Sunday, September 20, 2015

A New Chapter

It's hard to believe four years have passed since we first cast off from the dock in Alameda and started our crazy journey down the California coast.  So much has happened in those interim years -- much of it I'd like to forget -- it seems like a lifetime ago.  It certainly turned out to be an adventure; although, not the one I envisioned.  We made quite a few memories and more than a few close friends along the way, many of which are now spread out in various ports around the world.  And, our little 5-month-old cockpit-bound deckhand is now an enthusiastic big brother.  Jean Marie, however, still sits patiently in a Mexican marina, re-powered and re-polished and waiting for her next odyssey.

Last night I returned from a week-long trip to Puerto Vallarta and am happy to report the new Beta 43 is finally installed and running perfectly.  After four tortuous years, I can finally say we've closed the book on our engine problems.  For anyone still following our troublesome tale, I'll fill you in on the events that have transpired since my last update...

As you may recall, I had to send the transmission back to Beta when the engine arrived last August.  Through miscalculation and misinformation (not pointing any fingers) the transmission I originally ordered would not work. It was a close fit but, once we got it on the boat, we realized the ZF-25 straight shaft transmission I ordered would not align with the prop shaft without raising the front of the engine 3 inches higher.  And, in the very confined space we had to work with, that wasn't going to happen. Fortunately, Beta also sells the ZF-25A transmission with an 8% down angle, providing a simple solution to our problem.  Simple, that is, if we weren't currently sitting in a marina in Mexico. 

So, the painful process of shipping the ZF-25 back to Beta and then shipping a new ZF-25A to Puerto Vallarta began.  This involved hiring Juan (the paper-guy) to drive it to San Diego (a very long distance) and deliver it to DHL for delivery to the UK.  Then, many months later, I hired Juan again to drive back to San Diego and pick up the new one.  Yes, it's a ridiculous way to get parts in and out of Mexico but, as anyone who's had the misfortune of dealing with Mexican shipping agencies and customs officers will tell you, it's the only way to be certain your package will arrive. Which it did, eventually.

In April, with the new transmission delivered, I flew back down to PV eager to finish the job.  Jack Tinsley, the mechanic who helped install the engine had been hired to deliver a motor yacht and would be out of the country for a few months.  He recommended another mechanic, Andre Joineau, to help out.  Andre immediately went to work.  The new engine feet we had made extended over the existing stringers so Andre glassed in new stringers, adding support further aft.  He demonstrated quality and precision in his work which, I had to admit, was an unexpected surprise.  I could not have been more pleased.  He then went to work installing the new transmission and aligning the engine to the prop shaft.  By the time I arrived, most of the work was done.  We needed to make a few modifications to the shifting and and throttle cables, moved the oil filter aft for better access, reconfigured the water hose connections, and cut away some of the cabinet for the new exhaust.  I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Then the moment of truth arrived.  On that warm sunny day in April, after bleeding the fuel lines, cracking open the sea-cock, and double checking all the connections, I nervously turned the key for the first time.  To my surprise that shiny little engine fired right up, chugging along in perfect mechanical rhythm -- the sweet and welcomed sound of a well-tuned diesel. I'm not ashamed to say that, for me, it was a truly emotional moment given the circumstances, surpassed only by my wedding day and the births of my sons.  Alright, that may be an overstatement but the point is:  I was really happy at that moment, and if it not for the scalding heat I would have hugged that little red engine.

But, alas, our protracted drama was not over just yet.  We soon discovered that the standard alternator with built-in regulator was overcharging the batteries.  No worries, I had anticipated this problem and asked Beta to send a brush-box kit that would allow me to connect my external Balmar smart regulator to the new alternator.  So, we promptly swapped out the internal regulator with the brush-box and wired in it to the Balmar regulator.  Problem solved. Unfortunately, it didn't work.

I wasn't about to let a little charging issue set us back so while Andre took the regulator to a local shop for testing I took the boat out on the bay to break in the engine.  My goal was to put 25 hours on the engine over a three-day period, motoring around the bay during the day and anchoring out at night.  I would charge the batteries for a while and then disconnect the alternator to prevent overcharging.  This was the short-term solution until we figured out why the regulator wasn't working.

