boat actually left the dock at around 03:00 a.m. My inside cabin had no view but who cares about a view while you sleep??

Our shadow on the shallower San Lorenzo Channel

Once we got to La Paz and I waited until most of the boat had been unloaded it took quite awhile to get out of the terminal district.  First there was a port fee of $152 pesos to leave.  Then there was a military inspection that took a bit of luck to find then about 15 minutes to pass through.  Then there was a fumigation for insects that cost $30 pesos.  And, finally, there was a Federal Police stop asking where I came from. 

All-in-all it was a long 3 days but now we have the “stuff” here in La Paz along with the car.  It should make the coming month easier and then, ahhh, I get to take the car back to San Carlos.