(Yet another) Racor Fuel Manifold Update

I spent some quality time in the engine room while we were at Puerto Escondido trying to diagnose the problem with air bubbles forming in the Racor filters.

I have been suspicious that there was a leak in the Racor filter manifold itself, despite it being brand new. Fellow N50 owner Ron Goldberg suggested that I test this by creating a vacuum in the filter housing and seeing if it holds. The method for creating the vacuum is to run the engine at idle and then shut off the fuel valve at the supply manifold. The engine continues trying to suck fuel in and will create a vacuum, shown on a gauge mounted on the filter manifold. When the vacuum level reaches the desired point, shut down the engine and monitor the vacuum level for a period of time. This sounds scary, but in practice was pretty easy – the vacuum rose pretty slowly after I shut off the fuel supply, and I could shut down the engine by closing the fuel solenoid. The fuel manifold lost very little vacuum over an hour, even after operating the filter selector valve a bunch of times. I concluded that there is no leak in the filter manifold.

I did the same test on the fuel supply manifold and had the same result. It too was able to maintain a vacuum, which means that none of the valves or their connection to the manifold itself were leaking. That leaves the lines back to the fuel tanks (including the fittings) or the “dip tubes” in the tanks themselves.

The next experiment was to select different tanks (Miss Miranda has 4 fuel tanks, port and starboard, forward and aft) as the supply to the filter manifold and look for changes in the amount of bubbling. To get an idea of what the bubbling looks like, take a look at this very shaky video. You can see towards the end of the video that there are few, if any bubbles. That is the result we are looking for. The bottom line was that I saw many fewer bubbles when drawing fuel from the aft tanks. These are much smaller tanks (115 vs 500+ gallons) and have shorter dip tubes, and seem to have less opportunity for air leaks. This is very good news. It seems that we should be able to run from the aft tanks with much less air leakage and much less concern about pockets forming in the Racor filter housing. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we have a fuel transfer system so that we can refill the aft tanks from the forward tanks.

The very last check was on the fittings to the forward fuel tanks. I have pretty easy access to the top of the port forward tank via a hatch in the galley floor. I disconnected the fuel supply line from that tank and inspected the adapter fitting. That fitting needs to have thread sealant on it to prevent leaks. The sealant on the fitting was 20 years old and most of it seemed to be gone. I cleaned up the fitting and applied new sealant. The tests for bubbling, unfortunately, were inconclusive. It seemed to be less than before, but still more than the aft tanks. It is possible that the source of the leak is the dip tube itself or the hose, or the fittings at either end.

I was a little bit disappointed after doing some more testing while underway. Under more load, there are still bubbles in the filter housings when drawing from the aft tanks, and after a short, two hour run, the fuel level in the filter housing was down, though less than previously. Racor does say that it is normal to have the fuel level down about halfway when you open the filter housing, so not sure if this indicates a problem. I did try drawing from the port tank while underway, and there seemed to be less bubbling than when drawing from the aft tanks, so maybe the thread sealant helped. I’ll continue running from the port tank and monitoring as we continue along the way.

I now have a very good idea of where the air leakage is coming from. I will probably wind up having to replace the supply lines and fittings to the tanks (and maybe even the dip tubes) before returning to the US, but can I can get that work done when we return to La Paz.

Bahía San Marte

After Tembabiche, we continued to make our way north exploring anchorages on the Baha Peninsula, seeking protection from the sporadic westerly nighttime winds that kept coming. Our next stop was Bahía San Marte, a wonderful unpopulated little anchorage with some beaches and purported hiking to explore.

There we are, all by ourselves!

After ensuring we were well anchored, we put down the dingy and headed for a beach. The guidebook had said there was good hiking in the area so we were all prepared with good footwear, hiking poles and water.

Promising beginnings to a hike.

It looked to me like we could make our way up a ridge, although we would have to pick our way. But, we reached the limits of our capabilities – we tried multiple ways on two separate beaches, but the arroyos petered out quickly and there seemed no way to pick our way through prickly cacti wearing shorts on very uneven rocky and loose ground. So we walked the lengths of the beaches and found some cool things to look at.

I was surprised to see this whale vertebra lying on the beach. Totally cool. There were no other whale bones around, and it is obviously well weathered. Wonder how long it’s been there!

View looking up into the surrounding hills where we attempted to hike. This bush with green bark is one of the typical bushes around here – but I don’t know what it’s called yet.

