Watermaker Maintenance… and Repair

Miss Miranda is equipped with a watermaker, which we found to be a “nice to have” up in the Pacific Northwest, but is a must have down here in Mexico. Our boat holds a little bit less than 300 gallons of water, and we tend to use 20-25 gallons a day, depending on how often we shower and do laundry. So we have at most a 10 day supply on board. Given the general scarcity of water in Mexico, where it is common that people have water delivered to their homes, it is important to be able to make our own. Anyway, when we left the boat in March of last year we “pickled” the watermaker for long term storage, which consists of adding a chemical preservative to the system… kind of like winterizing the domestic water system on a boat or RV.

We just got around to “unpickling” the watermaker in yesterday, in part because we were waiting for a new filter, as one of those we sent down with Red Rover was the wrong size. The unpickling process is pretty straightforward. It involves allowing the system to fill with fresh water to displace the preservative and then circulating fresh water for a half hour or so. Next, we put in new filters, and then we were ready to test the system by making some water. Everything seemed to work perfectly… except the “product” water was contaminated with a chemical taste. We have a TDS (total dissolved solids) tester that allows us to check the quality of the water, and it was reading well over 950 PPM, even after making about 15 gallons of water. As a reference, the TDS in our filtered drinking and tap water on the boat is 150-160 PPM, and any water over 500 PPM is not considered safe to drink. Seawater is about 35,000 PPM!

It was now time for some professional help, so we called Hector Marine, who is the local watermaker dealer. He had two techs over on the boat within an hour, and they found the same thing – the watermaker was working properly (meaning it was producing fresh water from salt water) but the quality was poor. They saw PPM readings as high as 4000, and not lower than 1500. From this they concluded that the membrane needed to be replaced. This was not terribly surprising, since it was last replaced by the previous owner in early 2015, and the average lifespan is about 5 years.

This is the old membrane assembly removed and sitting on the dock. It’s 3 feet long.

The membrane is the real guts of the watermaker, and it works via reverse osmosis. Put simply, salt water is pushed through the membrane at high pressure. The membrane prevents salt from passing, so what comes out is fresh water. About 10% of the water pumped into the membrane assembly comes out as fresh or “product” water, and the remaining “brine” is pumped overboard. Our watermaker can produce about 30 gallons an hour or a little more than a day’s usage.

It turns out that they have the membrane in stock here in La Paz, so they removed the assembly and took it to the shop to install a new membrane. The very next afternoon they were back to reinstall the assembly on the boat.

The guys in the Laz installing the membrane. Better them than me!

After about 30 minutes of installation and flushing with fresh water, we were ready to test the watermaker. After just a few minutes of run time, it was producing product water at 238 PPM, which is just fine.

A bit hard to see, but TDS of 238. Way better than the 1500+ we saw yesterday!

I am super impressed with the quality and speed of the work done by Hector Marine. It is almost shocking to have a job like this, especially one that requires a replacement part, to be completed in just about 24 hours!

Los Islotes

On Friday afternoon, after dealing with several issues, we were able to head out for another island weekend, hoping the predicted westerly winds would not materialize. These can make the anchorages uncomfortable as they are all open to the west.

There were 3 catamarans in Ensanada del Candelero (otherwise known as Candlestick Cove) which dictated where we were able to anchor. We are learning that they are often charters and may leave in the evenings to head back to La Paz.

We anchored next to this – Roca Monumento , which sits in the middle of the cove.
This wall was on our other side. Unfortunately we were too close for me to get a photo with the full scale of it.
A little hard to see as it was overcast in the morning, but there are two beaches bisected by a rocky prominence which forms the head of the bay.

We spent a lovely calm evening. As we sat on the back deck in the growing darkness of twilight, we were joined by the Turtles. They were quite active around the back of the boat, swimming around and raising their heads, seeming to gaze right at us. We enjoyed talking to them. Later we thought maybe they were wondering what the heck we were doing there.

We slept well in the total quiet, until being awakened at about 1 am with the feeling of being on a hobby horse rocking back and forth. Larry got up to check our location and whether our anchor had dragged. All was well on the anchor alarm, but we proceeded to be awake for much of the rest of the night in a state of drowsy wakefulness – the result of knowing the anchor is well set, the boat is rocking, and several times an hour we’re jerked awake by the knocking, thumping and crashing of waves on the hull, or the voices from a neighbor boat as they pull anchor and flee.

