Road Trip Day 2: Route of the Hiawatha

This summer, I heard about a Rail Trail called the “Route of the Hiawatha“, located in the Bitteroot mountains along the Idaho-Monatana Border. It is reported to be a “Hall of Fame” rail trail, featuring 10 tunnels and 7 trestles running along it’s 15 mile length on the former Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound Railway. We considered doing a road trip to ride the trail, and when the idea of the cross country RV trip came up, I knew this was a stop we’d have to make.

The Hiawatha Route. We are renting bikes at the lower trailhead at Pearson and are thinking about riding up as far as Moss Creek, covering most of the trestles and tunnels.

The trail is operated by Lookout Pass ski area, which rents bikes and runs a shuttle from the bottom of the trail back up to the top. The typical way to ride the trail is starting at the East Portal, riding through the 1.6 mile Taft tunnel and then taking the shuttle back from the lower, Pearson trailhead. We don’t want to be on a crowded shuttle with no mask requirements, so we arranged to have bikes delivered to Pearson.

We read on the website that there was a good (20 mile) forest road that led from the town of Wallace to the Pearson trailhead. It started out great, with new blacktop pavement. And then the pavement ended, but there was a wide, well-graded dirt road. Which got narrower. And bumpier. And steeper, with lots of switchbacks. And we were on the outside of the road noticing the long dropoffs. The road goes up and over Moon Pass (I later learned that the top elevation was 4931 feet) and then descends down along the river to the trailhead. There were definitely some sketchy sections, more suited to the many off road vehicles around here than to our RV. Very exciting. The smoke, by the way, got pretty thick as we climbed out of Wallace, but the thinned out quite a bit on the other side.

We arrived around 10 AM, when the bikes were supposed to be delivered, but no one was around. Soon we saw the first riders from the top finishing their ride. Eventually the bikes arrived, but without the powerful headlights that were supposed to be necessary for the 10 tunnels. The guy working at the bottom managed to come up with a dinky one for Miranda, but nothing for my bike. Fortunately we had some headlights with us. The bikes were in pretty rough condition and the shifting was badly out of adjustment. If you plan to rent bikes for the ride, we’d recommend upgrading from the basic bike.

The start of the trail from the bottom at Pearson.

The ride was fantastic, along a well maintained gravel/dirt trail with lots of informational signs (which we mostly rode right by) and plenty of rest stops (same). It was a steady false flat grade of about 100 ft per mile, following the valley along one side of loop creek and then around to the other side. The trestles were absolutely spectacular, standing several hundred feet over the valley floor. In many places you could see the trestles on the other side of the valley.

Standing on one of the trestles with another across the valley in the background. It was 10 miles and 2 hours up, 1 hour down.
One of the trestles.
The big one across the way.

The tunnels were a fun and cool relief from the warm, sunny day. The ones that we passed through ranged from 200 to 1500+ feet in length – we did not go all the way to the 1.6 mile Taft tunnel at the top.

Entrance to the 1516 ft long Tunnel 22.

There were literally hundreds of people out on the trails riding every kind of bike you could imagine. A fair number of them were a bit clueless. Miranda suggested a mandatory lesson on trail safety and etiquette before allowing anyone to ride.

The crowds lined up for the shuttle back to the top. Lots of people, no masks.

It was only as we were riding along the trail that I realized that this was the area of the Great Fire of 1910, which eventually burned 3 million acres across Idaho and Western Montana. I read an interesting book about this fire and the beginnings of the US Forest Service called The Big Burn. As it turned out, the fire burned along the North Fork of the St Joe River, and we saw many, many burnt, dead trees that must have been remnants from that fire. As we returned to the town of Wallace after the ride, the fire smoke was eerily thick (a good bit of Wallace was destroyed in the 1910 fire).

Negotiating a switchback on the Forest Service road.

We were going to stay at an RV park in Wallace, but they were first-come first serve only and full, so we headed East on I-90. After passing a couple of sketchy RV parks including one behind a roadside “Casino” we arrived at the very nice Campground St Regis in Montana, where we cooked hobo dinners on the coals of a fire and roasted marshmallows for S’mores. All in all, a great adventure day! Next we are on towards Glacier National Park.

Road Trip!

A new question for these pandemic times… how can we go and visit my mother and the rest of our Georgia-based family, safely, and without having to spend two weeks beforehand in quarantine? Miranda came up with a kinda crazy, kinda cool solution – renting an RV and doing a road trip, so that we “quarantine” while traveling across the country. She pitched the idea to me, suggesting that we visit some of our National Parks along the way and turning it into a big vacation/adventure. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. But, considering that I am retired, the season is ramping down with Freedom Boat Club, and I am being being offered the gift of spending a couple of weeks with my daughter…. how could I possibly say no?

Both Gwen and I have fond memories and many stories of cross-country road trips when we were younger. We did a small road trip with Miranda on our way out to Seattle 12 years ago, driving from Milwaukee on the Northern Route across country and visiting (well, really driving through) sites such as the Badlands of South Dakota, Devil’s Tower, Mt Rushmore, and a tiny bit of Yellowstone. We drove my dearly departed BMW M3 and stayed at hotels, taking about 4-5 days to make the drive. We had a great time, and we were glad to have Miranda experience at least a little bit of road tripping. Now Miranda and I will have a chance to do a real road trip and along the way experience some of our most famous national parks for the first time. Unfortunately, Gwen will not be able to join us because of her commitment to her 6 months locums gig out on the Olympic Peninsula.

We did some internet searching to find a route that included some of our bucket list national parks, which looks something like this:

The plan is to spend about three weeks and about 4100 miles meandering across the country.

Our route will cover nearly 4200 miles over 21 days, visiting the following places:

  • North Cascades (OK, maybe this shouldn’t count, since we are just driving through this on the first day)
  • Ride the Hiawatha Rail Trail in Idaho
  • Glacier NP in Montana, camping in Flathead National Forest
  • Yellowstone NP, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
  • Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
  • Rockport State Park, Utah
  • Zion Canyon NP, Utah
  • Arches NP , Utah
  • Canyonlands NP, Utah
  • Mesa Verde NP, Colorado
  • Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
  • Carlsbad Caverns NP, New Mexico
  • Cedar Hill State Park, Texas
  • Lake Ouachita State Park, Arkansas
  • Seven Points Campground, TN
  • Ending in/around Atlanta, GA

I’m pretty excited about the number of National Parks that we’ll be able to visit, albeit briefly. Of those on the list, I’ve only been to Carlsbad Caverns and Yellowstone (a short stop at Mammoth Hot Springs on the way out to Seattle). We do have three long (400+ mile) days, but also have several multi-day stops. Our median day is about 219 miles.

