08/01/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
Life is good.
We have Air conditioning and fresh homemade waffles for breakfast.
Our boat is packed with delicious foods from all over the orient.
We had a huge chubasco lastnight that put gallons of lovely fresh water into our newly cleaned dinghy and cooled the whole marina off enough that we had to huddle up together under the blankets lastnight due to the air conditioning making its way cold.
This morning Omar the mechanic showed up at 9AM. I had expected him to come in the afternoon. What a pleasant surprise it was to see him so early.
He mimed shooting me with a pistol when I came up and took me to his pickup to show me our freshly removed cylinder head back form the machine shop.
He was jovial and pleasant as he showed us the reason we couldnt find a problem in the head gasket to explain the water intrusion. It turns out the water had entered through a crack in the head right at the valve seat. The other half of said valve seat was destroyed by years of corrosion.
turns our we need a new cylinder head.
We have shopped around and found a nice 3 cylinder 35 horsepower motor for $5k but the many hassles involved in repowering (new propeller, etc.) are not a very good option.
Another day in paradise! Waffles, cylinder heads and chubascos!
07/31/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
Our mechanic has been slammed on a big engine rebuild for weeks now and i've been harrassing him the whole time. I saw him helping troubleshoot an overheating problem on my neighbor's boat and goaded him.
"Hey Adam, how are you?", he said
"My motor doesnt work and I cant get my mechanic to come pull the head till monday, other than that im doing alright, and yourself?" I quipped.
to which he replied
"You wanna do it now?"
I hadnt expected him to call my bluff but I wasnt about to turn him away.
We scurried below and made room for him to work.
Our hope was that we'd pull the head and see nice clean cylinder walls and some soot in the valve seat that was causingour compression problems.
When we got the head off i was slightly horrified to see 2 ounces of coolant in a slimy stagnant pool on top of the troubled piston.
The piston head looked like the surface of the moon, pitted with corrosion.
When we looked at the head gasket it wasnt instantly apparent where the water was coming in but that didnt really matter, the coolant on the piston was evidence enough.
once we examined the cylinder wall we could feel lots of relatively deep corrosion. The odds that honing this cylinder wall would result in a smooth surface were diminishing.
Once we examined the bottom of the removed head it was clear that the area surrounding the valve seat was severely corroded. Deep pitting and lots of missing metal right up against the corroded valve seat made me wonder how this engine was even running.
The current plan of attack is to find out whether or not the machine shop can salvage the head. Meanwhile tomorrow afternoon we're going to have omar pull the bottom end off the motor and remove the pistons. This way we can examine and even attempt to hone the cylinder walls to determine whether or not we need to order more parts.
Best case scenario, we pull the pistons and the rest of the sleeve is okay, we hone the walls and get the head repaired by the machine shop.
worst case scenario we neednew sleeves and a new head and we're stuck in the expensive marina slip for 2 months (at a cost of $510/month) and have to rent a car to retrieve more parts from Arizona.
On the bright side the air conditioning is keeping us alive.
07/30/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
The boat is making huge progress but its hard to stay upbeat.
Antonia over at SVSereia.com has just written an excellent piece on the nature of adventures. I agree with her sentiments completely. With adventure comes adversity. If we were sipping margaritas on the beach we'd be on vacation.
I strongly believe the addage that attitude is the difference between adventure and ordeal. Often my biggest frustration is that with the constant breakdowns and difficulties my attitude has not permitted me to have an adventure. Why can't I just smile in the face of seemingly endless setbacks and financially crippling engine failures? Why can't I just accept that whatever happens out here its better than the cubicle?
I think the problem lies with the fact that a bad day out here isn't actually always better than a good day in the cubicle. I know, to many this might be a shocking revelation but the cubicle isnt always a hell-hole. No, this isnt the part of our cruise where I write about how we're "swallowing the anchor," and selling Estrella to move to the mountains and make babies and test software. I do however think that to say that one must possess an indefatigable positive attitude to succeed out here isnt neccesarily true. Or maybe it is, I'll get back to you when I feel we've succeeded.
