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!

You can click
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.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

San Diego: the only thing not at war here is the weather.



Sorry if I'm yelling, but for someone who has spent the last year driving miles on dirt roads looking for a shop, store or roadside hovel with the right part in stock, this place is a boater's wet dream come true. One of the biggest problems we've had with Triton has been the leaking plumbing, which uses a 15mm "quick connect" fitting. I've looked everywhere in Central America for it, but most folks had either never seen it before or didn't carry it.

I walked up to the very first boat chandler I found and showed them the part. "You ever seen anything even remotely like this?" I asked the salesman. He smiled and said "Seen it? I've got a box of them right here!" and pointed to a wall of bins of various valves, tee connectors and other fittings, all exactly tailored for the 15mm line. I almost cried. Right next door was a Yanmar dealership; I was able to get everything I needed for the engines. A block away was one of the largest West Marines in the country. It was heaven. I've been able to get parts to fix most everything that had been broken or missing since I first bought the boat.

The next day I went to a museum exhibit then out for dinner with Holly E, a good friend who lives in these parts. We toured around town, saw a great movie called "Juno" (very, very funny and definitely worth seeing) and had a sushi dinner that I didn't have to catch first! It was pure luxury. As a token of my appreciation, I gave her a pair of fuchsia-colored furry gloves. Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure how I'd gotten them, and they just didn't go with my foulies- I'm a winter and those are definitely a spring color.

Monday afternoon I went over to the big building in town to speak with the Customs folks. The Vessel Entrance & Clearance Specialist woman I spoke with (I'm not making that up, that really was her title) assured me there wasn't any problem, so I was officially a real live American again. Now I can sail into any port in America I want without first spending a day making of fool of myself in Spanish. I still retain my constitutional rights to do so in English, which I've honed over the last year, but at least I'll know what the port officials are saying to me when they make those snarky comments.

With all the paperwork accomplished, and many of the boat projects done, I thought it would be nice to take Holly out on the bay. We went out for a day sail the next day, and it was amazing. Once you navigate around the various aircraft carriers, freighters, mid-sized warships, speed boats, three-masted schooners, tugs, restored wooden ketches, trawlers, restricted military operations areas, kayaks and canoes that jostle about the channel, sailing the bay is a cake walk. The winds were light but constant. We set the sails, aimed for a distant island, and sat back.

Now I realize why S.D. sailors are considered such light weights by the folks further north. It's so easy to sail here. The same trip out of S.F, after only an hour, would have involved three climate changes, dense fog and being run over by a Panamax freighter. If you tried this stunt out of Seattle, it would also have included a gale, icebergs and sub-zero temperatures. As it was, I think the only time I needed to do anything more strenuous than looking around was when I refilled our drinks. San Diego is definitely a boat friendly place.

After an hour or so we were quite a ways off shore, the winds were dying and we decided to turn around and head back. Just as we tacked, some military type folks pulled up in a speed boat and wanted to know if we were definitely leaving. We assured them we were, but asked why they wanted to know. "Oh, in a few minutes some folks will be jumping out of an airplane and want to land right here in the water." Long pause while we stared at each other. "Is there anything wrong with the plane?" I asked. "No, they just need the practice" was their offhand response, "they do this all the time." Yup, we are definitely in San Diego. If you'd wanted to parachute into the San Francisco bay you'd need authorization from about thirty different government agencies first, and probably be protested by Green Peace, Save The Whales, and the Bay Area Muck and Seagrass Preservation Society.

Anyway, it was a beautiful, perfect day and a great way to relax after so much mandatory motoring. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to use the sails for something as self-indulgent as just sailing. Holly seemed to enjoy herself as well, and we pulled into the harbor as the sun was setting. There were fighter jets flying in tight formation, a helicopter rescue drill going on off to starboard, and the local mine sweeping operations had just begun. What a harbor! Even the local Trader Joe's has pictures of aircraft carriers on the walls! I think if you smashed Berkeley and San Diego together, the resulting matter/anti-matter explosion might destroy the universe.

When I returned to the dock, there were two wonderful messages waiting for me on my cell phone. The first was from John, who said he'd had such a great time that he wanted to come back and do the rest of the sail with me. The second was from AnnMarie. Her dream job for the last year (the reason she hadn't been along for the entire trip) had just turned into a nightmare. She worked as the Comptroller for a patio furniture import company. About three months ago, the offshore parent company had dismissed the entire senior level management in America, a move that surprised everyone, especially AnnMarie, as the folks they let go were one of the best reasons she liked working there. At the time they had assured her they would be making her a new job offer quite soon, and in writing, but first they needed to finish the audit. She had been working seventy hour weeks on this project, for several months, and it was finally coming to an end when they gave her their offer letter.

While it had much of what she wanted, it contained some clauses she just couldn't accept. When she asked about changing it she was told it was a "take it or leave it" proposition. At that point she was receiving several calls a week asking her if she were interested in any outside contracts, and since it was made clear that amending her offer wasn't an option, so she quit. Honestly, I wish she had done this months ago. She is going to fly down and join us for the rest of the sail up. But won't be able to meet us until Long Beach, as she needed a few extra days to make sure she left the books up to date, run the various payrolls, general ledgers and all that other geek stuff that makes companies work.

John arrived a few days later. There were a few last minute items we needed, so on the way back from the airport we pulled into West Marine. As I was wondering around the store I heard "Rob! What are you doing here?". I looked up and saw Ron, my manager when I worked in the Oakland store. He had transfered down here. We chatted for a bit and then I invited him and his wife over for dinner, along with another WM employee who thought she might be interested in sailing north, a dock neighbor and some local sailors we'd met along the way. We made a big seafood & pasta dinner, chatted about work, told sea tales and even talked politics. What surprised me was that before everyone left they insisted on doing the dishes, cleaning the galley and making sure everything was ready for our departure tomorrow. It was a very lovely gesture and a great way to end my stay in San Diego.

Early the next morning we fueled up, topped off the water tanks and set sail for parts north. We pulled into Long Beach after a short day trip. It was an odd harbor, mostly very small craft, with old wooden docks, but the rents were cheap and we only needed to be there long enough for AnnMarie to arrive. There was a very large mall, Whole Foods, Safeway, and yet another West Marine, right along side the piers. We are definitely back in the states.

Well, it won't be long now before we are back in Emeryville, we need only work our way around Point Conception, and we're home free. The weather systems that gave us such great southerly winds have all passed through, so the high pressure system that normally lives off the coast has returned, bringing with it northwesterly winds, which will be on our nose for the rest of the way. But, AnnMarie will be along, which always brightens the day.

I hope this post finds your prospects as joyful and spirits as high!




Monday, January 28, 2008

The Barn and Beyond


Ahoy Mateys!

Well, we are in San Francisco now. The weather is cold, it is raining on and off, and windy. There are Subarus and Volvos filled with soccer moms everywhere we look, the streets are filled with people bustling about carrying shopping bags, and everyone is bundled up against the weather. Oh, wait a minute, this is San Diego! It just seems like San Francisco. What happened to their blue skies, warm winds and lush gardens is beyond me, but folks here all insist that we at the southern end of the state, not the middle of it.