We are doing a one-way rental of a “Standard” size RV from Cruise America. Miranda has done an outstanding job of organizing the trip, reserving the RV and campsites along the entire route, and is now busily working on our meal and provisioning plans. The RV, as you might guess, is set up much like a boat. It has fresh and waste water systems, range, refrigerator and microwave oven, air conditioning and both a generator and external power hookups (and of course, a waste water pump out system). It is not cheap to rent, nor is it particularly cheap to travel by RV, particularly if you stay in places with full hookups. We are paying a steep per-mile rate, and I am told that the expected fuel economy is single digit miles per gallon. We could probably fly first class and quarantine in a 4 star hotel for less, but what fun would that be?

Kinda like a boat, but with wheels.

We leave next Friday, September 11th and expect to arrive in Georgia sometime around the first of October. We’ll try to post regular updates as we go. If you’ve been to any of the places we plan to visit, we’d love to hear your recommendations… feel free to leave a comment below.

A (not so new) Summer Pastime

Coming back to Washington with no boat left me wondering what I would do with myself this summer. As mentioned previously, I was fortunate to land a job as a Training Captain with Freedom Boat Club, which has seen a tremendous jump in membership during this “stay local” summer.

Being landlocked, I’ve rekindled my on and off love of cars and fast driving. It all started with my buddy John buying a Mercedes AMG sport utility (yes, there is such a thing) and signing up for the AMG driving school, which wound up being cancelled due to the pandemic. Talking with him reminded me of doing track days in Wisconsin with my 2005 BMW M3 with the local chapter of the BMW Car Club of America. They offered High Performance Driving Experience (HPDE) days during which you would receive driving instruction and drive your own car on a race track with an instructor (until you were “qualified” to drive solo). It was not racing, in that passing was strictly by consent, but it was a whole lot of fun! I did several events with them, eventually graduating to “solo intermediate” and drove at Blackhawk Farms in Illinois, and Road America in Wisconsin, reputedly one of the fastest tracks in the world.

Not my M3… I couldn’t find a single photo of mine, so borrowed an image of the identical car from the “Mad Russian”, a well-known M3 enthusiast. In retrospect, I REALLY wish I had kept the car.

I figured that we could find a local, non-brand specific driving school, and sure enough, we discovered Proformance Racing School at Pacific Raceways, a bit south of Seattle. They offer a range of programs from one day high performance driving school to lapping programs to a full two day racing school.

Next, I needed to find a car to use. We have a 2014 BMW 328i wagon, and believe it or not, these turn out to be pretty good on a track. Gwen was having NONE of it, however, as it is our only car. So the search for a cheap, trackable car was on. John realized that it might not be a great idea to turn his fancy, very pricey AMG into a track car, so agreed to partner with me on one. I remembered that my other buddy Ryan was a car guy with a shop and a bunch of cars. We pulled him into the search as an advisor and eventually wound up buying a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R from him for dirt cheap. The SE-R is no M3, but it is a lightweight, manual transmission coupe with a reliable, but low-powered engine. In other words, a car that is not likely to get you into trouble on the track.

The track car, a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R. Pretty much guaranteed to the slowest car on the track on any given day.

Having secured the car and drawing up partnership papers, we went to work on preparing it for track days. This included the following parts and service:

  • New/upgraded tires
  • New/upgraded brake pads, rotors, lines
  • New windshield, as the old one was cracked, new wipers
  • New rear hubs (bearings were shot)
  • New CV axles
  • New coolant system hoses
  • New fluids – oil, transmission, coolant and brakes
  • New sparkplugs and wires
  • New headlights and turn signals
  • New air intake

As you can see, money can be spent on a car nearly as quickly as it can on a boat. Fortunately, it seems to flow in slightly smaller increments, and we were able to use Ryan’s very well-equipped shop to do the work. It was actually fun to work on the car in a shop with a lift and all the right tools. Like working on a boat, except that everything is easy to get to. Soon, we had the car ready for our driving school day.

John, Ryan and I all did the Proformance Driving school together. John opted to drive his AMG, and Ryan drove his C5 corvette, leaving the SE-R in my capable(?) hands. The morning included a bit of classroom talk and a number of exercises such as braking, a slalom course, lane changes and deliberate skids to learn how the car reacts. I did quite well with the skid exercise… the car’s antilock brakes are not functional, so I had to brake the old-fashioned way.

The afternoon consisted of lapping the track with a coach in the passenger seat showing us the track and providing real-time instruction and feedback. We all had a great time, and agreed that we would come back for a lapping day, during which we would receive another hour of in-car instruction, and then be issued a “sport” license and a logbook to record our progress. This would allow us to drive solo on subsequent track days.

I realized during the driving school that the old suspension was shot, so we ordered a set of coilovers (which are an adjustable set of shocks and springs). While we were waiting for the coilovers to ship, John and Ryan both got out and earned their sport licenses, and I was signed up to earn mine the week after the parts were to be delivered. Ryan and I installed the coilovers, lowering the car 1.5″ in the front and 1″ in the back, and I then took the car in for a full alignment, which is necessary after replacing suspension components.

Finally, I was ready for my track day and the chance to earn my sport license. I had a good day, and the instructor was impressed with how our little car handled. His main suggestion was to replace the stock seat with a proper sport or racing seat and harnesses. Thus, another item was added to the upgrade list (that is turning into a bit of a long story best saved for another day). All was going well during my first solo session when I noticed that the car suddenly got a little noisier. I came back into the pits and had a look, but didn’t see anything amiss. I went back out onto the track for a few more laps, and it got louder again. Clearly there was a problem. It turns out that I had cracked the exhaust manifold (in several places, actually). We had been thinking about adding headers and a sport exhaust system anyway, so this was a handy excuse to pull the trigger on yet another upgrade. The problem is that all of us had signed up for another track day just a week later. A few frantic calls, a whopping shipping bill, and a hard-core overnighter by Ryan got the new headers in place in time for our track day this week.

