Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recent Upgrades and Musings on Compromises

While by no means having an unlimited budget for cruising, we're fortunate to be able to afford to make small upgrades to the boat to make our life aboard more comfortable. Last year, in addition to replacing our primary jib halyard with new, we struggled over a decision between solar panels or an auxiliary generator. We opted for the generator. We purchased a Honda EU 2000i based on its compactness, efficiency and relatively quiet operation. The final rationale was that it could provide reliable portable power, on the boat or off. The two biggest downsides to this decision have to do with the dependence on gasoline to provide this power. In addition to not being a green source of renewable energy, the inherent dangers of gasoline on a vessel is always a safety concern. While not being able to rationalize the first issue, we already have gasoline on board for the outboard for the tender, having a bit more for the generator doesn't significantly increase the safety considerations.

The second upgrade made this year was to the depth sounder. We had an old Signet digital depth, temperature and speed module which was beginning to suffer from dark areas on the screen, making it difficult at times to read the depth soundings. The old unit is no longer supported by Signet, so we opted to upgrade to the new SL 250 SmartPak base model that serves at its replacement. It provides the same data as the original model but is capable of being expanded (at a cost) to provide more data using the same base unit. For now, the depth, boat speed, log and water temperature data will satisfy our needs at this point.

The main sheet assembly and line is scheduled for replacement this time around. The traveller, itself, really could be upgraded and replaced, but that will probably have to wait until the boat is back in San Diego in a year or two. The line on the boom vang is nearing its replacement cycle. We're considering going with a rigid vang to eliminate our topping lift. This improvement may be postponed another year.

The final upgrade that is scheduled for this year is replacement of the rudder. For those of you who have read about our rudder delamination and rebuilding issues (see previous posts), the prudent solution at this juncture is to replace the defective rudder with new. Fortunately, the Foss Company in Newport Beach, California still manufactures rudders for our Cal 39 and we plan on using them to provide us with our replacement. Originally we were considering removing the old rudder at the time of haul out this summer and install the replacement when we return in the Fall. However, having the rudder swapped in and out at the same time seems to make more sense.

As was overheard one morning on the dock, the Cal 39 was never designed to be an off-shore cruising boat. It was one of the many compromises between a better than average (for its vintage) sailing boat with a modicum of creature comforts to allow for extended sailing. It wasn't designed with the necessary tankage of the true cruising designs to allow for long range motoring and it doesn't have the interior volume that seems to be considered a "must-have" for many of the retired cruising couples of today. It also doesn't have all the systems that many modern cruising boats are fitted with. However, as with most basic designs, it doesn't require a crew, electronic or hydraulic aids to be able to manage it under virtually all sailing conditions we could expect to encounter.

All boats are a compromise. As pointed out by the foppish comments shared by the self-appointed cruising guru on the dock, there are aspects of Citla that sets it apart from true cruising designs. The fuel capacity for one, is on the low side for most modern cruising designs. The Cal 39 carries just shy of 45 gallons of diesel. For most destinations, that is more than adequate given the boats sailing characteristics. However, bashing back up the Pacific coast of Baja California, against wind, waves and prevailing currents, I felt it prudent to expand my capacity. The compromise I chose was to carry an extra 40 gallons on deck to provide a margin of safety. Not the most elegant nor seaman-like solution (wave wash can tear out both the full fuel cans and stanchions) when compared to designed for cruising boats, but an inexpensive, temporary alternative. Aesthetically, it's not a particularly handsome addition, but it is practical and doesn't require compromises to sailing characteristics that a few of the cruising designs seem to fall prey (of which, the worse offenders are better suited as motor-sailors rather than true sail boats).