We left Ensenada this morning, motoring for San Diego harbor. The trip north went smooth and was uneventful. We had southerly winds and swells from the west, making the coast fly by, but it really hasn't been nearly as much fun. The motors throb and rumble as they push us along, and the seas roll us side to side, making for a less peaceful journey. We also aren't cooking very much. Mike and John have been living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and bananas with Nutella. I've been eating mostly from foil packets of Indian food, straight from the pouch. Not great, but tasty and easy to grab.

A troupe of dolphins accompanied us most of the way, dancing across our hulls and jumping out of the water so close we could reach down and touch them. They are always happy to see us, our grinning and playful neighbors that come and go as they please. I've watched them now for over a year, but I know that soon, sadly, they'll be gone; the water is getting too cold for their tastes. I will miss them. We've started seeing more seals, another indication of the changing weather and water temperatures.

As we entered American waters, we played "Back In The USA" by Linda Ronstadt, but honestly, it was anti-climatic. We were cold, tired and ready to get off the boat. The water heater lines had ruptured a while back, leaving us without hot showers. Our makeshift attempts to repair it lasted only a few days, so we were looking forward to land and warm water. Although we'd had a very good run up the coast, still, it has been cold and windy, and at times wet, especially at night. We had to wear foulies for most of it, with lots of layers underneath. At night we slept with as many blankets as we could find. With only three on board, our watch schedule meant someone was always at the helm while the others slept, and no one was getting as much rest as they needed. We were looking forward to getting off watch, going out for dinner and getting a decent night's sleep.

On the way in to the harbor we passed several Navy war ships, freighters and even a submarine on its way out on patrol. There were many helicopters practicing search and rescue exercises, and fighter jets circling the bay, clear indications that this was one of the United State's largest naval ports. Their presence here permeates everything about the area. It is definitely a military base city, regardless of how laid back or left wing it might appear.

We arrived at the Customs dock at 4:30pm. A previously arriving vessel had already called for the Customs Officials (based at the nearby airport), so they appeared only minutes later, instead of the normally long wait. There were two officers, and I think we got the nice one. He was quite nice and very polite, gave us help filling our forms and explained where the local stores, restaurants and government buildings were. He wasn't sure about our papers, it was not immediately clear if our vessel required additional processing, and ended up calling the main office several times as we tried to resolve this. In the end he didn't confiscate our documentation, but suggested we show up at the main office on Monday just to make sure. After a brief inspection we were officially back in the states, and free to come and go as we pleased. We then moved the boat over to the "transient" dock (funny to be a transient now that I'm a legal resident again), where arriving boats could stay for up to ten days for very little money. Mike and John had made flight reservations to leave on Sunday, so we were planning on spending the next day at the world famous San Diego Zoo, a tourist attraction none of us had ever seen before. We grabbed dinner and went to sleep, happy to be home.

The next morning Mike received a call from his wife. The massive storms that had made getting here so easy for us, had flooded his home. Their garage was awash, and their back yard was under three feet of water. He needed to get home immediately, and grabbed the next plane back. John was also feeling bad about leaving his folks for so long, and decided to leave a day sooner as well. They were both the greatest of crew, the best of friends and folks to whom I will always be grateful. Getting up the coast without them would have been a slogging nightmare. Thank you guys!

Well, we've made it to the states, that's one big accomplishment achieved, and something that took far too long to happen, but was worth every delay, disruption and detour. I've been fortunate enough to have had the help of many great friends, made some new ones along the way, and found out that the best measure of a man is the quality of those who come to his aid. By that yard stick, I'm the luckiest guy alive. I never dreamed so many wonderful people would join us along our trip, nor did I realize just how much I needed their support. To everyone who was ever a part of this, I humbly thank you all.

Now all that remains is get around Point Conception (known to be a tough corner for boats going north) and the slog up to San Francisco. I'm not sure if I'll be able to convince anyone else to come along, but I think the rest of the journey could be day hopped, as there are hundreds of harbors, large and small, along the way. For now, I'm going to take a few days to relax, see about getting the boat back to shipshape, repairing those items that we've left to the last or couldn't find the right parts for in Central America, and resting up for the next big jump.

I trust all of your plans are moving along as well, and look forward to seeing you all shortly.




Thursday, January 24, 2008

Asuncion to Ensenada


Hola Readers!

The Triton continues its journey north up the wind swept, treacherous coast of Baja. We left Asuncion yesterday accompanied by a van guard of dolphins. They seem to be the same six, jumping about in our bow wake. We motored quickly up to Turtle Bay, arriving at midnight. Now you can buy fuel at the dock, but it is difficult docking there (requires a stern tie) and they have a reputation for charging whatever they think you'll pay. We had been told to look for the Enrico on AnnaBell instead, who had a small tug boat with a 200 gallon tank on board. He would sell you fuel while hanging on his mooring ball, which you could use overnight for free. He came highly recommended by several folks, and was said to be really fair and honest. We'd also been told to be careful because there were some other less scrupulous folks in the bay that might try to rip you off, and to know exactly, in advance, what everything was going to cost, including their time, and to make sure that you had exact change. We motored into the bay leery of shysters and cons.

Before we'd even put the anchor down a panga came motoring up out of the gloom, with a smiling, friendly Mexican aboard. It was dark, overcast and cold. He came along side our boat and said "Mi Amigo, necesita diesel? Usted puede utilizar este amarre gratis" [roughly translated this is: My friend, do you need diesel? You can tie up for free at this mooring ball!] So being the sophisticated, road weary traveler that I am, coupled with my mastery of Spanish, I still had no idea what he was saying.

To make matters worse, I had been warned repeatedly by enough cruisers to be careful about accepting anything without first finding out what it will cost. "Kwanta Questa Mooring Ball?" [how much cost mooring ball?] I asked, in my pigeon Spanish. He looked back at me, smiled politely, and said "Usted no necesita pagar por el amarre si quiere combustible. ¿Necesita diesel?", [No, sir, you don't have to pay for the mooring ball, it is free if you want diesel, do you need any fuel?] I had no idea what he said, except something to the effect that he wanted to sell me diesel. I knew I didn't want to pay for the mooring ball when we could anchor for free.

"No Nessicito Mooring, Kwanta Questa para Diesel?" [Me no need mooring, how much cost for diesel?] I asked, which now had him completely confused. Why doesn't this stupid gringo want a free mooring ball, its all included for free if you buy diesel. "Si, mi amigo, diesel is $2.49 a gallon" he politely replied. I turned to my crew and said "Okay, let's put the anchor down, then we can buy some diesel from him. I'm not sure where AnnaBell is, but we need to get moving north quickly, and this guy is right here." John and Mike looked at me oddly, but shrugged and started getting ready to drop the hook. It was then that I noticed the word "AnnaBell" stenciled on the side of the panga. John politely coughed, then leaned over and said "I think he wants you to use his mooring ball while we fuel up." Not wanting to appear foolish [yeah, right] I nodded sagely and asked Mike to take the helm while John and I went to the bow to pick up the mooring ball. Enrico was there waiting with it and handed us up the line. It couldn't have been made any easier.