John wasn’t able to make it, so it was me in the Nissan and Ryan in his Corvette for a sunny afternoon down at Pacific Raceways. The start of the session was delayed a bit due to the crash of a Mercedes AMG GTR coupe on the front straight in the morning session. We heard that it was caused by a rear tire blowout, which caused the car to go off the track and into the retaining wall. Fortunately, the driver was not injured, and equally fortunately, had track-day insurance to cover the damage sustained by the nearly $200,000 car.

We finally got out on the track and were having a great time. The car was handling well, and I was running a bit faster than my last time out as I started to get a feel for the track. I got a very cool timing device called Harry’s Lap Timer that uses the iPhone to capture data and video. Here is a clip showing my best lap in the Nissan:

SE-R lap, August 12

If you look closely at the video, you will see that there are cones along both sides of the track. The orange cones indicate braking zones, the yellow cones indicate turn-in points, the green cones indicate the apex of the turn and the white cones indicate the track out points. Basically, you should come as close as possible to the green cones and the white cones coming through and out of the turn and you’d better be off the brakes by the time you are at the yellow cone.

After about 15 laps or so I heard the exhaust get louder… again! I pulled into the pits, opened the hood, and could see the gasket sticking out of the joint between the header and the exhaust pipe! Looking closer I could see that two out of the three bolts holding the pipes together were gone. Very disappointing! I was done for the day after less than an hour.

Or was I? Proformance has a fleet of Toyota FRS sport coupes that they use for the driving school. They will also rent them out during track days, I discovered, for the princely sum of $200 per half hour of track time.

The trusty car #11 that I beat on (oops, I mean drove) for a half hour.

I decided that I had spent too much time, money and effort getting here to sit around for the rest of the afternoon watching other people have fun, so I ponied up the $200 for a session. The FRS is a very nice car, featuring a 200 HP engine (compared to the 140 HP in the Nissan), a six speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, a comfortable seating position, and all the expected modern goodies like anti-lock brakes (yay) and traction control (boo). It was definitely faster than the Nissan, and I liked the steering feel of the rear wheel drive. I managed to turn in a lap time 4 seconds faster than my best in the Nissan.

Proformance FRS lap, August 12

While I really enjoyed driving the FRS, it really made me appreciate how good the Nissan is. The FRS definitely had a softer suspension with more body roll, and I don’t think the tires were as good as the ones on the Nissan. The braking was similar, and I realized only after the session that the traction control on FRS was kicking in around some of the tighter corners (the funny chirping sound you might hear in the video as I go around Turn 3b). The power and top speed was certainly nice, and it is definitely a more refined car. However, at a purchase price (used) at about 10x what we paid for the Nissan, I think we have put together a little car with pretty good bang for the buck. I did love driving for several laps in front of a hot Mustang that blew past me when I was driving the Nissan, and could not get around me in the FRS… even with me giving “point bys” in the passing zones. Ryan said the Mustang driver was commenting in the pits that he couldn’t get around me because I was too good a driver.

To top the day off, I think Ryan felt a bit sorry for me, so he let me take a couple of laps in his Corvette. That is a much more serious car, powered by a 350 HP v8 with a 6 speed manual transmission that will get you going to “oh sh!%” speeds in a hurry. It was a blast to drive, definitely way faster and stronger than the other two cars, and noticeably heavier. But it was really very easy to drive smoothly around the track. Thinking about the difference between the cars, I was driving both the Nissan and the FRS pretty hard, but going easier yet faster in the Corvette. I felt like I could push both the Nissan and the FRS hard without getting into trouble, but not so with the Corvette – much like my old M3, it was a much better car than I was a driver.

Wringing out the SE-R down the front straight. Image from local track photographer Karl Noakes

All in all, a great day, and I realized that I really do like doing this. Next step is to get the Nissan repaired – in this regard it seems much like a boat – and get back out on the track for more fun.

Staying Safe… Staying at Home

It has been just over a month since we left Miss Miranda at Marina CostaBaja in La Paz and returned home to our condo in Anacortes, WA… and the “Stay at home” order. The photo above shows the view of the Skyline area from our condo, pleasant save for the empty slip in front of us!

Catching up

To rewind a bit, we returned to La Paz from San Diego at the end of March, having decided to leave the boat and return to Anacortes. That left us with less than a week to find a slip for the season and prepare the boat for our extended absence.

On the nearly empty Alaska airlines flight from San Diego to La Paz in late March. There was one other passenger on the flight. Yes, it is jarring to Gwen to see that we weren’t wearing masks!

Fortunately we were able to secure a slip at Marina CostaBaja, which we have paid for through the end of December. At first we were worried that the slip might be too tight to get into, but it turns out to be a great fit, with fingers (and cleats) on both sides.

Miss Miranda tied up at Marina CostaBaja, courtesy of our friend Chris from SV Reality Check

Next, we starting going through preparations for long term storage, helped tremendously by a checklist from friends Laurence and Penny on MV Northern Ranger II, another N50 that lives at CostaBaja year round. This included things like emptying the refrigerator and freezer, closing through hulls, filling the water tanks, shutting down non-essential systems, etc. Fortunately(?), our SubZero freezer failed in Mazatlan (no, we are NOT kidding) so we had less stuff to give away.

We arranged to have a boat watch service along with regular diving and boat wash with La Paz Cruisers Supply. They check the boat at least once a week and wash and dive on the boat monthly. We are fairly confident that the boat will be in good shape when we return, though we have been warned to expect that something (things) will fail over this long layover.

As an aside/update on the fuel delivery system, we did get a warranty replacement fuel manifold delivered to us in San Diego, thanks to outstanding effort from our guy Ian at Philbrooks and terrific product support from Racor. Unfortunately, we wound up having to pay import duty when we brought it in as checked baggage at Cabo, in spite of showing the Temporary Import Permit. We were under the impression that the TIP is supposed to exempt us from duty on replacement/repair parts. Apparently not. Anyway, the manifold is on the boat, but not yet installed. That will be job one when we return.

