Monday, May 18, 2009

Loreto to La Paz: Adventures and Mishaps

Having taken the rental car to Loreto and just missing our friends, Dennis and Verena, on their way to the bus station, Kathie and I spent time strolling around town. We browsed the tourists shops that were open, had a late lunch and then went to a super mercado to stock up before taking the rental back to Puerto Escondido.

We got back to Puerto Escondido in the early afternoon and ferried our provisions in our inflatable to our mooring about a half a mile from the dingy dock. As had been the case for the two days we had been on the mooring, the afternoon winds were blowing creating a small wind chop all the way to Citla. As we gain experience going from our inflatable to the boat, we are gaining more proficiency, though, perhaps no more grace making our ingress and egress to and from the two boats. The groceries were unloaded efficiently and Kathie proceeded to stow them in their various nooks and cubbyholes. We rode back to the dock and turned in the rental car.

Due to the wind, we spent the next few days in Puerto Escondido on the mooring ball. During that time, we managed to do a load of laundry, make use of the shower facilities, check our e-mail and have one modest meal at the upstairs cafe of Puerto Bello. We managed a couple of trips to the store out at Tripui and treated ourselves to lunch one afternoon, at the restaurant at the hotel in Tripui. After several days, the afternoon and night time winds began to moderate, so on the 20th, we cast off from our mooring, topped off our fuel (67-liters) and fresh water tanks and left Puerto Escondido for Isla Carmen.

Three and a half hours of glorious weather and nice breezes brought us into the anchorage on Isla Carmen of Bahia Balandra. We anchored in about 25-feet of water over sand. The bay forms a large 'C' shape, tucked behind two points of land which form the entrance. The lights from the town of Loreto can be seen at night, through the entrance to the bay. They shine from across the 9.5 mile channel that separates Isla Carmen from the mainland of Baja. There are also spectacular sunsets over the Sierra Gigante that provide the western backdrop to Loreto.

For the next five days we enjoyed the anchorage, sharing it with a half dozen other cruisers spread throughout this large bay. We rowed over to the island for a short walk in the heat before giving up the idea of hiking to the other side of the island. Swimming from the boat was refreshing, but became a safety concern when I stepped off the ladder and pulled both the ladder and the aft two planks off the swim step. Fortunately, I managed to grab the entire assembly before it sunk out of my diving range. I managed to pass the recovered piece to Kathie, on the boat, but then had the problem of how to get back on the boat myself. The inflatable was tethered behind the boat and it became evident, while the larger 18" tubes on the Achilles help with buoyancy and dryness, the added diameter doesn't make getting into the dink any easier. With fins on, I managed to gain enough lift to pull myself over the gunnel of the inflatable and from the inflatable back into Citla, using the remaining two planks on the stern swim step.

Without a functioning swim ladder, staying on the boat became more critical. Our swimming excursions, from that point forward, required use of the dingy to the beach and then swimming from the beach. This enabled ease of entry into the inflatable and subsequently entry into our mother ship.

This experience taught us the importance of having some simple redundancy to our boarding system besides the safety sling or our bousun's chair. Our resolve was to install a secondary boarding ladder that could be removed when not in use and one that could also improve entry from the boat into the inflatable, without having to negotiate between the back stay and the rear entry gate. The need for better entry into the inflatable from the water was also put onto our list of safety issues to be addressed.

Beach snorkeling along the south entrance to Bahia Balandra at Isla Carmen, was as much as we could have hoped for. In addition to the ubiquitous Sargent-Majors and slow moving spotted puffer fish, we saw Rainbow Wrasses, King Angel fish, a large Morray eel swimming between rocky lairs and numerous schooling fish that we didn't know the identity. The water was clear and in the mid to upper 70's. It didn't take long for the sun to begin to be felt on our backs. We didn't push our exposure and made our way back to Citla before we turned pink.

