Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fixed (hopefully)

So, the genset was not, in fact, getting its fuel through the return. What we had there was a labeling problem, which Art figured out by taking off the inspection port on one of the diesel tanks and feeling around for which fitting led to a pickup tube (that would be the supply). However, the hoses were indeed quite elderly, and when Devon started taking them off of the fittings yesterday, it was pretty apparent that air was getting into the lines. There were more than a few untightenable hose clamps - when the hose gets old and brittle, there's just no way to cinch it down around the fittings on the tanks, filters or engine. All of that's replaced now (which involved the yard in Cabo tracking down the last roll of 5/8" fuel line in Baja, because we needed about 20' more than they had in stock), and both engines are running like tops. We'll keep our fingers crossed, but it looks like the lines were the problem.

The plan for tomorrow is to get up early and hose off the boat (it's dusty here, and at $2/foot/night, damn straight we're hosing off the boat before we leave), and get up to Frailes, ~30 miles from here. We'll spend a couple of days there, then a couple of days at Muertos (SueƱos, if you're the tourist authority) and then on to Marina Palmira in La Paz. Our friends Doug and Carla recommended Marina La Paz, but they were unfortunately full. Or full, unfortunately. Either way, no room for us right now. We'll try and get in there at some point - it's right in town, and we're expecting to be in La Paz for probably a month, so presumably someone will leave between now and then. We'll check with them in person next week.

I am so ready to be in an anchorage where we can just fling ourselves off the back of the boat to cool off.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Phone Company, and Some Local Flora

Yesterday, we went into town with our friends Sarah and Darrell to get Banda Ancha cards. These nifty little things are basically USB modems. For ~$30/ month, we have 3 gb of internet usage. We're going to go back and sign up for a six month contract, as apparently that doubles your usage limit. I don't think even I could use up 6gb in a month. Better yet, they sold us a little router that the USB modem plugs into. Our computers can connect to that over wifi, which means no need to share the internet connection. It's similar to a mifi. Telcel itself was painless to deal with. Verizon could come down here and take some lessons, I think. Instead of the phone company sending you a bill, you go to an agent (gas stations, tiendas, banks - they're all over the place) and put money into your account. Then to renew your service for another month, you just send a text message via the usb card, and, assuming you've got cash in there, you're all set. One of the nice things about doing it that way is that when we're in an area without cell coverage, we don't have to pay for service we can't use. Very cool.

Over the past couple of days, I've spent some time wandering around the grounds of the marina, taking pictures:

These little round cacti are all over the place. Off to the side, next to the road into town, they have about an acre of land just packed with them (apparently they're not done landscaping yet):

Before we came to Mexico, I'd never seen multi colored bougainvillea:

This afternoon, our friend Crit got a couple of hunks of tuna from some fishermen. We have nori and sushi rice aboard, so tonight we'll take those over to Jasdip and have tuna sushi for dinner. Mmmmm.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Diesel Problems

We've been having intermittent problems with our diesel supply all the way down from Seattle. Since we left San Diego they've been more frequent. Basically, both engines (the main and the genset) have been behaving like they're starved for fuel. We hadn't been able to identify much of a pattern, and we were pretty much tearing our hair out trying to figure out what was going on. Earlier this week, we decided that we'd reached the end of our (admittedly short) diesel troubleshooting rope, and decided to call in a professional. This being Mexico, where marine diesel mechanics are sort of thin on the ground, it wasn't just a matter of picking up the phone. Art asked around found a guy from a big yard in Cabo who was doing work on another boat here a couple of days ago, and today he came down and took a look.

One of the things that completely confused us when we'd tried to figure out what was going on was that we couldn't figure out how the genset was getting fuel. It obviously was, since we've been running it fairly often for the ten years we've had Arione, but when we traced the lines by hand, they made no sense. They also bore no resemblance to the schematics we had from the builder, but that's not the first time that's happened - these boats were semi-custom, and the schematics are of the non-customized setup. Whatever.

Turns out the genset fuel supply is plumbed into the return from the main. How that could even work, I don't really understand, since the returns presumably go into the tops of the tanks, not the bottoms (i.e. where the fuel is) but work it did for ten years. Since we'd been babying the charging system a bit out of paranoia from the charging issues we had between Seattle and San Francisco, using the genset more and the inverter less, we started seeing problems. Turns out, that if we run the main and the genset simultaneously (which we had never, ever done before this trip), or even one right after the other, we set up all kinds of weird back pressure and suction in the fuel system. These don't necessarily manifest themselves at that exact moment - the suction from a running diesel is apparently enough to overcome a lot of resistance, but it causes problems to appear the next time we run one of the engines. Although if the next time was, say 24 hours later, sometimes it was OK, as that was long enough for the pressure to equalize itself. That's what made it so hard to see a pattern - there was one, but it was extremely subtle.

