Fixing the Boat in Exotic Locations…

I understand that cruising boats are complex.  And I know that with so many systems it is natural that there will be a significant amount of maintenance and repairs.  I do.  Really.

What is irritating me a bit today is the failure of a component that was newly replaced, according to the manufacturers recommended maintenance schedule.  Before  leaving we tried to be proactive with maintenance and part replacement, and much of the work we had done at Philbrooks was around maintenance of the boat’s critical systems. 

We have just experienced one of those failures.  We were re-assigned to a better slip here in Paradise Village and were getting ready to move the boat at high tide, since the slip we were in was in a relatively shallow part of the estuary.   Following our normal routine, I started the engine and then the stabilizer system (to make sure that the stabilizers are locked in the center position while we maneuver the boat).  There was an immediate alarm from the system indicating “dangerously low oil level”.  This was quite surprising, as we have just been sitting here for the last week or so and we had no issues on the way in to the marina.  I went down to check, and sure enough, the stabilizer hydraulic reservoir was empty,  meaning that some 4+ gallons of hydraulic fluid have leaked into the bilge.  So, move aborted, I started looking around for the source of the leak.  on opening the access panel to the starboard fin assembly, the leak was obvious – the bilge area below the stabilizer was very wet.  None of the hydraulic fittings were wet or leaking, which left the actuator cylinder (the part of the system that actually moves the stabilizer) as the likely suspect.  A call to ABT TRAC get me in touch with the authorized service center in Mexico, and, with a stroke of luck, they were able to send over a crew within an hour.  After brief inspection, it was obvious that there was a massive leak in the seal around the piston – manually activating the stabilizer produced a noticeable amount of fluid right at the seal.  

Yes, that is a nearly brand new stabilizer actuator cylinder.

Fortunately, I had spare, rebuilt cylinders on board.  Why?  Because we had just replaced the cylinders (which were working just fine) based on the TRAC maintenance interval, which is six years (the system is 19 years old).  So, a brand new part that has a service life of 6 years failed after about six months of use.  Now, I can’t say anything bad at all about TRAC’s service and warranty.  They will replace the part and will ship it wherever it is needed.  But that is little consolation and doesn’t take into account the expense incurred in replacing the part.  

Bad seal… enough to leak 4 gallons of hydraulic fluid into the bilge….

I think there is a lesson lurking in all of this for me.  I think it was a mistake to replace the existing actuator cylinders just because they had exceeded the recommended service interval.  They were working fine and showed no signs of leakage.  I realize that in retrospect, I should have bought the replacement cylinders and put them into my spare parts inventory in case of a future failure.  I ignored the old maxim of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I think from now on, we are going to follow this rule.

I’m also getting a little tired of writing about stuff that breaks… and suspect that you are getting tired of reading about it. Next post will be on “stuff that works”.

Mazatlan

The city of Mazatlan had a much bigger city feel than any of our previous stops.  Very interesting contrast between rapid growth and decay.  In recent years they have worked on restoring the old city in the center of town and we enjoyed exploring there in between rain storms and significant heat.

A view of the Malecon and downtown homes.
This view towers over downtown. You think you have an ugly cell tower in your neighborhood!

We loved our setup at Marina El Cid with the “quiet” pool only steps away from our dock.  We also had access to the beach club across the channel via the water taxi, but we never went over to check it out.  The pool was too inviting.

The main square – lined with shops and restaurants on the edges.

On the day before the deluge and foot of water, we spent the day in town.  We lounged at a square-side cafe where I tried Aguachile – a very spicy shrimp regional dish.  The waiter questioned whether I really wanted to have that, but I was determined to try it.   I sweated my way through it and downed a ton of water and some beer.   It was delicious, although my mouth was on fire for long afterward.    I have a recipe for it, which will allow me to dial down the spice level.  

The main church on another square.

We were looking for high-quality crafts and lucked into a wonderful shop where we conversed quite a bit with the owner all in Spanish – he was very patient and had such a clear accent he was easy to understand.  After we made some purchases (all beautiful and extremely well-priced and all from Mexican or Central American artisans), he brought out some agave tequila to share. 

An excellent stop was the Museum of Anthropology and History.  Small but very interesting exhibits from pre-hispanic times – very well-preserved beautiful pottery, and informative texts in both Spanish and English.  We were the only visitors that day from the guestbook. 

The contents of a pottery funeral urn.

We walked the Malecon, slowly because it was SO hot, and happened to pass some young guys who were cliff-diving.  Not in the usual place which is at the other end of the Malecon and much more open, and I was horrified by this tight rocky location.  But the kid came up in one piece. 

What the photo doesn’t show is how close the other side is.
View of the municipal pool from the Malecon before the storm.