During one of our beach excursions we managed to put a hole in our inflatable floor and lost all the air before being able to row back to Citla. We got out the repair kit that came with the dingy only to find the tube of glue that came with the kit had been completely used and put back into the kit prior to our purchase. The generosity and helpfulness of the cruising community came through for us. The Island Packet Otter, with Randy and Gayle aboard, had anchored in the bay that day. We had met them earlier in La Paz and had shared some drinks at Ciao's and then had wine aboard Citla and listened to the live music at The Dock Cafe in Marina de La Paz. Randy came by in his dingy to say hello and upon learning of our dilemma, offered to bring his two part glue along with methyl ethyl ketone (MEK). Within the day I had removed the deflated floor from the dingy, cleaned the area with sandpaper and MEK and then attached a double patch to the hole. The floor was reinstalled, inflated and it held air! That night, we had a wonderful barbecued dorado dinner on Otter and had the opportunity to sample some of Randy's home brew. A boat repair, dinner and home brew, what a treat!

After five days at Bahia Balandra we hoisted anchor with Otter and began the short trip back to Puerto Escondido. It was a glassy motor all the way back with the surface of the water being disturbed by an occasional bait ball and, the ever present, leaping rays. We also saw several smaller (4-8' across) manta rays swimming at the surface. Our fishing skill in the gulf remained untarnished, we trailed a lure, but without any luck.

We picked up a mooring ball in Puerto Escondido just past 1:30 in the afternoon. After taking care of the boat we motored to the dingy dock and took the opportunity to do a light provisioning at the store in Tripui. We also picked up another 20-liters of drinking water at the store at the Singular marina before motoring back to Citla. The following morning we left the mooring, topped off our fuel and water tanks and made the short trip across the channel to Isla Danzante and anchored in the center bight of Honeymoon Cove.

We spent the next two days at Honeymoon Cove. We rowed over to the northern cove and did some beach combing and swimming and Kathie also took a short hike along the rocky cliffs to view Citla anchored in the neighboring cove. We rowed back to Citla and spent the remainder of the afternoon talking with some folks who had rowed their inflatable and two kayaks over from their sailboat about a mile down the coast. We shared some cold beers for their trip back to their boat, before we discovered we were dragging. We pulled the anchor up and reset in about 45 feet of water. We held for the night and the following morning we began our return towards La Paz.

Rather than leaving towards the south and negotiating the shallows between Los Candeleros, we instead opted to round the northern end of Isla Danzante and pass between it and Isla Carmen to the east. The wind was non-existent and we motored. We arrived and anchored in the south cove of Agua Verde just past 1 p.m. We were happy to our anchoring neighbor to our south was the catamaran, Just A Minute, with Patrick, Laura, Jack and crazy Rudy, the golden lab, on board. We had been dock neighbors in Marina El Cid while we were in Mazatlan.

Having again been skunked fishing, we bought three lobsters from a local pangero and had lobster for dinner. It was the first 'elegant' dinner on board since the Seisun's had departed Citla at Loreto. We toasted Dennis and Verena as we began our feast. That evening we spent in the cockpit watching 11 year old Jack, on Just A Minute, swing around the mast, over the trampoline and to the other side of their boat on a homemade trapeze bar hung from a halyard. We watched the sun set behind the Sierra Giganta, before retiring to the cabin to do a bit of reading before a glass of wine and bed.

The following morning, all our anchor mates had departed (likely headed towards Puerto Escondido and Loreto Fest), the local fisherman had finished collecting their morning bait and we had the cove to ourselves. We took the opportunity to motor around the perimeter of the cove, chasing the schooling bait and watching the seagulls and pelicans sunning themselves on a tidal shelf before rounding Pyramid Rock to check out the village at Agua Verde. It took us about 20 minutes, after landing on the beach, to do a fairly complete circuit of the town. We stopped by the local tienda and picked up a couple of cold drinks and a few odds and ends. On our way to Citla, we were hailed by a couple on the ketch Apolima from Vancover, Canada. We spent about an hour chatting with them while having lemon aid before continuing on to our boat. We had a neighbor in the cove upon our return. We spent the remainder of the afternoon reading and enjoying the fresh air in the cockpit before evening wine, spirits and dinner.

