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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