On Thanksgiving, the day of the huge deluge, we were able to go a couple of miles from the marina and meet up with our friend Patrick from Seattle (who we coincidentally discovered was in town) and have a turkey dinner at a local spot.  It was fun to see him and Diana, as well as the Mexican families who were out, and get to sing happy birthday in Spanish to a young girl having a family dinner.  The family then sent cake around to everyone. 

Even several days after the storm we saw water bubbling up in town.
An abandoned building project near occupied new condos.

One impact of obvious boom and bust cycles in Mazatlan are the number of abandoned hulks of hotel buildings.  In the back of our marina resort, a huge resort relic lined both the street and the beach, while across the street there is new construction.    Definitely weird.   

One of many hallways in the market.

On another day we food shopped in the huge covered market.  The public market in old town was an almost overwhelming experience.  From street food taco stands (excellent) to meat vendors with pig heads inside, it seemed that you could find anything you needed in that place if you looked hard enough.

I did not want a pig’s head.

The shrimp we got from the “shrimp ladies” down the road were yummy.   It was interesting that there were many shrimp ladies but it appears the prices are set – it must be a collective of some sort. 

The shrimp lady we purchased from. All the posted signs had the same prices, so we judged based on amount of ice in the buckets. They were delicious!!

On another stormy day we did a dinghy cruise around the rest of the marina area and estuary, which has been developed with many nice houses on canals.  Lots of high end homes lined the banks of the canals, much like Florida.  There is money here.  Not sure if it is expats or Mexican nationals.

We were walking around during a very hot afternoon. We hadn’t yet figured out that siesta is a real thing when it is hot as hell.

On our last night we went into town for dinner and afterward walked the square, which was hopping with locals.  We were fortunate to see an impressive performance from the dance troupe that we had seen practicing a few days earlier at the Arts facility.  The kids were extremely talented and put on a very tight and exciting performance.  

This colorful doorway to an abandoned property exemplifies Mazatlan.

Stuck in a Maze of Fishing Nets!

If you had been following our inReach track today (https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/MVMissMiranda) you would have seen a funny course deviation and a doubling back, like this.

What the heck were they doing?

We left Chacala this morning to make the 45 NM run to Banderas Bay and Paradise Village Marina, our home for the next month. We wanted to have a look at the next bay South, Bahia Jaltemba, which is supposed to have a nice anchorage. We also wanted to have a look at the Gringo haven surf town Sayulita along the way, so we plotted a relatively near coastal route instead of heading well offshore.

It was a beautiful morning and we had some very large Bottle Nose dolphin riding along with us…. the biggest I’ve seen yet. There were a fair number of pangas out, and we suddenly noticed that we were approaching some net floats (which are often just empty translucent soda bottles, not fancy obvious floats like we see in the US) along our port side. We saw a flag marking the end a ways off, so we adusted course to go around the net. Well, we got to the flag, and found that it was connected to floats on both sides. So, we altered course some more to head seaward. Now, however, we started seeing net floats on both sides, and when we got to the next flag, we could see that we were well and truly hemmed in. As you can see in the voyager recording from our chart plotter below, we turned around to backtrack… a long way, and we eventually saw pangas near one of the flags. We sounded the horn many times and were studiously ignored. We drove right up to the pangas, and were still studiously ignored. We asked for help/directions in Spanish and got a vague arm wave seaward. So we turned seaward again, only to find that we were hemmed in again.

Our escape from the fish net maze. North is up.

By this time we didn’t know what to do. If I was confident in my line cutters, I would have just driven through, but the thought of fouling the stabilizers as well as the prop shaft had me really concerned. Finally, we realized that the net fisherman must avoid the shrimpers working close to shore in 80 to 100 feet of water. We backtracked some more to the end of yet another net and came around the inshore side, and aimed directly at the next shrimper we saw. That turned out to do the trick. As you can see, we backtracked for more than 4 miles and spent a nerve wracking hour trying to escape from the maze.

The rest of the voyage passed without incident, and we arrived here at Paradise Village this afternoon. This time, we earned our arrival beer.

Spanish Names

As we have been taking Spanish lessons and trying to communicate effectively with our Mexican hosts, we have realized that our names present something of a challenge for Spanish speakers.  So, for instance, instead of using Larry, I use my full name, Lawrence, but change it to the more spanish-sounding Lorenzo.  I try to always introduce myself to whomever we meet – taxi drivers, shopkeepers, etc, and “Soy Lorenzo” seems to work well.  In Mazatlan, I met a father and son team of Marine Service guys, named, aptly, Ruiz and Ruiz.  When I introduced myself as Lorenzo, Ruiz the younger immediately said “Lencho”, the shortened name for Lorenzo.  I kind of liked it… though Gwen was not entirely pleased.  She insists that it must be some kind of inside joke.