Enrico then started up the outboard on his panga and disappeared back into the night, returning moments later in a small tug. He pulled up along side us, we rafted up, and he started up a generator, flooding the area with bright lights. He had a very professional rig, with a diesel pump and meter, long hoses and fuel nozzle. Ah, but ever the cautious customer, I decided to fill one of the 20 liter fuel jugs first, to make sure he "gave good weight" as they would say in the butcher business. We'd heard too many stories about pumps that didn't register properly.

We filled a jug with diesel and noticed that the meter registered 24 liters! Ahah! So that's the scam, I thought. I pointed this out using gestures and my highly fluent Spanish. "Senior, es veinte liters, pero es viente cuatro?" [Sir, is 20 liters but is 24?] Enrico looked at me incredulously. No doubt thinking "Yeah moron, you just put 24 liters in a 20 liter jug". Then I looked at the jug. I was filled to the top, a good three inches above the line marked on it that indicated full. We reset the meter, got out another jug, filled it to the line, and it registered exactly 20 liters. Throughout all of this, Enrico was patient, gracious and courteous, despite my overwhelming stupidity in either language.

Eventually we finished fueling the boat. We'd also filled up several jerry jugs and a few extra plastic water jugs, just to be sure we'd have enough fuel to get to Ensenada. We intended to run at top speed to take advantage of the flat seas and calm weather. Enrico disappeared down into his tug, presumably to calculate our bill. I sat down with my calculator and did the same. Of course, Enrico was probably doing the math by hand, and rounding off at two decimal places, whereas I was using a scientific calculator with floating point notation. When I finished, we owed him $420.00.

I went back outside and waited. A minute later he reappeared and presented a bill for $418.00. Thrilled that I (for once) had something positive to contribute, I pointed this out to him. "No, senior, es incorrecto!" I said, smiling a toothy grin. Enrico looked back at me with what I can only described as resigned ennui, and cocked his head to one side. I showed him my calculations, and proudly gave him the extra two dollars. He took the money, counted it, then with a thin smile slowly said "Bueno, mi amigo, gracious, buenas nocha". Exactly translated this means "great, my friend, thank you, have a good night", but given what had already transpired it could also be interpreted as a very polite "Please go away, you are a tiresome and odd person".

We then turned tail and headed out the harbor and up the coast towards Ensenada. Actually, I tell a lie. We stopped even before we'd cleared the point at Turtle Bay. The starboard side engine's alternator light came on, then the warnin light came on, then the temp started rising, then the audible alarms started sounding. We shut it down, and while wallowing in the swells I crawled down into the engine compartment to see what was wrong.

We'd broken a fan belt. We had spares, but it was a brand new one that failed, and after some inspection I'd realized that the geniuses who'd maintained the boat at The Moorings in BVI (who'd installed the alternators originally) had used bolts that were slightly to narrow for the manifold sleeves they slide through. This oversight has allowed them to wobble slightly as they loosen, leaving the alternator itself just slightly out of alignment. Not an emergency (I could just retighten them every few days, a process that ranks just under Barium enema on my list of favorite things), but it means that we are putting more stress on the alternator bearings than is necessary, and wearing out fan belts faster than we need to. The real solution is machining the through holes perfectly square and using the correct bolts. Something I won't be able to do until I'm back home and have access to all my tools.

There were long rollers coming in from the west, maybe eight feet high but spaced out pretty far, but the wind was dead flat calm, so we decided to continue north on one engine while I replaced the fan belt. I had the envious task of squatting inside a steaming hot area the size of a college dorm refrigerator, while working on an overheated engine and burning any part of my (now dripping with sweat) body that happened to touch it while gently being rolled back and forth. Folks who say things like "Gosh, what an amazing life, Robb, so glamorous and fun, I wish I could go sailing too" rarely ever change fan belts at sea, replace packing glands when out of the country, extract impellers from old motors, fix blocked up heads or repair stuck values attached to half full holding tanks.

None the less, we motored out the bay, turned right and headed up the coast under a full moon and flat sea. If you've been skimming over this blog you may not have noticed yet but the weather has very much been in our favor, which is very unusual. We've had either flat airs, or winds from the west or south, with long swells rolling under our beam from the Pacific Ocean, but best of all, relatively light chop and very little bashing over all.

Odd conditions for the infamous Baja Bash in summer, but this is winter, and it is very common for winter storms working their way in from the Pacific to make the conditions just right for a sprint up the coast. We did run into a bit of bad weather later that night, which lasted for about twelve hours. A squall blew in from the west as we motored along. Mike was on watch, and noticed an oddly shaped radar return, which seemed to be keeping pace with us but getting closer. He kept staring out, looking for the ship. Eventually he asked me if radar would pick up storm clouds. "Oh, yeah, easily." I replied, "why do you ask?" He pointed over to the radar and said "Well, there is this dragon shaped cloud coming towards us, I'm worried it might be a storm."

I looked over at the radar and sure enough, there was a very large squall front coming in, although you probably have to be the kind of bored you get from standing watch to claim it was an upside down dragon shape. Mike insists that it is, but I think it looks more like a kind of sead horse. I leave it to the reader to decide. We scurried around the boat, making sure everything was battened down, that there were plenty of flashlights ready, the radios were charged up, all the electronics were operational, the engines controls were in the green, there was food and drink already prepared, etc. All the things the various sailing books recommend. Then we sat and watched as the squall approached. At first it appeared to be a dark line across the horizon, but quickly the winds picked up speed and the waves built.

Soon it began to rain, and the waves began to come at us from every angle. There appeared to be a "break" in the storm front, a small area that didn't seem to have much cloud action inside it, so we headed for it and broke through the storm front and out onto the other side of the squall. We bashed along, and needed to slow down to avoid pounding into the sea, but it wasn't much of a problem and eventually what little weather was left blew past us and we were back to long rolling swells and light winds. So much for the treacherous waves of the Baja Bash. Even the squalls were pretty timid this trip.

We were still worried about getting slammed into by a big Pacific storm though. We'd been watching a low pressure system several hundred miles west of San Francisco for quite some time. It had been slowly working its way east towards the coastline, and it was our hope that it would continue to do so, but not get there until we'd at least arrived in San Diego. For more details on this (or if you are a fascinated by amateur explanations of weather) scroll down to the end of this page for a more detailed description of what was happening in the atmosphere.

Theoretically, having a slow moving storm just off the coast like that meant we'd get help going north; and we pretty much did. Most days we sailed with both engines going full out on flat seas and following winds. It was beautiful sailing and we ran straight through from Turtle Bay directly to Ensenada without stopping. We pulled into Ensenada harbor, which has a really interesting sunken river boat right in the middle of it. You have to go around it to get into the marina. We arrived at four o'clock on Thursday and grabbed an end tie at the Cruiseport Village marina. The marina is a fairly nice place, with hot showers and other such amenities. The marina staff were quite pleasant, spoke English far better than me and were very helpful. They even filled out our departure paper work for us, adding Mike and John to the crew list. We raced over to the Harbor Master offices to file our new papers.

