Fixing things in interesting places

OK, it’s a boat – on to the next issue to fix… yesterday the refrigeration system went into ‘Unit short cycling’ mode and the compressor ceased pumping heat out of the ice box.  This is not so good when going to a warm place.   The give-away was when I opened the ice box and noticed the ice cube trays were no longer containing ice but now containing slushy water.  That’s not good!

What ensued is an amazing (to me) ability to troubleshoot a system remotely, with extremely helpful refrigeration folks.

The problem, in simple terms, is the LED trouble light on the Adler Barbour Super Cold Machine began to flash 3 times, with an adjacent annotation stating this means ‘Unit short cycling’.  This means that power is coming on to the unit when the thermostat clicks over to ‘run’, the control box clicks over to apply power to the DC->AC inverter mounted to the exterior of the compressor shell, and the refrigerant compressor inside the shell starts up.  In a ‘short-cycle’ situation the compressor fails to start, the control box detects this and then turns the unit off, waits 30 seconds, and tries again.  When the second start-up fails, the unit starts flashing its 3 flashes and tries again.  This will go in forever, and nothing useful is happening.

Egad! – this is not good, I think to myself.  Actually, I rather think I said this out loud.  The last time this happened was in the Octopus Islands of British Columbia, and the fix involved replacing the DC -> AC inverter (Danfoss 101N0210) and all was good.  Where to find one of those?  And is it the problem?

I have heard over the VHF cruiser’s net that Fresco Refrigeration periodically checks in, so there must be a refrigeration person in the area.  I eventually find a reference to Don at Fresco Marine on another website – belonging to Mexicolder, which it turns out is Michael, an English ex-pat living in Mazatlan (up the road a ways in Mexico), he’s been in marine refrigeration for 40 years and has designed his own entire system (that’s the Mexicolder unit).  Michael and I exchanged several telephone calls and emails, and he gave me instructions for hings to check before buying another DC -> AC inverter from him (he has all these parts sitting in workshop, which is amazing).

Step 1: what’s the voltage throughout the system?  Start from the battery, through the circuit breaker, to the control box, to the upper two pins on the 101N0210.  Any significant voltage drop means there’s a bad connection that must be replaced.  I checked, everything is good.

Step 2: what’s the resistance (Ohm reading) across the 3 pins going into the compressor shield?  This indicates the state of the windings/coils in the compressor, and if one winding is broken it will show a wildly different resistance, and plugging a new DC -> Inverter into a damaged compressor will fry the DC -> AC inverter.  I remove the control box (two machine screws), remove the DC -> AC inverter (one screw and a difficult to pull three-pin plug), and get out the multimeter.  Readings are 2 ohms, 2 ohms, and 2.2 ohms – all within tlerance.  So the compressor is good.

Step 3: check the fuses.  There are 3, two obvious ones in front that are fine, one hidden one inside the control box that is fine.  Resistance shows good continuity through them, no fuses are broken.  So the fuses are good.

Michael points out that he is in Mazatlan, and I should talk with Don May in Nuevo Vallarta – he’s the local Adler Barbour fellow and will be able to help me out.  Don’s email is on Michael’s website… so I write to Don.

Don writes back.  I describe the symptoms, he thinks for a bit and does some research, and works out that because the compressor was working right up until the unit went into short-cycling, the most likely cause is water in the refrigeration that has frozen and formed a temporary plug in the refrigerant piping, the compressor can’t turn, the whole thing stops.  I let the unit rest for the afternoon and evening, that should allow any frozen water to warm up and turn back into liquid water – this would be a good test for frozen water issues.

This morning I fired up the refrigeration and voila! – it is working exactly as it should.

The fix, in this case, is to get the water out of the refrigerant.  The currently-used R134a and oil is hygroscopic, meaning they will absorb water, and in Don’s experience water gets into the Adler Barbour units through the Schrader filling valve.  The older R12 and mineral oil is not hygroscopic, and the change to R134a is problematic.   To remove the water what one does is pull a vacuum on the system, exchange the refrigerant, and insert a filter/dryer into the line.

Also turns out that Don is getting older and trying to do less work, so he doesn’t want to make the drive up to Marina La Cruz, and he points me to Scott Powers as the refrigeration tech that services Marina La Cruz, and I have Scott’s cell phone number now.  If Scott is unavailable, I can bring Beetle across the bay to Nuevo Vallarta marina and Don can do the work there.

What’s amazing to me is that I’m sitting here in Mexico with a somewhat marine-specific problem, and in less than four hours I’ve trouble-shot the system with an English ex-pat, and American, both of which are very experienced marine refrigeration folks (exactly what I need), all the parts are readily available, and we’ve got a plan to fix things.  Everyone has been incredibly helpful and detailed with what/where/ how to check/test things.  Try doing that on a Friday afternoon in the big city!

Next up is to talk with Scott on the phone; he’s up in  Punta Mita, and either he has time to come over to the boat with his vacuum pump and knowledge to exchange the refrigerant, or else I’ll be talking with Paradise Village Marina and Nuevo Vallarta Marina to see if they an accommodate Beetle come Monday morning.

And right now the fridge is running.  I wrote down the start time, and will keep an eye on the unit to see when it decides to freeze up and go back into short-cycle mode.

Rather than get upset about having a new problem, I simply had to decide that I have a boat and boats like to present interesting things to fix.  Can’t really complain, this is a darn nice place to be while fixing things.

Also – the outboard motor has now been run in (got 25 hours on the engine), so today it’s time to replace the engine oil and lower gear case lube.  That will be fun!

– rob

Turtle Spotting Success!

