After three nice days in Zihuantanejo and Xtapa, Brian, me and the boobies set out for Cabo 4 days away.
The NW winds had died down and we got going under high broken clouds and the temperature in the low 80’s. Winds were light, then as the day progressed, turned southerly (good), but the Pacific coast of Mexico just can’t help itself and my evening the winds were out of the north and northwest again, though not too strong at 8 knots.
For the next 36 hours the winds were about 5 to 9 knots, at night from the E or SE as a land breeze and during the day from the W or NW as a sea breeze (blowing on to the land to our E).
I was pleased to see the boobies return. They seemed to get the routine down better this time and at times we had as many as a dozen on the rails just enjoying the free ride.
We got buzzed by a fishing trawler, which is becoming the norm since returning to North America.
The only place it happened in Europe was in the Bay of Biscay. If the French won’t tolerate the Uber disruption, they certainly won’t tolerate anyone taking their fish. That we just look like a trawler, especially with our paravane poles, is an annoying coincidence.
In the first 48 hours, we put 333 nm under our belt; more than halfway.
Winds picked on the third day, from the west, and we in the mid-teens overnight, causing the most pitching and rolling since leaving Xtapa. I deployed the windward bird to keep the rolling manageable. Having the windward bird in the water is 80% as effective as both birds and the effect on the drag is the same, thus the bird doing the work also produced the drag.
Just physics, there are no free lunches.
Video of the Second evening
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We entered the harbor and large marina of Puerto Los Cabos at 20:25; 85 hours after leaving Xtapa and 570 nm later. Turned out this was the easiest three days of the entire Baja Bash only I didn’t know it yet!
Puerto Los Cabos was a disappointment. Only a few dollars cheaper than the marina a Cabo San Lucas, it was surrounded by … nothing. A 5-minute taxi ride that cost 30 pesos ($1.50) cost in Huatulco and 50 pesos in Xtapa now cost 200 pesos. I ended up renting a car for $60 for 24 hours. That made it easy to go to airport and drop Brian off and so a little shopping. I ended up staying two nights.
I was spending $90 a day in the marina, Cabo was about the same price. Anchoring was pragmatic at best near Cabo. From reading reviews on Active Captain and Noonsite, the anchorage was open to the swell, but worse, was in the area of all the tourists doing water hijinks. Thus, the locals discouraged boats from anchoring in various ways, which I did not want to test.
Video of El Cid now passing behind us.
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I was hoping I’d only be in Cabo a day or two at best and a few days at worst.
The hoped-for weather window kept teasing me and then slamming shut in my face. In the last 5 years and 20,000+ miles, I can count on one hand, the number of times I’ve started a passage only to turn around. Cabo made me count on my fingers and toes.
After three days in Xtapa, I was getting ready to go again.
The night before departure, I topped up all our fluids, both oil and coolant were down, since we had those repairs the days earlier. While they were topped up upon completion of those repairs, it takes running time for air to work out of the systems.
The rough seas and miserable pitching of the last few days seemed to really scour the fuel tank, so I ran the fuel polisher system (filtering fuel to take water and impurities out) on the starboard tank for 8 hours the day before. During the 8 hours, vacuum on the filter had increased from 4”, which is OK, but not great, to only 5”. Which is marginal. Since we were getting underway for another multiple day passage, I changed the fuel polisher filter, a Racor 900 filter system (Racor 2040 2-micron filters bought on Amazon for $12 each.
I usually don’t run the fuel polisher that often anymore. Unless needing to really top up the tanks, like leaving the Canaries for the Caribbean, I only put new fuel in one tank. Thus, I can isolate any issues. I then run the fuel polisher on the new fuel to check it out. Usually an hour; If the vacuum doesn’t change significantly, I turn it off. Sometimes the vacuum will even go down, when the new batch of fuel is better than what was in the tank.
Underway, I also always set the return to the same tank it is feeding from. Once, in prehistoric times, I set the return to the other tank as a means to transfer fuel. Of course, I forgot and ran out of fuel while running. I didn’t do that again.
But I did. This second time, I had inadvertently left both feeds and returns open. For whatever reason, my system tends to return more fuel to the port tank and less to the starboard tank if both returns are open. Thus, I emptied one tank. But this time, the engine did notice because I had also left the sight tubes open on top and bottom. The result was that although the starboard tank was empty, enough fuel was being returned, keeping the sight tube full, which was then fed back to the engine.
Had I closed the sight tube, the engine would suck air from the tank feed.
Lesson learned. Nowadays, besides feeding and returning to the same tank, I also keep the top of the sight tubes closed, so that fuel goes back to the tank. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of using cooler fuel from the tank.
I like the Racor setup very much. Twin primary filters, Racor 500, in parallel, and a Racor 900 for fuel polishing and transfer. For a long-distance cruiser like Dauntless, it’s a mission critical system. Meaning don’t leave home without it. When underway, I don’t go into the engine room often, maybe only twice a day, once in the evening before my shower and bed and in the morning, after my early morning watch. (I usually wait until crew is awake, so I don’t wake them by opening engine room hatch, unless the night before I thought I may have an issue, then I check again as soon as I wake).