The offices are only a few blocks from the marina, but we grabbed a cab because it was getting towards quiting time and we didn't want to have to wait until tomorrow (or worse still) Monday before we could leave. We walked in and gave our forms to the woman at the front desk. She gave them back to us and said (in quite refined English) to go talk to the guy behind the next window. Amazingly, the Ensenada authorities (Port Captain, Customs, Immigration) are all in one building. Each office has a sort of bank teller like window, set around a common room, with one or two officials behind each window. We went to the next window and presented our papers. He said something quickly in Spanish while looking over our papers. "Por favor, Senior, mi Espanyol es poco" [Please Sir my Spanish is small]. Without looking up, and weary but excellent English he said "You need to pay for your exit visa, go back to the first window."

We went back, paid for the visa, then returned, got our new crew list stamped and were set to go. "Oh, do I need to do anything else?" I asked. "Nope, your cleared to leave for San Diego." he replied. "So I don't need to have customs stamp my paper work?" I asked, surprised that it could be this easy. "Well, they are right there, so why don't you ask them." he replied, clearly impatient with my limited understanding of reality.

I walked over to the Customs Window, where there were two officials looking at a computer terminal. "Buenas Dias, senior, por favor, me pueden ayudar?" [Good day sir, please can you help me?] to which the first official looked up, smiled and said "Si, digime?". [Yeah, what's up?] Okay, deep breath, long pause while I compose this complex question in my head, then "Mi barco es aquĆ­, pero ahora voy San Diego con mi barco y mi amigas." [My boat is here, but now San Diego with my boat and girlfriends] The official looked at me, then at Mike and John. I can only imagine what he was thinking.

"Es possible necesito documentacion para mi barco?" [It is possible need documentation for my boat?] At this point the official leaned forward and, in a heavy Brooklyn accent said "What is it you want anyway?" Oh, that's right, they speak English here. "Um, I just wanted to make sure I had all the paper work finished so I could leave the country." He looked at his partner, shrugged, then said "Did you have the documents they gave you when you entered the country?" Now, I remember doing this, and getting the form that said I'd paid the entrance fee, but that was several ports ago and the documentation was back on the boat. They were closing in three minutes and I really didn't want to have to wait another day while I tracked it down, so I started frantically searching through my folder looking for anything that resembled the form.

"It will have a stamp on it from Customs." he said. I pulled out the Agriculture Inspection form and gave that to them. He frowned and shook his head "No, it will say Customs on it. This stamp is different". I dug around and found another form that had a stamp on it. He snorted and said no, this is from Nicaragua. I searched more, found the original crew list when we entered the country, there were several stamps on it. "Nope, it has to be from Customs." Eventually I found a crew list from Mazatlan when we went through all those problems with Customs getting Rob off the crew list. It had their stamp on it.

The official looked at the paper, looked at me for a bit, then shook his head. It what can only be described as the most polite but slightly patronizing tones he said "Look, normally we don't do this, but today we will make an exception. Next time you come back to Mexico you will need to prove that you paid to enter the country. Now go away." I looked over at the crew. John was starring down at his shoes and grinning, but Mike was shaking back and forth trying to suppress his laughter. We walked back outside, dragging what little dignity I had left along the sidewalk and got in the cab. Both of them have been doing Borat imitations of me asking if this is the correct document ever since.

Despite my continual humiliation in Spanish, it looks like we will be heading up the coast at first light tomorrow. The weather appears to be holding and we should have fair winds and following seas. With only sixty miles to go, I am so looking forward to making a fool of myself in a language I feel competent in. In the meantime I wish you all the best.




[Editor's Note: The following was snipped out of the main text as it is boring as hell, and stuck back here at the end solely for those folks so bored at work they have nothing better to do but learn about meteorology. Does your boss know you're reading this stuff?]

The reason we wanted a storm off our port beam has to do with how weather works in general. It is a relatively complicated subject (which I've been failing to master for quite some time, regardless of how hard I try) but I will attempt to explain this in very simplistic terms (i.e. lies to children when they ask why uncle Harry is wearing a dress) so please don't think my explanation is anything more than a gross simplification of what is really happening. Weather happens for a lot of complex reasons. Mostly, it is there to thwart the sailing plans of cruisers, make life miserable for farmers and provide surfers with yet another excuse not to get real jobs.

Mostly what causes weather has to do with some basic concepts like: warm air being lighter than cold air, the earth spinning, the sun heating up the planet unevenly (mostly because the planet's builder, a union run shop, put all the water in first, and then just dumped all the land on it in clumps instead of the lovely checkerboard design the original plans called for) but mostly weather happens because air moving between the poles and the equator tends to not go in a straight line, but instead veers off on at a right angle. This twisting is called the Coriolis effect, and also explains why Australian toilets are left handed.

Which way it twists (right or left) depends on which hemisphere (north or south) you are in. Well, actually it depends on which hemisphere the air is in, you can be anywhere. The important point is that if you have a bunch of high pressure air in the northern hemisphere, it will try to go out towards the air around it (whose pressure is slightly less) but since it tends to twist (clockwise in this case), you end up with a kind of swirl effect. There is a huge semi-permanent high pressure system that lives out over the center of the Atlantic ocean, whose clockwise motion is responsible for the famous Trade winds.

The same is true of low pressure systems, except it works in reverse. As the low pressure system sucks air in, it swirls counter clockwise. Providing you are above the equator. If you're below it, just reverse the directions of which way the swirls go. The problem with low pressure systems is that as they suck air into their core, it needs somewhere to go. If there happens to be the right conditions just above it, then the air goes up and is whisked off by the jet stream. Which means there is more room to suck in even more air down at sea level. Get too much of this happening too quickly and you get storms. With the addition of just a few other elements, you get hurricanes. Or typhoons if you live under the equator or are left handed.

So, if you have a low pressure system off your port beam (and you are heading north) the counter clockwise spin of the air means that the air north of the low pressure system will be moving westward, the air west of the low's center will be moving toward the equator, the south most air will be moving east, and the east most air around the low will be moving north. That's why we wanted the low off our beam. The air closest to us (the air to the west of us, but east of the low pressure system) would be pushing us north.

