Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

Hi, and welcome to the adventures of "Triton", a 45' Robertson & Caine Leopard catamaran we purchased in July of 2007, in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed her back to Emeryville, California, located in the lovely San Francisco East Bay area, worked a few more years, then set off cruising in the fall of 2014. This journal is the story of our ongoing adventure, the folks we've met along the way, and the hardships and joys of that journey. Please read along and let us know what you think!

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here to start from the very beginning of the entire adventure. You can navigate from post to post simply by clicking the NEXT or PREVIOUS phrases at the top or bottom of each page. To find out what we've been fixing, changing, upgrading, click on the Triton Boat Work link under Related Websites. If you want to subscribe to this blog (and get emails letting you know whenever we update it) just click on the icon that says "subscribe to: posts (atom)" at the bottom of each page.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Puerto Escondido, Zihuatanejo and Beyond


Gentle Readers,

We arrived in Puerto Escondido. I didn't get much sleep last night, I think the full moon kept me awake. Or maybe it was the shooting stars. Or mars is in retrograde, which makes me seasick trying to follow through the night sky. Plus the milky way was a mess, spilled across the sky. I know I shouldn't cry about it, but it fucks with my Zzzzzz's. To make matters worse, it was yet another boringly spectacular sunrise this morning, and yes, more damn dolphins on the bowsprit. I keep thinking about an aphorism I just saw, that went "Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead; do not walk in front for I may not follow; do not walk beside fact, just leave me the hell alone!" I'm starting to feel that way about the dolphins. Look, you can't eat them, you can't tease them, they are definitely having all the fun at the expense of my bow wake, and they're always smiling!!! Damn pests, if you ask me. Always skulking about, showing up, getting in our way then running off. Or maybe I just need to get some sleep.

Anyway, we checked into town, spent a day walking around, there was some festival or other, they blocked off the street and had a mariachi band on stage. This is yet another tourist town, with every other shop selling the identical schlock. It really is depressing how much of this crap you see for sale everywhere large amounts of moderately wealthy tourists are found. I've no doubt that people are buying this stuff up by the armful, but it depresses me to know that I'm probably related to several of them. Were my grandmother still alive, I wouldn't be surprised to run into her haggling down the price on a life sized animated parrot that moves its lips in sync with Elvis Presley tunes, her bags stuffed with cheap blankets, brightly painted napkin holders and miniature Mexican sombrero toilet roll covers.

We checked into the Port Captain's Office. It took less than ten minutes. They took our papers, stamped them and handed them back. I was shocked and amazed. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before in Central America. I'm sure this is some anomaly (the regular bureaucrat took sick and the replacement wasn't up to speed) but my friends assure me that this is the new system. If so, traveling in Mexico just got a whole lot easier. The last time I had to do this you allocated about seven hours over two days to complete the process, and had to pay at least fifty dollars or one tenth your anticipated life time earnings, whichever was greater. This was free. I fully expected to be struck by lightening upon exiting the office.

We didn't stay long, enough time to have a meal, relax, and get ready for the trek north to Zihuatanejo. We motored out the harbor with good weather and flat seas. The crew are in good spirits, we've spotted whales a bit off our port this morning and there are always the compulsory dolphins, sea turtles and damn gorgeous sun sets. I never thought I'd long for the dismal gray skies of New Jersey, but a bleak landscape every now and then doesn't hurt.

The trip to Zihuatanejo was uneventful. We motored along, stopped for an occasional swim, fished off the back, caught the occasional tuna and otherwise just slept. The seas were pretty calm, but there was a storm brewing up north and west of us, and we were starting to see big rollers lumber in as the days progressed. We also noticed that the seas picked up quite a bit around noon, with winds freshening considerably by the afternoon and dying off a bit towards evening. Nothing surprising there, but it would turn out to be exactly the pattern we'd come to avoid. We also discovered that we are in a bit of a slipstream, with a two knot current running against us. Still we've made good time, averaging around five knots course over ground, so we can't complain. Even if the sunsets are beautiful.