One thing I’ve noticed is that the turtles observed have been early morning turtles, and by the time the 8:30AM cruiser’s VHF radio net completes by 9AM I can expect the breeze to arrive within the hour, the wind churns up the water’s surface, and the turtles don’t seem to be floating about to be spotted.  This morning I decided to try out pre-cruiser’s-net departure for getting hours on the motor by leaving the marina at 7AM, figuring I could try listening in to the net via the handheld VHF radio I carry.  I also did some pre-departure turtle-studying  to see if there was a particular time that turtles like to sleep; turns out there isn’t, at least that I found.  Given a lack of information I decided that turtles must prefer calm water to waves and perhaps the turtles will read this and get the idea of when they should be floating around for spotting purposes.

Off I went, water was flat, breeze light, and I ran the dinghy several miles across towards the middle of the bay.  It’s out here that I’ve seen the other turtles, which are definitely easiest to spot when the water is not ruffled with wind.  After an hour of running about during which I found a floating coconut, retrieved an errant yellow balloon, and watched the frigate birds and terns pick fish out of the water (terns dive straight into the water like a missile and come up with a wriggling fish, while the frigate bird is super careful to stay dry and flies slowly just above the water to then reach down delicately with its long beak to snatch a fish from the surface) – I still hadn’t found a turtle.  I turned towards shore, and …

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The strange shape of two turtles on the water – at first I thought it might be a stick or tree or unusually-shaped plastic tarp, all of which have appeared here…

At that point I came across TWO turtles – WOW!  They looked odd, and when I got closer I realized they were mating, with the male on top of the female, he’s holding onto the female’s carapace edge with a large claw that extends from the leading edge of the front flipper.  The imbalance of weight makes the two turtles float kind of sideways in the water, somewhat like a dish plate on edge, which is not the position one expects to find turtles in. – normally they are flat and right side up.  I turned off the motor and floated nearby and got out my camera.  The female kept her head above the water continuously and was paddling slowly with her left front flipper, the male mostly laid his head across her neck and left shoulder, and he would only occasionally raise his head for air.

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The turtles look completely ungainly when one is trying to hang on to the back of the other, especially when the one underneath works to keep the nostrils up so they can get air.

With her paddling the pair of turtles performed slow pirouettes in the water, and I drifted nearby with the outboard turned off and took pictures.  The turtles didn’t seem to mind my presence, and I was careful to avoid making noise that might disturb them.

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From behind you can see the right flipper of the male is holding on to the females right shoulder/carapace – so turtle flippers must have some dexterity, kind of similar to a seals flipper.

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Got to hang on tight if your mate has a slippery shell and you don’t have fingers.

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These turtles have a large claw or fingernail on the front flipper; turns out it is helpful for hanging on to the female’s carapace.

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All done, hanging out on the surface. This is what turtles normally look like, which makes the dark shape in the water stand out from the background calm water.

After 35 minutes (during which I could listen to the morning VHF net) the turtles separated abruptly, then lay on the surface near each other for several minutes.  Perhaps they were tired?  At this point one of the turtles descended and swam over to the dinghy, where he (or she) spent several minutes circling around beneath the dinghy while staying the dinghy’s shadow.  Several times the turtle came up and gave the dinghy a careful inspection – I was wondering if this turtle was going to try giving the dinghy a nibble to see if it was tasty; at least that didn’t happen, which is a good thing as it would be hard to explain if one was sunk by turtles.  Then the turtle swam down and away.

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Good thing sea turtles don’t like to eat rubber dinghies. This one spent several minutes swimming around under the boat, and while never quite touching boat, definitely came up within inches to study things.

The second turtle remained on the surface, and then swam over to the dinghy and made several slow circles around the boat while remaining on the surface.  He (or she) checked out the stern tube, examined the motor (which wasn’t running at all), did that for several minutes, then turned head down and shot straight down and out of sight.

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Turtle Two coming over to see what’s happening on the grey rubber thing that’s been watching them.

Overall I spent about an hour with the turtles, and it was wonderful to watch them!

When I got back to Beetle I found that there aren’t many species of sea turtle, yet identifying which particular one you have seen is quite difficult if it isn’t a gigantic Leatherback.  I discovered through the Club Cruceros (the La Paz Cruiser’s Club) that there is a turtle-spotting group as part of Pro Fauna Baja, headed by Stephanie.  I sent an email to her with some of the pictures and got an immediate response: these are Olive Ridley sea turtles (the more common sea turtles in this area), and she was quite glad to have the date/time/location/activity report for the turtles.  So I imagine my two turtles are now part of a larger dataset for turtle behaviors!

 

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It’s important to learn your turtles – this may come in handy some day in a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances!

 

Turtle-Spotting can be fun!

– rob

 

Turtle-Finding Expeditions

It’s been a second week here in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and I’ve been in need of running in the replacement outboard motor.  The motor itself has a specific run-in schedule that calls for 10 hours of operation at varying-but-not-full speed, and it seems fairly silly to be simply running circles round the anchored fleet just outside the marina.  To that end I’ve been engaging in my own private Turtle Spotting Expeditions, as we have turtles here in Banderas Bay, they like to float on the surface of the water and sleep (or rest, not sure if sea turtles truly sleep while at sea), I have a dinghy that is useful for transport to said turtles, so my job: Spot Them.  First day I found two, Sunday I found one plus two small rays just below the surface, and yesterday I spotted one but he spotted me first and quickly dived down.  Score so far: Turtles 1, Me 3.

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The awning is up, that’s 20 feet of sunbrella that reaches from the shrouds to the H-frame, and it works a treat for shading the deck in the hottest part of the afternoon when the sun is directly overhead. The awning is supported vertically by three lines lead up to the main halyard, and horizontally by three collapsible aluminum poles, with rope ties at the front end back. I like that it doesn’t bear on the mainsail cover, and is high enough that I can walk under it for doing things on the foredeck – no crouching to crawl along beneath the cover.