Totally obvious right? Well, you were warned. This stuff is PFM (pure fucking magic) as far as I'm concerned. I read all the books, look at all the weather charts, listen to the forecasts, and still can't figure out how to make them all make sense together. BTW, a great book on this subject is Steve Dashew's "Mariner's Weather" but nothing short of a degree in the subject really seems to be enough. Guess I'm going back to college.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heading North, We Stop In Asuncion


Hey Guys,

Although, I wonder if the plural form of "guy" is appropriate here. Perhaps the only person reading this blog is myself? I hope not, because the self discipline required to sit down and write out each adventure is something that definitely doesn't come easy to me, and the talent to make that interesting is still a skill I strive to master. Especially when there isn't much to tell that is out of the ordinary, or the trip has gone smoothly. Oh, sure, I can invent all sorts of complicated lies about pirate attacks, or found treasure, or UFO sightings, but these days folks want pictures to prove it, and I'm just not up to speed on PhotoShop yet. I intend to take a class, and soon I'll be learning how to create photographic evidence as good as anything you see in the National Inquirer. I figure by this time next year I'll be sailing around the Horn of Africa with Elvis, rediscovering the lost city of Atlantis, and uncovering the secret government base where they train dolphins to attack Russian subs. In the meantime I'll just have to make do with describing what has been going on, and add in as many lies as I can get away with.

My two new crewmates, Mike and John, arrived, and brought with them several hundred pounds of goodies that AnnMarie shipped down, including a second shaft seal and the missing set screws from the first one. She also shipped down four huge containers of her famous "wheat free" chocolate chip cookies. Sadly, she mentioned this to Mike when she dropped the bags off with him, so only three arrived, and they were all pretty light at that. I told her not to let on that there were treats aboard (hoping to stash these away for myself) but now that the rest of the crew know about it, nothing is safe. Unless I stand next to the counter all day long, they seem to disappear much faster than I consume them. Drat! At the time of this writing, we are halfway up the coast of Baja, and there are three cookies left. It could very well be the plot for the next Kane Mutiny, with the crew setting me adrift in the dinghy clutching a tin of tall house cookies.

The new guys arrived on Thursday, and we spent most of it having dinner, shopping for boat parts, and all of Friday getting the boat finished. The new prop seal is installed and has worked well. We added redundant bilge pumps, fixed broken float switches, resewed the Bimini, and got pretty much everything else we needed to set sail, except for gas and ice, which we would get at the Cabo fuel dock. The two items we couldn't find was anyone that could refill our oxygen bottle, or sell us a scuba tank. I had brought down all my Paramedic Equipment including an O2 rig, but we have never been able to find anyone that could refill the bottle-- apparently getting oxygen is not possible in Mexico, which is surprising because there are any number of hospitals, clinics and emergency services located all over the area. Well, we wouldn't have O2, but we thought we'd at least be able to find a scuba tank. This trip Mike brought down a "Spare Air" which is a mini scuba tank with a regulator built right on top, that you can fill directly from a regular scuba tank. They give you about 14 breaths under water and are wonderful to have aboard if you need to dive the anchor, or clear the prop of kelp or tangled lines, or have to stay in the same cabin with the captain if he has had wheat. We looked all over town but couldn't find a scuba tank for sale either.

Friday night we went to an "open house" event on Slowdance, and had a great time talking to many of the movers and shakers of San Jose. David's mother (who owns the boat) and her best friend Maria (who was the star on the television show "Three's Company") were both there to help out as well. They did a great job, and over the course of the evening there must have been ninety people on board, including prospective clients and brokers. They even had a mariachi band. It was quite swank, and will probably drum up a lot of future business for them. We wish them great success and have no doubt that they will soon be taking folks out nightly.

At one point I started chatting with a charming woman named Caroline who runs the local American newspaper called the Gringo Gazette. She turned out to be the wife of another neighbor on the dock, Ernie, who sells fractional rentals in the area, rebuilds huge boats for fun and profit, and is involved in various real estate ventures. Ernie is one of those folks who you just immediately like. He is friendly, outgoing, witty and fun. We had started kidding around as soon as we met, and he was always offering tools and help whenever he came by the boat. We mentioned to them that we were getting ready to leave that night and I asked if he knew where we could buy a scuba tank. "Oh, here, I've got one you can have" he casually said. To a cruiser getting ready to head up the coast this is like saying "Oh, sure, I've got an extra tent, backpack and four wheel drive truck you could borrow" to someone going hiking in the desert. We were floored. I rode back to their apartment to pick it up, and was amazed by their place. They live in a beautiful home overlooking San Jose, and it is filled with oil paintings, mostly done by Caroline. She had studied music in college, was a guitar teacher for many years, but has now taken up painting (while running a newspaper), and is doing wonderful work. I must say I was very impressed with both of them. They are people who have achieved great things in their lives. Better still, they were gracious, warm and friendly to complete strangers. We hope to see them up north sometime soon and repay the kindness.

So, with scuba tank in hand, we set sail for Cabo. Well, almost. We discovered that the fix for the Bimini wasn't going to work. The velcro was completely dissolving from constant exposure to the sun, so we spent another two hours hand sewing it into place. Once done we motored down to Cabo in light winds from the north, arriving at dawn and pulled up to the fuel dock. It was still early and the regular circus of tourist clowns hadn't hit the water yet, so the bay was calm. We topped up the tanks, filled the freezer with ice and headed out for the long trek north. We were a bit apprehensive because rounding Cabo Falso can be one of the hardest things you can do in this area. The last time I was here (fifteen years ago) six boat tried it the week before us, and only four made it. One was blown back and the other went up on the rocks, killing one of its crew members and seriously injuring another.

The weather seemed very calm, so we headed up. Much to our surprise and delight, it was dead flat. We went around the rocks at eight knots, and headed up the coast with no headwind or chop. It was a fantastic start to our journey, and continued that way for many more miles. We made incredible time going north, and got to Mag Bay much sooner than we had intended. Having had only small swells and mild chop, we decided to push on for Turtle Bay. The weather reports were all looking good, and it seemed like we were going to dodge the dreaded "Baja Bash". As soon as we started getting confident, Mother Nature decided to remind us that she doesn't approve of gloating by slamming us with twenty knot winds, six foot seas and chop coming from three directions at once.

We pounded along for most of the night and a large part of the day. Eventually it calmed down, but we were low on fuel, so stopped in the middle of the ocean and filled our tanks from the jerry jugs we'd brought along, then started on again. The weather kicked up about fifty miles north of Mag Bay, and we were bashing along, being thumped by waves each time we past one. We reduced speed, but it still took a lot to push forward. We were being beaten on and burning fuel faster than we wanted. It also got cold, so standing shifts was no longer fun. In fact, it sucked. No glorious sunsets, no dolphins off the bowsprit, no whales breaching close by could make up for the fact that it was cold and wet and bumpy. We tried sailing against it but we couldn't find a favorable wind that helped. It stayed that way most of yesterday. By today we were still many miles below Turtle Bay, the wind (and thankfully the waves) had died down and we didn't have enough fuel to motor directly there. That meant turning east, losing both ground and time by heading for one of the harbors along the way. We were contemplating our options when the wind backed around a bit and picked up, giving us enough push to point towards Asuncion Bay, just south of Turtle Bay, where we wanted to go to refuel.