Unfortunately, today being Friday, and Monday being a holiday (Mexican Revolution Day), we're not going to make any progress on this until Tuesday at the earliest, but it's a relief to have an understanding of what's going on and a plan.

Worrying whether or not the genset was going to run on any given day was really stressing us out - I take some meds that have to be kept refrigerated, and the genset is our main way of cooling the box when we're not running the engine. It means a few more days than we'd intended in Puerto los Cabos, but I'd happily spend another week here if it meant solving this problem. As an extra bonus, we won't have to worry about what sorts of crud might be lurking in our elderly fuel lines, since we're going to have them all replaced as part of re-routing the genset supply.

The problem's not solved until it's solved, but it's a huge relief to have what looks like a reasonable hypothesis and a plan to address it. We're both going to be really glad to see Devon show up on Tuesday with his tools and a nice shiny roll of new fuel line.

Puerto los Cabos

We are still in Puerto los Cabos. What a lovely place. They have two kinds of slips - with power and water and without. The first couple of nights, we were in a without slip (the cheap seats). Then we started having some trouble with our diesels, and moved over to the other side. The cheap seats are more convenient to the surprisingly well stocked tienda and several restaurants. The full service side is a short walk to the beach. Today, we have a diesel mechanic coming from Cabo to help us with the fuel problem, so we're hoping to move back over to the cheap seats tonight.

A couple of nights ago we went to one of the restaurants, called Alis, for cous cous. When Sarah told me about this, I thought she said the owner was Nigerian, and I couldn't figure out what the Nigerian connection to cous cous was. When we got there, we realized that he was Algerian - mystery solved. There were 13 people off of various boats at that dinner, some of whom we'd not met before. Big fun, although a little spendy for a couple of hunks of meat and veggies.

Yesterday morning, I sewed a hatch screen for the 3'x3' main hatch and mended some holes in the one for the forepeak:

Unlike the commercial screen we have for the hatch in the forepeak, which is completely made of netting, I made this one with a solid top, so in addition to keeping bugs out, it serves as a sunshade. I sewed curtain weights into the binding on the hem to keep it held down against the deck. Now we can leave the hatches open at night without getting eaten alive.

Then we went to the beach. Aaaah, 80 degree water:

The marina here is quite beautifully landscaped

There's also a lot of artwork installed along the walkways on the shore - all by a woman named Leona Carrington, a British born Mexican surrealist. They're pretty cool.
This goat is my favorite:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


We're in Mexico. At last. It's lovely.

The Baja Haha was a blast right up until the end. Zach, Sarah and Max, our crew, were great. No one got sick. We had several lovely sails, including a long spinnaker run, to the first stop. Turtle Bay, featured a pot luck on the beach, which was great. We caught up with a lot of old and new friends.

Turtle Bay was spectacularly beautiful.

Ironically, the worst sea conditions we encountered between Seattle and Cabo San Lucas were between Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria. The seas weren't really all that large, but confused? These seas were positively bewildered. They were all over the place. The autopilot couldn't deal with it, so the on watch hand steered all night. We had the main up, but strapped in, hoping at some point we'd be able to sail enough to stabilize the boat a bit. All we accomplished was chafing through the cover on the main halyard, so for now the biggest main sail we can fly is the first reef. We'll fix that in La Paz.

Stop #2 was Bahia Santa Maria. (also spectacularly beautiful, but I didn't take many pictures, and no good ones) This is a very sparsely inhabited bay (basically a fishing camp), that gets invaded by the Haha fleet once a year. For one afternoon, they operate what's basically a pop up restaurant for about 600 people. It's quite an accomplishment. And delicious.

The sail from Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo was pleasant until the very end, when the wind started to pick up. From the east. Which is a very bad thing, as the anchorage is open to the east. Now, we weren't planning to anchor, but our slip assignment had gotten screwed up. Slips are supposed to be assigned in the order in which boats signed up for the Haha. Being entry #13 out of 190-odd boats, we figured we'd get a pretty good slip - a real slip, with fingers on both sides, no rafting or side tying or any of that hoo ha. So we're listening as they read off the slip assignments, and -- our name isn't coming up. It's OK, I try to reassure myself, they haven't called our friends on El Tiburon (#10) either. Except it isn't OK. They've apparently skipped our entire division. We and the El Tiburons get on the radio to point this out, and the committee boat tells us they'll be back to us in an hour.

