Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Thinking of Rebel Heart

By now I'm sure the entire population has heard about the rescue of the sailboat Rebel Heart nine-hundred miles west of Mexico.  It seems every news feed in the U.S. has latched on to this story and, in the process, stirred up a vocal and opinionated response from a mostly uninformed public.  There seem to be many out there who feel that caring for a sick child on a sailboat, enduring a rescue at sea, and then watching your boat (and home) sink is not enough punishment for such irresponsible parents.  They must also face the backlash of an angry non-sailing community demanding answers and reimbursement of precious tax dollars (because, as we know, the US Coast Guard would otherwise be sitting in port NOT doing anything requiring public funds).  As a sailor and a father I find it absurd.  For the crew of Rebel Heart it must be completely surreal.

We met Rebel Heart last season in La Cruz.  Colin and little Cora were close to the same age and fast friends.  We enjoyed hanging out with Eric and Charlotte and really liked having a playmate for Colin.  So, we made an effort to spend time together before sailing to Mazatlan.

This year we were eager to get back to La Cruz and begin prepping for our Pacific crossing with our friends on Rebel Heart and Bangorang.  Our plan was to sail with them as we all hopped through the South Pacific islands to New Zealand.  We were hoping to leave Mexico around the same time.  Instead, we said goodbye to both boats as they sailed out of La Cruz, and we resigned ourselves to another season in Mexico.

In spite of what Charlotte's clueless brother said to the press, nobody saw this coming.  The news of their rescue came as a shock to all of us who know them.  Eric single-handed Rebel Heart down from San Diego and spent the past year (or more) preparing the boat for their departure.  As a family they spent the summer in Mexico and sailed the boat across the Sea of Cortez to La Cruz, where they began the final prep.  Hans-Christians are proven blue-water boats and Eric seemed a competent and seasoned sailor.  I never doubted their success.

But, as most sailors know, when things go wrong on a boat it can get out of hand quickly.  Keeping the boat in working order on a crossing can be a full-time job.  Add two small children to the mix and it can be overwhelming.  When one of those children becomes seriously ill everything else will have to wait.  With Lyra's health in question, they made the right decision to call for help.

After working our way down the California coast and spending three seasons in Mexico as a cruising family, I would venture to say we understand more than most the challenges involved in sailing with children.  Colin was just five-months-old when we left Alameda and turns 3 next week.  I know many considered our journey foolish and thought we were irresponsible for taking an infant to sea. 

Yes, if we get in to trouble, we will probably ask the US Coast Guard to come to our aid.  But, we also spend a lot of time and money preparing ourselves and our vessel in an effort to avoid such a scenario.  Sometimes accidents happen and we, as a civilized society, pay taxes to fund services with the sole purpose of aiding those people unfortunate enough to suffer an accident.  If someone ventures out to a remote area of the planet and becomes ill or injured should we shame them for it?  Should we bill them for the rescue attempt?  What if it was someone you know, someone you care about?

And, what's the alternative?  Should we only raise our kids within a sheltered community of like-minded individuals?  Is that really the best we can offer our offspring?  As anyone who's met a cruising family can attest, children raised on sailboats are, in general, a mature and well-adjusted group.  And, why wouldn't they be?  They spend their days exploring the wonders of our planet, meeting kids from other countries, learning different cultures and languages along the way.  Isn't that preferable to cell phones, video games, and American pop culture?

I guess none of that matters now.  A sailboat had to be rescued...and there were children on board.  That's all the information required for the average intellect with a computer and something to say.  What most people fail to realize is that many families have crossed oceans without incident, and to the enrichment of their children.  The media only reports on those in distress and, unfortunately, it happened to our friends on Rebel Heart.  So now, all those who lack the courage and passion to fulfill their own dreams have a well-publicized excuse to justify their failures.
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Moving On

I've intentionally been avoiding this blog.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the chance to document our little family adventures and share the experience with anyone who has the interest and free time to actually follow along.  But, for a long time now, this website has been nothing more than a venting space for my long-winded complaints about Mexican diesel repair.  I'm sure the two people still reading this blog have heard enough of my whining about our ongoing engine trouble, and, truthfully, I'm a little tired of telling the story.  So, after this post -- one last long-winded rant about the difficulty of getting an engine rebuilt  -- I will officially put the subject to rest.  It's time to move on.