The parallel Racors really give me peace of mind. In the early days, when changing filters was more of an adventure than it should be, if I suspected a problem, I’d immediately switch filters to the new one and then monitor the new one for issues (water or clogging). But I didn’t have to deal with the filter just then. If in a benign environment, I may shut down the engine, but that is rare. Nowadays, I can change a filter in less than two minutes and that includes priming engine if need be. I installed an electric fuel pump just for that purpose. It makes doing any fuel related work so easy. I used to hate changing the engine mounted filters. I still have the scar on the back of my hand from spending days trying to prime engine (turned out to be a failed O ring had clogged fuel line to Injector pump). Nowadays, if I do switch filters while underway, I will change the old filter, so I always have a new one ready to go at an instant.
Nowadays, I almost never have an issue. But when I do, I need the fuel polisher now.
Like when we fueled up in Colon, Panama, waiting to transit the Panama Canal. It was a fuel barge, made even sketchier because they spent some time transferring fuel from a tug to the barge and then to my boat. Once I returned to our slip and ran the fuel polisher, it picked up a lot of water. Another reason to never run from both tanks at once. I knew I had a problem, but it was isolated in the port fuel tank. I also installed those plastic drains that can be opened by hand on all three Racor filters. So, in a situation like this, it made it particularly easy to run fuel polisher a while, when bowl is full of water, empty, run, repeat, until I decide to also change filter. I’ll usually do that at the end. Then give it a good run again to make sure it’s good to go.
I’ve had a few occasions, in which I just let the fuel polisher run and the vacuum gets to 22” to 24” of mercury (Hg). When that happens, I am ever more grateful that none of that crap got to engine or even primary filters.
Because the Racors are doing their job so well, I don’t change the engine mounted fuel filters very often. Maybe even on the order of 500 to 1000 hours. This interval has gotten longer and longer because even in the past when I did have some water in the primary filter, the secondary engine mounted filters had none.
You may think that that’s excessive. What’s the harm in changing the primary filters? In my first year or two, the primary filters were the cause of all sorts of issues from blocked fuel lines to air in the system. They are hard to reach, which introduces a greater possibility of error in replacement or even affecting some other nearby engine component.
The Ford Lehman SP135 engine and I have an agreement. I don’t mess with it and it does its’ thing, which is to never stop until so commanded. So, I am particularly careful working near the engine.
A couple of weeks later, this system would again save my bacon. I had carelessly kept running from the starboard tank, even after it went below the sight tube. I did have a reason, I wanted to see if I had really needed the expensive fuel I had added in some expensive place.
I’m in the pilot house and suddenly, I hear the pitch of the engine change. Remember, the Ford Lehman and I have an agreement. The engine pitch never changes. So, in seconds I had the hatch open and was down in front of the engine by the Racors. I instantly switched filters, then took the time to look around. The engine was starting to surge now (up and down in rpms). I looked at the feed tank and saw no fuel in the sight tube. Now the sight tube is still about 20 gallons above the feed line. I open the port tank feed and return and close the starboard feed and return.
Surge continues. I ask Larry to give it some throttle. No change. Throttle back to just above idle. I turn on the electric fuel pump used to prime filters. Add throttle. In about 5 seconds that seems like 5 minutes, the engine smooths out. I wait another minute and turn off electric fuel pump and carefully adjust valves that put electric fuel pump into main fuel line. (otherwise, when first installed, the fuel pump just pump fuel around in a circle, with out the need to go to the engine. Under normal setting this fuel pump is isolated in a parallel loop and the engine uses gravity feed and it’s lift pump).
From first change of engine pitch to running normally again took less than 60 seconds.
When will I ever learn? I don’t know what part of me ignores good advice that I give others. It can be about weather, stocks, women or whatever, I’m very consistent, as I seem to consistently do what I tell others is a fool’s errand.
I suppose that makes me the fool.
Yep, I have certainly earned that this year.
Here are the four snapshots taking from Windy.com of the southern Pacific coast of Mexico taken on 30 April 2018, Monday. These shots highlight what I mean by chasing forecasts. This is different than waiting for the right weather window. That I also had done.
A reminder of some of the vocabulary I use.
Windy.com aka windyty.com is a pretty slick graphical user interface for the numerical weather forecasts that are produced by the National Weather Service, the Europeans, the U.S. Navy, etc. On Windy, at the bottom right of the screen, you can select the two or three models available to view: ECMWF 9km, GFS 22km, and in CONUS, the NAM 5km. The number that follows the model name is the grid resolution, smaller being better. If I was on the east coast USA, I would only look at the Nam. I trust it less on the west coast, since it’s near the edge of the model.
In any case, no matter where I am, I always look at only one model, because I have no way to know which model is working best for that time, space and season. I use the ECWMF because of the lower grid spacing (excluding the NAM). Next spring, as I prepare to move north again from San Francisco Bay, I will use the NAM and read the NWS forecast discussion for my area of interest. Nothing else. If you look at too much stuff, you will just get confused. (this is well documented, but I won’t go into it now).
While in Huatulco, I was waiting for the right weather window. I was hoping for 3 to 4 days of light or southerly winds (at any speed). Looking at the forecasts, it seemed the week of 30 April was it.
I did well wait for the right weather window, what I did poorly was chasing the forecast.
Looking at the map that shows Tuesday 1 May, the Tehauntepec winds were blowing from the Northeast, and while there were northwesterly winds off the coast, there was that lighter blue area well off the coast with winds that seems to be northerly, then turning more northeasterly. That would have been great.
