The Sludge Report
13 January 2018 | Barra de Navidad
January 12, 2018
On the trip down from Punta de Mita to Barra we had other problems too. Our engine kept coughing and then would quit. A little concerning. Jay attributed it to the big waves and our rocking and rolling kicking up the sludge. He said it was probably getting caught up in the lines, cutting off the fuel. He went below, gave her some oil and switched from the port tank to starboard. All was good for a while.
Then, five miles out of the entrance to Barra de Navidad, the engine started coughing again. Jay rushed down below, put on the fuel pump, gave her some more oil, checked the bleed screw and tightened some hose clamps. She came back and we made it into the marina with no more issues.
Once the boat was settled down, we could see that the fuel filter was filthy. We decided it would be prudent to polish the fuel tanks. And was it ever!
Jay opened the port tank and not only did he find it full of black sludge, (They filled up a lasagna pan with it.) it was completely empty of diesel! How could this be? It's true, we don't have fuel gages, but we are very careful to log our engine hours and keep track that way. It was so disconcerting, it kept Jay awake all night.
The next morning, after Jay, the mechanic and two other guys polished the port tank, they opened the starboard tank which was entirely full. Now we were really confused. It turns out, the lever that switches from the port fuel tank to the starboard fuel tank was filled with sludge too, so when we thought we were switching over to starboard, we weren't. The guys took all 65 gallons from the starboard tank, ran it through a filter and put it in the port tank. Then polished the starboard tank. They also cleaned the filters and lever.
Today we went over to the fuel dock and filled the starboard side with another 65 gallons. Cadenza purred her way back to the marina.
What can I say? It's a boat!
Angel on the Spreaders
08 January 2018 | Barra de Navidad
It had been a tough day. Not dangerous, just tiring.
We left Paradise Village Marina the day before and anchored in Punta de Mita. All was well until the morning when the windlass wouldn’t pull the anchor up. It was sticking. After about thirty minutes, Jay was finally able to raise it and we were on our way.
It was a beautiful morning. The sun was just rising and the seas were relatively calm. After breakfast, Jay went below to work on the windlass. Moaning Myrtle (Our name for the autopilot thanks to our friend, Alison.) was driving the boat. Gail, who was visiting from New England, and I were chatting, looking for whales and enjoying the beauty. Our plan was to take a day trip to Ipala and spend the night there. Then on to Chamela for a couple of days, followed by a stop at Tenacatita and ultimately to Barra de Navidad where there is a marina. What is the saying? “I make plans and God changes them.”
Around 1300, I noticed white caps behind us and knew that the wind was beginning to pick up. It wasn’t long before the wind was a steady 25-30 knots and the seas rose to 10 to 12 feet. I took it off auto pilot because it was too much for her to handle. We were flying south. Sometimes we would sail down a wave at eight knots. Meanwhile, Jay was still below trying to fix the windlass.
We were running dead downwind. With the waves pushing us around, it was a constant challenge to keep Cadenza in the pocket so we wouldn’t jibe. I did fairly well, but I did jibe once. At exactly the wrong moment. Jay was about to put the windlass back together and had the bolt in hand when the jerking of the boat forced him to drop it in the anchor locker. Gone. Now what?
We couldn’t go into Ipala even if the windlass was working because of weather conditions. It is a fair-weather anchorage. And with the windlass not working properly, we didn’t want to take the chance we would have to pull it up with the hand lever. Certainly not with one hundred and fifty feet of chain out and a 65-lb. anchor. The decision was made to skip the anchorages and go all night. We would arrive in Barra in the morning.
The wind calmed down around 2200 and the waves soon followed. The moon rose. It was a bright orange as it came up from behind the mountains. Absolutely beautiful. And almost full! The rest of the night was exactly what you dream of for a night sail. Calm wind and smooth seas.
Some time in the middle of the night, I was at the helm and looking up at the mainsail. I noticed something on the port side. I leaned over to see what it was. “Oh my God! What is that? Do you see that?” I asked Jay and Gail. It was a big white bird like nothing I have ever seen before. It’s wingspan was probably four feet and they were fluffy. It stayed there by the spreaders just flapping its wings. “It’s a bird! No, an angel! Maybe it’s my father. Or Mom. Or maybe Jack.”
“Are you hallucinating?” Jay wanted to know.
Both Jay and Gail saw it. It stayed for about a minute. As it flew away from the boat, I followed it with my eyes and it disappeared. Literally!
The next morning, I asked Gail, “What do you think it was?” She sat quiet for a moment.
“I don’t know.” She said. “But it was special.”
That it was.
The Old Woman
27 December 2017 | Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico
December 23, 2017
I see her every morning. The old woman sits in the hotel lobby, in the same chair, with a cup of coffee. I am curious about her.
The old woman is a large woman, plump with round calves that peek out of her knickers. I am guessing she is tall, although I have never seen her stand. Her face is strangely shaped, long, almost rectangular, and she wears her white hair cropped short with tight curls. Her dark eye glasses are in stark contrast to her fair complexion. She doesn't look like your typical Mexican, but when she speaks Spanish it sounds like her native tongue. Her English is spoken with an accent. She rarely smiles, only stares off into the distance, watching, until someone comes and sits by her side.