No, we're not currently sailing across the Pacific -- in case anyone was wondering.  Yes, that was the plan.  And, up to about three weeks ago, we were prepping for a crossing.  But, as I've said before, even the best laid plans...blah, blah, blah...engines suck.  We're now tucked away in Puerto Vallarta at the Paradise Village Marina (not a bad place to be, I know) putting the boat away for another summer in Mexico and getting ready to fly back to the States.

At this point you're probably wondering what the hell happened.  Well, let me fill you in on the sequence of events that brought us to our current slip in Paradise...

After our glorious sail down through the Sea of Cortez, we spent a week in La Paz where I explained to a local mechanic that our twice-rebuilt engine was burning a quart of oil every 30 hours and puffing smoke under load.  His advice:  change the oil to a non-detergent type and put more load on it to try and break it in.  So, after three days of hunting for non-detergent oil in and around La Paz (which, apparently, does not exist -- at least not south of the border) I finally gave up and we sailed for Mazatlan.

If you happen to be paying attention, you know that Mazatlan is where we last rebuilt the engine.  The work was performed a year ago by Total Yacht Works, a well-respected business owned by Canadian Bob Buchanan.  After our initial debacle trying to get it rebuilt by Jonco in Barra, I was told by just about everyone to take it to Bob.  And, that's what we did.  It took many months, but our engine was finally rebuilt again and running well when we departed Mazatlan last May.  By the time we put the boat away in Guaymas I had 100 hours on it and it was still burning oil.  I emailed my concerns to Bob at the time and he assured me he would make it all right when we came back to Mazatlan this season.  That was the last conversation we had.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned that Bob, who had been in business for twelve years, suddenly cleaned out his office and disappeared in the night.   Apparently, he got in to a dispute with his business partner (the mechanic that rebuilt our engine) who got a lawyer involved who then got the Mexican IRS involved.  And, just like that, Total Yacht Works and our guaranteed fix was no more.  Unbelievable.

I knew all this when we sailed back to Mazatlan in February, but I wanted to talk to Rafa (the former mechanic and business partner of Total Yacht Works) about the oil burning issue.  His response was the same as the mechanic in La Paz -- change the oil and put more hours on it.  To his credit he offered to tear it apart and fix it at his cost.  But, the idea of spending another season in Mexico rebuilding the engine again was beyond comprehension.

So, I put six gallons of oil on the boat and we sailed to La Cruz to prep for a crossing.  The engine was running well, I just had to feed it oil every other day or so.  We figured it would probably continue to run in this state for many more hours before it became a problem.  By then we hoped to be in New Zealand where I could find a competent shop to work with.  Denial?  Perhaps.

After a week in La Cruz that little voice of reason deep down in my skull began to get louder, until it finally convinced me to pull the head off (the engine, not me) and take a look.  If we didn't find any major issues then all we'd have lost is a head gasket and a couple days of work.  But, that little voice knew better.  With the head removed, I could see the top of each cylinder was polished smooth.  I hired another mechanic to come over and take a look.  The fact that all four cylinders showed the same pattern indicated a problem with installation of the cylinder sleeves.  It certainly wasn't going to get better in time.  The only fix was another rebuild (groan).  Reluctantly, we scrapped our Pacific Puddle Jump.

As my wife knows, I can be very stubborn and determined when I get my head wrapped around an idea -- like rebuilding an old Perkins in Mexico.  In this case that determination cost us many months and many thousands before I finally threw in the towel.  We won't be rebuilding again. 

There are a couple valuable lessons to be learned of course:  (1) stubbornness can be very expensive, and (2) regardless of what people say, Mexico is not equipped to rebuild engines.  You can find help with minor problems, but if you send parts to a machine shop for precision work to specific tolerances and expect to see the same results you'd get in the U.S. you're probably going to be disappointed.  I wish someone had told me that back in San Diego.  I guess some of us have to learn the hard way.

The good news is that we'll have a shiny new engine next season.  I'm just about ready to pull the trigger on a Beta 43.  They're good engines, are reasonably priced, and will ship directly to Puerto Vallarta.  I've been buried in specs over the past two weeks trying to work out the best engine/transmission combination to provide the power we need and fit the space we have.  I think we've got a winner.  Now I just have to pay the bill, get it through customs, deliver it to the dock, remove the old engine, drop in the new engine, line it up with the prop shaft, rework the exhaust system, hook up all the other systems, install the instrument panel, bleed the fuel lines, and fire it up.  No problemo.  Fortunately, I'll have some help.