So, I left Huatulco with the idea of heading west longer than needed to try to get west of the stronger NW winds.
That’s Chasing Weather Forecasts. For the first 3 days it seems to work well. We did have light winds and when the winds did pick up from the NW, they were still less than 10 knots.
The problem was as the winds got stronger, we were so far off shore, 70 miles, that we were left with few good options. The 14 hours backtrack to Xtapa was the result.
If one has about capable of 20 knots, then the math changes significantly. Then it’s more viable to chase good weather. But when you boat plods along a fuel sipping 5 to 7 knots, it becomes impossible to get to the right time and place and then stay in that honey spot. Weather moves to quickly.
In the North Atlantic, Dauntless made about 140 nm per 24-hour day. In that same time, a low-pressure system will move 500 nm and the associated cold front will move even faster. There is no getting out of the way.
In this last passage up the west coast, I didn’t bother with weather forecasts once underway. All I needed to know was that once the stronger NW winds set in, they would get stronger before they got weaker.
Returning to Xtapa was the solution. Chasing areas for better weather, would have been a fool’s errand.
The stop in Xtapa gave me a chance to reboot my mind. It was fitting that the trip ended at the same high stress level as just after leaving Huatulco. Having to enter a strange harbor and marina at night is always stressful. My depth perception is askew. Everything seems significantly closer than during the day. I have to force myself to trust the instruments.
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We docked without incident, as usual. Got a good night’s sleep. And then my HP Envy laptop decided to give up the ghost. It was not to be replaced/repaired for another month, when I arrived in southern Calif, so no blogging for a while.
While this may appear to be a relief, in fact, it was the opposite. Writing about my adventures, my mishaps, my miscalculations, allows me to reflect on my practice.
As a high school principal, I quickly realized that during job interviews, when I was looking for additional teachers, the outcome of the interview really came down to three questions:
Was the prospective teacher intelligent, did they know their content area?
Did they like children?
Where they reflective in their practice?
I didn’t care if they knew how to teach; I could teach them that. But there is no way to overcome the negatives of any of the above three questions. You can’t make a lazy or stupid person, smart and not lazy. You can’t make them like children. There are too many teachers who teach because it’s convenient. In moments of black humor, we, principals, would say, they are here for the parking (some schools have convenient parking, some don’t).
And lastly, we live in a culture of blame. If things don’t go as we as we would like, we look to blame others, never looking in the mirror. It’s my parents, government, spouse, boss, fill in the blank’s fault. But good teaching practices only happen when the educator is reflective. After every teaching period, every day, every week, every year: what could I have done better? How can I connect with that student(s) better? Why didn’t they understand_____? or something as simple as, what worked, what didn’t?
Reflection allows our brain to better organize new data, recognize mistakes or things we could have done better or even just differently. In writing this post, I remembered in my 4th year of teaching, I had put up a mirror on the entry door with the caption, “Meet the person responsible for your learning today”. Much like reminding people to turn off cell phones in inappropriate places, it’s a little reminder that can go a long way.
As the boobies started to congregate on Dauntless, first resting on the paravane pole lines and at the end of the pole. Then, an intrepid fellow managed to land on the bow pulpit rail despite the pitching bows. Once other’s saw his success, we because a virtual bus ride north.
They did promise to clean up before they left, but I suspected they would forget that promise. But as I thought about their lives, I thought about how good we, Americans, have it so good. There was one fellow who parked himself on the rail right near the pilot house door. He was keeping watch with me. When I had to go out to pee, I didn’t want to disturb him/her, so I walked thru the boat to the stern deck, instead of my normal spot on the starboard side deck (where the high side rail offers more protection from falling overboard).
The numbers increased every day, until that last 24 hours when the pitching became untenable even for them. I think their coloring indicated they were juvenile blue or brown footed boobies.
Xtapa was a nice, albeit unexpected respite. It was 30-minute bus ride to Zihuantanejo. We ate, drank and slept well for 3 days waiting for the winds to subside.
The passage from Huatulco to Xtapa was eventful in many ways.
The Katadyn 160 Water maker, made in Switzerland, has been a stalwart since installation four years ago, in 2014. It’s simple, which attracted me to it. No gauges, no bells, no whistles, no back flushing, no nothing. When doing long distance cruising, the more simple, the better. It’s only accessories are the manual and a salinity meter, but the manual says your taste buds are more accurate than any salinity meter. Thus, I turn it on, have the three-way valve to the test hose which empties into the galley sink. In the first minute or two, it will taste salty and maybe even moldy, if I haven’t used it in a week. After 5 to 10 minutes, (depending on when last used), I check it again and it’s good.
If I won’t be using it for more than a week, I will “pickle” it. Basically, that is to run a solution that prevents bacterial growth, mold, on the membrane that is producing fresh water.
I have used it in brackish water, but the organic growth quickly clods the first filters, so I don’t do that anymore. I also have a special cleaning solution that I have only had to use once, this past year, because I did not pickle it for a few weeks of non-use.
So, this Katadyn has produced thousands of gallons of water the last four years. I turn it on, taste the output in 5+ minutes and switch the three-way valve to fill one of the water tanks. No fuss, no muss, simple.
