Monday, June 21, 2010

San Carlos Vortex (May 31 – Summer Solstice-ish)

It's nowhere as strong as the La Paz vortex, but we are still here. Tao dropped the hook in Bahia San Carlos on the final day of May and it has been project leading to project and more projects since then. Anchored in the entrance to the Bahia, starting when Shawn and Griz got there on Sunday the 6th, the SE swell rolled in and made life a bit bumpy in the middle of the night when the winds disappeared and Tao turned side to the swell. So, in the morning on Wednesday the 9th, we weighed anchor and motored inside of the mooring field and dropped our anchor in perfect little space protected by land between the marina entrance channel and moorings. Now in calmer waters, with extra hands and paws, the projects continued with extra fervor.


Yannie: So, what caused the engine failure leaving Mazatlan for the passage north? Well, it goes all the way back to when Chris replaced the head gasket. After Total Yacht Works finally determined the head was not warped Chris requested they put all the hardware back on and return it and he did the head gasket replacement himself. Although Chris has learned a ton about our diesel engine this season, he did not then know that as a standard diesel mechanics do not torque everything down until the block is in the engine. To make a long story short and so you don’t have to suffer through the play-by-play like we did, with the help of Omar, and excellent diesel mechanic based in Guaymas, we ruled out a broken fuel lift pump, found that the aft cylinder was not firing properly and finally determined that the nuts that hold the rocker arm assembly down were never appropriately torqued. After 67.1 hours of use, the aft rocker arm assembly loosened so much that the aft valve was no longer allowing air in or exhaust out.

We used a telescoping extendable 3-pound magnet (Christmas present from Shawn’s Dad) swept through the drain plug bolt and on the first sweep picked up all the missing parts! A second sweep found only one small speck of metal that was likely remains of the old failed head gasket. We are very lucky! A couple of oil changes, retorquing, readjusting the valves, replacing the rods and an unnecessary (but prudent) additional purchase of rebuilt fuel injectors with new tips (just to get the originals serviced and have a backup set) and Yannie was back up and running better than ever. So well, in fact that she wouldn’t shut off. Literally, we had to cut the fuel supply to stop the engine. After some minor trouble shooting, putting our original fuel injectors (readjusted, cleaned, and still 90% of original state) back in, it turns out that the newly acquired injectors also needed readjustment as one of the valves was getting stuck slightly open due of residue from old test that was not diesel. The newly acquired new tipped set is now installed again and Yannie is running in tip top shape.

Seahor: Our 2-hp Seahorse has been worked pretty hard this season. Chris has been maintaining her, but does frequently threaten to find a 9.9-hp to replace her. Having made it back to San Carlos, she’s received some extra TLC. Chris cleaned her spark plug and contacts, replaced the spark plug cable, and replaced her broken plastic handle with smooth wooden dowel. She is still awaiting new gear lube and complains when we pour poorly mixed gas into her, but has been performing so well, that she had no problem yesterday towing our neighbors from Iwa across the bay when their dinghy broke down.


Sails: We decided to have Tony Morelli add the insignia material that we haven’t yet sewed on ourselves, to our working jib (100%) to protect it from pulpit chafe. We look forward to using it! We also collected appropriate measurements for headsails and are on the hunt for a #1 genoa (135 – 150%).

Chainplates: The final beat into San Carlos on his journey north reminded Chris where all of our leaks are and that it was way past time to rebed our chainplates. We made this project bigger by deciding to fully pull our chainplates out and do a thorough inspection of all of our chainplates, deck holes, and hardware. Overall things looked okay, but we did find more projects. 30 years of leaking in our through-deck chainplates had led to a good deal of corrosion on the aluminum backing plates for all four lowers and also on the main weld for our uppers aluminum brackets (also called the chainplate’s “knees”). We pulled all of the hardware off, cleaned the salt and corrosion and asked Luis Hernandez (who does amazing stainless steel work), to fabricate new stainless backing plates and re-weld our aluminum “knees”. While he was at it, we also had him create an extended-handled-hand crank for our motor in the possibility that our electric start doesn’t work (otherwise our sink was in the way). Now our through-deck chainplates are no longer an unknown black box to us, instead they are inspected, reinforced, and nicely rebed with Sikaflex.


Computer work: Most importantly, our offshore Winlink communication systems were brought back up to speed downloading programs to and connecting our Fijitsu with the HAM radio to replace the old shipboard computer that gave up a couple months ago. Additionally, we have updated the backlog of blog entries with pictures that have been awaiting posting.

Kitty climber: Chris removed the carpet on the mast several months back and now that Grizzly is back aboard, she needs her scratching post. As carpet is in short supply around here and Chris has been envisioning something more “knot-ical”, we have decided to Moku Hitch 40-inches of mast, starting and ending it with Turk’s Heads, using 3/8 inch natural fiber twine. A fun group project that managed to take an entire day to complete, we are excited with the outcome. Hopefully Griz likes it, we’ll let you know…

Boat clean/reorganization/zincs changed: In addition to normal boat maintenance and bottom cleaning, zincs were changed (nearly gone after 6 months), all natural teak was oiled, and below decks was reorganized and deep cleaned. Unfortunately, it is already ready for another round of this never-ending task.