These were my favorite shells on the beach.

This beach had more interesting shells than we’ve seen so far. At one end there were tide pools. Unfortunately there were no signs of urchins, anemones or other small animals I was hoping to see, except for some hermit crabs. We are starting to get the feeling that while we do see numerous schools of fish and the dolphins chasing them in deeper waters, the seashore itself feels oddly sterile. We’ve both read John Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez from his 6 week voyage here with his buddy naturalist in 1940, just 80 years ago, and their vivid descriptions of the shore teeming with life of all kinds, even in Los Cabos and La Paz bay. It seems that there has been a precipitous decline in numbers and variety of sea life in the intervening years. The Mexican government is trying to protect what’s left, creating some 19 National Parks and Biosphere Reserves around the Baja California Peninsula.

The anchorage was tucked up under Punta San Marcial and provided very good protection from the Westerlies… we hardly noticed them until we pulled out the next morning to head around the point to Agua Verde, where we encountered brisk winds and whitecaps.

Tembabiche

On our way to Tembabiche from San Evaristo, we passed the tiny remote fishing village of Nopolo. It is perched on the edge of the Sea tucked behind a rocky point so they aren’t even visible from the north at the base of a steep, high mountain peak. Can you imagine living in such a remote hard to reach place?

We reached Tembabiche and saw we would have the anchorage to ourselves for much of the time. Pelicans and other sea birds clearly find lots to eat there, as there were many of them grouped near the estuary side of the anchorage. A few fisherman trailer their pangas to launch from the beach here, and there is a tiny fishing village not far away, hardly visible to us from the water.

After getting anchored up and reveling in our isolation, we dingied to shore to explore. A pelican took off at just the right distance for me to get some great action shots.

In 2017, the lagoon area here, as well as a number of others on this area of the coast, was declared a protected area with no fishing allowed to support the rejuvenation of fish and other wildlife. We walked around the edges and spied a number of birds in the mangroves and perched on cacti. Herons, egrets, ospreys, sand pipers and pelicans enjoyed the lagoon. 

While we were walking around the estuary, we saw obvious signs of animal meanderings and heard some cows off in the distance. During happy hour, we again heard the sound of farm animals from the beach, and there they were – a couple of cows, grazing on the beach.

The next day we set off for a different part of the beach and a walk to reach the fabled Casa Grande – the ruins of a grand home built years ago by a fisherman with a windfall that has fallen into disrepair. We found the dusty road that the fisherman use to bring in their pangas and followed that for a while.

The road went through some great cacti.

Casa Grande itself was surrounded by a few obviously occupied small houses, but we didn’t see any people. We took photos quickly and then walked out to the beach, realizing that the river was dried so we could walk across the arroyo back to our dingy.

We saw a number of carcasses of various animals on the beach. The most disturbing to me was a large turtle shell and a large ray, which was almost entirely intact, but ossified. They were right next to each other, which made me wonder whether they were discarded from fishing by catch. I didn’t even take a picture because it made me sad.

Some other finds were more interesting.

We are fairly sure this is a ray from the shape of the head.
After consulting some guides I think this is a balloonfish, not a pufferfish.

We were taking a nap when a young fisherman in a shorty wetsuit came to the boat and asked if we wanted lobster.  Sold us 3 langostas – we had to revive them a bit in sea water to ensure they were good.  He had a hard time keeping the outboard engine for the panga running but did a great job maneuvering up to our side just to do the exchange.  Larry cooked them up into several fabulous meals.

On our last day I managed to haul myself out of bed before sunrise to try to get some good shots of the sun on the mountains and on Casa Grande. The golden hour is fleeting, and Casa Grande was far away, but these capture a flavor of what it was like.

You can just see the Casa Grande in the right side of the photo.