This time was no different, however after a few hours, I noticed that I was wasn’t hearing its distinctive thumping sound. It’s hard to hear unless you listen for it, though I can put me hear near the galley sink and the thumping is quite distinctive there since the output water uses the galley drain thru hull.
The power was on, but the watermaker was not. There is an auxiliary pump and the watermaker itself (which is essentially a very high-pressure pump that forces seawater thru the membrane and molecules larger than pure H2O, water, can not pass thru and are sent down the discharge hose.
The auxiliary pump and the watermaker each have a separate fuse, so that was an easy check and I found the watermaker fuse had melted. not just opened, but the plastic fuse itself was melted.
Mark pointed out that those fuse holders can be the culprit by not holding the fuse tight enough, letting it arc. OK, new fuse and holder. Watermaker is thumping again.
Eight hours later, the watermaker had stopped again. Same fuse, though not melted, just blown.
There was clearly a problem, that just couldn’t be laid on poorly made Chinese fuse holders.
To compound matters, I had let us leave Huatulco with minimal water on board, only 55 gallons in one tank, the other being empty, ready for the watermaker to fill. The watermaker fills one 150-gallon tank in about 20 hours. In normal water usage, I use about 25 gallons per day, but there were three of us.
I was far more stressed than I let Brian and Mark know.
I replaced the fuse again and hoped for the best. This process was made more difficult because to check the fuse and the watermaker, I had to open the heavy hatch cover to the aft section of the engine room in the salon. (On the list of winter projects is to put a hinge on two of the four panels).
Seven hours later, it stopped again. Quick check shows fuses OK. Next step, the relay. This relay was one of the half dozen I bought from Amazon for $8. It had been working in that hot engine room for 4 years. Despite being Chinese made, it was heavy duty and well built, except for one thing, the wires, also heavy gauge, were cross colored. Color coding and “standards for American and European Direct Current (DC) wiring (as used in boats and cars) are pretty much the same: red is positive, black is ground, yellow is accessory, etc. So, these relays, all used red, black, yellow, blue wires, but not in the accepted color scheme. It was clear even before I bought them that that was the issue and the reason they were on sale at such a good price. So even though I’ve used them on applications around the boat for the last 4 years, even doing a simple replacement, takes me some time, because it’s hard to get my head around the different color scheme. Don’t connect that red wire to the black one!
But that was done, and we are making water again. Good, because we were down to 23 gallons.
Three hours later, again a blown fuse. Now I was getting worried about running out of 30+ amp fuses.
While I was dicking around with the relay, I took the opportunity to dig thru my spare 12-volt electrical parts bin to figure out my options if I had to replace the fuse holder.
I could take the fuse out of the circuit altogether, but that’s an emergency fix. I did have a real circuit breaker. I could rewire and replace the fuse holder with the circuit breaker and put long enough wires on it for me to have access in the salon. In other words when it tripped, I could just reset, without opening the heavy hatch each time.
So, a few hours later, when the fuse went again, that’s what I did. I also stopped the engine, over the years I have come close to having a severe accident when underway and my foot slips next to the spinning shaft. In this case, my ankle just bounded off the shaft, but I took it as a warning. It took 30 minutes, but at the end, I had the circuit breaker wired up to the salon.
The watermaker worked for the next 20 hours filling the one tank. I think the circuit opened not once during that time, though it did open while filling the second tank the next day.
Best of all, it was easy for me to check and we had no more water problems.
We left Xtapa with full water tanks and the watermaker did work as required on the four-day passage to Cabo San Lucas, however, just before arrival, I noticed that the watermaker pump itself was leaking its internal oil. The seals had failed. I’m sure that was the cause of the higher than normal electrical draw all along. I’m just happy after four years of no maintentance, it gave me one more week when I needed it.
I have the seal repair kit, it will be another winter project. More than ever though, I was grateful to Katadyn for making a watermaker that would tolerate my shenanigans.
Here is a link to the Katadyn. I bought it directly from Katadyn, since they were discontinuing the model, so they gave me 30% off. But the link shows the simplicity of the system.
Only an hour and a half after leaving the wonderful little stop of Marina Chahue, Dauntless’ winter home, we were underway once again. I wanted nothing more than an uneventful passage. I was so appreciative of Mark and Brian stepping up and volunteering as crew, so I wanted them to have a good time too with no worries.
Now I realize, that having a “good” time varies greatly from person to person, but in general, being on the open ocean is peaceful. It can be the epitome of serenity itself, unless there are nagging issues.
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Beginning of Day 2, morning after the first night, 07:53
Dauntless was suffering from abuse. In the pervious two years, I’d ridden her hard and put her way wet. I loved this Kadey Krogen so much because I could do exactly that. The leak in the heat exchanger was the first “must stop the engine” problem I’d had since the middle of the Atlantic! That was more than 5,000 miles and 18 months ago.
This boat was made to take a beating and keep on ticking. But just as rough seas bothered me far more than Dauntless, the little problems on the periphery did the same. They kept me in a state of what’s next?
We spent the next 40 hours going west. I’ll explain why in more detail in the upcoming post, Chasing Weather Forecasts, but for now it suffices to say that I wanted to be 60 miles off the coast.
We were also running a bit harder than usual; the Ford Lehman was purring along at 1800 rpms. Maybe the purr was more of a growl to me, but it was important that we make good time while we had favorable winds, in this case they were WSW at 5 knots and we were making 7 knots.