Provisioning: Another never-ending task, we have refilled both of our two 2.5-gallon propane tanks (still had fuel and hadn’t been filled since November 2009), filled our water tanks with 45-gallons of fresh water, and have made several trips to Guaymas to restock food stores. We've also refilled this air tank after using it for several hours to search for a stainless steel part lost overboard... Unfortunately with very poor underwater visibility, the part was not recovered. Oh well, you can't say we didn't try! Still on the list we need to fill our diesel tank and freshwater rinse Tao.

And if that wasn’t enough to fill up the past 3-weeks, we have even spent time doing things outside of the boat projects. Since we have Pepe here, we extended our MX car insurance, recharged her AC (AutoZone employees come out to your car and do it here for only the cost of the R134, less than $5 USD!) and have found a place to store her safely when we do head back into the Sea. We have also been keeping in close touch with Stateside family going through difficult and exciting times themselves.

Amidst all of this we have made some new friends, Randy and Jenny aboard Mystic/Dulcinea, having good eats, tea time, movie/popcorn, and even hiking over the hill to Martini Cove and the oasis of Nacapule Canyon. Getting out of our projects and talking and sharing with them has helped keep us sane during this unplanned work. In addition, we’ve been getting to know other boats in the anchorage that are working on projects (Iwa), or just passing through (Sea Monster, Harmony). We’ve also been listening into the HAM/SSB nets to get weather and trying to make contact with Team Young as everyone’s cruise tracks have drastically diverged. Since we’ve been working so hard, we’ve even been giving ourselves the luxury of daily freshwater showers at the marina after each day of long hot boat work is stopped. Although originally chomping at the bit to get on out of here to sail in the northern sea, we’ve instead chosen to stop the rushing and have been enjoying every moment together here as much as possible. We are doing all of this work to get sailing and do look forward to getting back under sail sometime this week.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shawn's Journey South, Together Again!

Passage: Cotati to Santa Monica, CA to Scottsdale, AZ to San Carlos, Mexico
Total Time: June 1 – June 6, 2010
Total Travel Time: 25.25-hrs (7, 6.75, 11.5-hrs respectively)

After spending the month of May teaching yoga all around the SF Bay Area and tying up loose ends in the States, Shawn finally started her long awaited trek south on the first of June. She didn’t look back as she drove away from her cozy studio apartment and Pepe’s garage; the few items she had accumulated were either sold, given away, or packed into Pepe for the first leg of the southward journey. Floating high from finally being on the way, Shawn and Grizzly enjoyed an uneventful, quick trip to the waiting hugs from Chris’ mom Jane and stepfather Abe in Santa Monica. Two days of tea-time, visiting, yummy home-cooked meals, unloading gear for short-term storage, errand running, seeing Angie’s home improvements, and even a yoga class at the new Bikram World Headquarters flew by.

With nearly all pre-Mexico chores completed, Shawn and Grizzly got in Pepe for the second leg from Santa Monica to Scottsdale (at the north end of Phoenix), AZ on the 4th. They arrived just in time for happy hour and more waiting hugs from long-time family friend Sue Wakefield (who had also graciously housed Chris for a few days on his transit south last October) and new parter Mike. It had been a long time since seeing Sue and it was wonderful to catch up and get to share transitions; Shawn to Mexico and Sue and Mike to a new beautiful house in Gambel Quail. The next day was packed with more final errands; grocery store, Auto Zone (oil for Yannie), etc., an introduction to desert temperatures reaching nearly 110F, and another nice dinner out.

Chomping-at-the-bit to get there and hoping to beat the record highs predicted, Shawn, Grizzly and Pepe were headed south again just after 6 on the morning of June 6th. After a lengthy pitstop in Tucson for gas, a rinse for Pepe, writing and mailing a few thank you notes; they reached the boarder just before noon when the Mexican car insurance was to take effect. After all of the nervousness, the crossing and checking in was relatively easy. Mostly in Spanish, the customs official asked where Shawn was going, what her cat’s name was, to see inside the trunk, and to see the Mexican car insurance, then wished safe travels and waved her on. After driving through Nogales, 21-km or so later, another required stop to check in and pick up a tourist visa. Since the destination, San Carlos, is in the “no-hassle-zone,” importing the car was not required, making entry easy and relatively inexpensive ($20.71-USD for a 180-day tourist visa).

