Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thanks Bud

The recognized hurricane season for the Eastern Pacific, including the coast of Mexico, officially started on May 15th.  Instead of anchored in some protected cove in the Sea of Cortez, hundreds of miles to the north, we're still here in Barra waiting on engine work as the season gets off to an unusually early start with Tropical Storm Aletta last week and Hurricane Bud this week.  Life here in Barra seems to get more interesting every day. 

Hurricane Bud made landfall on Friday just a few miles north of here.  Fortunately, it had weakened to a Tropical Storm by the time it hit us.  A few days before it peaked at Category 3 strength, with 115 mile-per-hour winds, making it the earliest Category 3 hurricane on record in the Eastern Pacific.  Hurricanes are uncommon in the Eastern Pacific in May; there have been just twelve since record keeping began in 1949.  Apparently, no one told Bud.

For the few cruisers keeping their boats here, the pucker factor increased with the predicted wind speed as we all watched the forecasts for Bud making a beeline for Barra.  In anticipation, we moved the boat to a more protected dock.  Extra dock lines were set, fenders tied, sails bagged, and canvas removed as we prepared for the worse.  Fortunately, the marina is well protected.  A hurricane came through here last season without causing any serious damage  ̶  an outcome that provided some comfort as we all hunkered down.

We awoke Friday morning to rain showers and increasing wind.  By the time we finished breakfast it was dumping hard and blowing 25 knots.  From the previous days forecast, I expected it to get a lot worse later in the day.  There was a high probability of sustained 50-knot winds.  The idea of scrambling on deck to reset chafe gear or secure loose lines with a nervous wife and toddler down below was a little, let's say, unsettling.  Millie and I talked about moving to the hotel if it got really bad, but the idea of getting the baby off the boat and to the hotel in 50-knot winds was also a little unsettling.  So, when we saw 30-knots and a break in the rain we decided it was time.  Millie and Colin could get a room overlooking the marina and I could stay and focus on the boat without any distractions.

We didn't realize it at the time, but the storm was already passing as we checked in to the hotel.  It weakened significantly before skirting the coast just north of here.  By afternoon the lagoon was flat and the marina calm.  The 30 knots we saw was the peak.

Millie and I stood on the balcony of our luxurious accommodations overlooking the marina with dumbfounded expressions.  Where the hell is all the wind?  It must be a lull before the big hit, we reasoned.  But no, the big hit never came.  That was all.  We felt a surprising and unexplained sense of disappointment.  All the worry and preparation and that was it?  Soon, however, our dismay turned to relief as we realized how fortunate we were.

And, even though the hotel turned out to be a large waste of money, it did provide a great opportunity to get off the boat and spoil ourselves for a night.  We thought we deserved it, given the situation and certainly made the most of it.  An air-conditioned room, a warm bath, a king-sized bed, TV, and complimentary breakfast  ̶  thanks, Bud.
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Todo Bien

I met Millie and Colin at the Guadalajara airport on the 11th, and after another night at the Hotel Frances we made the long bus ride back to Barra and the Grand Bay Marina.  It was good to see them again.  Little Colin has grown so much in the past month and is a lot more mobile than he was the last time I saw him.  He's on his feet now from the moment he wakes until bed time, requiring a lot more attention and energy from his parents just to keep up.  These are the days when I wish I were ten years younger.

We're all adjusting to life back on the boat again.  Being here at the Grand Bay Marina certainly makes for a more comfortable adjustment.  On the days when we're not lamenting our mechanical troubles or cursing our mechanic we try to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be here.  It really is a wonderful place to be stuck.

And, we're trying to make the most of it by enjoying the time we have at our private little pool (the hotel is practically empty) or by exploring some of the little seaside restaurants we've overlooked.  It's very quiet in Barra this time of year.  There are very few gringos here.  We don't mind at all.

On Tuesday I took the 8 AM bus to Puerto Vallarta to deal with my expiring tourist visa.  I was told by other cruisers that, for a fee, you can get a new visa from the immigration office at the airport in PV.  I tried, without success, to do the same thing at the Guadalajara airport and was, therefore, a little sceptical.  The law requires visitors to leave the country before a new visa will be issued.  At this point, flying out and back was not an option.  So, I hopped on the early bus to PV and hoped for the best. 

To my delight, the man at the immigration desk simply asked me a few questions (in English) and had me fill out a new form and pay the 580 peso fee.  Apparently, they get a lot of gringo cruisers looking to do the same thing and have, conveniently, overlooked the re-entry restriction.  This is typical of Mexican beauracracy.  If you want to get around a certain requirement just try the next office.  So, after a 5-hour bus ride to PV, a 5-minute visit to immigration, and another 5-hour bus ride back to Barra, I have a new 180-day tourist visa.  One less thing to worry about.

Last night we had dinner with our friends Jim and Susan on Windward Bound and Eric and Terry on Mija.  Jim and Susan put their boat in the marina and are house sitting here in Barra for the summer.  Eric and Terry are docked near us and planning to sail north later in the week.  We picked up a homemade cheesecake from a pastry cart in town and took a water taxi up the canal to their house.  It was nice to get off the boat and let Colin run around on the tile floors.  We enjoyed the food and the company.  I think we're going to miss this little town when we finally manage to get out of here.
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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Marina Life

Jean Marie is, once again, tied up safe and secure at the Grand Bay Marina.  I managed to move her from the lagoon, through the shallow channel, past the marina entrance, and into a slip without bashing into anything along the way. 

