Sunday, February 24, 2013

An Interview With Colin

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Rebuild Number 4

We pulled the engine out of the boat yesterday to rebuild it once again.  For those keeping track this will be the fourth rebuild within a year.  It was about this time last year that we were towed in to the Barra lagoon where this tragic tale began.  I made the obvious decision to pull the engine again after the transmission decided to overheat last week.  That was it -- I'd had enough.

If you recall, our original plan was to haul the boat and re-pitch the prop so we could drive the engine at a higher RPM for 50 or so hours with the slim hope that the rings would seat and the oil-burning problem would resolve itself.  So, last Monday we pushed off the dock for an anticipated 3 to 4 day excursion to motor around during the day and anchor of the outlying islands in the evenings. 

Two hours in to that first day I noticed transmission fluid boiling out the breather vent, which quickly led to the captain's blood boiling out his ears.  After venting my frustration by cursing our idiot mechanic (again) over the revving engine, we motored over to Bird Island and dropped the hook for the night.  We watched the sunset and spent a peaceful night tucked in behind the island off a beautiful little beach with nobody else around -- an idyllic setting to help me wind down and, perhaps, gain a little perspective.  The next morning we made the short trip back to the marina, docked the boat, and asked our new mechanic to pull the whole thing out again.

And, it turns out, that was the right call.  The engine -- which is now a pile of parts on the workshop floor -- had a number of problems that were not going to resolve themselves no matter how many hours I motored around.  There was oil leaking out the front cover, oil leaking out the rear seal, and fuel leaking out the injector pump.  As I suspected, the cylinders were completely glazed over -- partly due to the propeller problem but also because they were not prepped correctly during the last rebuild.  Also, the rings were installed in the wrong positions which meant that it would never hold compression or stop leaking oil, even if the rings had seated.  The overheating transmission showed signs of wear on the discs and pump gears, indicating that they were not installed correctly.  Essentially every part that our bonehead mechanic in Barra touched was now junk.  I was, understandably, a little dismayed.

The good news is that we now have a competent mechanic with whom I have complete faith.  So, we'll go through the painful process once again.  Assuming we can rebuild it again, that is.  The block, crankshaft, and head were sent to a machine shop here in Mazatlan to be checked.  If, for some reason, there is a problem with any of those components we may be looking at a new engine...ouch!  Our friends across the dock have already faced that situation.  I'm trying not to think about it.  We should know within the next day or so.

In any event, we'll be here for a while waiting on repairs, which provided Millie a good opportunity to visit her parents in Florida.  They left Mazatlan last Saturday for a two-week trip.  Millie gets some quality time with her friends, Colin gets some quality time with his grandparents, James gets some quality time with a wrench.  Actually, it's nice to be able to work on the boat without interruptions.  So, it's a win-win-win.
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Monday, February 11, 2013


February is Carnaval time in Mazatlan, where the city erupts in a frenzy of costumed, glitter-immersed parties and parades.  The annual celebration dates back to 1898 and is considered the third largest carnival in the world behind Rio and New Orleans.  After seeing the crowd gather in the street for the parade last night, I believe it.  There was a mass of people stretching the entire length of the Malecon, with large families staking out good viewing spots for hours before the parade.  Vendors set up shop along the sidewalk selling hats, wigs, masks, and noise-makers, transforming the massive crowd in to a waving sea of fluorescent color.

Millie and Colin flew to Tampa to visit grandparents on Saturday and left me here to witness the spectacle by myself.  Fortunately, our friends Chuck and Karen on Katie G and Reg and Phoebe on Three Sheets allowed me to join them for the festivities which included a big fireworks display on the beach Saturday night and the much-anticipated parade on Sunday night.

So, after seeing Millie and Colin off to the airport, I went over to Katie G to kick off the party with some afternoon margaritas.  We then jumped on the Centro bus to the old town, grabbed a Big Kahuna at Beach Burger, drank a few more beers, and stumbled down to the Malecon to wait for the fireworks to get started.  We stopped along the way to see the colorful wigs on display and soon Chuck was looking sharp in a rainbow mohawk and Karen in flowing yellow and black locks.  They convinced me to go with the jet-black afro wig.  It was a new look for me.

Karen danced with the locals as we walked along the Malecon, checking out the various bands performing on stages every half-block apart.  The music was so loud it would vibrate through your body as you passed and the songs all merged together in to one beat.  As the hour grew later and the crowd grew larger I'd had enough fun and jumped in a taxi.  The fireworks were going off as I got back to the boat.  I was told it was a great show.