Over coffee, unable to download the weather forecast (a blog post on this coming soon!) but knowing the previous prediction was for at least 24 hours of westerly wind, we decided to weigh anchor.

Approaching Los Islotes.

Some sightseeing was in order, so we headed along the length of Isla Partida to these small islands about a mile offshore called Los Islotes. They host a California sea lion rookery. Once we got close, we could hear the bellowing, barking and general noisiness of the sea lions.

Most of the islands were covered with groups like this.
One of the striking examples of the pink sandstone of the area.
Face up to the weak sunlight.
We had never seen so many sea lions with this tawny golden color.

I’ve learned that California sea lions live in one of five genetically distinct populations along with west coast of the US, Canada and Mexico. There are two distinct populations on the western side in the Pacific, and 3 that divide up the Sea of Cortez into north, central and southern regions. The western groups migrate north outside of their breeding season, but the Sea of Cortez groups do not.

It is possible to swim or dive with the sea lions here and there were a few panga diving groups onsite. It would be a lot of fun, but anchoring and leaving the boat is not recommended in this area, so we didn’t even discuss it. Not to mention the water temperature is currently is in the mid-60s, so a bit cool even for us!

He posed for quite a while looking off into the distance, then leaned over as if to comment to his mate.
The vultures were right at home here too.

On our way south we stopped at tiny bay called Las Cuevitas which is reported to hold a blue-footed booby rookery. It was clearly unoccupied and had very little guano remaining, so seemed like it hasn’t been populated in some time. I later found that their mating season is in the summer, so perhaps they are only at home part of the year. One of my hopes is to see one of these birds up close and get some good photos while we are here in the Sea!

We’re in hot water now

We came back to the marina from our shakedown cruise and were enjoying a beer in the cockpit when Gwen noticed a noise. “Is the water pump on?” she asked. I went to investigate and saw that our bilge pump counter was at 13, so there was clearly water in in the bilge, and the fresh water pump was on and pumping. Uh-oh. Time to turn off the breaker for the water pump and look for the leak.

This is something that you never like to see…

Down in the engine room I could see water flowing into the main bilge from from the forward bilge area. We picked up some floorboards in the sole of our cabin and sure enough there was water all over. It quickly became apparent that it was coming from the area of the water heater underneath the master berth. We pulled off the matress and uncovered the water heater and soon noticed that the hot water shutoff valve had blown it’s top right off.

The valve in question.

Unfortunately, I did not have spares for this type of valve, or even any adapters specifically for this type of tubing. A trip to the local marine stores was fruitless, so I decided to try and repair the valve until I could find the right part. The top of the valve had separated from the threaded side. I thought I might be able to use superglue to repair it. Nope, it was one of those plastics that makes superglue not super. Next was the old stand-by, rescue tape. This is a self-annealing tape, that when wrapped tight adheres to itself and generally does a pretty good job stopping leaks. I wasn’t sure it would work on this hot water component but it was worth a shot until I could find a better solution.

The attempted fix.

When we put the piece back in place, it leaked a little bit. I wrapped it a bit more throroughly and it seemed to hold even with the water heater refilled and using some hot water. It held overnight and was dry when we looked at it in the morning.

The fitting back in place, wrapped with Rescue Tape.

The tubing is 1/2″ diameter PEX, which is fairly common on boats of this vintage. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to look for an exact replacement for this particular type of valve with those tiny barb connectors. There are all kinds of valves and connectors for PEX type tubing, but they all clamp down on the outside of the tube and don’t have a barb that goes into it. I thought there would be a chance that might find a valve, or at least some connectors, at the local Home Depot or Plomeria. No such luck. I’ve ordered a selection of different couplings for 1/2″tubing to be shipped to a freight forwarder in San Diego and trucked down to La Paz.

A small upside in this little unexpected project is that I needed to replace the Anode (that stops corrosion) in the water heater, but have been putting it off because it’s a pain to get to…

Caleta Partida

Striking rust brown sandstone hills rise steeply around the north and south sides of this ancient caldera which has subsided back into the sea.  A white sand beach protrudes from Isla Partida to form the eastern part of the circle.  A complementary rocky protrusion from Isla Espiritu Santo housing the park ranger’s cabin pairs with the slip of land from Partida to form a channel between the two islands.  To the west, the bay opens to the Sea of Cortez with a view of the mainland Baha ridges in the distance. 

Looking out toward the entrance of the bay.