Knowing what we know now we would most definitely have done some things differently. But there is a danger in assuming that those different choices would have resulted in greater success, or at least diminished adversity.
Anyway, In the last few weeks we have finished the decks, they are sealed, and the deck fills are in place. We rented a car to drive up to Phoenix last week to pick up our engine parts. Two of our four batteries had dried out and had issues, so I bought two more while we were up there. My logic was that I would try to equalize the batteries when we got back and if they boucned back I'd add the new ones to the bank and, if the two dry ones didn't bounce back, i'd replace them.
We had moved Estrella from her protected spot by the cliff out into more open water. That way, if anything went wrong while we were gone, there would be more margin for error. Our location before we moved was around 30' from the cliff and when the wind blew us near the cliff we would get nervous. With Estrella re-anchored out in a rollier, but more open, part of the anchorage we were far more comfortable leaving her for a weekend.
While we were up in Phoenix I checked the sattelite infra red image of the convection over the Sierra Madres and saw a massive supercell blasting its way straight for San Carlos. Nothing I could do about it, so I sent a Skype message to a friend in town and the following morning he replied that he'd go check on Estrella for me and that he was unable to receive my message the previous night because the storm had knocked out his power.
Upon our return to San Carlos and Estrella we found her safe and sound, still anchored in her place, but our brand new delta riding sail had broken the boom end fitting and flogged through the storm. The anchor hadn't dragged an inch, but the chafe gear on the snubber was gone and the unsecured battery bank had moved and was almost in the bilge. A container of bolts had flown through the wood lattice of one of our small holds in the cabin and our month-old delta riding sail looked like it had been abused for 20 years. Clew patches were shredded and the heavy 10oz dacron covered with strange deep wrinkles. Locals reported that hurricane force 70 knot gusts hit the bay. Trees were downed and all of San Carlos was without power for several hours. All things considered, we fared pretty well and we know our anchor is still tip top.
So we added "new boom-end fitting" to our already substantial Hernandez fabrication tab. Since we had to remove the boom and leave it with Luis, I decided we should go into the marina. I don't like anchoring without a riding sail as we tend to shear violently back and forth in big winds and this place has been thunderstorm central lately.
We call Omar, our mechanic, assuming he would be able to come down straight away and pull the head and find out if we're gonna do a top end or a full engine rebuild. Sadly, Omar had just started a massive engine rebuild that would take him the rest of the week and into the following week.
I decided that if we couldn't get Omar we could at least knock out the issues preventing us from being a sailboat. Since we were in the marina we might as well have Luis Hernandez come down and make us our stern pulpit and weld together our wind vane supports.
The stern pulpit that Luis made looks great and most importantly enables us to move our solar panels out of the way of the headsail sheets. We had been worried that the pulpit would be hideous but he followed the curves of the existing wooden rail and it looks perfect. He pointed out to me when I told him it looked great that I would be obscuring it all with outboard motors and solar panels so nobody will ever appreciate the look of it. He was right of course, I moved solar panels the very next day.
While we were up in Phoenix we broke down and bought a window mount air conditioner. The temps. here are around 100 with 80% humidity. Its truly miserable at this time of year. At first we were running the air conditioner at anchor all day and all night off our Honda generator. I installed a 3 gallon external fuel tank for the generator so it can run for days on end. The air conditioner has made life go from intolerably miserable to comfortable.
Going into the marina allowed us 24hr access to power so the air conditioner stayed on 24/7. We hate to spend the money on a slip, but once Luis finished the stern pulpit and the vane supports I wasnt keen to bug out of the marina. The expense is crippling and I have always avoided marinas like the plague, but right now we're definitely infected.