The first week we arrived, a woman - a younger, prettier version of her self - came to visit. Every morning she would join the old woman for coffee and they would converse in Spanish. Her daughter maybe? This woman is blond and fair too, but clearly looks Canadian, not Mexican. Rumor has it the owners of the hotel are half Mexican and half Canadian. This would explain her appearance. I wonder if the old woman is the owner or, more likely, the owner's mother.
One week later, the younger version of her self no longer comes to visit the old woman. Now it is the hotel workers that come to visit her. It is the el jefes (chiefs/bosses) that sit by her side and keep her company. Now I think it is even more likely she is the owner's mother. The el jefes have come to pay their respect.
Yesterday, an American couple went over to say hello and I overheard part of their conversation. The old woman has five grandchildren. The youngest boy just turned eighteen. It seems she is like any other grandmother. She worries about them. One or two are particularly worrisome as I heard the American lady laugh and say, "Cut them out of your will!" I cringed at the insensitivity of her comment.
I wonder where the old woman goes when she leaves the lobby. Does she have a suite on the top floor overlooking Banderas Bay? Does she spend her afternoons watching Mexican soap operas and intermittently napping? Who joins the old woman for supper? I am curious about her.
Jay suggests I go talk with her. Strike up a conversation. Maybe even interview her. I am not so sure. I enjoy a mystery. Mysteries make life interesting.
UPDATE: I have since learned the old woman is the wife, not the mother. And yes, they live on the top floor overlooking Banderas Bay. They are originally from northern Italy but emigrated to Canada long ago. Hmm... I wonder what brought them to Mexico?
The Ying and Yang of Cruising
18 December 2017 | Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico
December 18, 2107
I am beginning to get excited about cruising again.
Ever since we arrived in Mexico, Jay and I have had a bit of an on-going battle. I wanted to make a plan. I am a planner. Jay said, "No. Wait. No plans. No dates. It adds too much stress. Not until we get the boat back up and running." Well, you know what that means; a lot of work and not a lot of fun.
And despite Jay's comment to the contrary, when people asked, " What are your plans? When are you heading south?" I promptly replied, " Zihuatanejo . Hopefully, around January 2nd."
Just because we had our boat hauled out of the water, cleaned and replaced the packing gland, extended the stuffing box, replaced the cutlass bearing and drive shaft, checked and changed thru-hulls, changed the zincs, painted the bottom of the boat and put her back in the water, doesn't mean we were done and ready to cruise. Not even close.
The boat yard still had to return our davits. On one side, we had a deep crack, so they were taken off to fix it by welding. The welder wanted it to look good when he was finished, so he took off both arms so he could paint them before putting them back. In the process of reinstalling them, the opposite side cracked. Now it needed to be welded. Sounds simple enough, right?
Well, it was two weeks before Christmas and it's Mexico. We started requesting the davits to be fixed last summer. If we took them off again, who knows how long it would take for them to be returned. (Meanwhile, January 2nd was looming over us like a dark cloud. Me and my big mouth.) We need davits to carry our dinghy. No dinghy, no cruising. Speaking of the dinghy...
We have a new name for her, Patches! Because that is what she is made of - a bunch of patches. Another job that had to be completed.
The backstays had to be replaced too. They were ordered in August. They arrived and sat in the Customs office for awhile and then were returned to South Carolina because of a lack of the required paperwork - a new procedure. We are told that since our President took office, some things have changed here in Mexico. They no longer look approvingly on our importing stainless steel from the United States. On December 11th, we were still awaiting their arrival. Obviously, safe rigging is a must. No backstays, no cruising.
And still, I insisted on throwing out the January 2nd date. Poor Jay. I really didn't mean to pressure him. I just needed a plan.
One of our two alternators was fried. Our neighbor, Gadabout, took a direct hit from lightning. (By the way, Gadabout is a Tayana ' 48. When we were in La Paz, our neighbor, Barbara Ann, was also a Tayana ' 48 and it got hit by lightning too. Hmm....) Getting that fixed and working was a two-week dilemma which really wore on Jay.
With so much energy in the atmosphere, there was bound to be gremlins lurking about the boat. And there were. Besides the alternator, the exterior mic for our radio was shot. We ordered that from Amazon Prime and our friend Stephanie's daughter is bringing it down with her later this week.
The solenoid was stuck on the windlass, so Jay got busy fixing that. He fixed the macerator wiring too. He repaired the wire from the starting battery to the Xantrex Controller. We had the fuel filters changed and our generator and outboard serviced. We filled our tank with propane.
But on December 12th, we were still waiting for the rigging, the davits, and the alternator. All must-haves before we can go cruising.
Jay looked at me. I looked at him. No words were spoken but January 2nd was like an imaginary wall between us. He went to see Elizabeth, our boat caretaker. She got on the phone and made several calls. When Jay came back he said, " All I can say is you don't want to be on the bad side of Elizabeth." The very next day, it was amazing. Everyone showed up.