Life at home – Larry

I hit my “official” retirement date the week after we returned home. I have to admit that I was not at all pleased that we came back from Mexico and not happy that my entry into retirement coincided with the quarantine order. With (plenty of) time for reflection, I have realized that I have much to be grateful for. We are safe and healthy. We are fortunate not to have to expose ourselves to the virus, unlike all of the people out there that are doing the critical jobs – obviously the healthcare workers, but the folks that work in the grocery stores, restaurants and all the other folks doing things that we need but take for granted. I am grateful for the beautiful weather we have had and the ability to out for walks, bike rides, and even play the occasional game of pickleball (exercise is NOT forbidden by the stay at home order). I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with friends, even if it is virtually. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see Miranda.

In terms of keeping busy, I have started roasting coffee again and have even done some batches of homemade half sour pickles, reminiscent of Gus’ Pickles in New York.

Homemade half sour pickles…. Yum!

I am not sure what I am going to do over the summer. Gwen will tell you about her job prospects, but I need to find some way of keeping busy in retirement. I was hoping to find something in the boating industry, but obviously, the pandemic has shut that down. I have signed up for a combined ABYC/NMEA certification course (on Marine Electrical Systems and Electronics) that I hope will still happen – it is scheduled for November. In a bit of good news, Fishing (and therefore, I assume, recreational boating) is reopening on May 4th. My hope is that if/when the boating season opens, I can put my Captain’s license to use, perhaps helping people move their boats, doing deliveries, etc. I am also hoping that some of our boating friends will take pity on us and invite us out on their boats!

And in a bit of a midlife crisis moment, there are conversations ongoing with unnamed friends about buying an inexpensive sports car to use for “High Performance Driving Experiences”, which is fancy for hauling ass at a racetrack.

Of course, there is always the thought of filling the empty slip with a little boat for fishing/playing.

Life at home – Gwen

I am relieved to be at home, although sometimes get wistful at the thought of what we have missed the last month in Mexico. But I know I would not have enjoyed the uncertainty of being there during this time, even if in a beautiful place. Fortunately, I seem to be able to fill my time easily with cooking, reading, working on Spanish, wasting time on a game my brother introduced/addicted me to, naps, and finally taking up yoga.

The job I thought I was coming back to suddenly dried up right before we came home, so my plan to work for most of the time we are home was suddenly upended. The healthcare industry in the US has taken a big financial hit due to shutting down revenue generating procedures like surgeries, etc. My field, primary care internal medicine, is generally a money loser in healthcare, so believe it or not, many places are laying off primary care doctors. (I know this will sound extremely strange to any reader from outside the US. I am more than happy to talk about this off the blog to anyone who wants to know more!)

Luckily, I am part of the Public Health Medical Reserve Corps for King County, and this has provided me with an outlet for my desire to help. I’ve been doing one or two shifts a week providing telephone medical coverage for the isolation and quarantine centers in King County. Some of those shifts have been quite busy with numerous calls, others very quiet, but I feel a little bit useful. It’s actually fairly competitive to get shifts, since so many physicians want to find a way to help, so I it hasn’t kept me as busy as I thought it would!

Fortunately, I was recently contacted about a new need for an internist on the Olympic Peninsula, so I will be working there 4 days a week for about 6 months. This is a real positive for me since I want to stay clinically active, and if Larry is going to buy both a car and a boat, I guess I need to keep my nose to the grindstone.

Concluding thoughts

We hope that everyone stays safe and survives this pandemic. Under ideal circumstances, we hope to return to Mexico in December to spend a season exploring the Sea of Cortez before bringing Miss Miranda back up to Washington in May of 2021. Of course, all of this depends on how the virus impacts Mexico. We just learned that the Port Captain of La Paz has prohibited all boating, save for commercial fishing in the region. It is also pretty clear that Mexico has limited capability to manage the crisis, both from a healthcare and general economic perspective.

We have friends that are still on their boats down in Mexico. We hope that they stay safe and healthy.

Rainbow over our neighborhood last night after a very stormy rainy day. Hopefully an omen of better days to come.
Another shot of the rainbow by the other blog contributor.

OK, as is often the case, each of the blog contributors took a rainbow photo. We need your help deciding which is best. Feel free to leave a comment voting for the first or second. We may reveal who took the “winner”.

Return to La Cruz and Yelapa

I’d rather have a palapa in Yelapa than a condo in Redondo – quote from a Mexico boating guidebook.

View back to the other side of the bay.

After doing some work on our chronic fuel delivery problems we decided to run across Banderas Bay to the pueblo of Yelapa, located on the South side of the bay, a bit East of Cabo Corrientes.  The only way to visit is by boat – there are no road connections from Puerto Vallarta.  It is 15 NM across the Bay, so a couple of hours each way.  A great way to spend a sunny day and a good check on the repairs we made on the fuel system. 

No dock to tie up at at this yacht club.
View of the jungle like hills above the town, and a waterfall just about 1/3 the way up.

We headed off around 9 AM and saw several different groups of whales along the way.  We slowed and watched a couple, but after a while, we decided to keep going, wanting to get over to Yelapa before lunch.  Approaching the entrance to the bay, we were greeted by Philipe in a panga from Fanny’s restaurant, a beachside palapa.  He offered to guide us in to a mooring buoy, necessary here because the bay is very deep with only a small shelf suitable for anchoring.  Yelapa is absolutely gorgeous, with steep cliffs covered in vegetation rising from the bay and sandy beach.  It is, however, very rolly… open to the NW Pacific swell.  Friends reported spending the night moored between two buoys, but also reported that their guests got seasick.  If we stayed, we certainly would have had to deploy both flopper stoppers.

On the path back from the waterfall I realized the church steeple was above the mural.

After tying up, Philipe took us over to the village dock, where we walked through the hillside town up a paved path to the waterfall.  Along the way, we met Charlie the burrow and his owner, Manuel, a lifetime Yelapa resident.  Here along the path, families set up open air shops featuring their handmade wares.  We wound up buying two light blankets made by a son and daughter of Manuel. 

Charlie the burrow. He did not like it when the church bells rang – lots of loud braying.

The waterfall was beautiful and served as the fresh water supply for Yelapa.  Returning to the town dock, we hailed Philipe again and went across to his family’s restaurant on the beach.  There we had an outstanding lunch.  I had the whole red snapper, grilled with garlic and butter, while Gwen had some gigantic, and tasty shrimp. 