Since we were tied up to shore power I ran through a 3-hour equalizing cycle on the batteries. Equalizing is when you boil the batteries at 16 volts for several hours in order to shake loose sulphation off of the battery plates and release trapped electrolyte, in order to make all the battery cells have an equal and ideally correct specific gravity (ratio of water to acid)
Sadly after the equalization process I found that my other two batterys were also toast. Since we had forgotten a few things at Shannon's place in Phoenix and Omar couldn't work on the engine untill the end of the following week, we rented a car again and drove up to Phoenix. This time we left Estrella in the slip and we didnt spend a weekend. We drove up Tuesday morning and drove back Wednesday morning. During our first trip to Phoenix Kristina lucked out and we got a car with an automatic transmission, but this time her luck had run out. I was pleased since I have always wanted to teach Kris to drive a stick. I believe I have a foolproof method and I have always wanted to test it out. Kristina is very smart but I am sure everybody knows how difficult it can be to teach/learn from a spouse/significant other. I drove us to Phoenix, but Kris did our driving aroudn town and actually drove us all the way back from Phoenix to San Carlos on her own with the stick.
When we returned we had again hoped Omar would be ready for us Thursday. I called him and he told me he had some complication and had to push us back to Monday. Oh well, I guess thats just another part of the adventure. Tonight we'll try to get the decks sorted and finish stowing up the interior so we can make the boat look sea-ready for the first time in forever.
Here are some photos of our progress so far.
Deck project start to finish:
This is exactly how much teak i removed myself before realizing $30 a day to hire a reliable skilled mexican laborer to do the rest in less than 2 days was well worth the money.
Finally getting rid of the teak. Never to return again.
couple weeks after drilling it all out and drying in the desert heat and injecting thin epoxy into the wood the long process of filling the holes with thickened epoxy begins.
digging out the wood core around the deck-fill holes.
Deck fill dammed off with thickened epoxy.
Decks filled with epoxy, technically water tight at this point but so much work still to go.
covered with fairing compound and stanchions removed.
Kristina taping and prepping for paint.
Everything in the pulpit so we can paint.
taped, sanded, wiped with acetone and ready for paint.
Two coats on the bulwarks and one on the decks.
That anchor well will never look better.
The foredeck still shows some scratches through the paint here but its just the first coat and will be nicely covered up by the subsequent two coats with non-skid.
Stanchions and deck fills installed and bedded, white decks didnt stay white for long.
finished stern-rail and wind vane support bracket.
wide shot of carnage
broken boom end fitting
wierd wrinkles in the dacron.
close up of trashed clew patch.
07/07/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
The decks are finally painted, non skid and all. Hurray!
So the decks are painted. This is good news. they actualy look pretty good, I was thinking there were a couple of spots on the non-skid where I'd like to touch up but after a couple days it seems the wear has caused things to more or less match.
The decks are mostly finished. All that is left to do is to epoxy in a stanchion riser that tore out when pulling one of the gate stanchions and lay down some fairing compound to fill in an adjacent fiberglass tear. With luck i can get it pretty fair without too much sanding and then just lay a little paint and non-skid on to match the rest of the decks. After that I need to reinstall and bed the gate stanchion bases and get all the stanchions and lifelines back in. Kristina has polished all the stainless for what I believe must be the first time in Estrella's history.
Once all those lifelines and stanchions are in and the minor repair done the decks will be officially "done".
The day after we got the decks painted we got our first chubasco of the season. It mostly blew less than 25knots but around 5AM it started raining. We had anticipated a short rain but the tape we laid down over the stanchion holes and the deck fills was no match for the heavy 3 hour rain we got. Fortunately Kris was johnny on the spot with the buckets and bowls to catch the leaks.
I hadnt slept much that night due to lightening and wanting to monitor our first weather event so while I was sitting cleary eyed at the saloon table and drops of water came down on my head from the traveller through bolts I was reminded that I need to put in a riser and fill on all of those holes. Yet another stainless project to add to the list. Also the deck project didnt stop my pillow from being leaked upon which confirms that the issue is the deadlight over my bunk. Rebedding this will likely involve drilling out the teak bungs and removing the delicate teak frame, cleaning out the old gunk and rebedding what i assume is just a pane of glass. Anyway it'll need to be done.