The primary reason I don’t run at 1800 rpms is the significant decrease in efficiency from 1500 to 1800 rpms. Here are my estimated numbers in a flat sea:
Kadey Krogen 42-148 w Ford Lehman Sp135 & 4 Blade Prop
Thus, for a 16% increase in speed from 1500 rpms @ 6.2 kts, we consume 43% more fuel. That’s fuelish.
By early morning on the second day out, we turned northwest, on a heading that would parallel the coast until we could turn further north in a couple more days. Winds were still OK, from the north at 10 knots, thus on our beam, but not strong.
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Evening of the of Second Day
By the end (48 hours underway) of the second day, we had covered 320 nm for an average of 6.7 knots. The pitching and rolling had been minimal, pitch less than 3° up or down and rolling less than 5° in either direction (always greater to lee side).
But then it all started to change. From the beginning there was a smallish weather window, from 2 to 3 days. Now, during our third night, that window was closing. Winds picked up to 320° @ 12 knots, so only 15° off the starboard bow (our course being 304°). Pitching increased to +4 (this is downward as measured by the Maretron Solid State Compass (which the autopilot uses too since it reacts better than the flux gate compass) and a more significant, -12° (bow pitching upward).
This was getting uncomfortable. For my intrepid crew, they took it in stride, far better than I.
Our watches were set so that I would get 6 hours sleep overnight. Brian and Mark covered 21:00 to 04:00 as they saw fit.
Before going to sleep that night, I did discuss with them the issue of weather. Our weather window was not only closing, but the forecast was for increasing winds right on our nose for the foreseeable future. While I was still hoping to get to Cabo direct from here, that was still 3+ days away. 12 knots on the bow is tolerable, 15 is borderline and 18 is a no-go.
They were up for it; as I went to bed that evening, I wasn’t sure I was.
I awoke 3 hours later. The boat was pounding, not constantly, but on every third pitch. Pounding to me is when the boat slams into a wave, like hitting a log. Thump.
I tried to go back to sleep. The master cabin in the Kadey Krogen is forward and the only downside is that this pitching motion is most apparent there. However, it usually doesn’t bother me. My first experience with a corkscrew movement was a few years before Dauntless came into our lives. We were sailing (literally) with my Dutch friends, Jan and Karin, in the Outer Hebrides, west of Scotland. Anchored in a rolly harbor off of St Kilda, that night I felt, dreamt, that I was sleeping on a roller coaster. The rhythmic corkscrew motion I found almost soothing. I slept well.
But this was different. The pounding bothered me. Things break with that sudden, jarring movement (and in fact it was during these days that the pressure switch stopped working on my fresh water pump. I later discovered it only had soldered connection which came apart).
My sleep became very fitful, waking every 10 to 15 minutes, my mid seemingly wanting to figure out what was going on. Finally, I turned on the light and tried to figure out the pattern the boat was in. For 30 minutes I measured the frequency of the pounding. On virtually every third pitch, which were 8 d=seconds apart, the boat would pound hard, every 25 to 28 seconds.
I also knew that which these seas, pitching movement, unlike rolling, takes significant power. In other words, instead of going 7 knots, we were now going 5.5, but using the same fuel as if we were going 7.
At 5.5 knots, it would take 100 hours to get to Cabo, that’s 4+ days of this crap. That was impossible.
I decided to start my watch early, figure out if we could mitigate the ride and if not, determine my options.
First thing I did, after I got the lay of the land, was to reduce rpms to 1650 and change course by 10° to the west. This put the seas on the stbd bow. Weirdly, our speed just slowed a tad to 6.0 from 6.1 (we also have currents off the Mexico coast, which are both tidal and non-tidal).
Significantly our pitch was reduced by almost 50%. I liked that. Even more importantly, the pounding stopped.
I could live with these conditions.
Alas, they were not to stay.
Just before sunrise, around 05:00, the winds increased to 330° @ 12 gusting to 16. This increased the pitch +4 to -8° and the roll +10 to -9°. I further reduced the rpms to 1590. Over the next couple of hours, Mother Nature started to mock me. The winds backed around to 290°, right on our nose again.
At 08:00 the winds were steady at 300°12 to 14 knots. I knew they would only get stronger during the day (the sun heating the air and land do cause the winds after all). This was also in line with the forecast of increasing winds over the next few days.
At 08:45, I informed the crew that we were changing course and would head to Xtapa, a little town with a nice marina just north of Zihuantanejo. This would mean a bit of backtracking. We were already north of Xtapa; however, the other alternative was Manzanillo, which was 113 nm at 330°. With the seas on our bow, increasing winds, it would take us 24 hours to get there. Whereas, Xtapa, at a heading of 065° would put the seas behind us and we should have a quick 12-hour ride. So long, because we were 70 miles offshore.
It ended up taking 14+ hours, but after pounding into the seas for 10 hours, who noticed.
Passing thru the shipping lanes, it was nice to have the Digital Yacht AIS transceiver. It allowed us all to avoid one another.
14 hours later, at 23:00, we entered yet another unknown harbor and docked in the dark, at Marina Xtapa
Ever have those situations when the yellow/red flags are waving, and you spend all your time trying to decide if the flag is yellow or red? Instead of wondering what’s causing the flag to wave in the first place??
Welcome to my world.