We motor sailed the rest of the way there, pulled into the harbor at night, and hailed Shari Bondy, one of the local ex-pats who is cruiser friendly. She gave us directions and GPS coordinates for a good anchorage and we dropped the hook just off shore in thirty feet of water on a sandy bottom a hundred yards from shore. Even before we'd put the anchor down we were greeted by a dozen seals, all splashing around our bow and happy to see us. We were pretty happy to see them too, and Mike commented that it was worth the whole trip just for this one minute. Personally, I think he could have saved a lot of travel by just going to SeaWorld, but he thought this was somehow better. Go figure. We made steaks on the barbecue, had a great meal, relaxed and got to sleep comfortably for an entire eight hours. What luxury!

The next morning we contacted Shari, who picked us up at the shore, drove us to the local gas dealer, filled our jugs, took us shopping, showed us around town, then brought us back to her place for breakfast and offered us showers to boot!! We were once again humbled by the good will of folks we've met. It is amazing and astounding the hospitality we've been offered in Mexico. It is truly a friendly country. We later met her husband Juan (who had been out fishing) and is also a talented musician and radio technician. They are great advocates for this area, and know most everyone. Between the two of them you can get help with just about anything you need. They also have a website if you want to learn more about the area. If you are ever in the area, give them a shout on channel 16 (Sirena, pronounced "sea rain ah") and tell them Robb Triton sent you.

Asuncion is a sleepy little fishing village along a bight of land facing the Pacific. It will one day be a glamorous vacation resort where folks spend thousands for a week's worth of relaxation. Right now it is mostly dirt roads and cement block houses, but the folks are warm and friendly, helpful to a fault and the kind of people you'd love to have for a neighbor. It's a bit off the beaten path, but the views are spectacular and the weather can't be beat. I'm smitten with this place.

Well, we'll be heading up to Turtle Bay soon, once we've fixed all the little things that broke on the trip, pour the diesel into the tanks, and clean up a bit. In the meantime I wish you all safe harbors, warm water and even warmer friends.




Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Long Distance Dripless Rubber Booty Call


No, the title isn't some sort of kinky sex reference, although AnnMarie did fly down here for another conjugal visit (they allow that in Mexico) but the title refers to the new "dripless" mechanical seal she brought with her from Emeryville. The propeller shaft on one of the engines started leaking, and rather than chance having it get worse on our way up the coast, we ordered another. As it turns out, the other engine is starting to drip as well, so we'll need to change that one out pretty soon. What fun, heh?

These are pretty nifty devices, they allow the propeller shaft to exit the hull, and still spin, yet keep the water out. In most older boats there is something called a "stuffing box" (I love that term, it sounds like some sort of Thanksgiving desert) which is a long piece of hose that attaches to the boat, with a brass flange at the other end. The shaft goes through the flange, inside the hose and out the boat. Inside the flange is a "packing gland" (another term whose mental image conjures up something definitely not holiday related) which consists of strips of flax impregnated with some sort of earwax. You unscrew the flange, stuff the flax around the shaft then tighten up on the nut until water stops leaking.

Almost. It actually has to drip a little, constantly, in order for it to work correctly, if you make it too tight then it will overheat when the shaft is spinning. Too lose and water fills your boat. Just right and the water acts as a sort of lubricant and cooling fluid, but means you always have water in your bilge. In actual use, these things are always sort of a problem, and they require constant checking and continual maintenance. Most boat owners dread touching them, it is the moral equivalent of needing to go to a proctologist. It's a problem back there somewhere, you know you should deal with it, but really wish it just healed itself.

There are newer types of synthetic packing material that supposedly work better and eliminate the drip, but the general design is [several hundred years] old technology, and there are newer alternatives. Namely, the "dripless mechanical seal". This system supposedly eliminates the constant drip (thus the name) by eliminating the stuffing box and packing gland entirely.

Instead, a hollow, compressible, rubber bellows is placed around the shaft, one end attached to the boat, and the other terminated with a graphite ring that goes around the shaft. A stainless steel collar then fits tightly over the shaft, it's aft facing surface pressed up against the graphite disk's forward facing surface. Lock nuts hold the collar in place on the shaft, compressing the belows slightly and providing the seal. Because the two disk's surfaces are in compression, no water gets past, yet the shaft can turn without heating up because there is always seawater inside the bellows to keep it cool. In fact, a small tube is run from the rubber bellows up above the waterline (preventing air pockets from forming inside it) to make sure that there is always water cooling the two disks.

Very simple, very clever, and it should last seven to ten years without maintenance or hemorrhoids. What a concept! We'll see just how long and well it works, but it appears to be doing the trick so far. Of course, once we start up the coast will be the real test. Providing the stainless steel collar doesn't slip, it should remain completely dry in the bilge. If it does slip, then water comes gushing in. To that end I've put a couple of pipe clamps around the shaft just behind the collar, as backup, and added a second, completely redundant bilge pump, giving me a total output capacity of about two thousand gallons per hour per engine compartment. Plus another two thousand gallons per hour in each of the separate hull compartments forward of the engines. If I'm taking water on that fast, odds are good the propeller fell out or we were rear ended by a whale.

But first we needed to get the part down here. Now, although there is a brand new DHL shop not ten minutes from here, it hasn't opened yet (it was supposed to have been operational two weeks ago, but this is "manana" land) and according to everyone else getting anything here could take weeks. And more than a hundred dollars. I wanted to get the seal installed before the crew arrived, and get to see Ann again, so she found a cheap, non-stop flight for not much more than what it would have cost to ship it. She ordered the part (it took less than two days to ship it from Europe to Emeryville) and hand carried it down with her. It meant she flew down on the weekend and had to leave for work on Sunday, but it was great to see her again!

Picking her up at the airport I ran into a strange situation. I wasn't sure which public parking was appropriate at the airport, the signs are less than clear, so I pulled up in front of the terminal and asked the cop directing traffic where to go. "Oh, well, you can park over there, or you can leave it here in the red zone if you are only going to be a few minutes...just tip me on your way out." Well, that seemed odd to me, but Ann was due to arrive any second and it wasn't clear how much stuff she would have. I thought about it for a bit, and defaulted to that age old advice: when in Rome, do as the Romanians.

Now if a cop tried that at an airport in the states, he'd lose his job, maybe go to jail. Down here, it is just another day. Several of the other cruisers here have told me about numerous traffic stops that were "resolved" by paying the cop directly, rather than dealing with the ticket. The corruption and bribery is something that I think ultimately needs to change before Mexico will really be able to compete on the global scale, but things are changing fast down here. No doubt even that will fade (it has already improved significantly since the last time I was here) and eventually rule of law will take hold. We all hope so, anyway.

On the way back to the marina, we stopped for a bite to eat. I was pretty tired and very hungry and suffering from low blood sugar. I could barely speak. Ann said "Is there somewhere we can get lunch?" I tried to explain that I knew a place, it was on the way, but that they "...serve meat, and, uh, meat, on potatoes, or you can just get meat." There was a brief pause, then she said, "Oh, can I get meat with my meal?". She laughed and made fun of me the whole way there. But it was really a great place, just a little road side stand, run by "Fidel" (he was quick to point out that there was no relation to Castro) who knows everyone in town. Basically, he serves meat, grilled with potatoes. He sat and chatted with us as we ate, and every other car that drove by honked or waved as they went past. If you are ever in San Jose, check him out, he is on the road that leads to the Marina Los Cabos, just off the traffic circle.