Every problem can be solved with a little time and money.  Sometimes, it takes a lot of time and money.
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Friday, February 7, 2014

Exploring the Sea

It's been nearly two-and-a-half years since we left Alameda and sailed south for Mexico.  Our plan from the start was to spend the Spring exploring the quiet, remote anchorages in the Sea of Cortez -- diving the reefs, fishing the passes, and relaxing with a cold beer in the shade of the cockpit.  If there's one thing I learned over the past couple years is that nothing ever works out as planned...not on a boat, anyway.

Patience is all that is required.  I don't think I realized the true meaning of those words when I first read "Around Alone" and Slocum's famous quote.  It took two incredibly frustrating seasons to really come to terms with the idea.  And, sitting here in La Paz after two glorious weeks working our way down through the Sea, I think our perseverance finally paid off.  It's not springtime, the northers are blowing, and the water is a little chilly, but it was still the highlight of our Mexican cruising experience to date.

I hung around San Carlos long enough to watch the 49er's lose the NFC championship game in typical gut-wrenching, nail-biting fashion.  I tried to put it out of my mind as we set sail the next day.  We left with Theo and Marion on Marionetto, bound for the anchorage of San Juanico, and spent a very fast and bumpy night following Marionetto's stern light.  We sailed the entire way making speeds of 6 to 7 1/2 knots on a beam reach and had to slow down as dawn approached to wait for the light.  It took a little time to get used to life on a moving surface again.  Colin was seasick at first but quickly recovered and by the time we set the anchor the following day we were all feeling pretty good and eager to have a look around.

 
We tucked in behind a big rock at San Juanico and rowed the dinghy to the beach for a hike with Theo, Marion, and Jim on Murray Grey.  We made our way up and over the hill to another stunning beach for a picnic in the sand.  The turquoise water was a little cold but crystal clear.

The next day we set sail for Isla Coronados with Marionetto and Murray Grey in very calm conditions.  I'm still breaking in the engine following our rebuild in Mazatlan, so I didn't mind motoring the whole way.  We dropped anchor on the southeast side of the island next to a long white-sand beach popular with tourist boats from nearby Loreto.  We were the only ones there.  I quickly squeezed in to my 3mm shorty and jumped over the side for a swim to check the anchor.  It was a good excuse to finally get in the clear water.

After an unusually calm night, we pulled up the anchor and motored south to Puerto Escondido.  The wind began to fill in just as we turned the bow toward the narrow entrance to the large harbor, where we picked up a mooring.  Escondido is just about the only place between Santa Rosalia and La Paz to get fuel and provisions, so we decided to spend a couple days there restocking the boat and checking out Loreto.  The next day we hired a taxi to take us the 15 miles or so north to town, where we spent some time walking the quiet streets and loading up on groceries at the local supermarket.

From Escondido we motor-sailed down to the popular Agua Verde. But, after checking out the anchorage, decided instead to continue around the point to the quiet and overlooked San Marte.  We tucked up inside the rocky reef with Marionetto and set the hook off another beautiful beach.  In the morning, we took a long dinghy ride to explore a sea cave in calm overcast conditions.  We picked up the anchor the following day and I tossed a lure over the side as we motored south.  Almost immediately, I had my first dorado on deck -- a nice 8-pounder that I quickly filleted.

At Los Gatos, our next stop, we explored the spectacular red rock formations above the beach and feasted on fish tacos with Marionetto and Murray Grey.

 
From there we sailed south to the tiny village of San Evaristo and, again, I hooked a dorado -- this time a 10-pounder -- which Marion cooked for us on their boat.  We landed the dinghy on the beach and raided the small tienda in search of a few much-needed provisions.  We managed to procure a few vegetables, tortillas, eggs, some canned goods, and lots of cookies.

 
We left San Evaristo in southerly winds and chose to anchor on the north end of Isla San Francisco, off a shoal beach that looked like a postcard from the Bahamas.  I donned the shorty again and jumped in to snorkel the rocky reef.  The wind shifted back to the north around 3 AM and began to build beyond our comfort level, quickly turning our quiet beach in to a lee shore. 
Fortunately, it didn't get out of hand and, although we lost some sleep, we managed to wait for sunrise before pulling up the anchor and sailing south again.