San Evaristo and Weather in the Sea of Cortez

After a surprisingly windy and choppy night at Isla San Francisco, we headed North and across the San Jose Channel to the protected anchorage of San Evaristo, a fishing village on the West side of the Channel.  This was the second time that we were surprised by these Westerly winds that arose in the middle of the night and could reach 25-30 knots.  It’s not good to have those conditions anchored up against a “lee shore” meaning that the wind is blowing the boat towards shore.  The anchorage at San Evaristo opens to the East, so would not be a lee shore.  As we were heading up the channel we encountered some pretty localized westerly winds up to about 25 knots.  Because the wind was blowing across the channel there was no fetch for waves to build, so lots of whitecaps, but no big deal.  It was still blowing when we turned into the anchorage.  We at first sought shelter in the North cove, which was protected from the North and somewhat from the west. The cove had a small shelf with easy anchoring depths in the 20-25 foot range but then sloped down to 50 ft or so further out.  We also realized that while the wind was (temporarily) coming from the west, the swell  was coming from the South, which was exposed.  We were not satisfied with where we were sitting, so we moved over into the northern part of the main cove, with much more swinging room and shallower depths.  The beach here was lined with houses and pangas were actively coming and going to unload their catch at a buyer setup in a tent on the beach.  

I was wondering about the unexpected westerly winds that we experienced both in Isla San Francisco and again in the morning here at San Evaristo.  The guidebooks that we have describe these as Corumuel winds, said to be mostly in the La Paz area and Elephantes, said to be mostly in low lying areas in the Northern Sea.  In both cases, nighttime winds from the cool pacific air crosses the penisula into the Sea.  Since the weather forecasts cover such large areas, these localized events are not called out, and we didn’t see obvious signs of them from the low resolution wind maps that we have been downloading on our Iridium GO! 

A screenshot of the PredictWind Offshore app. The outline in the center is Baja California, and the little white dot represents where we were when I took the screenshot. Wind speed is color coded as shown on the scale at the bottom of the display This is a low resolution map, which can be downloaded reasonably quickly on the Iridium GO!, but it doesn’t highlight the significant Westerlies that we have been experiencing.

So, I downloaded one of the higher resolution wind forecasts from PredictWind and saw that it did, in fact, predict these localized westerly winds.    The model showed the wind we experienced in the morning, and predicted an overnight Westerly in San Evaristo that night.  And sure enough, we experienced several hours of 25 knot winds overnight.  It was noisy, but since we were protected from the west, we had no waves/swell, and therefore, not a problem. Now we know that it is worth downloading these higher resolution wind forecasts, even though they take about an hour to get at the snail’s pace of the Iridium GO!.

This is a screenshot showing the higher resolution forecast map. You can see that this one highlights the “hot zone” of Westerlies.

More of these westerlies were predicted through the week, so we planned accordingly, looking for anchorages that would have the best protection for the conditions.  We decided to leave San Evaristo the next morning and continue North.  Honestly, it felt a little weird to be anchored here in what was people’s front yards.  We didn’t even go ashore.

We experienced these localized winds three more times heading up to Puerto Escondido, and each time the forecast was pretty accurate on the start and duration and the maximum wind speeds.  And, armed with this information, we selected anchorages that seemed to have the best protection from the West.

A good old Norther forecast for the end of the week. We planned to be at Marina Puerto Escondido before this one arrived.

The other weather pattern that we were already familiar with is the Northwesterly winds that funnel down the Sea of Cortez pretty regularly in the winter months.  These occur when there is High pressure in the Great Basin of the US and lower pressure down in the Sea.  These are called Northers, and bring 25-30 knot winds that can last several days.  We had already experienced a number of these during our month in La Paz.

This is a “gust” map showing the crazy winds we’ve been experiencing today. This is from the web-based version of the app that requires a pretty good internet connection, which we have here. Deep red and darker is not so good… The winds were actually significantly higher than forecast.

A quick update – the Norther is here with a vengance. We arrived at Puerto Escondido on a lovely calm afternoon. The slip they had reserved for us was way too small, so they put us on the long breakwater dock… on the outside. When the Norther hit, we realized that was a BIG mistake. We saw 25 knot plus winds all day with gusts exceeding 33 and probably 3 ft wind waves. We have all 13 fenders out, and several of them look like they are about to pop. If the winds drop down at all, we will see if we can get quickly around to the other side of the breakwater dock.

Isla San Francisco

Isla San Francisco has a beautiful large anchorage called “the hook” which features a long sandy beach and good depths and holding.  We approached this large bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon with very little wind.  When we arrived, there were 4 sailboats in the NW side of the anchorage, and we found plenty of room further East along the beach.  The anchorage has good protection from wind and swell, except from the SW… more on this later.  On the beach a party of 6 women were set up with a tent and a lavish arrangement, waited on by a male crew member.  They had a good time into the evening back on their catamaran.  We settled in for the night, listening to voices and music from other boats, and saw lots of bioluminescence and fish activity in the water after sunset. 

