Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trouble on the Mill Pond

It was mid afternoon when Interabang, the last of the four buddy boats, approached Los Muertos.  A light southeasterly breeze blew into the anchorage and the bows of the seven or so boats at anchor pointed out to sea.  It was as if an audience was awaiting our arrival.  We dropped the mainsail about a quarter mile off the point and then continued motoring in.  Passing the large reef on the northern side of the entrance and nearly abeam the point, we throttled back to reduce boat speed.  Instantly, the oil pressure alarm blared and the engine died!  We tried to restart the engine several times, but she wouldn’t go.

Fortunately, the boat still had plenty of momentum.  I put the wheel over hard to port, away from the point, and reversed course.  As the bow swung into the wind, we scrambled to get the main up and the jib unfurled.  We had little breeze but enough to claw our way off the leeward reef and back into deep water.  Later we were told that some of the folks watching from the anchorage thought we were going to show off by anchoring under sail.  We weren’t so bold or so lucky.

It was great to have the boat safe from running aground, but we still had an engine to get running.  Challenging situations seem to seek out the sleep deprived and this was no exception.  We were both exhausted from the two day passage and I was suffering from a full blown cold.  Trisha took the helm and I went below to investigate.  ‘If given clean fuel and clean air a diesel engine will run forever.’  I repeated the diesel engine mantra to myself over and over again.  I started with the fuel filter.  When I unscrewed the handle that holds down the housing cover, diesel fuel squirted out.  This seemed to indicate that the filter was clogged and the upstream fuel pump had pressurized the fuel line.

Fuel filter system on Interabang
The good news was that several years back I had put together a redundant filter fuel system for just such an occasion.  By flipping two levers, the fuel flow was easily changed to a clean Racor filter.  My biggest concern now was whether or not any air had been sucked into the fuel system.  I really didn’t want to spend the next couple of hours bleeding our Perkins engine while underway.  Bleeding this engine is a complex task after a good night's sleep while securely tied to the dock.  I went to the helm and explained the potential problem and solution to Trisha.  We said a brief prayer and crossed our fingers.  I pushed the throttle wide open and hit the starter.  The engine cranked over several times and then roared into action.  It ran a little rough at first, but was soon running smoothly.  We drove around a bit, throttling up and down.  The engine was shut down and restarted a couple of times.  Soon we had the sails down and started making our way into the anchorage. 

Suddenly, on either side of the boat, several rays started jumping out of the water, doing flips and showing off their white bellies as if they were happy that we got our engine started.  Trisha was laughing and clapping her hands out of both joy and relief.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Back to Baja

We would be picking up our visas at the immigration office in less than a week.  It was time to start planning the two hundred mile crossing back to Baja California Sur.  About this time we had the good fortune of meeting Peg and Tony, veteran cruisers on the sailboat Mambo.  They were kind enough to share their Mazatlan departure strategy.  Tony explained that the daytime winds near the coast churn up the seas and make for sloppy conditions.  He recommends leaving at , after the daytime winds have settled down and with enough travel time to get well offshore before the winds have a chance to build again.

Pura Vida, our buddy boat for the trip, was immediately on board with a departure time.  There was just the question of which day.  Sunday’s weather forecast showed a weather window opening on Wednesday, March 28, the day after we pick up our visas.  Perfect!  Pura Vida was staying at the marina, so we called them on the VHF radio to set the date.  Word got around to the fleet that a group of boats would be heading across on Wednesday night.  Dos Leos and Seychelles hailed us on the radio and asked if they could come along.  The more the merrier.  We liked the idea of four USA flagged vessels crossing together.  Dos Leos, Interabang, Pura Vida and Seychelles represented the great states of Texas, California, Oregon, and Alaska respectively.