Oh, that is another thing about San Jose. They love, Love, LOVE traffic circles. And road bumps. And traffic circles with road bumps. I think the Mexican Tire and Suspension Repair Consortium is behind it all, but you can't drive more than a few blocks without going around a circle, across a ditch or over a bump. And, to really make life fun, they put paving stones the pavement in spoke like patterns radiating out of the center of the traffic circles. This means if you go faster than seven miles an hour around one of these circles you better be really good at regaining control out of a skid. That doesn't stop the locals from driving like maniacs, but it does provide seconds of terror filled amusement as you navigate your way home.

Ann and I spent most of the day just hanging out on the boat. We tried to go to a fancy restaurant that evening but got lost trying to find it. The numerous police officers we stopped to ask seemed surprised that anyone would voluntarily talk to a person in uniform at night, but while being very polite and as helpful as possible, they didn't know where we wanted to go. Eventually we just gave up, pulled up in front of some roadside joint and had a mediocre meal.

She left the next morning, but not before making me take a picture with my favorite roadside attraction. I had the seal installed that afternoon, but we were missing the set screws that held it in place. They had fallen into the packing material, never to be see again. No big deal, Ann eventually found them when she got home, but it means that I won't be able to finish and test it all until the crew gets here with the new ones. Ugh. They are also bringing down another seal, which I'll probably install on the other shaft if there is time, or we stop somewhere. This boat is absolutely fantastic in that almost anything can be repaired on it without having to take it out of the water. I love how well thought out the design is.

I've also got to hang out a bit this week with a Dutch cruising couple, Marcel and Anok, and their one year old child Lev. We had bumped into them in La Paz, then in Los Frailes, then in Cabo, and now they are here in the marina as well. They've been cruising on a 27? foot trimaran called "Evasive", which was originally owned by Larry Flint, painted bright pink and called "She's Easy". When they bought it, it was tan, and had already had its name changed. Being less than perfectly fluent they didn't really grok the subtle meaning of the new name. They are thinking of changing the name back, because "Elusive" just doesn't capture the spirit of their adventure, and it sounds kind of shifty to them. I agree.

Unfortunately, they ran into some problems this week with the four stroke outboard that powers their boat. While motoring into harbor it broke free from its mooring plate and fell into the ocean, still running. Marcel was unsure what to do about it, and asked my advice. I suggested the standard things, like draining all the fluids, flushing the cylinders, changing the oil several times, etc., eventually we got it running again, and it sounded pretty smooth. "Okay", I said, "now change the oil again, run it an hour, then change it again after that." He did, and started it up. It seemed fine. "Wow, you got really lucky!" I said, "most motors that suck in water while running blow a seal, or crack the head, or worse." I left feeling pretty good about things.

A hour later Marcel came by and asked if I could look at the motor again. It seems there was water leaking out of the oil drain plug. Well, I checked it out, and sadly, there was water just pouring into the crank case when the engine was running. Very bad. Very, very bad. It seems he did blow a seal (or worse, maybe cracked the block somewhere), and would have to take the motor in to La Paz to get it fixed. Damn, just when I thought we'd cheated death. So, its off to the mechanics for them, and back to being a mechanic for me. The fun never stops.

In the meantime, work proceeds apace. I've got a bunch of wiring and plumbing done, have a bunch more to do, but should be ready to go by the time the crew arrives. We hope to leave here Friday night around 10pm, motor down to Cabo Falso and check the weather. If it is good we will run up the coast towards Mag Bay. If not, we'll wait another twenty four hours and try again.

So, if you are of a religious nature, please say a prayer to whatever God you worship, and ask him to put in a good word with Poseidon, tell him to spare Triton from his wrath, and grant us flat seas, calm winds and clear water. Getting round this point is considered one of the hardest bits of sailing there is to do, so we'll take all the help we can get. In the meantime, we watch the weather charts and listen to the HAM nets and hope for the best.

Cheers for now,



Friday, January 11, 2008

San Jose, the anti-hell.


Greetings from Sunny San Jose!

No, we have not made it up the coast in three days. I'm still here in Puerto Los Cabos, working on the boat, and awaiting parts, crew and AnnMarie. Not in that order. Ann managed to locate the correct part (so we hope!) and it turns out to be cheaper and easier for her to fly down here than to try to ship it. She arrives tomorrow, will spend the weekend and then fly back for work on Monday. There are very few men alive that have as wonderful a partner as I do. Not a day goes by I don't appreciate her being in my life.

In other good news, two folks have signed up, and are going to come along. They fly down next week. Mike, who sailed with us from Trinidad all the way to Panama, in addition to being a great guy and competent sailor, is also a paramedic fire fighter. So, if I have a heart attack from the boat catching fire, he'll know what to do, which is probably jump overboard and swim for shore.

Also joining us will be John, a friend of a friend. I'm told he has extensive sailing experience and has always wanted to make this trip. He expedited getting his passport to be able to do so, which says a lot about his motivation. This will definitely be a trip to put at the top of your sailing resume.

There is also the possibility that some others might join us. Some other friends of Mikes, and Charlie, one of my paramedic preceptors, is also possibility. There has also been interest by a number of locals including the first mate on the beautiful Lagoon 50 next to us in Cabo, someone on the docks here in San Jose, and someone else from Cabo.

So it is feast or famine. Actually, it would have been interesting to do the trip alone, but I'm thankful for the company. It is simply safer to have someone else on board, and anything more than two people is luxury for this boat. Now if only the weather would cooperate, it will be a cake walk.

I am certainly much relieved to have the additional help, and can now concentrate on the tasks at hand, which include getting grease permanently ensconced beneath my fingernails, ripping the skin from my knuckles, abrading my forearms on fiberglass, and having to pee while scrunched into an impossible position in the bilge. Ah, the good life.

In the meantime I wish you all a maintenance free, sunny, calm day and free of customs officials, port captains and pot holed roads.




Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What a difference a harbor makes.


Ahoy, Ahoy,

Well, I've moved the boat a few miles further north to a small town on the western shore of Baja called San Jose. It is about twenty minutes further north (by car) from Cabo San Lucas, and I'm staying at a a brand new marina called "Marina Los Cabos". In fact, it is still under construction and won't be finished for another two or three years, so there are only limited facilities here. They haven't finished installing the water or electric lines, but at one quarter the price of Cabo San Lucas (and ten times the pleasantry), it is still worth the money.

The harbor manager is Jim Elfers, author of "The Baja Bash", a book about sailing north up the coast of the Americas. It is extremely detailed, and provides excellent insight into what it takes to get "to the barn" as they call San Diego when going north. He has copies for sale in the marina office, where he will gladly autograph one for you, or you can get them on line at As an added treat, you will get to meet Claudia, his secretary, who is stunningly beautiful, charming, warm and very helpful, and the rest of his very nice, helpful staff. Would that all marina managers, harbor officials and government employees as nice, I'd have nothing to write about.