About an hour and a half later, they get back to us with side ties on a dock that sticks out from the fuel dock, right at the entrance to the marina. No protection from the bay, no way to hold ourselves off the dock, nothing. Later, I'm talking to our friends and find we'd both been trying to reassure ourselves -- the marina in Cabo can be really hot, we should get some nice breeze out there, at least we're convenient to the marina store and town, etc., etc., etc. Actually, we both knew the situation sucked. We had a map of the marina. We all knew the weather was forecast to be out of the east, which meant that dock would have no protection at all from the prevailing winds. It was only forecast to be 12 - 15 knots, so not so bad, but still - we were feeling pretty shafted after having gone to some trouble to sign up early. For our trouble, we were going to be paying a lot of money (slips in Cabo are really expensive) for a marginal situation. Great.

As we round Cabo Falso, the wind really starts to pick up. This isn't 12 kts. It's more like twice that. And it's straight out of the east. We try to pull into our assigned spot. The first thing we see is that there's another boat in our friends' spot. There's a lot of yelling and crashing and we get tied up, but we're getting slammed into the dock and there's nothing we can do (since it's a side tie) to hold the boat off. There's panga traffic and boats going every which way in very gusty winds at the harbor entrance and waves are practically breaking over the dock. We've got to get off of here, and we can't power sideways to the wind, so we pay a panga to tow us off. During all of this, I've been on the radio with Profligate (committee boat), whose helpful response is basically "don't like where you are, that's your problem", and with El Tiburon, who've found a slip at the other, smaller, marina. To make a long story short, we go over there, get a slip (cheaper, natch) and that's it. It was a little farther out of town, but the staff was really nice, as were the facilities, and we enjoyed our stay there a great deal.

To anyone considering doing the haha in the future:

1. Don't count on getting a slip based on your sign up. If they make a mistake, don't count on it being corrected. We basically got moved to the end of the line. In retrospect, we should have been a lot more vocal about our spot and what our priority should have been. Don't know if it would have made any difference, but at least I'd feel like I'd tried.

2. Don't believe that you can't reserve a slip at Cabo. If you're an early sign up, and you get and pay for a slip assignment, they will let you keep it, despite the Haha's insistence that "we control all of the slips at Cabo for the two nights after the rally." They don't, or, to be fair, if they had the control, they didn't exercise it. We didn't hear of a single boat that had made a reservation being compelled to give it up. We tried to play by the rules. I'm honestly not sure I'd do that again.

3. The poobah seems to really want to make sure everyone stops in Cabo. In our opinion, this appeared to cause him to minimize the weather forecast and disparage possible alternatives to anchoring off the beach at Cabo for boats who didn't get slips. In the last couple of days of the rally, he continually emphasized that the wind forecast was "no big deal". I'm sorry, but a forecast that creates a lee shore in an already marginal anchorage is IMO, always a big deal. When boats concerned about the weather started asking about Puerto los Cabos, he suggested that it was 25-30 miles further on (it's 17), that he didn't know if they had any facilities (it's still under construction, but a very popular cruising guide published last year and cited in Latitude 38's Mexico First Timer's Guide details what was here then, including slips, and although some are without power, they are priced accordingly), and generally making it sound like an undesirable alternative. We're there now. It's quite nice. Was a slip in Cabo proper more convenient for the Haha festivities? Sure, but I'd certainly have preferred Puerto los Cabos to being anchored off the beach at Cabo in 25kts of wind if that had been my other choice.

All in all, we had a lot of fun up until the last morning. That sucked. We met tons of great people who I'm sure we'll see again as we travel around Mexico. Would we do the Haha again? Probably not. There are a lot of interesting looking places along the Baja coast, and it would be fun to check some of them out. The Haha forces you into a schedule regardless of the weather. Waiting an extra day or two would, in retrospect, have been the right thing to do before leaving Bahia Santa Maria for Cabo.

Note: I thought this maybe was too negative, but when Art read it, he said it was a good thing that I'd been so even handed, because if he'd written it up he'd probably have gotten sued for libel. So there's that.