Actually, I had a lot of help.  Reggie and Phoebe from Three Sheets came out with their dinghy to push the bow and Pat from Cricket manned my dinghy which was tied to starboard to drive the boat.  We also had Jim and Susan from Windward Bound waiting on the dock to catch the lines. 

With that much assistance, what could go wrong?  Well, usually, a lot of things go wrong.  But on this day the only screw up happened when I cut the corner a little sharp going in and nearly ripped my dinghy on the starboard dock finger.  Luckily, I managed to get the line off before any damage was done.  The last thing my dinghy needs is another patch.  I'm not sure how it manages to stay afloat.

It's nice to have access to unlimited fresh water again.  These are the little conveniences that sailors revere and most people take for granted.  After spending weeks in the anchorage the boat was in dire need of a shower.  And, after working all day washing her inside and out, the captain was also in dire need of a shower.  We're both clean now.

Freshwater isn't the only benefit to marina life.  In this marina, you also get the added bonus of tying up next to a multi-million-dollar megayacht.  My neighbor is Ostar, which is owned by Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world with a net worth of around 68 billion, give or take a billion or two.  I haven't been invited to come aboard yet.  But, after a shower and shave, I'm sure it's just a matter of time. 

After helping this morning, Three Sheets finally sailed out of Barra on a heading north to Banderas Bay.  They've endured, essentially, the same aggravation as we have, arriving a week before us with a sputtering engine.  After 3-plus months of delays, mishaps, and general screw-ups -- by, seemingly, every person involved in the process of obtaining parts and fixing engines in Mexico -- they were, at long last, able to break free of Barra.  I envy them.  The way things are going I expect our stay to be longer than theirs.

Our friends on Cricket are leaving tomorrow, making their way north to San Blas to haul the boat and paint the bottom.  So, it would seem, as of tomorrow, we are the last ones here.  All the other cruisers have either set sail or put their boats away for the summer.  Only the hard-luck stragglers remain.  I'll try to remember to turn out the lights and lock the doors when we leave.
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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pic of the Day

No, son, the engine is not ready yet.
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Groundhog Day

My frustration level has reached an all-time high.

The day started out with great hope and anticipation as I made my way to the mechanic's shop to hear, what I assumed would be, the steady purr of our Perkins diesel.  The plan was to run the engine in the shop for a day and, if everything looked good, install it on Friday.  The rebuild was completed on Tuesday and the engine, my mechanic assured me, was running great. 

Finally some good news, I exclaimed and began making plans to move the boat.  Millie was scheduled to fly back on Monday but, considering I'd be busy with the engine install for the next few days, we decided to change her flight until the end of the week.  This would give me time to get the boat in order and put some hours on the engine for the break-in period before Millie got here.  With any luck we could be ready to leave Barra and sail north soon after her arrival.  That was my hope, anyway.

But, it seems, the little village of Barra does not want us to escape.  And, the diesel mechanic here in Barra has a way of crushing any remnants of hope.

My morning cheer quickly soured when I walked in and saw pieces from the exhaust sitting on the bench.  Instead of the familiar hum of a running diesel I heard the somber voice of my mechanic:  "I think you need a new heat exchanger."  "Whaaaaat?!" was the only response I could manage.  How could this happen?  Is it Groundhog Day?  Anyone who has seen the movie will understand my despair.  Yesterday everything was fine and today it all falls apart...again.  Instead of moving back to the marina I'm facing yet another week in the anchorage and yet another expensive charge to my credit card.  This little lagoon has become my prison.

For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of marine diesel engines, the job of the heat exchanger is to cool the freshwater coolant as it flows through the block.  It's the same concept as a car's radiator, only it uses seawater instead of airflow to extract the heat.  Cold seawater is pumped through little copper pipes and the hot coolant passes over them.  That's the concept, anyway, and it seems to be an effective way of cooling the engine as long as you keep the freshwater separated from the saltwater.

Apparently, in my case, the little copper pipes in the heat exchanger have eroded to a point where the coolant is leaking into the seawater and flowing out the exhaust.  It's a small amount but the coolant is going somewhere and it doesn't appear to be in the oil (thank the gods that be for that).  More than likely, the heat exchanger sprung a leak after it was cleaned in an acid bath as part of the rebuild.  And, this little event wasn't detected until running the engine for an hour.  So, now, it would seem, I need a new heat exchanger.

As a result, our stay here in Barra will continue for a little while longer.  I'm working on the fastest method of acquiring a new heat exchanger.  It won't be cheap but at this point my time and mental health are more valuable than the cost of shipping.  I may move the boat back to the marina over the weekend anyway.  The boat needs a good cleaning and I need a break from the lagoon.  My visa runs out soon, so next week I'll take the bus to Puerto Vallarta to get an extension.  Then, on Friday, it's another long bus ride to Guadalajara to pick up Millie and Colin.  They will be a welcomed site for my sore eyes.
The last time I saw Colin he was just learning to walk.  He would grasp my hand and wobble across the floor.  Now, Millie tells me, he's running and climbing.  How long has it been?  I don't even want to do the math.  It's amazing how quickly children develop, how they process the world around them and adapt to the changes within their little bodies.  Each day brings new surprises in both physical and cognitive growth.  Those moments go by fast, and I want to be a part of it.  It's time to see my family again.  Some things are more important than engines.
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