The amount of chop on the water makes a significant difference in how pleasant it is to run the dinghy, and 8″ of chop is all it takes to make one not want to be on plane.  When I hit 10 hours of dinghy run time I could operate the outboard at full speed; that’s when I brought out the handheld GPS to see what kind of speeds the dinghy was running at.  At idle we’re doing 2.5 knots, on step the boat is running 5.5 knots, and when on plane the speed jump ups to 10 (and that’s around quarter throttle with just me in the dinghy).  At 10 knots it’s super fun to be zipping along in flat water and getting places; at 10 knots it’s no fun to hit a small wave is now a speed bump!

The small chop is generated by the wind, we don’t have a larger  pressure-driven system driving the breeze and instead we have the afternoon thermal as the land heats up faster than the water, air over the land rises, that creates a vacuum to draw in air from the ocean, and Voila! – instant wind.  Before the thermal kicks in Banderas Bay is quite nice and flat – that’s when I zip out in the dinghy, up and out early to put another 90 minutes on the motor.  And that’s when I started my Turtle Expeditions.  Unfortunately on my first Turtle Expedition I did not bring my camera (and this is NOT the new camera, but rather the Olympus with an underwater housing); this morning I brought along the Olympus  but the turtle I found was not in the mood for appearing in pictures as he dove when I approached (clearly this turtle had not read instructions as regards how to appear in pictures).

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Somehow I doubt that putting on Carlo Marioni sunglasses will instantly make one look like this – got to love advertising!

Today I should be picking up my new dark glasses from Optica Cristal and Dra. Alama Martinez Figueroa over in Bucerias.  There are some things here in Mexico that make life here much less expensive than in the States; one of them turns out to be prescription dark glasses.  To obtain new glasses usually means having the Optometrist do an eye exam and prescription determination ($60-100), the frames can be $250, and the lenses can be another $250 – I get the lenses super-dark (95% light block), UV A-B filters, anti-scratch, anti-glare coatings in high-refraction plastic.  I visited Dra Figueora, she spent 20 minutes with me going through several interesting machines to determine what my prescription might want to be.  First machine is a computer into which one looks, and the small camera is measuring the shape of the inside of the eyeball, the computer thinks a bit, then adjusts some lenses and suddenly the image you’re staring at intently goes in to focus – darn neat.  Then Alma brings out a pair of aluminum frames with lots of verniered measurements and controls on them and starts to fit in various lenses from a big wood case containing several hundred lenses; these can be combined to achieve various results, along with smaller paddles for astigmatism control (the right eye is slightly astigmatic).  After lots of ‘First, or Second’ as she swaps in lenses, we arrived at the best prescription for me.  Lastly, she takes my existing glasses and mounts them on another small optical device that enables her to determine the prescription built into those lenses.  All quite interesting – and she didn’t charge me for the work.

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Though General MacArthur liked his Ray Bans – he’s on the right, wearing… the Aviators. I suspect that wearing Ray Bans will not make one an instant General, either.

Armed with the new prescription, she and I go out to front of her store to look at frames; she runs a fairly high end designer oriented eyeglass shop, so lots of elegant fancy frames to choose from if you like interesting colors and strikingly-shaped lenses.  This is a bit tough when what I’m going after is Aviator tear-drop frames that maximize light blockage from the side; we settled on Carlo Marioni Solares metal frame, and Alma pointed out these were fairly expensive frames.  I asked her what the cost would be and she said $150 for frames and lenses combined; at that point  I aid, “In that case, I want two!”  She was surprised, and then we learned that she didn’t have a second matching frame and couldn’t get one fast enough, but she did have Ray Ban Aviator frames (but not in Grande size).   The frames she had in hand were a little small, but she could get Grande frames quickly – so that became the second pair of sunglasses.  All up?  $300 US for two pair excellent prescription sun glasses.  Pretty amazing.  I visit her on Tuesday to test-fit.

Yesterday was a major holiday here in Mexico: it’s the celebration of Benito Juarez’s birthday.  This is a big big deal here, much along the lines of the USA idea of George Washington’s birthday.  Mike at PV Sailing mentioned that we’re going to see a lot of big power boats that go out once or twice a year – they will be running around Bandears Bay on Monday.  They also like to run into things, such as rocks, as they don’t go out very often and the skippers don’t always know the bay that well and the charts don’t show all the rocks.   We already have three big boats (30 meters and up) out in the anchorage, lots of aquatic toys on leashes from the stern – jet skis, 20 foot runabouts, paddle boards, it sort of looks like a slightly smallified version of Boats International in the Med.

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Double-braid eye splices are kind of like magic, cover goes into core and core goes into cover, which looks like it not ought to work. But when you pull slide the cover back up onto the splice everything slides away and becomes hidden inside the line, leaving behind a loop that can carry 90% of the line’s breaking load.