Seemed like it would be refreshingly cool to get in, but we didn’t.

After a couple of pleasant hours enjoying the scene, we returned to Miss Miranda and started back to La Cruz.  The highlight of our return trip was a breaching, dancing, playing whale that was right in front of us, seemingly unwilling to let us pass without putting on a show.  Gwen got some outstanding pictures.  We also saw a school of rays swimming just under the surface, but they swam off before we could get photos.

Two sedate whales and an exuberant one.

We got back to La Cruz without incident and with enough confidence in the fuel system to take on the next leg, 171 NM North to Mazatlan.

Guests, Manzanillo, and Heading North

Our friends Park and Carol arrived in Barra for a week of cruising with us in late February.  We would be celebrating Gwen’s birthday and Park and Carol’s wedding anniversary.  We spent a couple of easy days and nights in Barra getting ready to go, including a wonderful dinner at a place called Galería de Arte, a fantastic restaurant run out of the home of a local family.  The maitre’d /owner is a photographer, and his works are all around the place, which is arranged in a courtyard garden for open air dining.  Robert is a very gracious host, his kids are the waitstaff, and his wife Ruby runs the kitchen.  The menu is limited to two traditional Mexican main courses, and there is always a surprise appetizer.  Also, Robert is a bit of a Tequila aficionado, so there is a huge list available for tasting.  It was a wonderful meal, and without doubt the best restaurant in Barra. 

Seen in the bay outside Barra.

The next day we headed north to Tenacatita.  We spent a couple of nights at anchor in a relatively uncrowded bay (many of the sailors were down in Barra for the sail festival).  We did some beach landings with the micro tender, getting good practice in very mild conditions, walked the beach, and swam off the back of the boat in 80 degree water.  We celebrated Gwen’s birthday with fish tacos, and Carol delivered Gwen’s number one birthday wish…. Not doing any dishes!

A sobering site just south of Barra. A tanker that wrecked a few years ago in a Hurricane, allowed to break up over time. Not sure if they ever got the fuel tanks emptied.

The forecast was calling for higher winds associated with a frontal system, so we left early the next morning to head down to Manzanillo, about 35 miles south of Tenacatita.  The forecast was wrong in the best possible way… a beautiful sunny day with light winds and nearly flat calm… maybe the mildest conditions we have encountered to date.  Entering Manzanillo bay we passed between the off lying rocks of Los Frailes and large cargo ships in the anchorage.  Our destination was the marina at Las Hadas, well protected by rock breakwaters all around and adjacent to the Brisas Las Hadas resort.  This area gained notoriety way back when by the movie “10”, starring a nubile, hair beaded Bo Derek.  I am not sure if Bo has aged gracefully, but Las Hadas has not. 

We had to med moor in the marina, which requires dropping the anchor in front of the dock and then backing in, tying stern lines and getting on and off via the back of the boat.  They had us in a spot between two other boats with an odd angle between them, and tied to bow mooring lines that made it difficult for us to maneuver.  And of course, the afternoon wind was starting to come up and push us to one side.  It took two attempts –on the first one I didn’t drop the anchor far enough out, so it did not set well enough to hold the bow.  The second time I went right out to the middle of the basin and dropped the anchor with plenty of room to set.  All was good, save for the substantial surge, which caused us to put out all of the ball fenders we had on the back of the boat, and actually flattened one of the smaller ones. 

Med-moored to the dock. What you can’t see is the surging and rocking and the crushing of our fenders!

One surprising thing in the marina was the crystal clear water – clearest we have seen on this coast. The shoreside of the marina actually had a very healthy ecosystem with various anemones, sea cucumbers and lots of different tropical fish. After spending quite a bit of time watching them, you could clearly see there are neighborhoods in there – with fish staking out their little bits of space, patrolling it and pushing out other fish and generally looking like little busy bodies.

Hard to get a good picture but there are fish hiding in the rocks along with some beautiful blue urchins (I think).

The marina had adequate power, non-potable water, and very few transient boats.  There were a couple of long term yachts and some sportfishing/charter boats.  It took a while to find the restroom/shower facilities… and we wished that we hadn’t.  They were borderline disgusting.  I could see in a pinch, using the toilets, but there was no way I was going to take a shower in there.  Why am I even talking about this?  Two reasons.  When we are in a place with no potable water, and can’t/won’t run the watermaker (i.e. in a marina without pumpout facilities) we tend to shower ashore.  Second, the macerator pump in our master head chose this moment to go belly up.  Yes, you read correctly.  This was the second macerator pump failure in two months… with two couples on the boat!  More on this later.

Not a tourist town, but they do have the largest sailfish statue we have seen yet!

Having settled in at the Marina, we made an expedition into the town of Manzanillo.  We took the bus in from the resort after climbing straight up an incredibly steep hill to the road.  The first bus was ancient, bouncing perilously over the cobbled roads hugging the steep hills between the beautiful Cliffside residences in the area.  The second bus was driven by a young driver who thought he was qualifying for the grand prix, running the old heap as fast as it would go and scaring the cab drivers that dared to get near us.  Relieved to be alive, we got off at the main square and made our way to the municipal market, which was filled with produce stands, carnicerias, etc.  We were sorely disappointed that we were unable to find a fresh pig head to show our pesca/vegetarian friends… had to settle for a beef shank on the hoof. 

The view from upstairs in the market.

After the market we found the Iguana refuge which provides shelter for Iguanas and an odd assortment of other animals (including raccoons).  Inside, it was feeding time and dozens of Iguanas came around to eat various vegetable leaves.  Then they would climb over the fence.  When we left the refuge, we realized that they were climbing into trees on the refuge property over a small stream/drainage ditch.  There were well over 100 sunning themselves in the trees.  We had a big lunch in a small restaurant, did a little shopping and then took a cab back to the marina. 

Two of the biggest guys talking big at each other.

