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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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Three Years Old

We celebrated Colin's third birthday Tuesday on the beach in PV after a special breakfast of French toast, fruit, and chocolate cake.  Colin devoured it by the gooey handful.  Dad had to look away.

It's hard to believe three years have passed since those first days in Alameda.  And, although we haven't travelled very far on the world map, it's been a long journey.  The bouncing little boy we sailed south with is now outrunning dad and talking in full sentences.  It goes by fast -- cliché but true.

 
Our friends on Velella Velella joined us for the beach party.  Rob and Kai are putting their boat away for the summer on the same dock and took a few hours off to celebrate with us.  Sun, sand, balloons, presents, and cold beer on a busy tourist beach in 90-degree tropical heat -- a great way to end the season.

Happy Birthday, son.  I hope all your years are filled with the joy and laughter you've brought your proud parents in these first three.  It's been an unbelievable journey for us as a family so far -- in a lot of different ways.  I'm looking forward to celebrating the many adventures and many birthdays to come.
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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 and take a look (the engine, not me).  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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