Our motor rebuild is on hold. I didnt want to pull the head off and cripple Estrella until I have all the parts we might need to rebuild the motor. It is here where I must give tremendous credit to Norm at MER equipment in Seattle. Norm didnt just look up the head gasket and rings I asked for. he went around and found me parts for everything that would be required to do the job I was embarking on. He found me the parts and couldnt ship them to me quicket than 2 weeks. Turns out that even though there is no marine yanmar dealer in Arizona, the territory is not his so he is forbidden to drop ship to an Arizona address. Norm was awesome and being more interested in my problem than making a sale he gave me all the parts numbers and his estimated prices and suggested I call the tractor company in Arizona.
I told him if they cant get them to me in time I'll call him back and place the order.
without going into too much detail, the tractor company was 10% more expensive than MER and so far have been awful to deal with. They have failed to get my parts shipped on time and were rude when I called asking for my tracking number.
"Why do you need the tracking number?"
"So I can track the package and anticipate any problems before a delay occurs so I dont have to wait weeks to get the package I paid to have delivered in 3 days."
"Has the package arrived?"
I couldnt believe it. Why would I want to track a package I already have in my hand. I was polite and said...
"I wouldnt know, I dont have a tracking number."
Anyway, that woman hates me now for having the audacity to be angry about them screwing up my order. Turns out the lady who took my order and insisted I not pay for 2 day shipping because my packages would arrive by tuesday with 3 day, went on vacation and never mentioned that the warehouse might be closed Friday. Turns out my package shipped Monday so its not gonna get there in time.
Oh well, I am getting used to these kinds of debacles.
So now I am hoping we can get the stainless work done before the parts arrive with Tony's next trip up in 2 weeks but our stainless guy is slammed with a government contract he is finishing this week so it might be another week before he can get to us.
In the meantime the heat index hit 107 today. There has been a nice breeze though but its been southerly so the bahia has been packed with protugese manowar jellyfish so we cant get in the water.
Kristina mentioned the other day when we were hiding unjder our windscoop waiting for the decks to dry that maybe we should take a break.
The gist being that we are no longer keen to go to Central America as many cruisers have convinced us the sailing is terrible (lightning, no wind or too much wind and not a lot of protected anchorages) and its also a longer way from either home or the south pacific.
So that means we would look to cross in march (cant really cross sooner than that from the north pacific) which means we have 9 months to kill in mexico. Our kiitty has also suffered from this extended refit of doom so more money has it's appeal.
We dont want to go back to Portland for fear we'd fall into the same old jobs and habits. if we're going to go back to work we'd like to make an adventure of it and try working someplace totally new and living someplace we've never lived before.
So at present I have updated my resume and we're shopping for short term QA contracts in the US.
I am still on the fence as I would like to spend the summer spearfishing and if we leave till december the water will be too cold and murky when we get back for spearing.
But the upside is that Estrella will be better than new in no more than a month (fingers crossed) and maybe we can go have a little contracting adventure. When we get back we could have some more money, maybe a little more confidence in our marketability (or not ;)) and a more or less turnkey cruising boat waiting for us.
At present this is just an idea in it's infancy, we'll see where it takes us.