So, I motored out of the marina for the first time in more than a year without sails or even lifelines attached but excited to be back out the water nonetheless.  The engine throttled up without any vibration and easily powered through the afternoon chop.  It was such a glorious day I decided to try my luck at fishing and quickly hooked more than I bargained for.  It took thirty minutes to land what the locals call "toro" or "bull" and it was easy to see how this fish got it's name.  I released it after the long fight and put the rod away for the day.  Time to relax and enjoy my new toy.  I motored until the sun sunk low in the afternoon sky and turned the bow toward Punta Mita where I dropped the hook amid a handful of boats.  Ten hours on the new motor and all was well.

After breakfast the next day I was at it again, motoring out in to the bay to work the engine.  Shortly after noon I approached the entrance to Paradise Village Marina, where I started the day before, and began turning the boat back toward Punta Mita.  Just at that moment I looked below and noticed the light for the bilge pump had come on indicating that it was in the process of pumping water overboard.  You don't have to be a sailor to understand the importance of keeping water on the outside of the boat.  I quickly jumped down below and opened the doors at the front of the engine to find water spraying out the bottom of the seawater pump.  At this point I had 15 hours on the new engine...and the pump failed.  Needless to say I was a little disappointed.

Fortunately, I was less than two miles from my slip at the marina.  So, I turned the boat toward the entrance and motored steadily, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge and letting the bilge pump work until I could shut down the engine.  I managed to dock the boat without further incident, and immediately contacted Beta Marine.  

After some back and forth discussion, we determined that a spiral clip that holds the water seal in place had come loose.  By the time we discovered the simple problem, however, I had already dismantled the pump and, without a rebuild kit, could not reuse it.  Beta agreed to send a new pump and a rebuild kit out as soon as possible.  I decided not to wait for it to arrive.  Instead, I turned to Andre for help and flew back to Oregon.

The new pump arrived in PV a week later.  Soon after, Andre worked out the charging issue by modifying the brush-box (apparently the one they sent had a problem).  With both issues resolved, he took the boat back out on the bay and finished the break-in, this time without any of the drama.  Although, I'm convinced that if I'd been there something would have happened.

In the months that followed, I left Andre to handle the final touches like rebuilding the floor cover, fabricating a step over the exhaust, and refinishing the wood.  With all that done, I flew down last week to check it out and get the boat ready to sail once again.  Jean Marie is back and ready to go.  We'll fly down to Mexico as a family in February and spend three months sailing her up through the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos where we plan to put her away next year and, perhaps, the following year.

Four years of diesel mechanics and idly waiting on parts.  Four years of changing itineraries and altered plans.  Four years of anxiety and frustration. That chapter has finally come to a close.  No, we didn't cross the Pacific -- not yet, anyway -- and we now spend our time exploring central Oregon instead of the New Zealand countryside.  With the arrival of our newest family member and a pressing need to return to the work force, that original cruising goal is on hold for the moment.  That's life I guess -- dynamic, ever-changing, wonderfully elusive and often challenging.  It's important not to take it too seriously or impose constraints on it.  And, I suppose, it's the little setbacks in life that help us appreciate the truly important things.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Introducing Gavin Randall Wilson

At 1:07 PM yesterday we officially welcomed our second son in to the world at St. Charles Medical Center here in Bend, Oregon.  We decided on the name Gavin Randall -- the first name because, apparently, Millie really likes the former mayor of San Francisco, and the middle name for my Dad, who's given so much to his family over the years he deserves to have all his grandsons named after him.  Although, to be honest, I wanted to name him Madison Bumgarner Wilson and dress him in orange and black but was immediately overruled by my wife.  Anyone who watched the World Series would understand my choice.

Little Gavin weighed in at 6 lbs, 10 oz. and measured 19.25 inches long.  He's a bit smaller than Colin was at birth and will have to grow quickly to catch up with big brother, who's very excited to have a new partner to fight the bad guys with.  Mom is tired but doing well considering what she went through yesterday and the previous nine months.  Dad is happy to finally see the little guy and find all his tiny body parts in the right place and in working order.  They are.

We're all very excited to welcome Gavin in to our lives and look forward to the years ahead watching him grow and develop in to a young man, exploring the world with his big brother under the watchful eyes of two proud smiling parents.  Our little family is now complete.
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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy Holidays!

We hope all our friends and loved ones had a very Merry Christmas.  We spent our holiday in Bend this year which provided a welcomed white Christmas -- something very new to all of us.  We're still adjusting to our first winter in central Oregon.  A few weeks ago, we bought our first snow shovel.  Very exciting, I know.