The harbor itself is just about as different from Cabo San Lucas as heaven from hell. There are no ugly American tourists, no jet skis, no ski boats pulling yahoos, no whores, no drunks, no throbbing music until 2AM. In fact, it is a peaceful, quiet, well protected harbor with a very pretty view. They dug the harbor out of the ground, effectively "made it from scratch" and although I think they should have made it even bigger, it's clear that it will be a very nice spot to stop when south of La Paz.

About the only down side (besides it not being complete) is the town's decision to install an "art" monument on the adjacent hill. Something that would put them on the map, so to speak. When San Francisco tried this we ended up with that "arrow through the heart" eyesore thing. Unfortunately, the guy that does all of Mexico's other bizarre bronze statues was back on his meds and therefore unable to come up with anything surreal enough to qualify, so the job went to the lowest bidder instead. The result is a cross shaped blackened metal super structure, made entirely of bronze (of course) that looks like something off the set of a Mad Max movie. The locals call it "the dagger in the soul". I call it "Soulless Frippery Masquerading As Art". Or, "Look Mom, I Learned To Weld!"

It is situated atop a highpoint of the town, visible for miles in every direction, especially from the marina, over which it looms. Looms in the sense of Lurch, the butler from the Adams Family. It is finished in a mat black, has strange appendages jutting out, and give new hope for Atheists everywhere. It really is quite appalling. In sunlight, it appears burnt out. At night, they light it with floodlights. That makes it even worse. Then it looks like a guard tower after the Dresden fire bombing. The cruisers joke that eventually it will have a neon "Modello" sign on it. I think that would actually be an improvement.

Other than that one particular drawback, I think this marina is quickly going to become the choice spot for fishermen and cruisers alike when heading south in Baja. It is really well laid out, will accommodate just about any sized boat, and is extremely well protected. I'd choose this place over any other Baja marina in a bad storm. It is easy to navigate into, lacks any really dangerous rocks or hidden gotchas, and once completed will be a wonderful alternative to the town of (last) resort I call "Cabo Sans Lucidity".

When I arrived at Marina Los Cabos they explained that all the currently built docks were full (they were busy installing water and electric to one of the few unoccupied docks) and that there wasn't an empty slip large enough for my catamaran. They directed me to the 100yard long fuel dock instead. I was told to park just behind "Attessa", a mega-yacht of unbelievable proportions. It was seven stories high, had a draft of over twenty five feet, the compulsory helicopter parked on the top, and a hot tub large enough for ten. It dwarfed over my boat. In fact, their tender (from the latin "ten-er" or "big bill", a word meaning enormous dinghy for expensive yacht) which was almost as large as my boat, could hold about twenty people comfortably. That is my boat there in the picture above, just behind Attessa. It dwarfs my boat. Their radar domes are as high as my mast. I used to think I had a big boat, but all guys do. Other cruisers would hassle me about buying such a large yacht all the time. Now I know I didn't. Talk about being a small fish in a big pond.

After I tied up I went up to the first mate and said "Okay, who do I complain to?" He smiled and said "What seems to be the matter?" I explained that since I'm usually getting shit for having the largest boat around, I wanted to give them some. He laughed and said they got that a lot.

While I was there, the owners and a few select guests arrived, and the ship (it ain't a boat if it has a tender) left harbor for La Paz. I would have been curious to look around inside, but my understanding is that tours of mega-yachts are harder to get than face time with the president. It is still one impressive boat, especially when seen up close. I'm not sure it's how I would have spent my money, but I admire the quality of the work and attention to detail. There was always three or four crew continuously working on the boat. I must have met at least a dozen of its staff, and I believe there were more. It probably costs more per year to just operate it than I will spend in my entire lifetime on sailing. Oh well, it ain't my money, but it ain't my problem either. I'd hate to have to fix that boat continually.

That night I walked across the street and had dinner at Tommy's Barefoot Cafe. While I was waiting for my food, I started chatting with the owner, who goes by the name T.J. He was a character with quite a colorful past, and had just opened the restaurant that week. His son was the cook, and T.J. managed the establishment. It was a great atmosphere and although they were just getting started, you could tell that this was going to be a fun place to hang out. While I was ordering, another cruiser walked in. His name was Skip, and he had dropped the hook right next to me when we were anchored off the beach in Cabo. He is also a machinist and welder and has done quite a lot of work for Atessa, and several other large ships in the area. We got to talking, had dinner together, and were eventually joined by T.J. as well. We swapped sea stories and tales of misadventure, wasted another perfectly good night, and had a great time doing it.

The next day I found an open spot further in the marina. It offered better protection, great neighbors (which means better security) and internet connectivity so I moved over there. Unfortunately, I've just discovered a slow leak in the port propeller shaft seal, so we are trying to figure out if we can get a part flown down here in any kind of reasonable time frame. It is a mechanical type seal, and is only dripping slightly, so it doesn't mean I couldn't leave without fixing it, but I'd rather get it fixed if I can. AnnMarie is running around town looking for the right part even as I write this. Naturally it is located in the bilge, and requires disconnecting the propeller shaft in order to fix it. The other side isn't leaking noticibly, but I've no doubt I'll be fixing that. Some fun, huh?

Last night I met my neighbors David, Edgar, and Ana on Slow Dance, a beautiful 80 foot charter boat for day sails and overnights. It was built in New Zealand, and is stunningly engineered. I think it could sail through a hurricane without noticing. The interior is gorgeous, spacious and their galley is larger than most apartments. They are just getting started in this marina, so if you happen to be in town and want to take a a ride on a fabulous boat with wonderful crew, check them out. They have been fantastically great neighbors, offering rides, help with mechanical issues and even taken me out to see a movie. The friendliness and generosity of the cruisers I've met never ceases to amaze me.

In the meantime I'm adding additional bilge pumps, a high water alarm, some other indicator lights, sealing hatches, etc. There are a lot of little items that need to be done before I'd feel comfortable setting out, but it should only be a few days time for me to get everything, as they say, ship shape. I've rented a car so I can run into town for parts when I need to, and got my cell phone working so I can call folks when I have to without spending precious satellite phone minutes. Even though there is so much work to do, and such a daunting task ahead, I find myself in much better spirits. I hadn't realized how much stress being around two other folks who were continually inebriated was creating for me. With the horrors of Cabo's "no holds barred tourist town idiocy" behind me, the previous crew's party/pass out/pout cycle broken, and the nagging doubts about their ability to stay sane and sober for the trip north removed, I feel much happier and the change has done wonders for my mood. I've even smiled a bit, though it would cheer me up no end if a few cruise ships full of fat, obnoxious, jet ski renting, pasty white Americans sank.

So, on that rather dour note, I will leave you all to whatever reading you should have been up to instead of wasting another perfectly good ten minutes scanning my blog. Surely you have better things to do with you time? I know I'm supposed to be fixing something or other. Well, it's back to the sea salt mines for me, and perhaps for you charter accountancy, or Java programming, or filing forms or whatever it is you do instead of boat repair.