07/02/2009, San Carlos Sonora Mexico
So the decks have been pulled up and many holes drilled. the reacher is rigged and we're generally making progress.
the decks are sanded and faired at last. the gate stanchions and bases are pulled and polished. i have some minor glasswork to do to one of the stanchion base supports that cracked off the deck.
unfortunately with the Estrella if its not one this its another. I finally got a temp gauge and rewired our formerly broken tachometer. in doing so i was able to discern that the minimum rpm we had set the engine to idle in order that it doesnt die when shifted into gear is 1100. WAY too high. Also it was still dying .Shifting from neutral into forward was taking the RPMs from 1100 to 400 and killing the engine. We had adjusted the valves, replaced all the exhaust and removed a broken check valve. Even had both injectors rebuilt and tested we really thought we'd solved the last of this engine's issues. Suspecting that the only thing left was compression I borrowed a dummy injector from Omar Garza and we compression testes the engine. At this point I am becoming an expert injector remover.
i can have them both out and back in and bled and the engine running in less than 20 minutes.
We hooked up the compression gauge to the number 2 cylinder hoping to see the gauge (which only goes to 300psi) peg itself thus giving us confidence that the compression is well into the 300s or even 400s. sadly it stopped at 120. In all likelihood its carbon gunking up the valves. the number 1 cylinder has loads of compression.
Anyway I have ordered an entire new ring set, pushrod bearings, full gasket set and am fully expecting to cripple Estrella yet again by pulling the head off and rebuilding the engine.
Unfortunately since we took out the stanchions what had been a colossal mess in the cabin has had all the contents of the areas under the stanchions has had all the crap that was in the areas under the stanchion bases added to it turning it into a disaster area. I swear i saw Joe biden in a helicopter circling Estrella to asses the level of destruction.
Since there is literally no space inside the boat i cant really tear hte head apart. the concept of my valve rocker assemblies being mized in with a pile of stanchion bases, and carpentry tools is terrifying. So we wont pull the head off till the decks are done.
Anyway, the good news is the decks are 2 or 3 coats more paint and some non-skid from finally being done. the stanchions are close to being reinstalled so progress is being made.
The bad news is our reliable enigne has finally given up the ghost. if anybody has a 3GM40 they want to send our way we'll gladly take it. But send it before next wed when the parts for our ancient 2QM20H arrive
06/11/2009, San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico
So where we left off was that the decks should have been done as well.
When Mike installed all the electronics and we got the whole nav station sorted and "right" I started thinking about the leak that comes in from the fuel deck fill. I've rebedded that fill and it always leaks. the core around that fill has always been wet.
not shorting out our new electronics setup was now a priority. we took a 2 pronged approach. prong 1 was to move all the electronics to the back of the swinging door and cover it with plastic as well as take another stab at that fuel fill.
when I pulled the fuel fill I found that despite an entire summer in the desert the core around the fill was soaking wet.
I started to really debate doing the decks.
That night I was awakened by the now customary nightly mosquito infestation. waking up around 4AM with 6 or 7 bites and at least 1 mosquito in the berth.
after 15 minutes of trying in vain to locate the bastard I decided maybe if I boot up my netbook and do some research on deck pulling the mosquito would cross my monitor and die.
while doing this research I heard several drips on my pillow. It wasnt raining but the corner of my pillow was wet.
It was an omen.
I decided right then that the decks could not wait. Condensation from the sonora desert was dripping on my pillow and we want to go to the tropics where the downpours are often described as being similar to having a fire hose unleashed on your decks for hours on end.
Meanwhile we were getting our new to us Autohelm 3000 installed and fixing the fairleads for our windvane. Our favorite metal fabricator, Luis Hernandez had taken measurements to make a brace for our windvane so it wouldnt rattle around anymore. I evidently failed to follow instructions when installing it and caused the whole thing to be rather rickety.
Kristina meanwhile was still getting the boat livable so she could bust out her sewing machine and start making all new cushions for the boat.
