Sunday, May 24, 2009

Indecision and Preparations

The first week back we rented a car to help facilitate ordering and gathering what we’d need to take care of the boat and also to take some side trips here in Baja California Sur. We did take a one-day road trip, which included a visit to the cactus preserve just north of El Triunfo, and then south to Los Barriles. The cactus preserve was deserted when we arrived and we took the self guided tour through the dense tropical growth. After about an hour of walking through the paths at the preserve, we returned to the car and resumed our journey south.

The day was overcast, due to the pineapple express, so when we did finally arrive back out to the Gulf at Los Barriles, instead of the welcoming turquoise blue, the water reflected the steel gray of the overcast sky. The town of Los Barriles was a bit of a disappointment. The central portion of town was new and lacked soul. Along the beaches, houses occupied space all the way to the beach. Narrow streets separated blocks of houses that ran up to the beach, leaving little or no room for parking. Sports fishing boats were moored off the open road stead and easy access to the beaches were limited to the rows of houses fronting the sand.

We left Los Barriles northward and followed a paved road that paralleled the beach north of town. The paved road north continued until it became a dirt road at El Cardonal. Rather trying to continue on the dirt track and continue on to Bahia de los Muertos, Juan de los Planes and then onto San Antonio, we turned around and headed back to Los Barriles, Mexico 1 and then back to La Paz.

For the past two-months, Kathie and I have gone through numerous scenarios on how we might best spend the summer months. Now that it is May, with hurricane season approaching, we're still equivocating on what our best course of action should be. On the one hand, with the kids and Kathie's Dad in California, making the bash back would allow for easier logistics for traveling and visiting. On the other, we have only scratched the surface of places to see in the Sea of Cortez and it would be great to spend at least one more season exploring. The biggest deterrent for our return is the dreaded bash back. Should we keep the boat in the water or on the hard? Should we rent a casita and stick out the hotter summer months in La Paz? Should we head up further into the Gulf and tolerate the heat to wait out hurricane season? Should we store the boat on the hard and return to California and do a 4-5 month road trip? So many options and so much indecision!

The past few weeks in La Paz have been spent trying to stay cool, while attempting to do the maintenance and safety upgrades should we make the bash back to San Diego. By 10:30 in the morning, it’s getting warm enough that working outside becomes very uncomfortable. By noon physical work of any kind, especially outside, is out of the question for us.

Fixing the boarding ladder and stern swim step was the first safety item completed after Joel had removed and repaired the raw water pump (see previous blog entry). We also ordered a second removable boarding ladder from San Diego Marine, via the marine supply on Abasolo (Agencia Arjona de La Paz). A week later, we picked up the ladder and fitted it to the boat. That involved taking apart the back splash above the cabinets in the galley to gain access to the under deck for the ladder mounting hardware. Over the course of two days, Kathie and I managed to do the dismantle, install the required hardware and put the woodwork back together in the galley. We now have two self-rescue methods for getting back aboard, in addition to the rescue collar and bosun’s chair.

We also purchased four more 5-gallon yellow diesel cans. Since most of the trip north up the outside of Baja will be into contrary seas and wind, extra fuel capacity is essential. Our satellite fuel capacity is now at 40-gallons, in addition to the 40-gallons in the fuel tank for 80 gallons, total. Diesel can be purchased in San Carlos in Bahia Magdalena, but it is a long trip to and from the Pacific to get there and back. The usual fuel stop for boats heading north or south is Bahia Tortugus, just south of the southern boundary of Scammon's Lagoon, famous for Malaremo beach that reaches west out into the Pacific at this point. From there, fuel can also be obtained northwest, across the channel, at Cedros Island. From there, the next reliable fuel stop is in Ensenada.

The inflatable has been in the water since the slow leak was repaired by Rock Hard Dingy Repair (Jo and Billy on Yellow Star). Today we hauled it out of the water and continue to be amazed at the luxurious growth that decorates the bottom only after two and half weeks in the water. There are countless cone barnacles and other attached hydroids covering the entire whetted surface of the bottom. With a Teflon spatula, the boat brush and pressure water rinse, the bottom is cleaned after about an hours effort. The dingy was then hauled onto the cabin top to dry and be stored in an animal free environment.

When Joel replaced the impeller in our raw water pump, he also checked the outlet hose to the heat exchanger and the heat exchanger, itself, for stray pieces of rubber impeller parts. A check of the raw water discharge into the exhaust mixing 'J' was done for good measure. To do a thorough and complete job, I planned to take the rubber exhaust hose off between the mixing 'J' and the water lift muffler.