On board Beetle I’ve been doing a couple of preparatory things for heading over the Marquesas, one of which was to ask Mike at PV Sailing/North Sails to renew the spreader weawr patches on the no. 2 genoa, he did that plus repaired a bit of chafed foot tape where the sail lays across the bow pulpit and wrapped a bit of sticky-back around a wear spot on the luff tape.  The no. 2 is back on board.  Other thing I’ve done is add leather chafe-guards to the running rigging that gets put through the spinnaker pole jaw.  Normally the only thing that gets there are the afterguys, and I sometimes will run the jib sheet through the pole when poling out the headsail, and the same is true for the spinnaker sheets if I want to get the sheet outboard of the lifelines.  I called up Todo Vela Marine and while they didn’t have pre-punched leather guards, they did have sheet leather available that they will cut to size, so I bought 2 square feet cut to 10″ width.  I end-for-ended the spinnaker sheets, which involves cutting the old eye splice to free the snap shackle, and using lots of soap made a new double braid eye splice on the sheet tail – worked great!  The after guys are more complicated than the sheets, so I can’t end-for-end the guys; instead I trimmed back the worn guy 12″ and then spent four hours muscling 14″ of spectra singlebraid back into itself to make up the new eye splice.  That was a lot of work, as that section of line has been extremely highly loaded for a long time – not easy to do as the spectra had stretched and set – it did not want to unset.  Glad I have a bench vise on board as I used it for pulling against when fiddling the core back into itself.  Also helps to soak the line in soapy water with a bit of hair conditioner added – anything to help free up the strands and make them semi-slippery again is a good thing.

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Following instructions is critical, as the finished splice has about one line-diameter of error available (1/2″, in this case). Samson Cordage has a special eye splice to be used on ‘old’ rope (e.g., line that has set), that one can find online. Lots of intently studying instructions on the computer then going back to work on the splice.

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Beetle turns into a rig shop for the afternoon. On the table is the leather material being turned into hole-punched chafe guards, calculator to work out width (diameter) of flat leather to fit around the line, and the block of wood is a hunk of end-grain 4×6 I use as a soft base for setting metal eyes and (in this case) punching holes in the leather with the awl.

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The vise is perfect to pull against as it is strongly fixed to the work bench, especially for the spectra singlebraid eye splice happening here. Lots of soap and string and bits of wire fed through the cover to pull the core back in. Later on I soak the finished splice to remove the soap.

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Finished product. Three new eye splices! That’s spinnaker sheets on the left, chafe gear on the jib sheets with their J-locks in the center, and the after guys to the right. That ought to hold up to the spinnaker pole jaws.

So now it is Tuesday morning, I have 16.5 hours on the motor, a cleaned up interior what with all the splicing and chafe-guarding tools put away, the snap shackles have all been polished and lubricated and work a treat now.

We had a bit of excitement out in the anchorage during the week – one of the boats broke free of their anchor during the afternoon thermal breeze and 2-3′ chop and started through the anchorage headed for the beach.  Almost immediately the call came in over the VHF from an adjacent boat: ‘Attention the fleet.  Attention the fleet.  A boat is loose, headed for the beach.  Anyone have a dinghy ready to go that can assist?’  Six dinghies launched and people shot over to the boat.  Recovery was complicated because the boat was just dragging anchor, it had in fact lost the anchor entirely when the nylon rode cut through on something sharp in the water.  I had met the owner when he was up the dock from Beetle while visiting his friend on Iwa, he’s younger German named Manuel, he has just bought the boat in Mexico (currently named Stay Gold – he wasn’t sure what that name was all about) , he’s renaming the boat to Farra only he pronounces that Fadda over the radio, he wasn’t aboard when the anchor line cut and nobody knew where he was.

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This is what happened to the cold-moulded Rage when it dragged through the anchorage and spent two days pounding on the rocky beach/reef to the lee of the anchorage. Nobody wants this to happen to anyone’s boat.

Mike of PV Sailing immediately got on the VHF and started to sort things out with the Port Captain and Marina La Cruz, working on getting permission from the Port Captain to go aboard and tow the boat in (plus he had to find a panga with a big enough motor to make the tow as the dinghies weren’t powerful enough to tow Stay Gold/Farra against the chop and wind), and getting permission from the marina to put the boat into a slip.

Out in the anchorage one cruiser arrived with their spare 45 pound CQR anchor, another brought over a spare anchor line (though no chain), and the group proceeded to re-anchor the errant boat.  Mike got things worked out and appeared with a panga running a 60 HP outboard, got some help from the folks now clambering over Stay Gold, retrieved the loaned anchor and into the marina the procession went.  About this time Manuel comes down the dock and says, “What are you doing with my boat?!?”  All is well that ends well, in this case Manuel was offered the loan of the big CQR anchor for the night, a second cruiser gave him 150′ of older slightly-rusty chain, and it was strongly suggested that he not anchor in close to the beach even though the row ashore is short, as there are lots of dead cars, sunk boats, old engine blocks and rusty pots and traps down there – better off to be out in 30 feet of water away from all that even if it is a longer trip to shore.  And the next morning the folks onboard Scuba Ninjas ran transects on the bottom and recovered Manuel’s lost anchor for him.

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The commercial side of the marina, all the fisherman Pangas are tied up in front of the fish market. These boats go out most days with 3-5 people on board and run all over the place, picking up lobster trap contents, checking or setting nets, and some will run out 30 or more miles to see what was caught last night. They go really fast with the 60-90 horse motors.

Last night the restaurants were in top form, one had even blocked off a street to set up tables out in the roadway and had a temporary stage in place for the band.  Lots of rock and roll here – almost all are cover bands.

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Most of the streets in La Cruz are real cobblestone, which is not at all as smooth as one might think. The bouncy ride means that the entire street is one large speed bump, which definitely keeps the traffic speed down. Lining the roadway with stone is a huge improvement over dirt or gravel, as the cars don’t throw lots of dust in the air as they go by.

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The fancy houses are down near the beach (note no cobblestone, these are simple dirt roads over here), the houses are set behind big solid walls and have lawns and lots of landscaping, flowers, and green plants. The leaf cutter ants particularly like this road.

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The band is starting up at the restaurant’s tables set up in the street. This is one of the fancier eateries in town, though I haven’t been in this one as I tend to go for simpler tacos on the smaller places that abound here.