The anchorage with the Sierra de la Giganta mountains across the way.

In the morning we were having coffee during sunrise when we heard exhaling and saw a few dolphins jumping near the boat.  We went on deck and realized there was a large pod of them in the anchorage, having a wonderful time cavorting with each other in and around our boats and swimming back and forth to the rocky points at either end of the bay.  They came and went during the much of the morning and we were even able to go out in the dingy with them.  They swam off our dingy bow, turning sideways sometimes to look at me.   They treated us to an impressive aerial show with pairs of dolphins leaping out of the water together just yards from us.   It was life-affirming to be so close to them. 

The mystery bird from one of my earlier posts reappeared in this anchorage.  I caught them on film as they swam around during the dolphin visit.  It’s a bit challenging as they don’t stay on the surface for long at all, they pop up and then quickly dive again in rapid succession.  I am fairly confident that they are lesser grebes.  They look delicate from a distance and curve their bodies and extend their necks as they dive, but they look much more substantial in up close photos. 

Now that our dingy engine is healthy, we have more options for shore excursions.  If I was a hardy soul like the guy who came in on a catamaran the second day, I would swim to shore, but the 65-degree water is still a little cool for me.  Soon though! 

There are two anchorages, we were in the one on the left with the long white beach.

This island has several options for walks, so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs every day.  We went ashore and hiked up the ridge on the S side of the anchorage where we could look down over the whole scene.  We didn’t stay long because the tide was going out and the dingy was gradually being left high and dry.  If the water receded completely, we’d wind up having to wait for the rising tide to get back to the boat.  This kind of thing happens all the time in the PNW, where the tidal range is quite large.  It’s not as big down here, but enough to cause problems.  We have routinely used an “anchor buddy” which is an elastic line that attaches to the dingy on one end and a small mushroom anchor on the other end.  You throw it over when you get close to shore, plant the bow anchor on the beach, and then let out a bit of line. The anchor buddy pulls the dingy back into the water where it stays afloat in place.  Unfortunately, last year we lost the mushroom anchor trying to anchor in a snorkeling spot that had way too much swell.  So when we narrowly avoided having to spend hours on the beach, Larry fashioned a makeshift replacement from one of the small volcanic rocks on the beach.  The anchor buddy is back in business, but Larry will need to improve the lashings for the rock. 

Once we had the anchor buddy back in service, we could go off for longer hikes without concern.  At first glance, it feels like the terrain is nothing but dusty brown and red rocks scattered with cacti of various shapes and sizes, all of them prickly.  Once we started walking through the salt pond and sand dunes, I saw a whole range of flowers popping up as I slowed down and really looked at what was around me, rather than rushing through on a purposeful march.    

The southern part of the bay is rimmed with a steep rocky ridge and a twisty path leads to the top.  It extends to the southern edge but is truly scary with steep rocky drop-offs on both sides.  A misplaced step from poor balance would not end well, so we skipped that part and explored the views to the northern side of the island and across the Sea.

Larry with the peak of the south ridge in the background.

We checked out the rocky points on either end of the bay which are supposed to be good snorkeling areas.  They appear to have shallow depths of less than 12 feet, so we will likely try these out when we return later in the spring when everything has warmed up.  Near shore, there was not a lot of activity in the crystal clear water.  I found it notable that on one dingy landing, there was a large black boxfish near shore but no other fish, which is why he caught my eye.  There aren’t any urchins or anemones, but there are clearly crabs living there, we just haven’t seen then. 

Our fellow bay residents turned over, and only a sailboat remained during the day on the northern edge of the bay.  We had watched their boat pitch and roll dramatically in the first morning and wondered how they were faring, and during the course of the day watched what we imagined was a drama playing out, with lots of solitary morose looking activity, and even their two dogs looked downcast.  They were still there the next morning.  New boats came in, including some folks on a Nordhavn 46 whom we met from a distance.  It seemed to be a fairly equal mix of American, Canadian and Mexican cruisers, but only a half dozen of us, which is sparse compared to what we have heard this bay often holds. 

For a while it was just us and the small sailboat.