Following a tip given to us by Patrick on Just A Minute, we sailed from Agua Verde south to the anchorage at Punta Prieta (Punta San Telmo, just north of Bahia Los Gatos). Save for a pangero and his two young sons who visited us in the early afternoon, we had the anchorage to ourselves. We launched the dingy and rowed ashore with our snorkeling gear. After doing some preliminary beach combing and admiring the geologic formations along the cliffs we went in for a swim. Again, once into the rocks, it was like swimming in an aquarium. Unlike the rocks at Bahia Balandra on Isla Carmen, there was an abundance of seaweed along the near shore rocks. As we swam into deeper water, we began seeing more sea urchins and as their numbers increased, the vegetation became less and less abundant until there were areas where the urchins had grazed the rocks bare. We headed back towards the beach and then out to the boat. I went over the side to clear the 90 lb test line from one of our drag lines from around the propeller shaft. We had forgotten to take the meat line in when we arrived at Punta San Telmo and had backed over the gear when we backed down on the anchor. With a sharp knife it took only minutes to clear the line from the shaft, but then another 20 minutes to struggle into the inflatable and then into the boat. We were about to the point of having Kathie row to shore with me following so I could get into the boat on the beach and then go back out to board Citla! Live and learn.

The following morning we reluctantly pulled up the anchor and continued heading south under main and motor. The wind was light and we were considering trying to make Bahia San Francisco on Isla San Francisco for our next anchorage. We sailed close to Bahia Los Gatos and also made a turn into shore to see Casa Grande at Timbabiche. As we approached Punta Nopolo, the wind picked up in the San Jose Channel and we began to sail. During a lull, I started the engine to discover we weren't getting raw water (seawater) through the cooling system and immediately shut the engine down. I checked the seawater strainer, allowed the boat to slow to allow any potential plastic bag covering the inlet grate to drop off and tried the engine once more; still no water flow. I killed the engine with in seconds of the second try. It now was obvious we needed to check and replace the raw water pump impeller. I felt confident, since I had brought three replacement kits with me that we'd be up and running within an hour. My mistake.

The raw water pump is located low on the port side of the engine, just forward of the starting motor and solenoid. The only access is through an 8"x12" cutout on starbord side of the quarter berth. Given the pumps location, low on the engine, below the alternator and heat exchanger the only way to reach the bolts holding the face plate of the impeller in place was with my left hand, reaching backwards and not having any room to see what I was doing (in the photo, my left finger, which is obscured by the raw water inlet and outlet hoses, is pointing to the raw water pump). All but one of the face plate bolts came out after about an hours struggle under sail. The last bolt was recalcitrant from the point of loosening all the way out. Once the face plate was off, I figured the rest would be easy. Again, live and learn!

With the pump head so close to the starter motor, there was no way to access the old impeller with any kind of pliers to remove it from the housing. It took a full 2-days to finally remove the old impeller. The tool of choice turned out to be a large fishing hook that was used to catch the rubber surrounding the bronze hub of the impeller and pulling on it. Even that took nearly six hours of work before the old impeller was coaxed off the impeller shaft and out of the pump housing. Now we were home free! Guess again!

Inserting the new impeller was pretty straight forward. Holding the new 'O'-ring in place was a bit more of a trick. After about three hours it looked as if we were finally there (of course for the last 36 hours we had been sailing and drifting down the San Jose channel, around Isla San Francisco, almost out to Isla Partida, nearly to the channel into La Paz harbor and then for the next 24 hours sailing a triangular pattern to keep us in the vicinity of La Paz while we continued to work on the pump). Down to the last bolt holding the face plate in place and we discovered why it had been so difficult to remove. The threads were bunged up and the bolt would not start. Not having a tap, I tried using a stainless steel bolt of the same size to chase the threads. I could not get it to start in the threaded hole either.

Close to exhaustion and frustrated to the limit, we decided to sail into Bahia Falsa, just west of Pinchilingue and anchor for the night to get some relatively uninterrupted rest. By sunset, we had set the anchor and settled in. Back winding the main apparently did not do an adequate job of setting the anchor. About an hour later we had drifted back far enough to touch the sandy bottom in the shallows. We immediately raised the main sail and I began pulling up the anchor while Kathie tacked the boat further out into the bay, where we reset the anchor in about 35 feet of water over sand. This time the anchor held and we spent a reasonable quiet night (save for the traffic from the ferry at Pinchilingue) on anchor.