Our tenants' lease expired at the end of November and we finally moved back in to our house.  Since then, we've been busy settling in and preparing for the cold weather.  Millie got an all-wheel-drive Volvo with studded tires, I got a ski pass for Mt. Bachelor, and Colin got a new winter wardrobe complete with flashing Spiderman snow boots.  Santa was good to us this year.

I wish I could say the same for Jean Marie.  She's still sitting in a slip in PV waiting on a transmission.  It will be a short season in Mexico this year.  I'm hoping to get the new transmission next month and then we can finally finish the engine installation and begin putting the boat back in order.  My plan is to fly back down after the baby is born in February and spend a month sailing through the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos, where I'll put the boat away for the summer.  Millie will stay here in Bend with Colin and his new baby brother.  Her parents are planning to stay with her during that time so I can focus on Jean Marie.  It will be a quick visit but I'm hoping to spend a little time with our cruising friends while I'm there.

Until then, we'll be busy up here in our little winter wonderland.  I'm working full-time for Five Talent, Colin is back in pre-school, and Millie is growing bigger by the day.  It's hard to believe we'll have another baby in just six short weeks.  Sleepless nights and poopy diapers -- seems like we just potty-trained Colin and now we get to start all over again.  Oh, the joys of parenthood.  The truth is, we can't wait to see the little guy.

Here's wishing all of you a very Happy New Year.
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Monday, September 22, 2014

A Song About Ninja Turtles

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Growing Family

If you looked closely at the picture in the previous post then this news should come as no surprise:  We're having another baby!  Some time in early February Colin will have a little brother to play with and Jean Marie will have a new crew member.  We're all very excited. 

We've been considering having another one since Colin was about a year old, not because of any burning desire to procreate or a narcissistic need to surround ourselves with little versions of ourselves.  No, this decision was based simply on providing a sibling for Colin -- someone to grow up with, someone to share life's big moments with, someone to confide in and trust in and depend on when his aging parents are no longer there.  Let's face it, I'm not a young man anymore.  It's comforting to know he'll still have immediate family when Dad is gone.  A depressing thought, I know, but no less relevant.

Obviously, this presents some additional challenges to our cruising plans.  We enjoyed having Colin with us as we sailed down the Mexican coast but it wasn't always easy.  Having a small child aboard certainly increases the stress levels associated with safe passage-making.  And, now, we're about to multiply it by two.

We won't, however, be crossing any oceans next year.  Our plan to sail through the South Pacific is on hold for the immediate future.  Instead, we'll stay here in Bend, work for a while, raise our little family, and take time off when we can to explore the Sea of Cortez on Jean Marie.  I haven't given up on a Pacific crossing yet...we just have to wait for the next window of opportunity.

Needless to say, this isn't the way I envisioned it playing out when we left Alameda a few years ago.  In my version, our family has relocated to New Zealand, a tired Jean Marie is tucked away in a marina, and Dad is working for a software company somewhere in the Auckland area.  Our newborn son is born with dual-citizenship and we're all spending the weekends exploring the kiwi countryside in a used camper van.  Funny how destiny gets in the way of well-made plans.  It's good to have a backup.
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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pic of the Day

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

So Close

I just returned from a planned two-week trip to Puerto Vallarta.  Fun and sun in a tropical paradise, right?  Not so much.  Anyone who has spent the summer in Mexico will know what I'm talking about.  This was no vacation.

After months of planning and measuring and measuring and planning my shiny new Beta 43 finally shipped air freight from England bound for Guadalajara.  I flew down on August 3rd to get there before it arrived.  It was a sweltering 95 when I stepped off the plane -- like walking in to a sauna with no exit.  The inside of the boat topped out over 100.  This was going to be a long two weeks.

Before we left Mexico back in April I hired Juan "the paper man" Arias to handle the import documentation and logistics, and Jack Tinsley of PV Marine Group to help me with the installation.  Both were expecting me and ready to assist.  Jack showed up the next day with a large fan in hand.  That would prove to be the most important tool for this job, and my sanity.  We had the old engine out in two days. 

My proud blue Perkins, removed and rebuilt twice in two years, a dependable old friend that saw us through many long days and nights at sea, the engine I was so reluctant to depart with after countless hours of maintenance and repairs, that freshly-painted diesel lay stripped down and in pieces on the dock.  Seemed like such a sad end for a once important and reliable component of Jean Marie.  It was depressing to look at it -- a painful reminder of lost time and wasted money.  Still, I was sorry to see it go.