A few hours later we sailed in to Caleta Partida, a spectacular and well-protected cove at the south end of Isla Partida.  We spent a couple days relaxing on the hook and playing in the water in what may have been our favorite anchorage.

Our last stop was Caleta Lobos, on the peninsula north of La Paz, where we tucked in behind a little rock island to get shelter from the westerly winds.  I was soon in the water again, exploring the coral reef along the rocky shore.  In the evening we joined Marion, Theo, and Jim for a pasta feed on Marionetto -- our last night of bliss before sailing to the bustling La Paz.

In the morning we motored down the long channel and dropped the hook in the Magote, surrounded by a hundred other boats in the wind and chop of La Paz harbor, thus closing the chapter on our long-anticipated sail through the Sea of Cortez -- a journey well worth the wait.
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Monday, January 6, 2014

A New Year

After an agonizing two weeks in the boat yard we finally splashed Jean Marie on Friday and made the short sail north to San Carlos through headwinds and short choppy seas.  We grabbed a mooring in the crowded little bay and plan to stay put for a short while to relax and get organized before starting the trek south through the Sea of Cortez anchorages.
 
The boat was in great shape considering the long, hot summer months on the hard.  We did find a couple cracks on the keel and rudder that required some fiberglass repair, but all systems seemed to be in working order and the engine fired right up.
 
We spent Christmas with our friends Theo and Marion at their house in San Carlos.  They were kind enough to invite us to stay the night and we appreciated the chance to get out of the boat yard and enjoy a real Christmas dinner with friends.  Colin spent the entire time running around in circles on the tile floors.
 
We had such a good time we went back for New Year's eve, celebrating over dinner at the Captain's Club.  We had to drag Colin off the dance floor when the band took a break and we called it a year a couple hours early.  2014 got started with a little coffee and Marion's homemade doughnuts followed by a walk to the beach on a perfect sunny day -- a great start to an exciting new year.

Happy New Year to all our family and friends.  We wish you all good health and good fortune.
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Southern Migration

We rolled in to Guaymas yesterday after an overnight bus ride from Tucson.  I was a little nervous about crossing the border with eight bags of gear plus a stroller and carry-on items but, surprisingly, we cruised right through customs without a hitch.  We're now sitting comfortably in a hotel room, where we plan to stay until the boat is ready to go back in the water.  I'll be working hard this week to get a few necessary projects done before Christmas.

We spent our last few days in Bend with Denny and Dawn.  The temperature dropped to zero on the morning we left Oregon, which only seemed to reinforce our decision to move south.  By the time we reached mom and dad's house in Magalia snow flurries were beginning to fall.  We woke the next morning to a winter wonderland with six inches of snow covering everything.  Colin got to ride a sled and build a snowman for the first time.  He also got to throw snowballs at dad for the first time, which made him giggle uncontrollably.

From there we drove to the Bay Area for a quick visit with old friends.  Todd and Antoinette were gracious enough to offer us a room at their place in San Ramon, and we got the crew back together for one more night out in Oakland.  Thanks Mike, Colleen, Julie, David, Maria, Lee Ann, and Miguelito for taking time to see us off.

We picked up our rental car last Monday and drove two SUV's to Ron and Colleen's house in Elk Grove, where I helped him work out a little drama involving a nosey neighbor and a tow-truck.  Mom and dad met us in the morning to take our car back to Magalia, and we said goodbye once again before continuing south to Templeton where we moved in with Ricky and Maria for a couple days.  Thanks Paul for organizing an impromptu barbeque.  And, thanks Cassy, Uncle, Tina, and Ron for coming over on short notice.

Before leaving the next day we walked across the street to visit with my grandmother.  She's a very special lady and loved dearly by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  She shared her lunch with Colin and we all shared a relaxing afternoon together.

Later that day we drove to Santa Barbara to spend a night with Monica, who I don't get to see nearly enough.  We had just enough time for a couple of meals, a bottle of wine, and a lot of laughs.  Thanks, Mon.

We got a late start from SB and had the agonizing misfortune of driving through LA on a Friday evening.  Bad idea.  I've spent enough time in Bay Area traffic to know better.  So, our three-hour drive to Hemet turned in to a torturous five-hours.  Fortunately, we won't need to do that again...ever.

We did, however, have a great time visiting my uncle Bill and aunt Keckie.  It was our first time down that way and we're glad we made the stop.  Thanks for letting us invade your home for the night.