So last night we had the dulcet tones of the various cover bands at the various clubs in town were wafting out over the marina (currently it’s Rolling Stones seguing into Johnny Cash).

Today it is nice and calm – perfect for Turtle Expedition No. 4!

– rob

 

Beetle has a Mercury outboard motor now

I’ve been here in La Cruz for about a week now, and one important thing has happened – I was able to source a replacement outboard motor through Zaragazo Marine, located right down the road in Puerto Vallarta.  I also found that Nic/Iolanthe is back in town and we went out for some good dinner foods, Alan/Sequoia is here as well.  And the marina is an interesting place to be.  Here’s the calendar – as you can see, nothing happens here!

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Monday morning I was at the Port Captain’s office to check in to La Cruz, the funny part is he has you sign copies of forms, he stamps lots of forms, and then hands you most of the forms you just signed and he just stamped – they are for my records.  Normally when you sign something you give it to someone else to keep; in this case I get to keep most of what I signed.

Next upp is the Marina Riviera Nayarit office to check in, lots of forms and same signing of documents, many of which I get to keep.  At least everything in signed (usually in triplicate, sometimes in quadruplicate).

Rest of the morning was on the telephone and exchanging email with Mexican Customs brokers, engine manufacturers, and engine distributors in the USA and Mexico.  I learned a couple of things: the generic cost to bring an outboard-motor-sized box across the border to Puerto Vallarta is $450, this involves at least a week of organizing to get the Aduana (Mexico Government Customs folks) paperwork in order such that I can import a motor without paying the 16% VAT, and this only works because I have a Temporary Import Permit for my boat and my boat is in transit and will exit the country – thus I’m not actually importing a motor into Mexico.

I learned that the Mercury 9.9 4 stroke is a Tohatsu 9.8 4 stroke engine wrapped in Mercury’s exterior stickers, and Mercury makes some changes exterior to the engine: different tiller handle configuration, different clamp to the dinghy, and different carburetor.  I talked with Jean Michael at Tohatsu USA and he said there wasn’t a Tohatsu dealer in Puerto Vallarta, but he knew a guy name Charley in Miami that handled Tohatsu imports to Central America, and if anybody would know how to get a Tohatsu to Mexico it would Charley – and Jean Michael gave me Charley’s email and phone numbers.  The Tohatsu distributor in Mexico is Fecego Marine in Vera Cruz, they primarily work with 2 stroke motors (louder, less fuel efficient, more polluting than 4 stroke motors), they didn’t have the motor I wanted.

I still particularly wanted to stay with Tohatsu as my spare parts (spark plugs, fuel filters, propellers, service manuals) all relate to the Tohatsu.  That’s when Charley wrote back saying that yes, he could get a motor to me, and no, I didn’t want him to do that as it would take too long and cost too much, the tax savings wouldn’t be there – what I should do instead was go over to Zaragoza Marine and buy a Mercury 9.9 4 stroke, that’s the Tohatsu motor and exactly what I want and it’s exactly where I am.

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Zaragoza is a big store, they’re a water sports store so somewhat similar to Cabela’s. They have fishing gear, kayaks, dinghies, a marine parts department, fiberglass, and also happen to carry the entire line of Mercury 4 stroke outboards. I’m really lucky to have this kind of resource located nearby.

I got lucky with Zaragoza, there’s a fellow there named Gonzalo (he’s in the marine hose department) and he has English!  He had the motor, I should come over, ask for him, he can make the purchase happen.  So I shot over to the store in a wonderful taxi ride that included a running commentary on all the construction that’s been happening, where each bank is (there are no banks or ATMs in La Cruz, you have to go 15 minutes down the ‘highway’ to Bucerias to find the Banamex ATM in the Mega store))

Gonzalo helped me through the store, we found the motor, he had the box for the motor out on the floor for me, we sourced the correct engine oil, and he walked me through the purchase and registration process for the engine (this involved going upstairs to the back room accounting department girl to transfer fill out forms and transfer funds).  In Mexico you do not register the dinghy but you do register the motor, as in each outboard motor has the equivalent of USA Department of Motor Vehicles Title paperwork, all very official.  I was wondering how to get the gigantic box back to the marina when Gonzalo said, “No – you don’t take the motor now, our mechanic will deliver it to you at your boat and he will verify service on the motor, test run it for you, and show you what you need to know.  There is no additional cost for this, that’s just how it is done.”   Wow! – now that ‘s service!

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The Vallarta Yacht Club is located at Paradise Village Marina, a 35 minute taxi ride in from La Cruz, and as far as I am aware it’s THE big yacht club in Banderas Bay. They have an active youth sailing program, and hosted the Pacific Puddle Jump gathering. It looks small on the outside, it’s a lot bigger from the inside.

After two hours with Gonzalo it was off to Vallarta Yacht Club to sit in on the Pacific Puddle Jump send-off meet & greet hosted by Andy Turpin and Latitude 38 – lots of fun, first good opportunity to meet some of the people that will be heading out across the pond towards the Marquesas.  And then it was back to the boat with the folks from Spill The Wine (I imagine this must be a monohull, as multihulls ought not to heel sufficiently to spill wine).

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And here’s Andy! – he’s tacking pictures of the folks on each boat headed out to French Polynesia. He also announced that hopefully this was the last year he would be hosting the party, as next year he wants to be where we are so he can make the jump in his own boat. Wonderful fellow!

Tuesday morning the mechanic arrived with the motor in his rattle trap pickup truck, he doublechecked everything, added oil, mounted the motor on the dinghy, fired it up, he walked me through the engine, then we went for a test spin in the marina – everything is perfect, I’m good to go.