The next day we decided to pony up the stiff fees ($60 US p/p) for a day pass to the resort, which entitled us to towel service, the pool, the restaurants, and open bar.  I will note that they must control alcohol consumption by making some of the worst margaritas I’ve ever had.  The food was good and plentiful, however, and the pool was great.  Given the situation with our head on the boat, access to bathrooms alone may well have been worth the price of admission.  We really had a great day, and towards the end of the day Park and Carol told us that they had decided to book a room at the resort, in deference to our head problem.  This was really very thoughtful of them, but as fellow owners of a Nordhavn 50, they really knew the score.  We had a last wonderful dinner outside at the high end restaurant, which was nearly empty.  Again, this was a story of faded glory… a huge place festooned with AAA four diamond awards from times past, with maybe 4-6 parties dining that evening.  Nevertheless, the food was good and the company outstanding.

The following day Park and Carol departed for the airport and their return to Washington, and we set off to visit the port captain to change our crew list and then to do some shopping at La Comer, a big Mexican supermarket chain.  We got to the Port Captain thanks to our taxi driver, as we never would have found on our own, it was so tucked away from the street.  We were met by a helpful official asking what we needed. Gwen explained (her Spanish is getting really good) that we needed to check out and change the crew list.  The officer listened and, realizing that we were a pleasure yacht over at Las Hadas, told us there was no need to check out… just call on the radio.  Manzanillo is a huge commercial port, and clearly seems to have no interest in making pleasure boats submit to the normal paperwork that other port captains thrive on.  So, off we went to La Comer.  On the way, Gwen struck up a conversation with the cab driver, talking about family, etc.  We learned that he was from Guadalajara, so we (she) talked a bit about that.  He also talked a bit about how much tourism was down in the area, referring to fear of Narcos.  It certainly did seem that occupancy at the resort was even lower than we had seen at Barra and other towns down here, though there appeared to be plenty of Gringos at the marina-side restaurants.

Very cool rock formation on the way.

It was finally time to bid the Coastalegre good bye and make the trip back to La Cruz in Banderas Bay.  We decided to do the entire 150+NM in one shot, and set a departure time for noon, in order to arrive in La Cruz after sunrise the next day.  The forecast was for light winds, but 5-7 foot seas.  However, things were predicted to freshen up in subsequent days, so this window was as good as we would get.  The winds were light for the entire passage, and the seas didn’t really pick up until about 20 miles South of Cabo Corrientes, where we started bashing into the NW swell.  We rounded the cape in the wee hours of the morning with no drama and found ourselves in La Cruz with 20 minutes to wait before it was light enough to enter the marina.  We were very glad to be back on the move, headed North for the Sea of Cortez, and thankful that my jury rigged fuel filter system worked without the slightest hiccup.  I spent some worried hours thinking about what it would be like running on the wing engine around Cabo Corrientes, and glad that it didn’t happen! 

Gwen loves these birds – they love to fly to the boat when we are coming into port and sit on the anchor.

Finally, the same day we arrived, Lance’s crew showed up, replaced the head pump, and started helping me rebuild the fuel lines and filter system.  More on this later.

A stressful "puzzler"…

I remember the NPR radio show “Car Talk”, and how each week Tom and Ray would have a segment called “the puzzler” in which they tried to diagnose some weird car problem.  Well, I have a boat version of the puzzler. As I mentioned in a previous post, when preparing to depart from Tenacatita the engine suddenly shut down after idling along for a few minutes.  This was not good.  At all.  Diesel engines are simple and reliable… and almost all issues are related to fuel delivery.  We have been battling fuel delivery demons on and off since departing in October, and believe me, you do not want to have a fuel delivery issue when traveling offshore.

My immediate suspect was the Racor 900 duplex filter assembly.  This fancy setup has two fuel filters connected by a selector valve.  You can run the fuel through one filter or the other, or both.  The value of this setup is redundancy.  If, for some reason, your fuel filter gets clogged (say by some bad fuel), you can simply select the other filter, keep the engine running, and then change the clogged filter.  Sounds good right?  Yes, if it actually works.

You may recall that we actually bought a brand new filter assembly back in Sidney before we started on the journey down the coast.  This was part of solving the air bubbles in fuel line problem that was causing very disturbing RPM variation (post).  We determined that the old filter assembly was leaking air, and as a matter of expediency, we simply had Philbrooks install a new one.  We were dismayed to observe that the new filter assembly also leaked, so the guys tightened up the bolts on the fuel selector valve, and all (seemed) good.  In retrospect I believe that was a mistake.  Anyway, we took off, ran 2700 NM down the Pacific Coast of North America, and had no problems…. Until I changed the fuel filter.  I did what I always do in this situation – I turned the selector to the unused filter and replaced the used filter.  The next time we started the boat, the engine died.  It was clear that there was something wrong with the selector valve, at least in the position of the forward, or looking at the assembly, the left filter.  I also noted that the selector lever was extremely tight, and it was very difficult to feel the “detent” indicating the selection of that filter.  Long story short(er), we had the selector valve rebuilt, did a sea trial, tested all positions, seemingly successfully, and thought we were good to go. 

We left from La Cruz down to Bahia Chamela, and later to Bahia Tenacatita, a total of about 130 NM underway.  All good.  Until the morning in Tenacatita.  When the engine shut down, I checked the filter assembly.  The level of fuel in the active filter was quite low.  I refilled the filter with fresh fuel and then went through the process of priming the fuel system and bleeding the injectors.  It seemed obvious when working the manual priming pump that there was air getting into the fuel line regardless which filter was selected.  My experience has been that when you are working the manual pump, it becomes stiffer as the air is replaced with fuel when bleeding at the secondary, or engine, filter.  This was not happening.  I could not get the engine primed with fuel.  Also, I noticed that the selector valve was very tight, like before, even after it was rebuilt.

The Racor dual filter assembly drained of fuel and ready to be disassembled. The troublesome selector valve has a yellow handle. Below the fuel filter assembly is the fuel supply manifold, to it’s right is the return manifold. This allows me to select which tank to draw fuel from (we have four).

Because I was very suspicious of the selector valve, I decided to disassemble the manifold and plumb together a single filter module.  I got it done and went through the priming routine again, and this felt a bit better – the pump was offering some resistance.  But, bleeding the injectors was not successful.  I managed to get engine started, but it shut down again, and again, it seemed clear that there was air coming in somehow.  And again, the fuel level in the filter module was low, even though I refilled it completely when I reassembled it.  Listening carefully, I could actually hear the sound of some air leaks around the body of the filter module.  The supply line from the tank via the manifold had some old black electrical tape at the joint between the hose and fitting.  I wondered if it had been suspected as a leak previously, so I replaced the electrical tape with a good wrap of rescue tape.  That wasn’t it.  There was a black plastic nut beside the fuel input port, and I was able to tighten that a little bit.  Also, it seemed that there may have been a leak between the upper and lower parts of the filter assembly, so I tried tightening the four retaining bolts and was able to get a bit of a turn on three of them.  Repeating the priming process again, still no start. 