After a couple of wonderful days, we had a look at the weather forecasts and saw that Westerly winds were expected the following day.  We decided that we would move over to the anchorage on the other side of the hook the following morning so we would have protection from the waves.  We had the right idea, but we were too late.  At about 1:30 am we awoke to the wind and swell suddenly picking up.  It went quickly to 20+ knots and stayed there all night.  Winds and swell were from the SW – rolling right into the anchorage, and we were pitching like crazy.  This was the dreaded situation in which the boat would be on the beach if the anchor didn’t hold.  It did hold but made for a sleepless night on anchor watch for Larry, and a restless night for me too.  The winds died down in the morning, but the swell remained, so we pulled up anchor right after sunrise and headed to the little fishing village of San Evaristo, which is on the mainland and has good protection from westerly swell.

Sunrise against the Sierra de la Giganta Mountain range as we left in the morning.

Racor Fuel Manifold Update

We are back on the grid after a week and a half cruising from La Paz up to Puerto Escondido. Lots of posts and lots of pictures coming, but first this maintenance update for those who love the smell of diesel in the morning…

Well, the new Racor manifold has not worked as well as hoped.  Underway we are seeing some small bubbles on the output side of the manifold which we are not concerned with… the engine has no problems with these and has been running smoothly.  However, there are bubbles apparent in the filter bowls themselves, which indicate that air is getting into the filter housings.  This air is either coming in from the input line OR it is the result of a leak somewhere within the racor fuel manifold itself. 

Why is this a problem?  Well, the fuel filter sits in the housing, which is filled with fuel right up to the top of the filter. There is a cover that seals the housing closed, which has a gasket and a t-bolt to tighten it down. When bubbles form in the (bottom) of the filter housing, an air pocket forms at the top.  When the air pocket forms, the fuel level goes down (and no longer covers the entire filter).  If too much air gets in, the fuel level might get to the bottom of the filter, and air would get into the output line to the engine.  If enough air gets in the line the engine shuts down. 

The bubbling seems to be minimized by running both filters simultaneously, so that’s what we are doing. I have been monitoring the bubbles as we are underway, and the I measure and top up the fuel level at each stop. We’ve had no problem on runs as long as the 40 mile, 5 hour run from La Paz to Isla San Francisco, but the fuel level has gone down in the housing each time.  That’s not a big deal when we are doing short runs, but will become a real problem when we need to make multi-day passages.

Refilling the housing has become part of the departure checklist, and now that we are here in Puerto Escondido, I plan to add a section of clear tube to the fuel line going in to the Racor manifold, just like I had last year. If the fuel going in is clear and without bubbles, I will know (again) that it is the manifold. If there are bubbles in the input line, that means that there is an air leak upstream of the manifold. More to come, I’m sure…

Last Project(s)… We Hope!

On Saturday January 30th we moved the few miles from Marina CostaBaja to Marina La Paz. The plan was to be here for a week for what we hope is the last set of boat projects with Cross Marine Works before we get underway for some real cruising. The main project is replacing the dry stack muffler, as mentioned in a previous post. The muffler arrived here in La Paz, delivered by a freight forwarder that specializes in bringing parts across the border. The shipping cost was 35% of the overall price, which covers the 16% tax plus another 19% for shipping and handling. There was an optional additional “special shipping charge” that got added on after it arrived in Mexico that we agreed to in order to get it here in a timely fashion. Otherwise we suspect it could still be in limbo.

Another issue to be attended to is a fuel delivery problem on the Tohatsu outboard for the big dinghy/tender. In spite of adding a gasoline stabilizer, it appears that the fuel got gummed up after sitting so long in the heat. Apparently this is a common problem down here. It is likely that there is a problem in the internal filter or the injector pump itself. Not too big a deal, or so we are told. While we are looking at the dinghy, we are hoping to get some canvas repair done on the seats. Apex did a terrible job on the bench seat for this model.. the fabric is not waterproof, the foam gets soaked and the seat stays wet. The edges of the seat covering have now come loose, exposing the foam. What’s worse, the seat back, which screws into a couple of supports that allow it to fold up and down, has some rot at the screws, and they are coming out. I suspect the back is plain plywood, covered by the aforementioned non-waterproof fabric. We will have some canvas guys take a look at repair or replacement.

A last, “while we are here” issue is addressing the one piece of teak on the exterior of the boat- the cockpit cap rail. We have not done anything with it since we’ve owned the boat, and it is in desparate need of refinishing.