And, then, after a long drive through the desert, we made our way to Tucson, dropped off the rental car and caught the late bus to Guaymas.  One journey ends and another begins. 

We want to thank everyone who took the time to visit and gave us a place to rest.  It meant a lot to us, and we enjoyed every day and every stop along the way.  It was particularly special since, at this point, we're not quite sure when we'll be back in the US.  Traveling always feels a little bittersweet -- excited to be on the move but missing loved ones already.  We'll definitely be in touch.
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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Season Three

To be honest, when we left Guaymas in June I wasn't sure when we'd be back in Mexico.  To say our first two seasons did not go as planned would be an enormous understatement.  The long months in Barra and then Mazatlan dealing with engine problems took it's toll on captain and crew.  I promised Millie when we left Alameda way back in October 2011 that if she wasn't enjoying the cruising life after two years, we'd give it up and try something else.  Living, stationary, on a boat for months on end in the sweltering heat of a Mexican marina is not much fun.  And, so, when we put the boat away in that hot dusty yard back in June I was, therefore, a little uncertain of our return.

Spending the winter here in central Oregon, I have to admit, is appealing.  I haven't been skiing in three years now and Mt. Bachelor is only a half-hour drive away.  We both found jobs near our house that we enjoyed and were discovering new restaurants every week.  Colin was getting excited about going to school (the morning sob-sessions had finally ceased).  And, all the work on the house was done.  We played in the leaves as the big maple turned with the season.  We watched movies by the fireplace as the first snow fell over the yard.  Our house was beginning to feel like our home.  Did I really want to hand the keys over to renters again?

But, for me anyway, Mexico was unfinished business.  I felt we had started down the road less traveled and needed to see where it took us.  The work was done, the money was spent, the time was lost, there's nothing we can do about that now.  We have a great boat with a strong, if yet untested, engine.  We have to see this through.  I wasn't deterred just yet.

And, fortunately, neither was my wife.  Millie agreed give it all up again for one more season in Mexico and, if all goes well, a Pacific crossing in March.  Months of emailing white-sand postcard photos of French Polynesian anchorages had finally paid off.  Perhaps I'm a better salesman than I thought I was.  The truth is (and I know this) Millie has a gypsy soul and an adventurers heart, which is one of the reasons I fell in love with her.  Even though the idea of spending three-weeks at sea to get there is terrifying, the allure of the islands and the people and the culture is powerful.

So, once again, it's time to say goodbye to our beloved Bend.  The past six months went by in a blur, and we depart with mixed emotions as we were both beginning to feel very much at home here.  Tomorrow we'll spend the day packing the car and saying our goodbyes, and Thursday morning we'll begin the long journey south.  The plan is to drive down to the Bay Area, rent an SUV, drive it to Tucson, and then catch the Executivo bus for a five-hour ride to Guaymas.  This seemed like the least painful way to get us and our many duffel bags to the boat.  We'll be visiting a lot of our friends and family along the way, but I'm hoping to be in Mexico two weeks from now.

And, at some point in the unforeseeable future we'll be back here in Bend.  We've moved out of the house and have a new renter moving in this week.  I hired a property management company to handle all the messy details this time.  We considered that a prudent decision.  There's nothing else to do now...except go.
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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving is a special one, which may seem like an odd revelation considering I'm sitting home alone while my family enjoys a turkey dinner without me some three-thousand miles away. No, it's not a celebration in the traditional sense, but I still feel thankful none the less.

How many of us are lucky enough to marry someone with the courage and selfless enthusiasm to quit their job and give up everything they own to sail a 40-foot boat across an ocean to unknown destinations with an infant child and an aging lap dog?  Crazy, I know.  But, traveling the world by sailboat has been a dream of mine for a very long time, and I spent many years before marriage preparing for such a journey.

But, it was always just that -- my dream.  Before she met me, Millie knew nothing of sailing.  She didn't stay up late with her nose buried in sea stories, visualizing perfect sail trim in trade-wind conditions.  It wasn't her ambition to cross an ocean under sail and drop anchor between coral heads in the white sand of some South Pacific island.  She didn't hunger for the challenge and personal sacrifice required to live and travel on a small boat. 

No, those were my aspirations, my goals.  But, she embraced all of these things when she agreed to marry me, and, although reluctant at times, she set aside her own dreams to live mine for a while.  And, for that, I will always be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving and a very happy birthday to my loving wife.
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