Brian and Mark arrived Sunday, the 29th of April. I was a bundle of nerves, due to:
The normal stress of starting a long trip,
The stress of having crew to keep happy,
I still had to check out of the port Monday morning,
Having decided to have the boat yard, do the transmission seals, they did not take credit card, so I must figure out a way to get $1000 in cash by Monday morning.
My Monday noon, all the problems were solved, and I was feeling pretty good. I had good, intrepid crew. We had food, wine and booze enough for however long a cruise the weather would allow.
With a crew of two, plus me, we had 205 gallons of fuel in the port tank, 210 in the stbd tank, 55 gallons of water in the port water tank and the stbd tank was empty (to be filled with the water maker while underway).
Engine start was at 12:25, we got underway 10 minutes later, clearing the breakwater at 12:45, on the way to either Can San Lucas, 950 miles northwest (7 days) or maybe even Ensenada, which was another 700 miles further north (another 5 days).
So, at the beginning of a 7 to 12-day passage, my sense of well-being lasted 20 minutes, or about 2 miles.
Clearing the breakwater, we set the course SSW to clear the coast before turning west, then WNW.
The bilge alarm sounded 20 minutes later, (a buzzer that
is activated whenever the bilge pump is on), went off, and then sounded again a few minutes later. That was not normal. Thinking the stuffing box again, I left Brian at the helm, while I went to open the salon hatch to the engine room.
Stuffing box was not leaking, but I did see a pinhole leak that was spraying water from the oil heat exchanger. Umm, it’s a pinhole leak, sea water, yet the bilge pump had been on enough to pump much more water? What’s going on.
A minute later, as the engine overheat alarm sounded, it all became crystal clear. Shut down the engine, but we were less than a mile from the rocky shore.
The engine coolant hose (a heater hose) from the engine to the water heater had failed at the nipple to the water heater. It has dumped all our coolant into the bilge. We were 6/10ths of a mile from shore; a very rocky shore. So, first thing I did was fill the engine coolant tank with fresh water using the garden hose the first owner had installed in the engine room just after the fresh water pump. It was good to know that I had a source of fresh water for the engine that I could use in a critical situation.
If push came to shove, I’d stick the nose nozzle in the coolant fill and turn it on, to keep water in the engine if I needed to start the engine before the repair was done. We were in 160 feet of water, so I also had the option of dropping anchor.
Had I had a problem that was going to take longer to fix, or if I did not have fresh water available, or if I was alone, I would have let out 200 feet of anchor and chain, knowing that the anchor would set itself as the water shallowed. This is the emergency anchoring plan I always have in the back of my head while cruising near shore. In still deeper water, with no shelf, I would combine my two anchor rodes, the secondary being 50 feet of chain and 250 feet of rode (400’ of 3/8” BBB chain on the primary with 55# Delta anchor).
I also have stored behind the salon between the upper deck ladder:
a 500-foot line,
a 250’ line,
a couple of 50’ lines,
a few shorter line,
the stern anchor) Bruce) and it’s 300 feet of rode on a hose reel.
These lines can all be easily retrieved and used as necessary.
Had I been alone, that’s what I would have done, while turning the boat around and heading back to the marina on auto pilot. I could have then re-fit the hose, knowing I had at least 15 minutes before I needed a course correction.
But I was not alone.
With Brian at the helm, responsible for watching our drift, Mark and I proceeded to deal with our two problems, the coolant hose and the pin hole oil cooler leak.
The coolant hose was easily dealt with. Cut off the end and reattach to nipple. I then checked for leaks, as we started the engine. No leaks, so I filled the coolant tank with ¾ gallon of coolant. This all took 10 minutes.
Next to tackle the oil cooler. We first tried a quick repair; can we stop the leak enough until our next port. No, we couldn’t, the metal at the cap end from which it was leaking was too thin. (these were the heat exchangers that had just been supposedly checked. In addition, I’m sure this was the one that was already leaking, and I told them to keep it).
Checking the situation at the helm, while we were drifting towards shore, we were drifting very slowly and again with Brian watching, I knew we would have plenty of warning should an issue arrive. Therefore, we decided to change the oil cooler.
What a PIA. But an hour later we were all done. No leaks of oil, water, or anything.
It’s on my must do list this fall to standardize all my hydraulic and oil fittings. Thus, making it easier to replace lines or bypass the coolers if need be.
We had drifted a quarter mile closer to shore, we still had a third of a mile to spare. Easy Peasy as Micah would say.
Knowing we could return to the marina easily, reduced the stress of this repair. It wasn’t “fix, or else” like it may have been in the middle of the Atlantic, like with my imaginary fuel leak.
At 14:10 we were underway again.
My peace of mind now lasted one minute.
The autopilot was not working. It thought it was working, but it wouldn’t steer correctly.
Back to the rear of the engine room, I looked at my Octopus pump, it looked ok, no major leaks, then I saw the three valves which control fluid to the pump, allowing me to change pump without draining all the hydraulic fluid from the system, were closed.
Oops. At least that was easy.
A minute later, we were underway again, hopefully to Cabo San Lucas.
This time my peace of mind lasted a whole two hours.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
Having gotten my toothache taken care of by having a root canal the first evening I was back in Huatulco, I was finally felling pretty good. The previous 5 days were a whirlwind of: pain, getting things done in NY, flying to southern Mexico and getting back to Dauntless after 8 months.