Sunday morning I heard a knock on the hull.  Reg and Phoebe had bought tickets from a hotel on the Malecon offering a buffet and bleacher seats to watch the parade.  Unfortunately, Phoebe was sick and, not wanting the ticket to be wasted, Reg offered it to me.  So, once again, we jumped on the Centro bus and made our way toward the old town.  Dinner was surprisingly good and the bleacher seats they set up provided a great perch for viewing the parade.  As the sun dipped under the waves in a splash of orange and purple I gazed over the crowd buzzing below. 

I'm not sure how many thousands of people were crammed into the streets that night but it was standing room only for miles in both directions.  I couldn't help but notice a distinct difference from similar gatherings I've attended in the U.S. -- a complete lack of hostility.  There were no fights, no arguments, no angry words, not even a dirty look.  How can hundreds of thousands of people gather in a public place without some form of conflict?  It seemed oddly irregular to me.  It also seemed strange that few people (besides us gringos) were drinking which, I assume, had a lot to do with the affable attitude of the crowd.  This morning I read that four people were shot on Bourbon Street during the pre-Mardi Gras celebration.  I lived a mile from Oakland, California for many years and am well aware of the dangers of American cities, particularly when large crowds gather.  This was different -- young and old, locals and transients, all clustered together in a peaceful and festive celebration, without attitude, without aggression, without intoxication.  And, although the parade seemed to celebrate the American film industry more than Mexican culture, the floats were impressive.  Millie and Colin would have enjoyed it.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Musical Mazatlan

After a week at the El Cid Marina we motored over to the nearby Marina Mazatlan to haul the boat and get the prop pitch adjusted.  Since we were pulling the boat I decided to go ahead and get the bottom painted, too.  And, of course, as soon as we were secure on the stands I could see quite a few large blisters around the keel -- may as well grind those out and fill them while we're here.  Hmmm, wait a minute, there's a little play in the prop shaft -- better replace the cutlass bearing while we're at it.  As I contemplated the additional work in my head I watched a couple guys waxing and polishing the boat next to us -- it made Jean Marie, with her weathered hull and oil-stained gelcoat, look old and tired in comparison.  Ok, ok, go ahead and wax the topsides.

And, so, our simple haulout quickly evolved in to a slightly more complicated and costly project.  Since this is not a DIY yard I knew I wouldn't be doing the work (which is great until the bill comes).  This allowed us some free time to get off the boat and explore Mazatlan a little.  We booked a bungalow down the street for a week, optimistic that the work would be done in that time.  And, to our delight, we splashed down exactly one week later.  That may be the first thing that actually went as planned since we left Alameda.  Thanks to Bob at Total Yacht Works for staying on top of it. 

We're at the Marina Fonatur now where we'll stay through the weekend to watch the Super Bowl before motoring out on Monday to drive the boat around for a while and complete the break-in process now that we've got the prop adjusted. I'm not very optimistic that we'll see any change and fully expect to be right back here in another week or so to pull the engine out for rebuild number four.  There's a chance I could be wrong.  The engine gods may smile down upon us and send little engine angels to sprinkle fairy dust on our Perkins until the rings seat and it stops burning oil.  I'm not counting on that happening, though.

And, if we do get stuck here in Mazatlan working on the engine it won't be such a bad thing -- certainly not like the nine painful months we spent in Barra.  We've had a lot of fun checking out the old town and some of the local favorites.  On Thursday we went to Palapa Del Mar where Melissa from Total Yacht Works was singing with her band Rock Creek.  We looked forward to enjoying a few beers, some gringo food, and live music.

The place was packed when we got there and Colin was immediately drawn to the music.  At first he stood mesmerized in front of Melissa as she serenaded him.  But soon the rhythm took over and he cut loose on the dance floor, twisting and prancing through a crowd of mostly grey-haired Canadians and Americans.  It was as if Colin suddenly acquired a hundred new grandparents as they all laughed and danced with him, snapping photos and a few hugs in the process.  By the end of the night Colin was presented the Rock Creek spirit award which we accepted onstage before dragging him away for some much needed sleep -- for us, not so much him.  In moments like these I flash back to the words of his very first pediatrician who said "he's going to be a handful".  Oh joy.

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