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.

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.


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