We reached Z that day. The anchorage itself was easy, we dropped the hook in thirteen feet of water, and after a couple of unsuccessful tries finally got the CQR to hold. We've had really bad luck with that anchor, and I expect we'll replace it as soon as possible with an oversized Rocna or Bugle. In the meantime we manage after a try or two. We've also had some problems with the anchor windlass control. It doesn't seem to want to lower the anchor. It had been acting up for a while, seemed to be a short in the wires because it worked if you pushed them into the control housing, so I took it apart and re-soldered the connections. It seemed to fix it for a day or two, but didn't last.

Zihuatanejo was a great anchorage, easy to get to and good holding bottom. We pulled in, relaxed, and were greeted by a beautiful butterfly, you can just see it here as it fluttered by our boat. We've seen quite a lot of nature, but there is something quite calming about butterflies. They just seem so completely lost and unprepared to handle anything, yet the flit about and never seem to have a problem. One went streaking past us at about forty knots while we were struggling through the Tehuantepecs, it didn't seem that bothered by the wind, at least compared to us.

"The Boys" went off partying tonight, looking for whatever good times the town could offer. Robert has shaved his beard, which makes him look about ten years younger, and Robinson put on a clean shirt. In cruising terms, that is the moral equivalent of going out hunting loaded for bear. They never returned. I went to sleep. Sometime after sunrise I woke up, and they still weren't back. I wasn't too worried about them, but they did have the dinghy. Eventually they returned, hung over, exhausted, penniless, and most significantly, without any apparent injuries, except maybe a few brain cells they weren't using (only the weak ones die). They did have a few good stories to tell, but I'll leave that to them.

We left Zihuatanejo but stopped just north of it at Marina Ixtapa. It seemed like a friendly enough place, quite a well protected harbor with a very shallow and narrow entrance I'd hate to have to navigate in a seaway. We pulled up to the fuel dock and waited for the attendant. Eventually (by archaeological standards it was actually quite fast) the attendant arrived and began pumping diesel. We went ashore to the strip of restuarants and convenience stores located along the marina for ice and drinks, and although their didn't appear to be any eatery with food quality better than a Long John Silver's, we decided we'd at least stop for lunch while we were there. We asked the attendant first if we could leave the boat along the fuel dock (note: this is Mexico, at lunchtime, where everyone and everything shut down completely) and were told absolutely not, that we had to move once we finished refueling.

We then asked if there were a dock or slip to tie up to while we spent money on disappointing food in the marina. We were told that we would have to pay for a full day's berthing fee. We laughed and laughed. "You have got to be kidding. You mean you want us to pay you for the privilege of eating at your mediocre restaurants?" we asked the attendant. He seemed to think that was a perfectly reasonable idea. He then left of lunch, as did every other dock worker. We had lunch on the boat, making a delicious meal which took the better part of an hour and a half. Eventually the attendant (funny use of the word, really) came back to tell us we needed to move the boat. I explained that while I wanted to leave right this minute, my crew were on their lunch break, and wouldn't be done for another five minutes or so. Fuck'em!

We eventually disembarked and headed north, making great time. We were averaging six knots running on both motors at 2100 RPMs. That is great speed for very little effort. The swell has picked up, and the weather reports from up north are worsening. We decided to try to make Puerto Vallarta before the wind got too bad, so we pushed the engines up to 3300 RPMs and were sloshing along at eight knots, riding up and down the long rollers that were beginning to build. As the day wore on, the swell and chop got worse. At first it wasn't too bad, but by afternoon we were bashing into waves and taking green water over the bows.

Eventually the seas were so large, and so square, that our speed dropped to under three knots. We decided to turn tail and run back to a small fishing village we had just passed. Unfortunately, at just that moment a fish hit our trolling line. We dragged it in quickly, gutted it, threw it on ice, then rev'ed up the engines and headed south. The harbor was ten miles back, and we were worried about losing daylight. Going into an unknown anchorage in the dark is something to be avoided if at all possible.

So we pushed the throttles up full and ran with the waves. Triton jumped up, lifting her bows as she picked up speed. The wind and sea continued to build and we found ourselves surfing along the breakers as they ran up behind us. We motored along at ten to twelve knots, with bursts far higher. This was both thrilling and a bit terrifying, as it required constant attention at the helm. At one point we were picked up by a breaking wave about nine feet high and slid down the face of it at over fourteen knots, with the meter peaking momentarily at twenty! The entire boat was thrumming from the speed as the wave rushed past. It was exhilarating and everyone was grinning like madmen!