Mi nombre es Lencho…

Gwen has a very difficult name for Spanish speakers.  In fact, people everywhere seem to creatively mangle her name.  Even in the US, we regularly show up at restaurants looking for a reservation under her name, and wind up seeing “Glen”, “Owen”, or other odd takes.  So, having my own Spanish name, I thought Gwen would be well served by having one of her own.  She refused the standard contractions of her name, e.g., “Wendy”, and we eventually settled on Gabriela.  However, when we next met some people and introduced ourselves, I boldly said “Lencho” and Gwen…. choked.  She said “Gwen”.  She just couldn’t pull off the Gabriela thing.  The other morning when we were on the La Tovara Estuary tour, we introduced ourselves to our guide, who spoke some English.  When he heard Gwen, he immediately said “Cuando”, which is, of course, Spanish for “When”.  We had a good chuckle about that, but then I thought that this might be a good Spanish name for her.  We used it a couple of times the other day, and Spanish speakers who know a bit of English do get a kick out of it.  Gwen, not so much. 

Ella nombre es… Cuando?

Perhaps our faithful readers can help Gwen… what should her Spanish name be?

La Paz Part 2

El Nopal – “The Cactus” was the name of our spanish school. Here is the school mascot on the sidewalk outside.

After finishing up with CUBAR at Marina Costa Baja outside of town, we moved into town to Marina Cortez after the tropical storm rain blew through.  Marina Cortez is right at the end of the Malecon, and at the beginning of the street for the Spanish school where we took lessons for a week.  We wanted to be able to easily experience La Paz right outside our door rather than be beholden to taxis. 

There is a large basin surrounded by a floating breakwater/dock at Marina Cortez. They only have one set of conventional finger piers installed so far, but there is room for at least one more.
Beach bar right next to the Marina and the start of the Malecon.

The marina itself had a lot of sport fishing boats as well as sailboats from the Baja Haha, nice wide cement docks and potable water, which we know we will not often find in Mexico at marinas.  It was rolly though, which confirmed our decision to choose Costa Baja as the place to put the boat during hurricane season when we won’t be here.  Construction is under way on a large condominium building overlooking the marina, so we did have that contend with during the day, but they always wrapped up by sunset at 6.  It did freak me out a bit to watch the guys up on the structure with little to no safety gear. 

On the weekdays our routine settled into me leaving for Spanish class around 7:30, meeting up with Larry in the courtyard of the Spanish school El Nopal when he arrived for his classes at 11am and then  walking back to the boat by way of local shops like the tortilleria and panaderia (bread and pastry shop).  It was about a half hour walk through local streets.  After Larry finished class at 2pm we ran errands around town – a way of sightseeing – visited yet another dentist for my ongoing dental odyssey,  or enjoyed tacos at a taqueria and relaxed. 

The fried grasshopper, or chapuline, we tried in my class. Tasty once I got over the resistance.

We loved our Spanish classes and highly recommend El Nopal.  The school is in a set of small buildings around a large courtyard.  Our fellow students were a mix of expats and a few other boaters, and there was also a group of home-schooled Mexican children who were there for various subjects and had recess around us in the courtyard.    We rotated through several teachers who concentrated on conversation mixed with grammar.  It was a lot of fun to immediately be able to practice in our life outside of the school. 

I love the bright colors on many of the buildings.
One of the loveliest homes I saw.
This home was clearly abandoned although I loved the doors.

In our walks, and from friends, we learned that the sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner – not just cleaning and repair, but creating them in the first place.  We searched out streets to walk on where the sidewalks were more consistent and we didn’t have to do as much climbing up and down steps or wading out into the street.    The streets themselves also vary from paved (not that many) to dirt roads.   There is no apparent zoning, so homes of various levels of sophistication are interspersed with businesses and even vacant lots. 

Peppers and limes at the Supermercado…. the one with the Cow on the roof.
Ed note: I told Gwen that she should not take pictures of men armed with automatic weapons….
View inside a shop for party dresses.

While we were at Marina Cortez, we finally got around to assembling and testing our “surf landing” dinghy. This is one that is much smaller and lighter than our 12 ft Apex tender and it’s 30 HP outboard. The idea is that you can land your small dinghy on the beach and quickly drag it up out of the surf. On the way back, the theory is that you push through the surf, hop on board, start the engine and away you go. We have yet to test the theory…. Anyway, this is a 9 ft Zodiac air floor dinghy with a 3.5 HP Tohatsu outboard. We are still working out the best way to stow and deploy it. We will report on success (or lack of) in future posts.

The new beach landing dinghy.