There’s a local dinghy repair shop operating here on the dock, they use a large sportfishing boat in immaculate condition as their base.   Those guys pointed out to the mechanic to make sure I knew I had to run-in the engine slowly and change the oil immediately afterwards (I already knew this, and it was great to see the locals helping out the cruisers).  Apparently having a brand new outboard delivered to the dock is something of a novelty, many people commented on how nice a new engine is and to make sure I would take care of it.

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Here’s the mechanic setting up the new motor. There are two mechanics in town, and ‘the Mexican’ is the preferred mechanic for outboards. Here he is, setting up the new outboard – it works great!

I’ve used the motor to restock the diesel fuel burned during the run down from Bahia Santa Maria (45 gallons), and have been out doing laps around the cruiser’s anchorage located outside the marina.  It’s fairly expensive to be in the marina, there’s a lot going on here (showers, food store, small fresh water pool, two high end restaurants, a jam-packed social calendar, laundry service), and many folks will use the marina as a place to go to once or twice a month for a day or two, and spend the rest of the time out in the anchorage as it’s less expensive.  I have to log 10 hours of engine run time before the motor is run-in, and so far I’m up to 4 hours.  That’s a lot of hours going in large circles.  The best time to do circles is in the morning, before the afternoon thermal breeze comes in – the water is very flat and it’s easy to go zooming along less than 1/2 throttle at varying speeds for two hours, and now I’m on 3/4 throttle at varying speeds for 7 hours (6 hours to go).  Yesterday, while out zooming around, a pair of humpback whales came up nearby so I slowed down and watched them for some minutes – they are really big when you’re in a little dinghy.

Today is Friday, Kristen is due in this afternoon at the Puerto Vallarta airport, it will be fun to have her onboard for the weekend.  Beetle is all vacuumed and cleaned up, do need to get more hours on the little outboard, all is good on board.  Next week will be sorting out replacement prescription dark glasses.

Enjoy the day!

– rob

At ease in Marina La Cruz

Beetle is here in Marina La Cruz (aka Marina Riviera Nayarit), and it’s pretty nice here.  Friend Nicholas’ boat Iolanthe is literally four slips up the way from me, which is weird as last time I think I saw Iolanthe was at anchor off Chacala some two years ago, and Iolanthe looks more or less the same as I remember.  I haven’t actually run into Nicholas himself in person yet, but I hope to do so soon.

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The marina at La Cruz is concrete docks, and the slips are double-wide with two boats in each ‘slip’. This actually works to the marina’s advantage, as really wide mulithulls can come in and they simply occupy the entire width. I wonder if multihulls get charged double-width for being so much like an aircraft carrier?

Upon arrival one is supposed to call up the Marina La Cruz harbormaster on VHF 16, then will switch you over to a working frequency, and in theory some folks will meet you at the slip they’ve assigned to you.  No such luck in my case, I got in, turned around and spent some time getting the mainsail down, running rigging put away, fenders and docklines out – it takes a while when you’re by yourself.  I motored in thru the breakwater entry, called to the Harbormaster and… no response.   Well, it’s Mexico, I figure, no big deal.  The lady I had spoken to earlier on the telephone (from 5 miles out, to confirm that I was actually here in Banderas Bay as opposed to some 400+ miles away in Bahia Santa Maria) indicated that my slip was on the south side of the dock – she was incorrect.  I set up all my fenders for a port side bow in south dock landing – and the slip in fact is on the north side of the long dock, so I ended up backing in stern-to in the slip rather than do the run-around of reversing everything.  I must go discuss ‘south’ vs ‘north’ with the office tomorrow (Sunday) morning.

My first attempt at the landing missed slightly, the docks do not necessarily have any vinyl cushioning strips around the edges, and I was drifting in sideways to the pointy corner of the dock; a quick push off the vertical post holding the dock in place kept me clear of that and two fellows that were working away on cleaning a beautiful big J-boat came running over to help.  I went out and backed in, got the boat in this time with their help, and we’re here.

About the first thing that happens is I discover Nicholas’ Iolanthe is just up the dock – only it works out here’s not there.  Lucie telephones that she and Ben are shopping for a replacement stolen laptop, I commiserate, and she’s it’s no problem, everybody is OK after a car crash into a tree… and upon emptying the car contents she realized a laptop is missing but everyone is fine.  I shall learn more tonight, sounds not so good.

About this time Stan and Sally Honey come wandering by, they’re headed over to ‘Stray Cat’ to bone up on southern-Mexico places to leave their Cal 40 Illusion for the summer as they’re interested in Guatamala, and suddenly in their way is Tiger Beetle.  Fun to see Stan, he and Sally look great.  I’m using his software to control the autopilot under sail, and we talked about this a bit, it all works great.

Then I learn from one of the immaculately white-shirted dock-fellows that the marina office is closed, is also closed on Sunday, and how many gate keys did I need?  I asked for two, an hour later he was back with two.

Jeanne/Nereida rang up on the VHF and we decided to meet for dinner at Ballena Blanco (the White Whale) at 6:30pm – and we did.  Jeanne brought along three boatloads of Canadians (got to watch out for Canuckistans!), and we had a super sit-down taco dinner at the restaurant.  The restaurant is a courtyard with no roof, an old speedboat mounted on blocks is the bar, and the food was tasty: two shrimp tacos and a fish taco, two Pacificos – bill was $170 pesos.   Try doing that in Alameda!