Another difference, one that always elicits a great deal of discussion (especially in crowded cruising grounds), is the choice of ground tackle. Chain has its place and advantages. Having all anchor chain usually requires less scope and, therefore, less swinging radius than all nylon rode or chain and rode combinations. Chain is also a superior choice when anchoring in sea beds of rock or coral, for its resistance to chafe. The draw back to using chain is its inherent weight. It doesn't take a very heavy anchor with very much chain before even the fittest of us require mechanical assistance to retrieve our ground tackle. That means the use of either a manual, mechanical or a combination windless. Keeping it simple when it comes to windless choice has its advantages. A manual or combination mechanical-manual unit will always allow for retrieval of your anchor. This isn't always the case with a pure mechanical unit. There are instances where these have malfunctioned rendering the boat unable to anchor, either due to not allowing the chain to be let out, or knowing that once it is released it cannot be easily retrieved. With a chain claw, a length of line and one of the deck winches this, too, can be overcome, but that solution wouldn't be something to look forward to each time it was time to anchor. The other inherent disadvantage to all chain for many modest boat designs is the weight it adds to the chain locker. Larger cruising boats with broader bow entries or chain lockers situated further aft of the bow can get away with carrying all chain without its weight contributing to hobby-horsing when under sail in anything but the smoothest of conditions, which significantly impacts sailing efficiency and boat speed (even under power).

At the other end of this issue are dinghy davits. Boats lacking proper buoyancy in the stern sections can be affected by weight carried aft. Fortunately, with the shift towards designing boats that more nearly resemble sailing dinghies, with their broad flat aft sections, this isn't such an issue. Boats with pinched or narrow stern sections, will be affected when hanging the weight of davits and a dinghy off the stern, again contributing to hobby-horsing and poor sailing performance.

When it comes to these two issues, we choose to be very "un-cruiser" like. Our two bow anchor rodes consist of 30 feet of chain each and 300 feet each of either 5/8" 6-plait or 5/8" three strand nylon. Our stern lunch hook has 20' of chain and 250 feet of three strand nylon. When not inflated, our dinghy lives next to the mast in the cabin. When inflated it either rides on the cabin top, forward of the mast or is towed behind the boat, without motor and oars. For either of these choices, whether all chain or dinghy davits, it's a matter of choice, functionality, safety and comfort. There are no hard and fast rules governing what can or should be done, as long as one is aware of the compromises. Unless you're going cruising with an unlimited budget, there is no "right" answer to most design issues; there are always acceptable solutions, each with its own associated set of compromises.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Nearly Upon Us

After a short sailing (rudder repair and waiting out the 'Northers') season, we returned home for taxes, births, weddings and graduations. It's time for us to return to Mexico and our sailing vessel, Citla.

 We return as proud grandparents (our first!) of a beautiful grandson, Archer. He was born on the vernal equinox, adding to our celebration of the first day of Spring!

We also have expanded our family through the wedding of our youngest daughter. The wedding took place on a beautiful day and portends of good things for the future.

The weekend following the wedding, we were treated to a visit by my wife's cousin and her husband, Michelle and Jim. They were in San Diego to attend the graduation of one of their grand-daughters from San Diego State University. We joined the proud parents, grandparents and friends for a delicious celebratory dinner in Old Town.

Summer is fast approaching, with already two named tropical storms in the eastern Pacific. It's getting warmer as the days pass and it is time for us to return to our boat and prepare it for time on the hard. We plan to leave Memorial Day weekend for La Paz. This should be another short trip, the primary purpose of which is to prepare the boat for summer. Time and opportunity permitting, we also hope to spend some time out at the islands before hauling the boat out of the water. This year, rather than leaving it in Puerto Escondido, we're opting to leave it in La Paz. The facilities at Puerto Escondido are excellent and the staff is friendly and helpful, but the protected location is also a distance from stores and chandleries. Loreto is the closest town for supplies and it's about 28 km to the north. This year we felt it would be more convenient to use the Singlar boat yard in La Paz.

Cruising plans remained as solid as always; we departed San Diego on Tuesday. The delay was a result of a sewing project to customize some inexpensive canvas tarps to serve as a boat cover when we leave our boat on the hard this summer. The old plastic tarps provided the pattern for the various cut-outs (e.g., mast, solar vents, cowls). All cut edges were hemmed with bias tape and 2" nylon webbing was used to reinforce all stress points. Grommets and Velcro were applied to provide attachment points to join the two tarps being used as the cover. A day late we began our drive south to La Paz late Tuesday morning.