There is always something interesting happening on the Malecon. One evening we were going back to visit at CostaBaja, and we encountered a Classic Car show crusing down the Malecon. It was cool, though it did slow things down a bit.

Classic pickups on the Malecon.

On our last night splurged at the restaurant Les Tres Virgenes, reputedly the best restaurant in town.  The rain had disappeared so the courtyard was open where we could watch the grill chef at work, enjoy the perfect temperature and an amazing meal with an excellent bottle of Mexican wine and 3 courses for an extremely reasonable price. 

We will back in the spring to sample more of local La Paz culture.

La Paz – Costa Baja

The CUBAR Rally wrapped up at Marina Costa Baja in La Paz. We arrived there on November 15 and stayed until the 19th because of weather. This marina is about 5 miles out of town on a more newly developed piece of land with a related resort. They have potable water and the inner basin where we stayed is very well-protected from swell and storms. We made a reservation to keep our boat here over the summer hurricane season. We’ll be in the very same slip.

The Inner Basin of Marina Costa Baja. We are on the first pier, about 3/4 of the way out on the far side.

Our first night there we wanted to celebrate reaching the La Paz milestone, so we splurged and headed to the Sunset Bar up on the hill at the resort. We got a ride in a golf cart, but soon found ourselves on the side of the road because the golf cart battery was a bit low, and it couldn’t make it up the hill. Our scooter escort tried to help us, but no bueno. It was quite humorous all the way around, and we eventually hitched a ride up in the golf course van.

Racing to help give us a push up the hill. Didn’t work.
Us on the side of the road – still got to see the sunset!

The next morning we headed into La Paz early to attend a cooking class. Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding about scheduling and the class did not occur, but we had a great half-hour conversation with Christina the restaurant owner at Nim while we waited, and we returned that night for a very nice dinner. I am lucky because later Penny gave me the recipes from the year they did the cooking class at Nim, and I am looking forward to making tortilla soup, ceviche and other dishes.

We walked the malecon under threatening clouds, had a second breakfast and then headed back to the boat to do boat chores.

The malecon – still early on a Saturday morning!
One of the many statues welcoming us to the harbor.
From the far end of the malecon, near Marina Cortez where we stayed later.

CUBAR wrapped up on that Sunday night in the midst of some bursts of torrential rain at the final party. You can see from our photo how windy it was!

Courtesy Justin at NoblemanProductions and CUBAR.

Overall, CUBAR was a fantastic experience and one we recommend. We have made some great new friends and could not have asked for better weather for our transits. What a great introduction to boating in Mexico.

La lluvia en Mexico

OK, we’ve been to four major ports in Mexico, and in three of those, we’ve had rainy days. And of course, the locals say “it never rains here”. We have not disclosed our home port in Washington for fear of being accused of bringing the rain.

In San Jose del Cabo, the rain drove the marina to change the venue for our CUBAR arrival party from the lawn/dolphin show area at the marina to a really nice covered, but open air, venue in town. It was a great time, with mucho food, tequila and very bad singing and dancing. The rain also helped with washing off some of the accumulated salt from our trip down the coast.

Uninhibited by the rain. CUBAR party, San Jose Del Cabo

In La Paz, the rain also came, but after our arrival. Once again, this resulted in a change of venue for the final CUBAR party, which was to be on the rooftop terrace at the CostaBaja resort. It was moved inside, and was a nice going away dinner, but was significantly more sedate than the previous party (possibly owing to less free-flowing Tequilla).

We had also arranged to have a much needed boat wash and wax job at the marina, which was delayed by a day due to the rain. Fortunately, Valentin and his crew were able to get the job done the next day.

We came over to Mazatlan from La Paz ahead of a low pressure system that promised Gale force winds and rain after our arrival. We woke up this morning to torrential rain, though not Gale force winds. It has been raining hard for the past couple of hours and previous forecast indicated that we might get as much as an inch of rain today. At the rate we are going, I don’t doubt it. EDITOR UPDATE: An inch of rain? HA! At some points in the day we were getting over 2″ per hour! Total of 12″ Torrential. Monsoon-like. Biblical.

NOAA Satellite image showing an atmospheric river flowing towards Mexico. We see this all the time in the NW.
The view out the pilothouse door this morning. Does not do justice to how hard the rain is coming down.

We listened to the local cruisers net this morning. The guy that does the weather drives from his home here down to his boat to broadcast on the net. He reported massive flooding on the roads, with a foot to a foot and a half of standing water. We had some thoughts of going into town to see what we might do for Thanksgiving dinner. Unless the rain stops we will likely stay where we are and enjoy the dinner that El Cid puts on.

Nearly a foot of rain our home rain gauge, while rain still going strong in the afternoon.
Pelicans watching the now brown swirling water for treasure.