I learned more about the Pacific Puddle Jump (PPJ), which is a big talking point around here at at the moment.  The puddle jump is the loosely-coined term for boats departing North America for French Polynesia, and many of the boats are gathering here specifically to make that hop (including Beetle!).  I was sitting across from Deb& Phil/Coastal Drifter, and she’s got the La Cruz SSB PPJ net worked out, she’s also ordering t-shirts, and informs me there is a weekly gathering of PPJ’ers at the Marina La Cruz pool and there’s a special meeting at Vallarta Yacht Club at Paradise Village Marina on Monday – be there at 3pm.  My social calendar has suddenly expanded to unexpected proportions.

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Ballena Blanco is the White Whale, with many Canadians in attendance. That’s Phil and Deb (in the back left and right), Jeanne up front to the left, another Canadian couple in town and not going to French Polynesia (green t-shirt and pink t-shirt) and I must admit I do not recall the happenings with the folks on the extreme right…

After dinner I was headed back to Beetle for some sleep and ran into Stan and Sally again.  I asked if they would be around in Banderas Bay for a while, and Stan volunteered as he would be here for a couple of days then was flying to (Qatar, I think he said) to navigate an ocean race, he’d be back for a couple of weeks, then he was flying somewhere else to navigate  a boat.  I pointed out that nobody had lately asked me to fly somewhere to go sailing on a boat and Stan’s comment was, “I know! It’s amazing!  I still get asked – who’d have thought!”  It’s a tough life when you’re sought after on the international yacht racing circuit.

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Sunset Friday evening headed for banderas Bay. Lots of clouds tonight! And yes, it can be a bit rolly-polly even without a lot of wind.

By this time I’d been up since about 2AM on the way into Banderas Bay and I was tired.  Slept great.  Woke up this morning and walked over to the marina office (definitely closed on Sundays), walked over to the La Cruz Port Captain’s office (definitely  closed on Sundays), and am going to meet up with Ben & Lucie tonight at 6:30 for more street tacos in La Cruz.

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Running the outboard on the foredeck, in the big orange bucket (normally used for icing pony kegs of beer) that travels on Beetle in the anchor locker. The motor is mounted on the dinghy transom, the dinghy is suspended from the overhead crane, and the outboard lower unit is resting in a bucket of salt water. With these conditions I can run the outboard, service it without fear of dropping bits and parts of the side, and I can see how the outboard is doing. I also have to keep refilling the bucket with salt water as the outboard pumps water overboard!

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Meanwhile, in the cockpit I’m decanting gasoline into the 3 liter coke bottles, vacuuming out the motor, wiping things down, and generally having a fine good mess.

I slept great, today it has been up and about to research outboard motors without the benefit of anyone to talk to in the stores as it is a) Sunday and the stores area closed, and  b) I don’t have enough Spanish to have a meaningful conversation over the phone.  I did send off emails (in English) to a Puerto Vallarta customs facilitator to see what they can do as regards getting a Tohatsu 9.8 outboard into PV from the States, and another email to the Tohatsu Mexico distributor in Vera Cruz to see what they can do as regards making a Tohatsu appear in PV.  Hopefully I’ll learn something Monday morning.

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The patient this morning, at rest on the stern pulpit. Too bad there’s sand all through this motor, as otherwise it looks quite good.

I also read lots about the Mercury 9.9 outboard motor, downloaded the manuals and read through those, the spark plugs I have from the Nissan 9.8 are the correct ones so that’s a good start.  Apparently the Mercury is a good motor, at least according many on-line comments and reviews of that engine.  And I know it is available at Zaragoza Marine in town.  I also did a lot reading as regards having a boat TIP (temporary import permit) and importing replacement boat equipment, the TIP should mean I don’t need to spend the 16% VAT tax on equipment that will remain in Mexico, as the outboard will definitely depart Mexico shortly.

And that brings us up to speed on what’s happening locally.  It’s late afternoon here, warm, not too muggy, and in two hours I’ll be joining Lucie & Ben for tacos!

– rob

Saturday morning – here comes Banderas Bay

Well, it’s been five months since Beetle and I departed Westsound Marina on Orcas Island, and now we’re here at the entry to Banderas Bay – feels good to be arriving. I’ve visited various places: Newport (Oregon), San Francisco, Marina del Rey, San Diego, Ensenada, Bahia Santa Maria, and now here. I believe that at this point I’m actually east of Phoenix Arizona. I just advanced the ship’s clocks two hours to agree with local time, and can hear some of the La Cruz cruiser’s net on VHF 22A as the check ins start at 8:30 local time. It’s 35 miles to the marina.

Last night was kinda fun in that it’s the first time the radar has been on and picked up a rainy cloud; there’s a frontally/trough thing sliding through and about midnight the radar alarm went off (does that a lot, it chirps for a few seconds and then whatever the target was goes away if the radar is seeing waves) only this time the alarm stayed on. If the chirping continues then the radar has definitely found something. I get up, put on the glasses, and sure enough, there was a green amorphous blob on the screen, then two green blobs – rain! Hard to see the rain clouds up against the overcast sky in the dark, though it is possible to see where there are holes in the cloud cover as a few stars do show up – so I know the rain cloud isn’t at that particular point.

A little while later the 50m motor yacht My Girl went by, they were running at 13.8 knots bound for Balboa, Panama, their ETA says 6 days out. I expect this is the boat tied up at Kona Kai marina in San Diego while I was at the SD Police Docks. If it’s the same boat, it’s good to see it out running on the open ocean.