The mixing 'J' is where the raw water from the heat exchanger is mixed with the hot exhaust gases from the engine. The discharged seawater acts to cool the exhaust gases before they enter the rubber hoses that make up the exhaust system and eliminate potential fire hazards. The velocity of the exhaust gases serve to propel the seawater through the exhaust system and out of the exhaust pipe in the stern of the boat. Two things can interfere with the function of the mixing 'J' by blocking the water galleries that provide the cooling of the 'J' before being mixed with the exhaust gases: Pieces of debris (e.g., old impeller parts) and salt build-up. If the water flow is disrupted in the mixing chamber, this can cause a reduced water flow, greater exhaust back pressure and potential hot spots, which are a fire safety concern.

Removing ~2-inch I.D., steel reinforced, rubber exhaust hose from the exhaust system is generally a pain to do and can result in destroying the hose. The section of hose to be removed is 20" long and has a gentle curve in it. With the aid of a long, slim screw-driver, some liquid dish detergent and a great deal of determination, I was able to remove the old wet-exhaust hose and check the condition of the mixing 'J'. It didn't appear too badly obstructed, save for one piece of impeller that fell out, so I replaced the hose with a new section and double hose-clamped both ends before trying it out for leaks by running the engine. All looks good, so far.

There have also been little repairs and improvements to tend to, as well. The spring holding the cabin roof hatch open had begun to lose its rigidity and sometimes slammed close without warning. I found a spring replacement at Agencia Seamar, across the street from Marina de La Paz, and replaced the old spring opening with the new. We're now confident that we've seen the last of unexpected closures of this hatch, at least for several years.

Listening to the La Paz cruisers net this morning, we were reminded of another potential for problems. One of the boats in the fleet was looking for a replacement fuel pump for a three cylinder Yanmar diesel. Lopez Marine, on Cinco de Febrero, indicated that he had an 12-volt electric pump that could be used in its place. The caller didn't want the electric pump, but rather, the a replacement to the original mechanical lift pump. However, the exchange prompted our memory of leaving Mazatlan, several months ago, and not knowing if our lift pump was functioning. One of the solutions Rafael, at Total Yacht Works, offered was hooking a back-up electric pump in-line and by passing the mechanical pump, if indeed, it was not functioning. We decided that having an electric back up pump wouldn't be such a bad idea for our bash back north. Neither Kathie nor myself could envision doing a long slog to weather under motor, while someone was below hand pumping the outboard fuel pump bulb to provide fuel flow to the engine should the mechanical pump fail. We went by Lopez Marine and pick up a 12-volt fuel pump to serve as a back-up!

While we were engaged in small improvement projects, we installed a couple of spring loaded brass cabinet door latches to some of the cabinets that didn't stay latched while sailing. This was a very minor issue, but adds enormously to the calm and neatness in the cabin not having doors swinging open and having their contents scatter across the cabin, while the boat is heeled and pitching.

Enrique cleaned the bottom at one-dollar a foot (~$400MN) and determined that the zinc was still good. He seemed a bit more enthusiastic when using the metal scraper when cleaning the bottom and indicated we needed bottom paint. I tried to explain to him that the bottom paint was of the ablative variety and was meant to come off, I'm not sure he understood what the difference was. I guess we'll be hauling the boat in San Diego for another bottom paint job when we return.

In the short period we've been at the dock it is amazing how quickly the bottom begins to be fouled with barnacles. The growth seems to be heaviest along the water line with the shady side of the boat having more slime growing, in addition to the barnacles. If we were to keep our boat in these warm waters, we'd seriously have to consider another variety of bottom paint to keep the growth at bay. Berkovich Boat yard, near Costa Baja Marina, apparently has some additives that he blends into the bottom paint before applying it that reported works much better than any of the bottom paints on their own. I'm sure it would not be EPA approved, since it work so well.

An attempt has been made to change the oil after 2 months (. This time of year in La Paz, with the day time temperatures rising so early, that means getting an early start. After the Bill and Pepe show and the La Paz morning cruisers net, it's already close to 9 a.m. We've finished our first cup of coffee and then it's breakfast. By the time I get started, it's nearly 10 a.m. and the mercury is well on the rise. Fortunately, with the built in 12-volt electric pump, draining the oil takes a matter of minutes, without much mess or fuss. Removing the oil filter from the cabin (removing the companion way stairs) facilitates this task and it can usually be done with a minimum of mess. Since I got a late start, I decided to put off changing the fuel filters and the oil in the transmission until tomorrow morning.

Changing the 350 mls. of oil in the transmission involves using a tube to literally pipette out the oil about 10 mls. at a time. One of these days I'll have to invest in a mini-pump to draw this from the transmission more efficiently. Well, one of these days rolled around and I went to Agencia Seamar and purchased a small plastic pump designed to fill the lower unit of an outboard engine with lubricant. Removing the check valve and inserting the pump end into the transmission allowed for the transfer of the oil in about 5 minutes. Much better than pipetting it out 10 milliliters at a time!