I hear the laughing of gulls, and the splashes in the northern part of the bay from pelicans dive bombing into the water.  Jumping fish splash, and a turtle pops its head up from time to time, and I swear I can hear him take a breath before submerging again.  Tens of small black and white diving birds repeatedly dive in unison, sometimes making it appear that a school of rays or jumping fish are coming at us.  Black vultures with small red heads circle high up near the glowing cliffs and also scavenge on the beach. 

Cacti grow right up to the edge.

There is an unoccupied fish camp with a half dozen shacks on one side of the beach. A shrine at one end also supported the channel light.

The camp on one side of the bay.
This shrine perches on the rocks at the far end of the spit looking into the channel between the islands.

This was our setting for our first three day weekend at anchor after arriving back in La Paz.  We could not have asked for a more magical setting that embodies the reason we came to Mexico.

The days were warm and sunny, and after our first evening the winds were quite calm.  We moved in closer to the beach and the southern side of the cove after our first night.  This moved us close enough to hear a faint bleating, which really sounded like a goat to me.  Periodically through the day on Saturday I scanned the hillside with binoculars but never saw a moving life form.  During happy hour, a mewling whiny animal sound started, much more frequently.  It affected me the same way a crying baby does – I just wanted to make it stop!  It was getting dark so I couldn’t see anything, and fortunately we went into the cabin for dinner as it cools considerably after the sun sets.  I was relieved not to hear what sounded like a dying animal through the portholes while I was trying to sleep.  The next day I didn’t hear anything.  Larry didn’t think an animal could be dead on land as we would certainly see a horde of vultures circling.   

The vultures loved hanging out in this area – hard to see the bush loaded with them farther back.
The friendly marine park ranger checking us off after talking with us.

As we were finishing our morning routine, the marine park ranger pulled up in his panga to check whether we had renewed our annual park pass – Pasaporte de La Conservacion –  which helps funds protection of these islands and is required to anchor and go ashore. It sounded to me like they had a registry of boats that previously had passes and they had a record of us from last year, but they didn’t have a record that we had just renewed.   Espiritu Santo and Partida are within the Golfo de California Biosphere Reserve.  The Sea of Cortez holds a number of marine parks. 

I asked the ranger whether there were animals on shore, trying to describe what I had heard in my broken Spanish.  He said there are goats on the islands, non-native pests that need to be removed as they are eating all the vegetation.  Just like in Olympic National Park in the US.   And sure enough, at cocktail hour we saw a family of goats on shore.  And later, we saw and heard the annoying baby goat who had lagged behind as the adults walked down the shore, crying for them to wait for him.  He looked quite healthy, which explained the lack of vultures.   

Goats onshore, they actually seemed to be drinking the sea water as we watched.
The incredibly whiny baby goat, wandering in the wrong direction.

We kayaked around much of the bay, explored the beach and the unoccupied fish camp.  I loved the dramatic rocky landscape, and how I could watch through the clear water to see fish going about their business.  It felt great to get my kayaking muscles working again after so long away.  At times we were the only boat in the bay.  Occasional panga tour boats flew through the channel between the islands, and each night there were one or two catamarans anchored across the bay from us, but no one ever joined us on the beach or out kayaking. 

We didn’t see many fish, but this school of some type of boxfish or puffer fish came right up to shore.
Beachcombing found this porcupine fish dried carcass as well as one of the few items of trash.
These tracks show something about the social life of crabs and birds.
Pelicans coming over to visit during sunset.

Shakedown Cruise to Caleta Partida

Today (Friday, 1/15) we got underway aboard Miss Miranda for the first time since March 25, 2020.  We worked our way through all of the system checks at the dock and were finally ready for a real-world test.  The weekend weather was shaping up nicely, with N winds of 10-15 for Friday and calm conditions through Monday.

We waited for the outboard guy to bring back our Tohatsu 3.5 hp engine for the small dinghy.  He serviced it and found it to be completely gummed up with bad fuel, in spite of our having used fuel stabilizer.  He also checked the big engine, and we concluded that the problem was the same.  Bad, old fuel.  Oh well, at least we know what the issue is.

SeaOtter Jim bringing back the small Tohatsu outboard.

Our first hiccup was before we left the dock.  We started up all systems, including the wing engine and were rearranging dock lines when I noticed that there was no water flow from the stabilizer cooling pump outlet (yes, the one I just replaced).  A quick check in the engine room showed both input and output through hulls were open and the pump appeared to be running.  I concluded that the pump must have lost it’s prime, and because (unfortunately) it shares an intake through hull with the the wing engine, I wondered if by starting the wing engine first, the cooling water pump somehow lost it’s prime… maybe couldn’t pull enough water?  So, shut the wing engine down, opened the priming valve on the pump (too much) and got a nice little geyser of water as I struggled to get the bolt back in place.  Once that was done, I restarted the pump, and sure enough, water was flowing.  We elected not to run the wing… trying to keep things simple.