She took a short "break" to varnish our wheel when we realized that the steering wheel was dangerously loose and needed to be repaired. I took the wheel off and injected thickened epoxy into the hub to lock the wooden spokes in place.I set it on a table to kick and it came out very strong indeed. Sadly as we would discover when trying to install the wheel pilot the wheel didnt kick true. there was a serious curve to it. it was solid but curved. Mike rather ingeniously made spacers out of bits of hose and made it line up with the drive unit. so in theory the wheel pilot redundancy was in place.
after a month in the yard we still needed the brace for the vane and our newly refabbed anchor roller caused our rollbar on our ginormous 30 kilo rocna to pull on our bobstay. The packing material i specifically requested was not put in the packing gland and instead the stuff i specifically said I did NOT want was in there so I had to have the packing gland repacked. The engine controls were changed to be "correct" which meant there was no longer a cable going across the front of the engine to the throttle linkage but it also meant that the lever was reversed so forward was slower and back was faster.
Basically we still had a ton of work to do but fortunately we met up with Jabula. While having dinner with them Bruce mentioned that to deter livaboards in their work yard the marina seca san carlos yard doubles the $14/day rate after 30 days. We had been in the dusty hellhole in front of the sewage pond filled with mosquitoes and 6 feet from the massive air compressor motor that switches on every 5-7 minutes for 25 days at this point. I was sure as hell not going to pay double for that priviledge.
I went to the office the next day and scheduled a splash. Unfortunately at this point boats were starting to pour in. San Carlos gets really busy around may with boats hauling out for hurricane season. Also they required 2' of positive tide to get Estrella in the water so the window during a given day was very small. I explained to the office that i didnt want to be charged double because they couldnt splash me and they agreed not to double charge us.
Every morning in San Carlos at 0800 there is a local VHF cruisers net on 72. A boat called wanderlust had a slip available for 10 days right when we were splashing. Kristina went and met with them and came back 3 hours later invigorated and excited. She really hit it off with them and was excited to share with me her experience meeting the wanderlusts.
they made us a smoking deal on the slip and as much as i detest marinas 10 days in a slip to get the boat ready to go out to the anchorage seemed like a good idea. Also we needed to have our bow roller extended down 9 more inches so our anchor would lock in place. We needed to allow the engine to settle on it's mounts in the water before we could align the shaft so there were lots of reasons a marina stay would be wise.
Since I am trying to be brief and sum up our refit thus far I wont go into detail about how we had to rebuild part of the teak platform to get it to fit in teh boat or have new bowsprit platform chainplates fabbed to replace the ones that snapped off in huricane Henriette.
Our 10 days in the marina were productive. we got the platform fixed, the bow roller extended, installed our new 180% furling reacher sprit extention, as well as the reacher itself.
Since we discovered that our electric windlass was missing the chain stripper vital to actually using the windlass we couldnt really anchor out until we got one fabricated by luis hernandez so we rented a mooring for when we left the marina.
So since i am trying to sum up here is a list of everything we did/had done to this point:
Rewired all DC going to the house panel to ABYC spec, Completely Installedrewred the engine removing ancillary wiring harnesses simplifying and looming only what was neccesary. Installed new PD2970 70Amp battery charger, AIS reciever, chartplotter, Electric Windlass, SSB, Gam backstay antenna. Removed corroded VHF connector/cable and replaced with new RG8. Installed 4 AC outlets including GFIs. Installed 3 DC outlets. Flush mounted VHF. moved all derelict wiring from pilot berth tidily into nav station door area covered with heavy plastic to protect from moisture intrusion.
NMEA interfaced Chartplotter, AIS, Radar and Depth.
Repacked stuffing box with GFO braided teflon. aligned propshaft. removed broken checkvalve, removed and had inspected/rebuilt both injectors. fabbed and installed new throttle cable bracket.
Fabbed (and modified) new anchor roller. refinished bowsprit (epoxy and paint) instaled platform, anchor roller and pulpit to sprit and installed sprit. repaired platform. fabbed and installed double sized platform chainplates. installed aluminum furling reacher bowsprit extention and rigged Furling reacher.
Had 85% furling jib recut to 120% furling genoa.
okay thats all the recapping i got in me for now. I am sure I am forgetting things since I am doing this from memory that is nearly 2 months old.
More to come later.