Triton made it to Bahia Chamela, a small south facing anchorage just before sunset. We headed in towards the small, cliff lined harbor strewn with fishing pangas and lobster pot buoys. It was a very tight space but we had hoped to sneak in and set the anchor in the very well protected inlet. As we motored along I looked down and noticed that the lobster pot buoys that so densely populated the Eastern wall were only those whose lines allowed them to float above the surface. The channel we traversed had numerous empty Clorox bottles tied to lines floating just below the surface. To a boat with propellers this is the moral equivalent a submarine navigating through under sea mines. This is one way of keeping anyone but the home boys out of your neighborhood.

We needed to stop immediately and turn around, so I pulled both throttles into reverse, waited for our forward momentum to stop, then pushed the port engine throttle forward to spin us around. There was a snap, and I realized that the throttle linkage cable had broken, and to make matters worse, was stuck in gear, with the engine at about 1200 RPMs. Fortunately, I knew how to do a back and fill (a single engine technique for spinning a boat around in a tight space) from my days sailing monohulls, so we turned around quickly if not somewhat cumbersomely and got the hell out of Dodge.

We headed further out into the larger bay, dropped the anchor in about sixty feet of water and spent the next few hours fixing the linkage assembly. Now, this particular linkage cable had failed once before, which was why I so quickly recognized what was wrong (the last time I spent several minutes saying "That's funny, it doesn't seem to reverse in a straight line anymore?") so I knew exactly what needed to be repaired. The difference was that this time I had no intention of spending another six agonizing hours bent at funny angles trying to get at the impossibly difficult screws that secured the cables.

Instead, we unbolted the entire throttle housing and lifted it straight out of the console, exposing the part we needed to reattach and tighten down. Now, I'd always wondered why there was a piece of bright yellow plastic bolted up to the inside of the console wall. It couldn't be for any kind of protection from water, it was deep inside the fiberglass console. It remained a mystery to me for over a year. Then, while trying to repair the assembly, I dropped a very import piece. It went pinging and bouncing down into the dark recesses of the boat. You see where all those wires disappear below the decking? Well, if something goes down there, not even a customs inspector will find it. I think my cell phone fell down there, but short of drilling through the hull or using an Xray device, it isn't worth trying to find it. If the part went all the way down there, there, we were screwed. I was really not enjoying this moment. That happens a lot in sailing, in case you haven't picked this up from prior posts.

"FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" Okay, not the most clever cursing, but I was tired, hungry, aggravated, annoyed and we were still rolling around in the ocean swell. After searching for the piece for the better part of an hour, I found it, and began to attempt replacing it. Then I stopped and thought "Wait a minute, what if this happens again?" So, I decided to put something underneath he housing to catch any pieces that might drop. I started looking around the boat for something to use, some sort of...sheet or something. I realized that what I needed was a piece of plastic I could attach to the wall that would catch anything that dropped. Wait a minute, what about this yellow stuff already attached to the wall?

"Fuckin'A!" Okay, not much better, but if you're from Jersey it will do. I pulled out the bright yellow plastic sheet and stretched it below the opening. Two small pieces of duct tape held the far end in place. I then went back up top and tried reattaching the cable. This time a screw fell, but was caught by the plastic and rolled to the center of it. Whatever genius put that there before me must have had exactly the same problem, and known better. Who ever they are, my hat is off to you!

We got the throttles repaired and put back together, then reset our primary anchor a bit further in to the harbor and out of the swell. It didn't really feel like the anchor ever truly caught (useless CQR), so we dropped a second anchor, this time the Danforth, which caught immediately and held. I slept better that night knowing we weren't going anywhere. Of course, that night the anchor windlass switch decided this was a perfect time to stop working completely, so we spent a considerable part of the next morning debugging electronics before we could get under way. We also had to pull the other anchor up by hand. A process I do not recommend for any but the most energetic.

We left as soon as possible that morning and sped towards Puerto Vallarta, hoping to get there before the winds picked up. We'd seen some whale's breaching off our port bow, and several large blows off in the distance, so we were optimistic that we'd get to see some whales close up.

Well, the seas are picking up and I need to get back to navigating, so its off for now. We hope to be in P.V. before nightfall. In the meantime I wish everyone a less frustrating day than we've had, and may all your electronics work the first time!

Cheers, for now.



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