The following morning, once the breeze filled in, with Kathie at the helm and me pulling the anchor, we sailed off our anchor and made our way into the bay and towards the channel entrance to La Paz. Sailing was good all the way to the first quarter of the channel. When we were off the new water park, the wind died and all we could rely on was the incoming tide. For the next 45 minutes we concentrated on keeping the boat headed into the channel and off of the shoal to our starboard and away from the beach and the rocks to our port. During that time we probably traveled about a half a mile due to the incoming tide before the wind picked up again and we were able to sail. We had made previous arrangements with the marina to meet us at the narrow entrance and provide a tow into our slip. By the time we got to the entrance to the marina, the tidal flow was at full flood and moving about 3-4 knots. Expecting the marina to use two tow boats, we were surprised to see only one to meet us.

We did a hard round up to weather around an anchored sailboat, did a quick tack followed by rolling in the genoa, dropping the main and passing a tow line to the work boat powered by a 60 hp outboard. Given the tidal rate and our momentum, now in reverse, it took the tow boat a good 100 feet before it could stop our backwards movement and begin making progress towards the marina entrance. Given the strength of the tidal flow and the fact that only one tow boat was used, the maneuvering was hairy, but between the tow boat and four other dock workers at the slip they managed to back Citla into the proper slip without colliding with any of the other boats.

We took the rest of the afternoon to cover the sails, run the halyards forward to keep them from slapping in the wind and unwind. The following morning, after an uninterrupted nights sleep, I took one more stab at fixing the pump. I had borrowed a fellow cruisers tap and die set to see if it could be used to chase the threads on the bad hole. I discover that it was a blind hole, that was shallow enough that the tapered tap wouldn't catch and realized the solution lay in removing the pump in its entirety. I was out of patience and was uncertain that I could manage to remove the pump, given the location and lack of working space. We opted to have Joel, one of the marina mechanics take a look at it to see if he could fix it.

Four hours later, after removing the alternator, jacking up the engine and removing the forward port engine mount, Joel was just barely able to remove the raw water pump. He took it up to the shop and a short time later, fully assembled, he reinstalled it, along with the motor mount and alternator. After cleaning old impeller debris from the outlet hoses and heat exchanger, we fired off the engine and after a bit of worry determined the new raw water pump was, indeed, moving salt water through the heat exchanger.

The remainder of the week was spent ordering a gunnel mounted boarding ladder to be used as a back up to the one on the swim step; through bolting the two swim step planks that came loose on the stern swim step when the self tapping screws were pulled out when I strained it with my weight (note the washer backed screw head bolts under the swim step on the aft two swim step planks); and having Rock Hard Dingy Repair finally repair the slow leak on the starboard tube and check a few of the other factory seems that were parting on our Achilles inflatable.

When it seemed we were making progress and things were looking up, we got word that Kathie's father, Vern, had suffered an episode of bracycardia and was admitted to the hospital in Santa Rosa. With a dearth of reliable information coming from Santa Rosa, we waited to hear from Chantal before making further plans. After hearing from Chantal, Kathie made the earliest connections she could to Santa Rosa. She spent nearly a week visiting with her father and talking to some of the people involved in his health care and well being. Having confidence in the owners and staff at the residential care facility he returned to after his hospitalization, Kathie returned to La Paz, via San Diego and Tijuana. While her father's health is unlikely to improve, he is being treated as an adult with compassion, patience and dignity at the care facility in Kenwood.

Between connecting flights from Santa Rosa to San Diego and then on to Tijuana, Nicole picked up a few items at Downwind Marine and handed them off to Kathie to bring with her to La Paz. We now have a supply of two part Hypalon adhesive for inflatable repair, along with a folding aluminum ladder for boarding the inflatable. We are very fortunate to have kids that are caring, giving and responsible to help us when needed. We're proud that each of them has turned out to be such responsible, self-sufficient and empathetic adults.

While the weather in La Paz has been heating up, we continue to prepare the boat for the return trip to San Diego. We picked up the gunnel mount boarding ladder and still need to install it. We also purchased four more diesel cans, bringing our total extra fuel capacity to 40 gallons. Once we identify a good weather window and hopefully have an extra crew or two to help with the bash back, we'll be off from La Paz on our way back to San Diego. That will be the subject of the next installment.

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