The rigger with the rigging. Alvaro with the fixed davits. The alternator came back and was installed. The generator was returned. So unusual is this, our neighbors came by and stood watching, jaws dropped. " How did you make this happen?"
We gave credit to Elizabeth. She is tough and she gets things done. But, we discovered another motivating factor. It was nearing the 15th of December. Pay day. And the holidays were coming.
Yesterday, we got out the calendar and our cruising books. I put new waypoints in our Garmin. We are making a plan. I think we are going to make our January 2nd (or 3rd) cruising date. Yeah!
Now for the deep cleaning of the inside of the boat.
Ten Ways We Know We Are Back in Mexico
08 December 2017 | Puerto Vallarta
December 8, 2017
10. The Puerto Vallarta Airport has been beautifully remodeled only they didn't finish it. Loose wires dangle from the aluminum tubes exposed from the open ceiling.
9. Dozens of people stand on the side of the walkway as we exit customs, offering free tequila and the opportunity to buy a timeshare.
8, When we walk out from the air-conditioned airport we are wrapped in a sultry heat that smells of corn tortillas and lard.
7. The hotel elevator is broken and we are on the fourth floor. It breaks down five more times before they finally get it fixed.
6. Iguanas and crocodiles are our new neighbors.
5. We are awake for most sunrises and they are spectacular to witness.
4. A young Mexican woman gives up her seat for me when the bus is full.
3. The streets sing with music.
2. Sunday church service is packed and the entire congregation breaks out in song, giving me goosebumps.
1. Cadenza purrs through the water.
30 April 2017
Terri Potts-Chattaway, Photo by Casey Cartwright
Returning to Paradise Village Marina
April 30, 2017
I sit here on my couch, at home on Martha's Vineyard, staring out my front window. I am mesmerized by the bright light of sunshine. We have been here four days under a bed of clouds and chilly temperatures. We have seen rain for the first time in almost five months. Today, with not a cloud in sight, I watch spring unfold.
The birds have come back to nest in our trees, their songs light and airy, as they are, themselves. Rich, tonal sounds accompany them as the wind gently blows through the chimes hanging outside our bedroom window. Along the front of our house, the hydrangeas' limbs stretch out, bursting with buds in anticipation of the sun and warmth. The lilac tree, too, longs to bloom. Her leaves are open. Surely, the blossoms are soon to follow. But it is the young cherry tree, in the center of our yard, who will win this race. Her buds show a hint of red and youth is on her side. Already the grass is a deep green after weeks of rain. Today, I will work in the garden, but I will have rainboots on to combat the mud and I will wear a jacket to keep warm.
How different the landscape here is from the tropical jungle that surrounds Puerto Vallarta. It never ceases to amaze me, how far and how fast one can travel in such a short time. It hasn't even been two weeks since we left Mexico and yet, it seems to me, a dream. I remember back to our last days, cruising, when we had just celebrated my birthday along with the successful rescue of Molly J and we were awaiting a weather window to head back to port...
I would like to say it was good karma. We only had to wait two days for the good weather, and when we left Chamela Bay, the seas were flat and the wind was calm. We were on our way at dawn and arrived at Ipala prior to sunset. Just outside the anchorage, while we were dropping the sails, our motor started stuttering, as if it would quit. I looked at Jay, startled. (All I could think about was the Molly J and her engine problems. Wouldn't it be - sadly - ironic?) "Put it in neutral!" He told me as he ran below. He assessed the situation quickly and added oil. She was only thirsty. We had been pushing her hard, running her at 2000 rpms compared to our usual 1500. She is an old engine and needs attention. Once filled with oil, she purred, relieving our anxiety. Lucky for us, we still were the first ones in the anchorage and settled in for a good night's rest.
The following day, our good karma continued. We left Ipala at dawn, again, and rounded Cabo Corrientes it the early hours of the morning. What could easily have been a rough ride, considering the opposing currents and waves, turned out to be a smooth one. Upon reaching Banderas Bay, we were greeted by a couple of whales and 15-20 knots of wind. We had a great sail home.
As we were approaching the entrance to Paradise Village Marina, we heard a loud sound. "What was that?" I asked Jay, looking up to the sky. I couldn't see it at first because of the sail, but then, there it was! A plane! "Oh!" I felt so silly. Of course, it was a plane. But there it was. It pointed up how - when we are cruising - it can be like going back in time, when life was not filled with planes, trains and automobiles, or inundated by technology. Life may have been harder then, but in some ways, much simpler.
Back in the marina, we spent two weeks putting Cadenza to bed and saying goodbye to our friends. It was the first step back into a frenetic world and prepared us, somewhat, for our reentry into the U.S. of A.
On April 18, we left Mexico and spent a whirlwind week in California, surviving the freeways and visiting our children and grandchildren. We are now back on our island, where the pace is much slower, and much more to our liking.
Our life is very different here. We dig in the dirt, plant flowers and cut grass. We have a television and we drive a car to the store. We love our earthly existence, although it is quite tame compared to our adventures at sea. We are grounded, it is true. But not for long! Our 18' Herreshoff catboat, SkipJack, is to be launched May 10th and we will sail again. Maybe even cruise out for a weekend or two. You see, you can't keep an adventurer down for long.