Once in the next big city, Hermosillo, with cell service and after figuring out how to dial to a US phone in Mexico from her US phone now also in Mexico, Shawn called Chris to let him know all was well and their arrival was imminent. Two tolls (at the last second Shawn figured out that “cuota” was a toll and was able to stop at a gas station to change some US dollars into pesos for a much better rate than offered at the border), one gas fill up (also made easy by them taking credit card payment), and an hour and a half more driving and the end of this adventure and the beginning of the next was reached. Chris and Eeyore gallantly motored in to pick Shawn and Grizzly up as the sun was setting behind the mountains in Bahia San Carlos. Next stop, Midriff Islands, Bahia San Francisquito, Bay of LA? We'll let you know...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

True Singlehanding; no buddy boat, no computer, no engine…

Passage: Mazatlan to Topolobampo to San Carlos (5/22-30/2010)
Distance Traveled: 471.2-nm (242.6, 228.6)
Total Travel Time: 185.25-hrs (55.25-hrs, 80-hrs)
Engine Hours: 10.8-hrs (10.8-hrs, 0-hrs)

Saturday morning, May 22nd, Chris was truly singlehanding, alone on Tao with no buddy boat headed for the same destination, nearly 500-nm journey north to San Carlos. Chris was looking forward to this passage, excited for the challenge and eager to start by checking out some surf possibilities just up the coast from the Mazatlan harbor. Happily motoring out of Mazatlan close to shore scoping out surf, all of a sudden Yannie sounded like she lost power. Chris throttled down to neutral and with some final wisps of white smoke, she stopped working all together.

Reminiscent of early season, having come full circle, again just outside of Mazatlan, again engineless. Decision point, turn around and run back to Mazatlan and Total Yacht works or buckle in for the now even bigger passage north? A well timed call (just after engine failure and before cell service was lost) from Shawn found Chris at this point, from her view safely in northern California the decision was obvious- Chris was well rested, well provisioned and southerly flow was filling in. Go for it! The option to turn around and run back down to Mazatlan was always there. Wanting to take advantage off all good winds, Chris quickly got off the phone to set sail offshore to gain sea room. Dolphins swam along side reminding him that he wasn’t truly alone. Still, now engineless and computerless, Shawn was very glad for the SPOT reports sent out as northward progress continued.

As evening fell and winds abated, Chris again tried Yannie. Sounding very sluggish, Chris kept her at low rpms (below 1,000) for 3.4 hours until the winds filled in again just after midnight. In the morning, Chris checked in with Caramelo, en route to Muertos, on the SSB and the whole next day winds were around 10-knots from the southerly direction pushing Tao northward at over 5-knots. That is until the sun set and winds shut down. Yannie was on again, during the graveyard shift at low rpms for another 5.4 hours. Off she went around 0400 when a light NW wind filled in. Tao sailed smartly on building winds up to 15-knots until 1130. After 3-days and 2-nights of solo sailing, on the afternoon of May 24th, Chris dropped anchor in the shelter of Punta de San Ignacio.

A short distance away, an eerie hulk of a steel, an old ship, was rusting on the beach at the north end of Bahia de Topolobampo. When the anchor was down, Chris immediately checked on Yannie. He found a quart of oil and diesel mixed in the pan and decided against any further engine use. The winds continued to increase to 20 and then 25-knots. A mere hour after he was set, Rocky was brought back aboard, the 100% jib was raised and Tao sprinted on the now strong NW winds the 9-nm back downwind to the entrance of Bahia de Ohuira which houses Topolobampo proper. 3.25-hrs later Chris sailed onto anchor in the calm protection of sand dunes at the mouth of the estuary.

For the next two days, the winds howled from the NW and safe from the norther, Tao swung on Rocky with the strong currents at the mouth of the estuary. Chris received cell service and was able to contact both Shawn and his father Dave to discuss possibilities regarding the engine. The consensus was the problem could be a faulty lift pump diaphragm, but whatever it actually was, the engine likely should not be run until fixed, so after 8.8-hrs of low rpm speeds since the incident, the seacocks were closed and Yannie was put to bed for the rest of the passage. Very solitary here, Chris did not see one other ship or person while in this beautiful place. He pumped up Eeyore and ventured to the sand dunes exploring ashore, resting up for the next leg of this journey, and awaiting the norther to pass.

Early (0645) on the morning of Thursday 27th, Chris weighed anchor and attempted to sail out of the entrance to the estuary. Two hours later he abandoned the harbor exit attempt as the incoming tide was too great for the wind conditions. The anchor was again set to await an outgoing tide. Start number two began at 1400 (amazing how much easier life is when you go with the flow) and the next leg of the northward trek had begun. Spanning 4-days and 3-nights Tao slowly worked her way 229-nm north to San Carlos.

The first night was a magical sail with perfect light southerly winds filling in, a beautiful full moon, and bright stars illuminating the way. The next day was filled with delightful wing-on-wing sailing and the first sign that anyone else was moving on the sea as traffic passed to port. Day-3 was full of light and variable winds with random strong gusts and sail change after sail change ending in a final night of beating northward in northwesterly winds and wave-slop reminding Chris where all of Tao’s leaks are. The morning of May 30th dawned clear with continued NW winds. Tao was close, a mere 7-nm off San Carlos, when the winds suddenly shut down. Tao rolled around awaiting a breeze to carry her in, Mother Nature teasing Chris with spectacular views of the entrance to San Carlos Bay. Tao ghosted in on a breath of wind and finally at 1450, the anchor was down (on the 2nd try as the first anchoring had been too close to the channel). At long last, Chris breathed a sigh of proud satisfaction and caught some sleep.