In desperation I made another call to my man Lance at Diesel Premier (he had been taking my calls and offering advice all day – even though it was Super Bowl Sunday).  His suspicion was the supply from the tank.  We had been drawing and returning to the starboard tank, but have regularly alternated between port and starboard.  It didn’t make much sense to me… but it was an easy thing to try.  I though there must be something else, so I put a wrench on all of the fittings on the Racor filter and on the engine side.  I was able to get a bit of a turn on each of them, including those to and from the fuel pump assembly on the engine.  After one last round of priming and injector bleeding, I was finally able to get the engine started and running.  We ran it up to 1700 RPM for a few minutes and left it to idle for at least 30 minutes.  No problems.  I put an old filter top vacuum gauge on and it was recording good, low, but non-zero vacuum.  After running, I checked the fuel level in the housing, and disturbingly, it was low.  I estimated that I needed to add about 24 oz of diesel to bring it back up to the top.  I did see a little bit of fuel between the bowl and housing when I checked the level, but it is hard to tell whether that is a real leak or the result of small drips when topping off with diesel.  I suspect a leak in the filter housing itself. 

I refilled it and we decided to take the chance the next day on the 12 NM run to Barra de Navidad where we could be at a marina to make repairs. We made it with the wing engine idling the whole time, just in case.  We were nervous the whole time, not confident that my single filter jury-rig was reliable. There weren’t any detectable RPM variations the whole time.

The simplified setup with a single Racor fuel filter. This seems to be working…

So, here we are in Barra trying to figure this thing out.  I have some clear hose and fittings on the way so that I should be able to see any obvious air bubbles or leaks in the system.  There have been many suggestions for potential causes including a bad fitting, a bad piece of hose, tiny holes in the tube that draws fuel out of the tank, etc.  In the meantime, I replaced the Racor filter housing that I suspected of leaking with the other one, that seems not to leak.  We actually ran the boat for a couple of hours on this setup without any problems.  While I will systematically address all the possible sources of leaks, I remain very suspicious of the filter and assembly.  I have spare parts on order to completely rebuild that.

So that’s our puzzler for this week.

Bahía Tenacatita

After 4 nights at Chamela, the weather looked good for our 30 NM run down to Bahía Tenacatita.  It was another nice, easy passage.  We talked to our friends from CUBAR on Mahalo, who were headed North from Tenacatita to Puerto Vallarta to watch the Super Bowl.  Apparently, there was a mass exodus from the anchorage to places with TVs to watch the big game.  Being Seahawks fans, we had no such need. 

Saw another turtle on the way. Love these guys!

Tenacatita is a much larger bay than Chamela, and has better protection from the Northwest swell.  The head of the bay is a long sand beach that extends to a resort in the NE corner and over to an estuary entrance at the NW corner. Of course, over the days that we were here, the swell was more from the SW.  This time we went deep into the anchorage, almost closest to the beach.  It was much less rolly than Chamela, but we still wound up putting out the second flopper stopper after the first night at anchor.   

We learned that there is a free-for all on this coast of Mexico as far as developers go. Apparently in the last 10 years, this stretch of beach on either side of Tenacatita has been hotly contested in a land dispute that seems to have been resolved, but did result in the razing of all the palapas that were on the beach below about 10 years ago. Only one has returned.

The other side of Tenacatita. Bigger swell.
Picking our way in the mini-tender through the mangroves.

One of the highlights of Tenacatita is a tour of the estuary, through mangroves that close into a bit of a natural tunnel in places, just wide enough for a dinghy to make it through.  It is also quite shallow in places, meaning that we needed to use the small dinghy again.  It was challenging to pick our way through the narrow estuary, but after about 2.5 NM, we eventually emerged into a lagoon that was behind the beach at the next bay to the west of the main anchorage. 

Here a group of us had arranged for a tour of a Racilla distillery just up the road from the beach.  We were picked up in a van, and had a very nice tasting and lunch, learning quite a bit about how this local, indigenous cooperative produces Mezcal.  Their showcase offering is a 17 year old “Anejo” Racilla, which is the smoothest liquor of this type that I have tasted to date.  It was outstanding.  

The entry to the Cooperative that supports the indigenous makers of raicilla.
Our wonderful host – he spoke such clear Spanish at an even pace that we could understand nearly everything he told us.

Across the bay from the anchorage is the little town of La Manzanilla. On one of our days we headed into the beach and to town via a long and windy taxi ride to hit the weekly farmers market for some fresh produce. We stopped for lunch at one of the local lunch places that our cruiser compatriots liked. Great food, but Gwen had the disturbing experience of finding a huge 2 inch dead beetle in the bottom of her limonada glass after all the ice had melted. Definitely put a damper on her warm and fuzzy feelings for the place. The manager did the right thing and our lunch was free, so not naming the place.

Surf landings and dinghy wheels

Most of the anchorages in this part of Mexico are bays with at least some exposure to the Pacific Ocean and thus the beautiful sandy beaches have some amount of surf.  That is why we bought the small dinghy, but up until now we had not actually attempted a surf landing. When we went into La Manzanilla we did our first surf landing, under the tutelage of some experienced cruisers that we were going into town with.  The idea is to wait for a lull in the waves and then gun it at the beach before the next wave catches you, gracefully jumping out of the dinghy, keeping it from getting sideways, turning off the engine, and dragging it up onto the beach.  That is the theory anyway.  I’ll say that our first landing was not completely dry, but we didn’t tip the dinghy over… as we saw many others do.  And on the way back we learned that the “surf takeoff” is the hard part.  You drag the dinghy down to the water’s edge, push it into the surf deep enough so that it floats and the outboard can be tilted down into place, keep it straight, keep the waves from tipping it over, start the engine, and take off.  Easy as that.  Sometimes. 

Gwen soaking wet after taking a big wave from the bow of the dingy. She often looks like this after micro dingy adventures. We also stopped wearing our inflatable life vests since they were bound to keep exploding.