As has become our habit, we split the drive three segments. The drive can be done in about 18 hours, if all goes well, but it isn't worth it. We generally try to leave in the morning to cross the border at Tijuana after all the commute traffic has subsided. We stop at Immigration and pick up our tourist permits and have our passports stamped and then head out of town, along the border fence, to Playas de Tijuana and south on the toll road to Ensenada. Given the price of gasoline in San Diego, we filled our tank south of Rosarito Beach for ~$2.85 a gallon. Our first overnight was at Jardines Hotel in the coastal farming community of San Quintin. The hotel has modern clean rooms and is surrounded by luscious gardens, both ornamental and vegetable. It is backed by an orange grove. There are water features in the main hotel garden and the birds seem to come from far and wide to enjoy this oasis.

We departed San Quintin in the morning to begin what is one of our favorite segments of the drive down Baja. We filled our tank in the coastal farming and fishing center of El Rosario before driving east and south into the desert. You leave the community of El Rosario, passing over a bridge that spans the Arroyo de El Rosario, before beginning the climb into the Cardon and Cirio forests to the south. This segment was punctuated with a "stretch" stop in Catavina with its' beautiful rock and boulder formations. We continued south towards the turn off on Mexico 1, to Baja de Los Angeles.

Proximity to Bahia de Los Angeles is first announced by the changing flora. One begins to see yucca trees, along with more Elephant trees. The next stop for us was the border town between the states of Baja California Norte and Baja California Sur (BCS) Guerrero Negro or Black Warrior. Besides being the entry to BCS, it is also famous for the eastern North Pacific population of California Gray whales, who both mate and give birth in the nearby lagoon of Ojo de Liebre or as it was subsequently named after the whaler who first discovered its bounty, Scammon's Lagoon. [As a side note, mid-February until early March are the best times to see these spectacular leviathans in the Lagoon] We made a quick stop for both gasoline and pesos before continuing south towards Loreto.

The continuation of our travels brought us through the date oasis village of San Ignacio. A stop here reveals a beautiful spring fed fresh water lagoon, a now nearly defunct date operation and one of the better restored missions of Baja California, founded by the Jesuits in 1728.

Driving south from San Ignacio brings us across the spine of Baja, down the steep, winding Tres Virgines grade and finally out to the western shore of the Sea of Cortez, just north of the historic mining town of Santa Rosalia the road continues down to the shoreline and then into the town. Rather than stop, we continue south, anxious to make it to the town of Loreto before sunset. The road continues south, mostly out of sight of the coast to the town located on the Mulege River, from which it takes its name. We continue on for several more kilometers south of town before stopping to refuel. A short time later brings us to one of the most spectacular bays along the western shores of the Sea of Cortez. While being developed at a rapid pace, the beauty of Bahia Concepcion still shines through. A little over an hour later finds us at Mike and Julie's Iguana Inn in the historical capital of Baja California Sur, Loreto.

After a great dinner at the Giggling Dolphin, a restful night at the Iguana Inn and a late morning breakfast, we were off for the final push into La Paz. The road leaving Loreto follows the coast on past the cruisers spot of Puerto Escondido (one of the best hurricane holes in the Sea) and then continues south and west up into the rugged Sierra de la Giganta. The rugged moutain scenery is a change from the relatively flat road that follows the Sea from Santa Rosalia to just south of Puerto Escondido. It finally breaks out onto the coastal plane along the Pacific Ocean and heads south through the two farming communities of Constitucion and Villa Insurentes. The ride southward is through coastal desert until it turns east once again to meet the Sea of Cortez just north of the capital city of La Paz. We arrive in the late afternoon with the temperature in the high 90's and the blue skies matched by the azure color of the Sea of Cortez.

At last we're at our home away from home, the sailing vessel Citla. In our absence the boat has collected enough desert dust to qualify it as a floating farm. An hour of scrubbing with the boat brush and water and it looks like our boat again. The challenge now is to locate local talent to drop our old rudder and install the new replacement when it arrives. This will all take place in a couple of weeks when we pull the boat out of the water for hurricane season. In the mean time, we hope to have a couple of good days of sailing before hanging it up for the summer.