The next day I received confirmation from Beta that the engine had arrived in Guadalajara and made arrangements with Juan to drive there and get it.   Juan has a big red Ford pickup that he uses for jobs like this.  He picked me up early the next morning for the long drive.  It was a 5 to 6-hour trip one-way, but if all went well we could drive to Guadalajara, get it through Customs, and drive back in one day.  Considering the reputation of government agencies in Mexico, we packed an overnight bag.  That, as it turned out, was a wise choice.

The engine was sitting in the Customs warehouse at the airport.  Security policies prevented Juan from dealing with them directly so we had to hire a Customs agent to act as our middle man.  I paid this guy a significant amount of cash in advance for the privilege of sitting around and waiting for him to do his job, which entailed driving a mile down the road to the airport and pushing some papers through to Customs officials.  Juan had spent many days in advance getting all our documentation in order to avoid any hassles.  And, as hard as they tried, they could find nothing wrong with our papers.  Yet, for two long days, which included a hotel stay for us, they managed to delay the process.  After a number of calls to the agent in PV, who then made a few motivational calls to the agent in Guadalajara, they finally ran out of excuses to hold my engine and loaded the crate in to the back of Juan's truck fifteen minutes before closing.  It was after 7 by the time we got out of there and didn't get back to PV until 2 AM.  I swore never to ship anything through Guadalajara again.

The next day Juan showed up with the engine still in his truck.  We unpacked it and dropped in on the dock using a big crane in the parking lot.  It took two more hours to roll it down the dock on Jack's homemade dolly as we blew out three wheels trying to push it to the boat in the 100-degree heat.  We made a plan to drop it in early the next day before the afternoon temps made it too difficult to work.

The sight of the old Perkins, the unbearable heat, and the long to-do list combined to temper my excitement over the new engine.  I suppose most people would show some enthusiasm over the purchase of a new diesel, but I was more concerned with getting it installed and running with minimal resistance.  This was not going to be an easy repower.  I'd done my homework and had Jack double-check my measurements, but the engine sits in a very tight space with little room for error.  I knew we'd have a few issues to work out, but thought we could get it working without any show-stoppers.  Of course, I was wrong.  Considering my experience with engines to date, I should have known better.

I ordered the Beta 43 with a ZF25 drop-down transmission.  Beta Marine fabricated custom feet to fit the engine space according to the measurements I gave them as part of the ordering process.  I spent a lot of time checking and double-checking the numbers to make sure we'd get it right the first time.  So, you can imagine my disappointment when I realized we needed 3-inch blocks under the front mounts to get the shaft aligned.  OK, no big deal.  The engine will just sit a little higher than I expected.  We can work around it, right?  Wrong.  The engine sits in a cabinet with limited space above.  With the front mounts on blocks we were already at the top of the available space and still needed to move forward 3 inches.  To make it work required installing it further aft and rebuilding the cabinet and floor in the back cabin -- not an ideal solution.  This was a show-stopper.

What followed was a lot of cursing and finger-pointing, with a good deal of self-loathing.  I wasn't happy.  Jack consoled me by pointing out the obvious:  I was attempting to replace a 30-year-old engine inside a small cabinet that was built around it by cramming a new engine in the same space while communicating the process through email to the manufacturer 5,000 miles away.  These things happen.  Setbacks should be expected.  I still wasn't happy.

The next few days were filled with number-checking, picture-taking, and lots of back-and-forth emails with Beta engineers.  They defended their ordering process and I defended my measurements.  They also asked for a few new measurements, which I provided, but we still couldn't determine the source of the error.  The only thing I knew with any degree of certainty was that the current configuration would not fit.  However, if I replaced the transmission with an angled version and moved the feet back and down it would slide in to place.  I knew what I had to do:  send the transmission back and go home.

So, that's what I did.  The transmission is now sitting in a crate at Jack's house waiting for Juan to pick it up and deliver it to DHL for a return flight to the UK, and I'm sitting in our house in Bend enjoying the moderate climate of central Oregon.  I'm still working with Beta Marine to determine what went wrong before placing a new order for an angled transmission and redesigned custom feet.  I'll have to fly back to PV to finish the job when we get all that worked out.  Hopefully, in cooler weather.  More time, more money.  But, eventually, Jean Marie will have a shiny new working engine.  I've come too far to give up now.
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