The Grand Princess cruise ship shot by last night, passing about 1.5 miles to my starboard, on their way in to Puerto Vallarta. At that time the wind had shifted to the NE at 10 knots, making it an upwind main-only motorsail for me. It’s a 15 degree course change to go in to Punta Mita, and the cruise ships have no interest in playing over in that area due to the rocks – much safer and simpler for them to run in on the south side of Las Tres Marietas islands. There is one rock to avoid on that route called Roca Corbetena, it’s lit and should easy to avoid. My plan of the moment is to carry on in behind Grand Princess and see if the wind shifts back to the north (the GFS model thinks breeze should shift 30 degrees to the north later on tonight); I’ll make a decision at that time as which way I’ll take into Banderas Bay.

And now that it’s morning the wind did shift to the north leaving behind a lumpy and slow sea state, so I stayed deeper and am running in via the south side of Las Tres Marietas. The chart that I have shows the rocks and points out of position by roughly a mile, with all features appearing as 1 mile too far to the west; the latitude is pretty good, it’s the longitude that is out. There are two important features on my way in that you don’t want to hit: Roca Corbetena and the rocks at Los Morros Cuates (El Morro rock) southwest of Las Tres Marietas. Roca Corbetena is marked, El Morro is not, and my cruising guide has accurate lat/lon position information for these rocks – which I transcribed onto the electronic chart by adding labeled ‘marks’ with a 1/2 mile danger radius. Then the job becomes not to hit the red circles, which I know are in the correct place – a lot easier than avoiding the vaguely off-position ‘+’ that marks a rock!

It’s bright sunny morning, flat water with a low swell rolling in from behind, four miles to my turn off Corbetena, 12 miles further I pass Las Tres Marietas, turn to port for 17 miles and I should be off La Cruz. I think perhaps tonight I will check out the wild & crazy night life of La Cruz, which, last time I was here, consisted of the most excellent taco restaurant that is open after dark as much of the rest of the village shuts down when it gets dark.

I wonder if Ben, Lucie, Jeanne, Nic, or any other of the gang are in residence at La Cruz?

– rob

Friday evening and approaching Islas Marias

Hola! – a quiet day on Beetle, tooling along across the pond, not a heck of a lot of wind so mostly motoring, I’m 107 miles from La Cruz Marina. Weather has been settled today, mostly 100% cloud cover until right before sunset when some holes opened up in the clouds and we had a magnificent sunset, complete with giant orange glowing disk appearing below the clouds and above the horizon.

Today was a bit of cleanup, the bilge has been pumped out with my special snazzy teeny bilge pump attached to a 20′ length of 3/8″ hose, the idea being that I can move the hose around the bilge like a small aspirator and suck out bits of water that get lodged in corners. It works way better than chasing dollops of water with a sponge and a bucket.

On deck looks pretty good too, though some of the squid visitors have left reddish imprints on the deck where they dried out before I found them. Hopefully the red staining will bleach out in the sun (I rather expect they will, as otherwise the boat would be covered in squid stain as there have been a lot of squid on the deck over the years). At least we’re squid-free going into the evening.

Earlier in the afternoon I went by the 180 meter tanker Ridgebury John B, which appears on AIS as “not under command”, which is really strange out here. I imagine the tanker is simply drifting around out here while it waits for instructions on the next port of call. With all the ups and downs in the oil market over the last year, a lot of ships have been laid up or let stand at anchor with a full belly of oil while waiting for the market to rise to the point where the ship’s contents could be sold, or be filled up. At least for tonight I know precisely where on boat is, it’s drifting around in the Gulf of California. Hopefully there are people on board!

And the US Coast Guard came through super loud and clear, which made me wonder if they were up in an aircraft of some sort; they were calling on VHF 16 f or sailing vessel Maritiki (not sure about the spelling), and specifically stated the name of the person that was supposed to be on board. This happened repeatedly, over several hours, and made me wonder if there was an overdue persons bulletin put out by the USCG. At some point in the day somebody must have told Maritiki to turn their radio on, as the next time the USCG called out a person responded, indicating they were Maritiki and were at anchor at Isla Isabella and were OK. The USCG asked to whom they were talking, the fellow stated his name and that seemed to match with what USCG was looking for, so everybody said goodnight and rang off the radio. Isla Isabella is 75 miles away from here, so we’re having amazing VHF reception this evening down this way.

Plan is to continue on current course for another 41 miles, then make a 15 degree course change after which it is 51 miles to Punta Mita. Coming in behind me is the Grand Princess, another huge cruise ship, and we’re on the more or less the same course for Mazatlan – though I bet they won’t go north of the Las Tres Marietas islands at the mouth of Banderas Bay, as there are two (or three, depending on whom you believe) unmarked rocks between Tres Marietas and Punta Mita. My plan is to go north, I have coordinates for two of the rocks, carefully researched by another cruiser and published, though there is always the nagging concern that there is a third rock in the vicinity. I also have my track from before, and I know I didn’t hit any pinnacles on those runs.

If the Grand Princess is going to come straight in from behind then I will ring them up on the radio and ask after their passing plans, as I would prefer not to be run over by them! The CPA is currently plotted as 3 hours 12 minutes at 0.28 miles – that’s a bit close for my comfort level.

So I’m running on into the evening, there should not be a lot of fishing activity this far out, at least by the panga people, and as long as the Mexican Navy that patrols the waters around the penal colony don’t decide they need to visit Beetle, it should be a pleasant evening. The moon continues to appear in the sky a bit earlier than the previous evening, right now it is lighting up the clouds from above and makes for a pretty sky. I’ve brought down the latest weather forecasts, all looks good with lighter winds forecast thru tonight and into tomorrow.

And it’s almost time to move the clock forward. Beetle has been running on Pacfic Standard Time, so I think it is 6:31PM right now. Everyone in La Cruz thinks it is 8:31, so I will be two hours off if I don’t change the time on board. I think I will do that tomorrow morning.

Enjoy the night!

– rob