All winter I’d been watching the weather and winds off the west coast of Mexico and California. Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes and his updated Pilot Charts of the Pacific had made it clear that I would have a slog ahead, commonly known as the Baja Bash. 2,000 miles of going northwest into predominantly northwest winds of anywhere from 5 to 30 knots.
As mush as I love my Kadey Krogen, it has gotten me safe and sound through so much; I hate head seas.
But I had a plan. A pretty good one I thought. It was clear from the above references that I would have at best 25% of the time favorable winds. For every one day of good winds, I’d have three days of head winds. But as we all know, weather works in averages. I couldn’t exactly count on moving one day and then resting the next three. I could just as eiasily see 7 favorable days and a month of head winds.
Over the winter I had planned for slogging up the coast. Getting back to Dauntless the last week in April. I would spend May getting her a bit more ready. Fixing, replacing somethings that needed it and completing some projects stared long ago, but never completed as we cruised from Ireland to the Pacific Ocean in a little less than a year’s time.
This plan would have me leaving Huatulco in June as hurricane season started.
The dominate weather pattern is only disrupted by the tropical cyclone pattern of tropical depressions growing to storms and possible hurricanes. Their anti-clockwise wind pattern disrupts the dominant high-pressure system causing the NW winds off the coast. I could have days and days of winds with some southerly component.
The only downside of this plan was that should the strengthening tropical depression or storm head northeastward towards the coast, I’d have to have my hurricane holes laid out. Also, single handing on this coast is difficult, as places to stop because of weather are few and far between. For example, there is no safe hurricane hole between Huatulco and Acapulco, 250 nm or two full days away.
In the previous months, I’d also sort of put it out there that I was looking for crew. With crew and a longer weather window, we could get up the coast in some large chunks. Maybe even get to Ensenada in a 10-day passage. That would be so wonderful.
In March, I had gotten an email from Brian, who was volunteering himself and another friend, Mark, to help me get Dauntless north. The only caveat was, their free time was in early to mid- May.
I was very happy. I had not thought it wise to do this coast alone. Coastal cruising is totally different than crossing oceans. In the middle of the ocean there are no fishing boats, pangas or other stupid stuff. The large freighters you may occasionally see use AIS and keep their distance (once I upgraded to an AIS transceiver in 2014).
The only downside was the weather. In May, the winds are steady and strong from the NW. No tropical disturbances to disturb that pattern. During the entire spring the Pacific high that generates the strong easterly trade winds over Hawaii and been doing its job too well. I seldom saw weather windows of more than a couple of days and the 25% favorable time was more like 10%.
I’d also be a bit rushed to get Dauntless in the water. But I was less concerned about this, as she came out of the water with just a minor transmission leak, that had grown progressively worse over the pervious 2,000 miles. So, I decided to have the boat yard in Huatulco fix the leak. This turned out to be a $1,000 mistake. With my time frame of having to leave now to best make use of my available crew, it left no time for the yard to correct what they didn’t fix.
More and more I realize that I need to do virtually everything myself on Dauntless. I hate paying someone for a half ass job, when I know that I can just as easily to my own half assed job for free!
I also felt time pressure because Brian had crewed with me on Dauntless two years ago from Ireland to Scotland and he had had to wait several days for the boat yard in New Ross to get everything done. I didn’t want to make him wait again. And yes, I know not to let a schedule dictate actions, but no matter what, I, as skipper feel and am responsible.
The only things that had been done was the transmission seals and I had removed all the heat exchangers, as one had a pinhole leak and I wanted them all, including my spares, checked and tested.
We ended up splashing the boat right on schedule, a couple days before Brian showed up. This whole sequence left a lot to be desired on my part.
My original plan was to do a little test run of an hour to make sure all systems were Go. But once they put Dauntless in the water, the winds were strong, against the marina, in fact, the port may have been closed, but in any case, with such winds, I wanted to only tie up once, not twice. As it was I had a hard-enough time getting the boat into her slip and at one point was 90° off. I had to rig a spring line around the piling that we were pressed against and use that to turn the boat to face the slip.
No, a test run was out. I felt lucky that I got Dauntless into the slip without damage. I didn’t want to press my luck. In hindsight, this was not the best decision, but it seemed so under the current circumstances.
Once in the slip, with the engine room bilge pump alarm was going off continuously, I was reminded that I should have checked the stuffing box while still on the dolly. Water was pouring into the boat.
After the initial cursing myself for not checking before, I realized the bilge pump was keeping up, barely.
I got my chain wrench and locking pliers and within a few minutes (unlike previous times), the nut was unlocked, and I could tighten the shaft nut my hand until most of the water stopped.
Only day’s away from completing this 2,000-mile, two-month journey, I found myself breaking yet another of my hard and fast rules I made for myself 5 years ago. Entering yet another harbor at night, and having to anchor by radar, avoiding darkened, moored boats and mooring balls.
But like most hard and fast rules, I had to weigh the circumstances against various risks. In this case, anchoring at night was the least risky option. I’d left Channel Island Harbor at 04:00 for the 120 nm voyage to San Luis Obispo harbor. I’d planned on 19 hours. Thus, to arrive before sunset, would require me to leave the Channel Islands at midnight.