Once out of the marina we headed North on the 20 mile run to the the Islands of Espiritu Santo and Partida, on what was a beautiful afternoon.  The boat was running well, no problems at all, until I noticed a mysterious spike in the AC power demand.  That is unusual because there are really only three things that use AC power when underway… the refrigerator, the freezer, and the stabilizer water pump.  After a few minutes the power draw decreased.  I began to suspect the freezer.  More on that later.

The view from the Pilot House. It is nice to be underway again!

There were only two other boats in the anchorage and we picked a spot midway between them, dropping the anchor in about 18 feet of water.  Unfortunately, it did not want to set… catching, then dragging as we slowly backed down.  Eventually we got a very solid set, though a little farther from shore than we would have liked.  One of the guidebooks indicated that anchoring could be a challenge because of sand over rock, and that seemed to be spot on in our case.  Of course, the wind started to come up just as we got set, a solid 15 knots gusting regularly to 20+.  Eventually it died down, but  knew I would have a fitful night’s sleep worrying about our set.

Coming in to Caleta Partida.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset, a nice cocktail, and good dinner.  It was utterly quiet, save for the lapping of the waves against the hull.  Above was a beautiful, clear, dark, star-filled sky, and below a phosphorescent show in the water around the boat.  This is what we have been looking forward to.

Before turning in, I noticed another spike in power consumption.  This time we were able to confirm that it was the Sub Zero freezer.  We thought the freezer died in Mazatlan last year, but apparently it had runout of refrigerant.  After a refill it seemed to be running fine at the dock in La Paz.  My suspicion is that it does indeed have a coolant leak and the compressor must run constantly to maintain temperature.  Anyway, we emptied it of critical items and will get it looked at when we return to La Paz.

At anchor in Caleta Partida.

The next morning, we pulled up the anchor and moved to the South side of the bay, nearer to the passage to the other side and the fish camp. The water was clear enough to see the anchor on the bottom turn over and start to dig in as we slowly backed down. This time we got a very good set first time, and here we would stay for the rest of the weekend.

Gwen landing her kayak on the beach.

Finally, a systems gripe.  We have an Iridium GO, which is an inexpensive, slow satellite data device that we use to get weather info when we are out of cell range.  It worked just fine last year, but when we reactivated it this year, it was having problems.  After endless tinkering and back and forth with PredictWind support, it started working… for a couple of days.  Now that we need it…. nope.  Very annoying, considering how much we are spending for the service and the PredictWind software subscription.

Gwen will have her own take and many more photos from Caleta Partida in a separate post later this week.

A “triple play” Boat Project

Boat projects can sometimes be fun and satisfying (OK, at least satisfying).

There are three conditions that must be met for this to be the case.

  1. Having the right parts on hand
  2. Having the right tools on hand
  3. Having the project be in a (relatively) accessible location

In my experience, the confluence of these three factors, which I call the triple play, is very rare. Well, yesterday it happened.

The project at hand was replacement of the sea water pump for the stabilizer heat exchanger. The stabilizers are powered by a hydraulic pump running from the main engine, and the fluid moves the fins. This fluid is at high pressure and gets hot, so it needs to be cooled. On our boat this is by means of a heat exchanger that is cooled by seawater. A 120V pump circulates this water, and it runs all the time that the boat is underway. If the pump dies, no more water circulation, and soon, no more stabilizers, which will shut down when the fluid gets too hot. So it is a pretty important piece of equipment, and it is one of those single points of failure… there is no backup pump installed.

I have been suspicious of the pump for a while. It runs pretty hot, and in fact, part of underway engine room checklist is checking the temperature of that pump. For that reason, I bought a spare pump before we came down to Mexico. I did not install it, however, following my new “ain’t broke don’t fix” rule. Well, coming back to the boat I discovered that it now is broke, so its gotta be fixed.

The old Primetime pump, after the raw water hoses were disconnected. The output of the pump, on top, goes into the heat exchanger on the right. You can just see the end of the hose at the top left of the picture.