Muffler Replacement

Day 1: Very good progress, removing the stainless steel vent grates, removing the old exhaust insulation and removing the stainless steel bolts, all of which came out pretty easily. Late in the afternoon, they cut the access panel in the back of the stack. The muffler is now ready to come out.

Day 2: The muffler is out! They took it out while we were away for a walk, and used the davit crane to lower it to the dock. The rest of the day was devoted to making an access panel out of the piece of fiberglass that was removed from the back of the stack.

We also took the opportunity, while the stack was empty, to install a new VHF antenna on the port stack wing. That was a part I sent down to replace an improperly installed antenna for the back up radio. Apparently the installers twisted the cable resulting in a dead short… that means no transmit or receive on that radio. We knew that it was not working the whole way down to Mexico, but confirmed the short when we in La Cruz last year. It’s good to have the new antenna in place and a working backup radio again.

Day 3: Time to get the new muffler installed. We used the Davit to lift the new muffler up onto the boat deck.

Day 4: We lifted the new muffler into place, put in the new gaskets and re-used the original stainless steel bolts and nuts to secure it in place. Now the focus is on fabricating a flange for the cutout and fitting the fiberglass panel back into place.

Days 5/6: Getting very close! Today they installed the insulated jacket, reinstalled the aluminum housing for the the exhaust fans, and closed everything up. The only item that remains is installing and sealing the access cutout. They got this done on Day 6 (Saturday), and did a good boat wash to clean up.

The Dinghy

The problem with the motor was as suspected; gummed up fuel in the high pressure pump. After Rob cleaned out the pump, the motor started right up. Also, we discovered that the steering ram had frozen up… a little shot of grease took care of that. A future project to go on the list will be installing a primary fuel filter before the on-engine filters. The seat came back from Hector the canvas guy, who repaired the seat back and re-glued the fabric covering on the seat bottom. Cost was 500 pesos!

Not much to see here, except that the seat is no longer falling apart.

Teak Cap Rail

We had Mauricio from Rob’s team working on the only piece of exterior teak on the boat for the entire week, stripping off the old varnish, sanding it down and gradually building up many coats of fresh varnish. Unfortunately, I neglected to take any “before” pictures, but trust me, it was in bad shape. We never touched it in the four years we’ve owned the boat. It now has 4 coats of varnish, and according to Rob, could use 4 more. We might come back in April to have that done. Oh, and the flagpole is also redone and looks beautiful.

Our thanks to Rob and Kim Cross and the rest of the crew at Cross Marine Works. They did a great job – high quality work with attention to detail. Recommended if you need any work done in La Paz.

Miscellaneous Jobs

Hot Water Valve. We recieved the fittings that we ordered to properly repair the hot water line mentioned here. The rescue-taped jury rig was holding up surprisingly well, with just a little bit of leakage. The new fitting was easy to get on and the whole job was done in less than 10 minutes.

The new connector that replaced the hot water valve that blew it’s top.

Racor Fuel Filter Manifold Revisited. You may recall that we had some issues with our fuel delivery system last year, as outlined here and we wound up getting a replacement fuel filter manifold from Racor as decribed here. Well, this week I finally removed the old manifold, installed the new one and replumbed the fuel connections to reconnect the fuel transfer filter back to the tansfer pump. Easy job, but very messy. It seems that there is no way to do that without distributing diesel fuel all over myself and the engine room. But, it is finally done.

The new Racor fuel filter manifold on the left, and the fuel transfer filter on the right.

I left just a little bit of clear tubing in the output from the manifold to the engine so I can see if there is any air in the fuel line. We will test it out when we restart the main after the muffler install, and will have a good chance to watch it while we cruise up into the Sea of Cortez.

Generator Oil and Filter change. So easy it is hardly worth mentioning. The oil change interval on the generator is 200 hours, and it was due this week. With our reverso oil change pump, it is as simple as letting the generator warm up a bit, pumping the old oil into a waste bucket, replacing the filter and refilling. We should be good for most of the season now.

What now?

The weather over the next week or so looks outstanding… sunny and warm with light winds. Our goal is to get out of La Paz on Sunday (Feb 7) and start heading North towards Puerto Escondido, where we expect to arrive in late February. We think we won’t be back to La Paz until late April as we think about heading back to the USA.

Clean up after your Perro!

Nothing to do with the project, but we loved this sign at the marina.

No translation needed here.

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!

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.