Changing the fuel filters is more straight forward. There are two fuel filters; the first is a 2 micron Racor prefilter and the second is the Yanmar screw on fuel. Changing the Racor involves unscrewing the cap to the canister using the T-bar handle, while keeping the cap itself from spinning. If the cap is allowed to spin while tightening or loosening, there is the chance of tearing the lid gasket which will cause an air leak in the fuel system (see our experience leaving Mazatlan for La Paz). The screw on fuel filter is also easy to change. The trick is to transfer the desiel from the old filter to the new before screwing it back in place. This minimized entrapped air and ensures the engine will start without having to prime the filter and injectors.

One on-going, often overlooked, critical tasks is re-provisioning and restocking the boat. This becomes more challenging as the crew number increases, as it will on the trip back north. We decided to rent a car for the week to help with the shopping, moving sails back to the boat and picking up crew at the airport. The morning we picked the car up we did a preliminary provisioning at CCC. The purchases were mostly of non-perishable items and a few purchases to bring to the Seisun's to do some advance meal preparation and freezing. A majority of the produce and fruit will be purchased closer to our departure date (tentatively on 6/12).

We unloaded all of the food from the rental into a dock cart and then into the boat. Kathie sorted the refrigerated items to store and collected the cooking spices and grocery items to be brought over to the Seisun's for cooking and freezing. We then drove over to Casa Margaritas and unloaded our cooking supplies. While Kathie swept and dusted the floors inside, prior to cooking, I swept and watered outside. It's only been a week since we were last over to Casa Margaritas and it's surprising how much leaf litter and dust accumulates in such a short period of time. One of their neighbors, Tomas, jokes that we're taking a vacation from our vacation when we visit Casa Margaritas. There is a great deal of truth to that! It's always cathartic to do a little gardening, watering and house work to make us feel more connected to life on land and our friends back home. We rationalize by thinking that we're helping out by doing some light chores around Casa Margaritas, but in reality we enjoy the opportunity to do something different.

Kathie spent the next hour and a half preparing a cooking several menu items, putting them into Tupperware containers and into the freezer. The house was much cooler than the boat, particularly when cooking in such warm temperatures. With the ceiling fans operating, the temperatures remained relatively comfortable during cooking. The outside air temperature was hitting the century mark. We later foud the chocolate chips left in the boat for the day had turned into a solid lump of chocolate; so much for making chocolate chip cookies with them! We hope the Seisun's didn't mind that we used their stove and freezer. We'll have to make amends to them upon our return to San Diego.

One of the most difficult preparations for the return trip to San Diego doesn't involve work on the boat, but rather trying to work out the logistics of getting people to La Paz that are interested in helping take the boat back. There are at least two enthusiastic, capable guys that can take the time to make the bash north with us. One is my nephew, Peter Vierra, and the other is an old San Diego friend and former contractor (Mission Hills remodel), Bruce Bennett. Given the compressed time frame, due to our indecision of what we were going to do for summer, and with hurricane season approaching we've managed to add to the problem of making arrangements. Bruce has some business commitments he has to tie up before he can leave for La Paz and Peter has to expedite his passport application. We've requested and received an extension to our stay here at the marina, but would like to be leaving La Paz between June 10 and 12 to make our way towards Cabo San Lucas, weather permitting.

We are hoping both Peter and Bruce will be able to make their way to La Paz a few days before our departure so we can share a couple of days exploring the city with them before we have to leave. The unfortunate part is, due to putting off a firm decision about our summer plans, when the departure date arrives we will be departing with the crew that can make it here at that time. We're sorry we didn't think about inviting more people to join us during the cruise, but at the time our schedule was so fluid it would have been difficult to plan for a rendezvous. We enjoyed our time with the Seisuns and would have like to have other friends along for the cruise that would have enjoyed the adventure and Mexico. Maybe next season!

Good news and bad news. The good news is both Peter and Bruce were able to make it to La Paz for the sail back to San Diego. Unfortunately, due to business and personal commitments, Bruce will only be able to be with us until Cabo San Lucas. It would have been fun having them both for the trip north, but understand how difficult it is to carve out an indeterminate piece of time for this type of venture. So we're planning on leaving Friday, June 12th for Cabo with the four of us. Currently, we're watching the weather on the outside of Baja to San Diego, in addition to keeping an eye on a tropical disturbance 1000 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas. As of Thursday night before departure, there is a greater than 50% chance this disturbance could become a tropical cyclone, so we're keeping a close weather eye on its development. We're in no hurry, so we have the luxury of waiting for good weather to make our break going north. More on the journey in our next blog.

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