We quickly realized that we needed to install the fold up wheels that we had purchased to make surf landings and takeoffs a safer and drier affair.  The wheels make it much easier both on landing and takeoff.  Coming in to the beach with the wheels folded down keeps the outboard prop from digging into the sand, and when the wheels make contact, it’s time to hop out.  They make it easy to guide the dinghy into the surf and start the motor before boarding.  We didn’t have room to install them on the boat, so we packed up the necessary equipment and headed over to the beach to do the installation.  Gwen got drenched and rolled in the sand again on arrival.

Thank goodness for portable power tools.

Installing the wheels was really easy to do, just a matter of mounting a couple of brackets on the transom.  We took some measurements so the wheels would not interfere with the outboard or inflatable tubes, drilled four holes through the transom, slathered the brackets with silicone sealant and bolted them on.  The wheels are on steel legs that attach to the brackets with removable pins, and they simply flip up or down and lock into place. It was one of those satisfying boat jobs that only took about twice as long as it should have.  After letting the silicone dry for a bit, we had a stress-free surf takeoff!

Wheels up.
Wheels down.

After being in Tenacatita for several days, we decided to head further South to explore Manzanillo before heading back to Barra de Navidad, where we are meeting friends at the end of the month.  As we started our departure preparations, we started the engine, as usual, only to have it stall out after running for a few minutes.  This was not good… not good at all.  I immediately suspected our fuel filter system which has given us trouble off and on for the entire journey, most recently in Puerto Vallarta.  Anyway, we wound up spending the day making repairs, which will be the subject of another blog post.

The next morning I woke up early and saw the anchor alarm had gone off. A squall had come through in the night and it was still fairly windy, but we were so exhausted from dealing with the fuel system issue we slept right through it. Also, unlike the northwest where you hear every minor movement of the anchor against the bottom, there is no sound of an anchor dragging on sand.   It was well before daylight, so I checked our position against other nearby boats.  Sure enough, we were closer, but still a safe distance away.  As soon as the sun came up we prepared to raise the anchor.  All went smoothly, and this time the engine kept running (thank goodness).  We started up the wing engine just in case.  As we raised the anchor, we saw that it was completely wrapped up in it’s own chain… no wonder we dragged! 

We carefully moved away from all the other boats in the anchorage and tried to figure out how we would get the anchor loose.  At 137 lbs, we were not just going to pick it up and unwrap the chain.  Eventually we managed to get a line through the bar across the back end of the anchor to take some strain off the chain.  We then got another line through the chain near the shank of the anchor and were eventually able to get it all free.  Thanks to Hugo from another Nordhavn for providing moral and physical support from his dingy!

Halfway through the detangling. At first there were 3 wraps of chain around the whole anchor.

What a couple of days!  We had decided to head to Barra de Navidad and a marina 12 miles away to further evaluate the fuel delivery problem. We made it without difficulty, but not without anxiety.

Authored by Larry with editing and colorful additions from Gwen.

Boat Stamp

One thing we’ve learned during our travels in Mexico is that officials love their paperwork. Entering the country, we needed to complete a Temporary Import Permit for the boat, obtain Tourist Visas for all crew and formally check in to the country. This was not too much of a problem, and one of the aspects of cruising to Mexico that the CUBAR Rally made easier.

Once in Mexico, you actually need to check into and out of each port with the Port Captain, reporting your boat information, crew list, where you are coming from and where you are going next. So you have two pieces of paper for every port you visit. Often the marina will complete the paperwork and you go over to the port to get your paperwork stamped.

Well, after going through this a couple of times we decided that we wanted our own stamp. If every port captain is gonna make us fill out paperwork and stamp it, then we are too!!

A picture of the boat stamp on a piece of paper

Here it is. We were able to make it online (of course) and the biggest issue was getting the line art for the boat. With a little bit of searching I was able to find a method for converting a photo to something resembling a drawing (https://smallbusiness.chron.com/convert-photographs-line-drawings-gimp-46192.html) . I outlined the shape of the boat to eliminate the background and using a combination of effects, filters and conversion to black and white, I was able to get the image you see above.

The original image.

If you ever come aboard Miss Miranda, make sure you have your paperwork, and we’ll be sure to stamp it!!

CUBAR Videos

We had a videographer along on the CUBAR Rally this year, and he put together three really nice videos covering the cruise. His name is Justin Edelman and he is a great photographer, videographer, video editor, and all-around great guy. It’s his photo of Miss Miranda at anchor that graces the banner of our blog.

During CUBAR, we (OK, I) gave him the Mexican name of “El Hombre de Augua” after a very exciting water landing of his drone. We were on the dinghy expedition to the mangrove estuary at Man O’ War Cove, and Justin was in the tour leader’s panga taking shots of all the dinghys going back and forth. It was pretty crazy fun. Justin decided to launch the drone off the back of the panga, and almost instantly, it took a nose dive into the water in the panga’s wake. Immediately, Justin dove into the water… with who knows how many dinghys bearing down on him… and after a short time, emerges, with drone in hand! Of course the drone was dead. Hence the name.

Anyway, on to the videos…

This is a recap of the 2019 Rally, titled San Diego Yacht Club’s 2019 CUBAR Odyssey: Six Ports in Baja California, Mexico. If you look carefully you might see us and/or our boat somewhere in the mix.

The next one is about the medical donations collected for the Bahia de Tortugas Bomberos. Gwen played an instrumental role in selecting and sourcing the supplies as well as working with the Bomberos in Turtle Bay. She is featured in this video titled San Diego Yacht Club’s CUBAR Odyssey Powerboat Rally Supports Bahia de Tortugas Ambulance Services. This was the highlight of our Mexican adventure so far.

Finally, this is a kind of CUBAR promotional video for the San Diego Yacht Club, who are the event organizers. It’s intended to give people an idea of what participating in CUBAR is all about, and uses footage from this year’s rally. You can find it at Organized Powerboat Cruising Rally to Mexico: CUBAR Odyssey from San Diego Yacht Club

You can check out all of Justin’s videos at his YouTube Channel Nobleman Sailing Media

And, if you are interested in engaging Justin to document your boating adventure, feel free to reach out to him at his Nobleman Sailing Media website.