Leaving anyplace at midnight means a total disruption of my sleep cycle. I’d be starting a long trip tired and already behind my personal power curve. By leaving at 04:00, I’d be able to get a reasonable 6 hours sleep and 03:00 is on my natural wake up curve (though normally, I’d go back to sleep for another 3 hours).
Therefore, anchoring in a strange harbor at night seemed for me to be the lessor of two evils.
Let’s talk some basics. Four years ago, I hated my Raymarine E-80 Radar. I felt (and still do) that it was 1980’s technology, dressed to look like the 21st century. It was on my lest to replace at the earliest opportunity when money allowed. I had wanted a radar that I could integrate into my Coastal Explorer and C-Map chart plotter, navigation program.
Using the “Auto” settings, the E-80 will show you if the Exxon Valdez is bearing down on you, but otherwise, it either filters too much or not enough to be useful for close in maneuvering. As the miles and time increased under my belt, I learned how to best fine tune the radar using the manual settings for gain and sea state (which is basically a filter) to make it an effective tool.
Whenever I start the engine, I also turn on the: radar, navigation lights, auto pilot, VHF radios and horn.
For the first lesson in using the radar is that you must use it when the visibility is ideal, to be able to effectively and safely use it when the visibility is impaired, whether due to darkness or weather conditions (mainly fog, rain is another issue).
While underway I’m constantly checking and identifying any radar contacts visually, as well as on the navigation charts (for navigation markers, buoys, etc.).
As soon as I spot something the radar does not see, I adjust the radar, fine tuning so to speak. Normally this is just a matter of adjusting the sea state setting, though sometimes I also must fine tune the gain. E.g. I may see a fishing skiff a half mile off my starboard quarter, but it’s not showing up on the radar. I’ll have to lower the sea state setting, maybe only a few points, until the skiff shows up, but not the countless wave tops around it. Sometimes, I’ll have to adjust the gain also.
My goal is always for the radar to show me potential hazards, without showing me wave tops. For the last couple of years, my tuning technique has been good enough to do exactly that. Forget the “auto” settings, they are hopeless.
Since I don’t get many false alarms, this also allows me to maximize the use of the two zone monitors. For coastal cruising, like I’ve done since entering the Pacific Ocean, I set up a ring at ½ mile, that’s an 1/8 of a mile thick. Thus, if anything enters that ring you get an alarm. If you just put a circle around your boat at ½ mile, the radar will see some clutter very close to the boat and thus render the alarm, ineffective at best and annoying at worse. I make this ring go about 220° to 300° around the boat. That way it will see something approaching from the stern quarters, but not directly behind, as the radar will occasionally see a reflection of the mast, again making it ineffectual.
The second zone I set up 1 to 1.5 miles from the boat, in a much more 20° arc.
On the open ocean, well away from land, I’ll basically double these distances.
If I do get any false alarms, I adjust again. Usually it happens as the sea state gets worse (bigger seas).
For my set up, I find values of both the gain and the sea state in the 70’s to work best. In flat seas, I can lower the sea state to just above 50, but again, even changes of 1 or 2 can make a significant difference.
On this night, entering San Luis Obispo (SLO), as the seas calmed as I entered the bay that is protected from the NW through the East, I readjusted the sea state, lowering the filter values. From my charts I knew there was a mooring field, presumably with some moored boats. I adjusted the E-80 so that it would pick up objects as small as the mooring balls. Had the seas been above 2 to 3 feet, this would have been an impossibility, but if I had such seas in the harbor, I wouldn’t be stopping in any case.
This night, with strong NW winds, the harbor was well sheltered and the seas where maybe half a foot or less. Under those conditions the radar will do well.
I open and secure both pilot house doors, so that I can have quick access to looking out. I also go to the bow to scan the approach with binoculars (7×35), which I find very effective a night in poor light conditions.
Thus, I have that visual picture in my head, while checking the radar to ensure it’s seeing the same things. Again, because I am constantly doing this in the daytime in good visibility, I have the confidence to know what the radar is telling me at night, when I must trust
Here is a short video of it of me getting ready to enter the harbor:
This video doesn’t exist
Here are some stills made 2 minutes before the above video:
Three years ago, going through the main shipping channels of the Kattegat to the Skagerrak over the top of Denmark, I was terrified by what my brain perceived as the massive ship about to crush Dauntless. I was outside the channel, marked m red buoy, I knew the ship had to stay in the channel. The radar told me the buoy and this massive ship were ¼ mile distant, but my brain, every time I looked at the ship, I could swear was less than 50 feet away.
My mind was so convinced this ship was towering over us, that even as I checked and rechecked the positions of the markers on the chart and the ship and marker on the radar, all showed the target as more than a quarter mile away, but my mind would just not accept it.
I only calmed down when the ship was past. In the daytime, my mind would not have been fooled, but at night, the perspective of distance, becomes very difficult.
I realized then that if I was going to continue to travel at night and not die of a heart attack, I had to make sure I knew exactly what the radar was telling and what it wasn’t and once done, accept what it showed.
So, this night, almost midnight, as I pulled into SLO bay, the radar guided me to a large area with a diameter of about half a mile with no mooring balls, though there were a couple of boats anchored on the west edge.
No fuss; no muss,
I was anchored in 25 feet of water at 23:20 having done 120 nm in 19 hours and 30 minutes, at an average speed of 6.2 knots.