Getting the old pump out was pretty easy. It was clear that the line from the pump to the heat exchanger needed to be changed, but as it happened, I had some spare hose of the proper size and almost exact length. One small complication was that the new pump has the motor control unit mounted on top of the motor instead of the side. In the picture you can see the unit on the old pump on the left side of the motor. That makes it easier to access the mounts, but interferes with the 90 deg elbow for the water output, seen in the middle of the picture.

Putting the new pump in was straightforward save for running the hose. I had to angle the elbow off the centerline in order to get the hose and clamps attached and then had to make sure it didn’t rub against the side of the compartment. Of course, the mounts were laid out differently from the old pump, so I had to drill new holes, and it was a bit of a tight fit getting the screws in. After it was mounted I just had to wire it up to AC power. Once installed, all I had to do was open the through hulls for the inlet and outlet and prime the pump – a simple matter of loosening the bolt to the left of the elbow until a little bit of water flowed out. A quick test confirmed that we had good water flow. Success!

The new pump in place.

I was surprised when finished to find that the job had taken most of the day – about 5 hours or so. Things just take a long time on a boat, due to a combination of tight spaces and rummaging for various tools and parts. When it all comes together, though, it sure is satisfying!

Special Bonus!

I had a little bit of apprehension this morning. The plan was to start the main engine… after sitting for 9 months. I primed the fuel system, Gwen pulled off the stack cover, and I turned the key… YES, it fired right up!!

I love the old Lugger!

Settling in …

We all need some distracting reading away from the news of the day, so here’s an update on stuff we are finding as we reopen the boat.

This used to be a red, green and white Mexico flag – what happens in 9 months of exposure.

We know the temperatures here were around 100 for a few months during the summer time, and the humidity was quite low. Despite the record number of hurricanes this year, none of them hit this area at hurricane strength. The boat was looked after by some local boat watchers, but we still had some interesting findings. All of our canvas and screens were intact and in place, with the exception that the dingy cover had blown off and was hanging by a bungee cord, and the cover on the spotlight looked like it got burnt!

Not sure if this scorched canvas means we got hit by lightning!
Some of our lines were allowed to remain in the water and now have quite the beard of marine growth.

I have been pleased to find that all my galley preparations have meant that we did not return to a bug infestation – one of my big fears. I had tossed anything open, sealed stuff with my vacuum sealer and cleaned out the fridge and freezer – no mold in there either! The weirdest thing I found was that the tips of my rubber gloves were all melted away into a sticky goo.

And I thought I was using all natural products! Or maybe it was the 100+ temp.

Inside, the boat was covered in a thick layer of dust which I have been working through, and along the way we discovered that tools with rechargeable batteries, like our small vacuum, are all dead.

We have been spending much of the day, after having a good breakfast and relaxed wake up with coffee, working on our extensive task list. In the afternoon we are settling into a routine of siesta after late lunch, then walking the marina to get some exercise. The temperature is just lovely at mid-70s during the day, with a good breeze that can get stiff at times. In the evenings we enjoy the sunset, a beverage, and watching the birds.

All of our good tequila is intact!

This will be our typical day for the month of January as we work through a bunch of tasks, get the muffler replaced which is scheduled for late in the month, and watch the weather.

These two had quite the conversation about the fish in the left guy’s mouth.

Back at the Boat!

After a largely sleepless night at an airport hotel near SeaTac, we got up at 4am and headed into the airport for our 7am flight to Los Cabos.

Geared up for COVID safety!

The flight was about 25% full and had more than it’s share of people who, a year into the pandemic, were playing dumb about how to wear a mask. The Alaska flight attendants were diligent and persistent in reminding them how to do it.

We arrived into sunshine and 70 degrees which was a WONDERFUL change from the chilly monsoon and gale we left behind in Washington.

Customs and immigration were no problem this time for us – breezed through and got the green light so no check of our bags!

We then picked up our rental car, and finally removed our safety gear with relief. 25 minutes later we were at Marina Puerto Los Cabos, where we stayed last year, and picked up our mountain of parts that our friends Kevin and Alison so graciously schlepped for us.

We filled the backseat with parts.

Hopefully these are parts that will ensure we never need them.

Two and half hours later after an easy drive up the toll road, passing Todos Santos, many cacti and numerous police cars, we arrived at Marina CostaBaja and Miss Miranda!

Looking beautiful in the late afternoon sun.

Larry unlocked the door and we proceeded to open windows, unload our massive amount of stuff and get our drinking water and heads operational. Now on to some dinner!

The Captain is back in his happy place!