Four boats motored out of Old Harbor and nearby Stone Island between eleven and in light winds and nearly flat seas.  A course was set for La Paz, a bit farther north than our intended destination of Los Muertos.  The hope was that traveling near the traffic lanes between Mazatlan and La Paz would help us avoid any fishing nets.  Dos Leos did a great job of keeping an eye out for traffic on his AIS and suggesting course changes to keep us clear of approaching ships.  Motor-sailing, we pushed west on small seas with a headwind of five to ten knots.  Three of the boats traveled in a pack, staying within sight of one another.  The fourth boat, Seychelles, the fastest motoring and was twenty to thirty miles ahead by the second morning.  As the sun climbed in the sky, there was little wind and the sea was flat as a mill pond.  It would be another long day of motoring, but all four boats would make Los Muertos by Friday afternoon.  Interabang would have the most memorable arrival.
Pura Vida on the flat sea in the early morning light

Friday, April 13, 2012

We love Mazatlan (picture time)

We arrived in Mazatlan’s old harbor on March 6, 2012 and it was great to be back.  For the first time since our arrival in Mexico, we were returning to a city.  Getting settled in was easy because we already knew were to find the market, laundry, bank, and port captain.  Knowing the lay of the land gave us more time to focus on other activities.  Good thing because we had much to do.

Immediately after arriving, we went to work on upgrading the six-month tourist cards we received when we first checked in to Mexico.  It was hard to believe that they would soon be expiring.  We spent a couple of days at the immigration office applying for our temporary resident visas (FM3s).  Once the application process was completed, we had eighteen days to wait for the cards to be issued.  This gave us plenty of time to explore the city, and these are some of the favorite pictures from our days in Mazatlan.   

One of Old Town's beautifully restored buildings
Another not yet restored
Machado Square
Commissioned artwork
Non-commissioned artwork

Floats from the recent Carnival parade
Bus drivers customize their buses in Mexico
Fish stall at the Mercado in Old Town

Hiking to the lighthouse
A friend along the way
Final destination of the hike

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eight Bells for Alex II

During our time in Mexico we have met many, many other cruisers.  Most meetings consist of a brief exchange of names, home ports, destinations, and a sea story or two quickly followed by a going of our separate ways.  Once in a while, we meet someone or some couple where there is a better connection and we invest energy in making plans, spending time together, and getting to know one another.  When we’re lucky, these relationships evolve into true friendships.  The couples on Endeavor, Tension Reliever, Pura Vida, and Espiritu are great examples of great friends.  Then there is Kevan, the Kiwi single-hander on Alex II.
On our crossing from La Cruz to Mazatlan
We first met Kevan on the dock at Marina La Cruz where Alex II was practically our next door neighbor.  He was quick to engage us in conversation and took on a supervisory role in trouble-shooting our lethargic windlass.  A few days later, the sailing world proved to be a small one once again when we learned that Kevan would be buddy boating with our old friends Darrell and Sarah on El Tiburon.  The weather window opened and Alex II and El Tiburon headed south.

Late evening two days later we were surprised to hear El Tiburon on the radio.  Their engine was out and they were being helped into the anchorage.  The next day we learned that Alex II had spent twelve hours towing El Tiburon back to La Cruz.  That’s what we call buddy boating.  The next day, we bumped into Kevan walking around the marina and got the full story.  He said he was now planning to head north.  We told him that we also planned to head north and asked if he would like to buddy boat with us.

In the weeks leading up to our departure, we spent a great deal of time getting to know Kevan.  We dined on each other’s boats, went out for street tacos together, shared tips on boat projects, and watched for a suitable weather window.  In addition, since this was Kevan’s second season in Mexico he was a great mentor.  Kevan also became a close friend.

Out of the blue one day, Kevan tells us that Alex II has been on the market for over a year and now she has a buyer.  The news was disappointing.  We had hoped to spend much more time with Kevan including a summer in the Sea of Cortez.  He and the buyer agreed that the sale would be completed in Mazatlan, and we felt fortunate to be joining Kevan and Alex II on their last passage together. 
Trisha and Kevan on the morning of his departure
Kevan has now returned to New Zealand to spend time with his daughter Alexandra (Alex I) and to work on his golf game.  Only time will tell if and when he will buy another boat and rejoin his cruising friends in Mexico.  One thing is for sure, Kevan will be missed.  He could always be counted on for a good story, some juicy gossip, a joke or two, and a general good time.  We went to say goodbye the morning of his flight home.  The three of us and the buyer of his boat had coffee together.  The buyer, observing our familiar banter, asked us “how long have you been friends?” Trisha and Kevan looked at each other then Trisha answered “we’ve known each other forever, it’s been about seven weeks”. 

The end of a watch is marked by eight bells.  This post marks the postponement of good times with our dear friend Kevan, the Kiwi single-hander.