Thursday, March 27, 2014

LEAVING HUATULCO

We didn't hear from the generator guys on Monday afternoon, but that was really no surprise.  Neither did we hear from them on Tuesday, which was disappointing.  We were also having trouble getting a wi-fi signal in the boat, which made the waiting all the more frustrating.  We decided we were going to tackle the tasks up the mizzen mast early Wednesday, before it got hot, so I took the shade structure down Tuesday evening before we went to bed.
Feeding Antenna Cable into the Mast
We got up early on Wednesday and by 8:30, I was up the mast.  My first task was to install the antenna for the new chart plotter.  Fortunately, there was already an antenna mount up there that fit.  All we had to do was to feed the cable down through the mast, which is never all that easy.  Having been through this drill before (This was the 3rd antenna that I had installed on the mizzen over the years.), we had brought a fish tape with us.  I threaded that down through the hole, Scott attached a loop of nylon cord to it and I pulled it back up.  Then I taped the cable to the cord and we were able to feed/pull the cable down through the mast fairly easily.

Enlarging a Hole in the Mast
My next task was to mount the wi-fi antenna on the mast.  We hoped that mounting the antenna higher would give us a better signal.  More about that later.  The antenna was designed to be mounted on a pole.  It had places for two hose clamps to go through the housing and around a pole.  Unfortunately, a mast is not a pole.  The sail must be able to slide up and down the track in the rear of the mast.  There cannot be a band of steel wrapped around the mast.  We had to get creative. Since I knew from experience that drilling a hole in a thick aluminum mast when you have no leverage is nearly impossible, I elected to strap the antenna through some holes in the support for the GPS antenna.  This wasn't easy, either, as it was difficult to bend the metal clamp sharply enough to feed it through the holes, which were close together.  I had to do it three times, of course, until we found the size of hose clamp that would allow the antenna to rest against the mast.  That done, we still had to feed the cable through the mast.  Of course the USB connector on the cable wouldn't fit through any of the existing holes in the mast, so I had to enlarge one of them.  Fortunately, it was much easier to enlarge an existing hole, even though it was on the far side of the mast and I had to drill towards myself, than to start a new one.  It still took all the strength I had and left me no way to hold on, making it difficult to stay in position.  I was using the largest drill bit we had, but the connector still didn't quite fit.  Scott had to file the corners off the connector before we could repeat the fish tape drill and feed the USB cable through the mast.
Rigging the Flag Halyard
Antenna work done, it was time to move on to the easy tasks. Scott raised me to the top of the mast and I rigged a block for a flag halyard up there.  Our boat is an approved Coast Guard Auxiliary Facility but, if we were operating under orders, we would need to fly a large American flag from the mizzen masthead. Scott wanted to be prepared.  Once the block was installed, I threaded the flag halyard through it.  While I was up there, I noticed that the rigging was incredibly filthy.  Dirt retains moisture and can lead to rust.  The last thing we needed was rigging failure, so I decided to take advantage of being up there and wash it on my way back down.  Of course, that involved hauling a very heavy bucket of water up a line, hand over hand. Thank you, CrossFit!  I felt like a circus acrobat as I washed the rigging.  I needed one hand to balance the bucket on my lap and the other to wash.  This left no way to hold on, so I was just dangling and spinning wherever the wind took me.  As I got lower, the shrouds were wider apart and I had to launch myself from side to side without losing the bucket or dropping my rag.  It must have been entertaining to watch.  I finally set foot back on the dock three hours after I had first ascended.

Raeme, the Shop Where Our Generator Was Fixed
After my morning exertions, I ate some long overdue breakfast and then took a nap.  When I woke up about 3:00, we went up and took showers and then headed over to the generator shop, arriving there about 4:00. The generator still wasn't completed, although it looked like the actual winding was done. It was clear that the new coils needed to be tidied up, linked together and tested for continuity before we could take it home. While we weren't surprised, we were angry and frustrated.  I knew that it really wasn't the fault of the poor fellow who was alone in the shop, but we had to make it clear to him that we could no longer afford to be patient.  We had waited for nearly two months and were now several weeks behind schedule.  We needed to leave with the coming weather window.  We told him it needed to be ready the following day by 4:00.

Back at the boat, despite my efforts in mounting the wi-fi antenna on the mast, we had almost no signal.  It was much worse than it had been when we first installed it.  I took my phone up the dock and verified that the wi-fi at the office was working fine.  We just weren't connecting to it.  It seemed that our main mast was directly between the antenna and the signal from the office.  We moved the bow of the boat over about 18 inches and then it worked fine.  We were able to eat buffalo wings for dinner and watch an episode of Breaking Bad on Netflix.  Domestic harmony was restored.

Entrance to Marina Chahue
Thursday was the first day of spring and another dull day spent working on a mosquito net for the companionway.  I needed to create something that would stay closed to keep the bugs out, but be easy for Scott to push aside, as he has little patience with such things.  I came up with the idea of a net that would be attached at the back and along one side, but had the second side held into the track for the sliding cover by a rod of metal that could be lifted up to pass through.  The front would be held down by a long, narrow sandbag sewn into the flap that overlaps the screen hatch board.  I walked over to the beach near the harbor entrance to get some clean, dust free, sand for the sandbag.  I had just finished sewing on the velcro about 4:00 when my Mexican cell phone started vibrating.  It was the fellow from the generator shop.  Our generator coil was finally ready!

We dropped everything, grabbed a taxi and headed over there.  Although we had no way to test it at the shop, it looked okay.  They had drilled out the broken stud in the casing and painted it bright red.  They must have felt guilty about taking so long because they only charged us 8,000 pesos (just over $600) instead of the 9,000 they had quoted us.  We were relieved to load it into the trunk of the taxi and head back to the marina.  The taxi driver was very interested in our boat and generator and I stayed and talked with him about it while Scott went to get the rusty old shopping cart that served as a dock cart in Huatulco.

It was too late to accomplish any mechanical work by that time, so I left Scott with the boat and went back to the grocery store to stock up on meat, produce and beer.  Corona was on sale, so I got a twelve pack for about $9.  I had walked to the store in the 90 degree heat, but took a taxi back.  We have discovered that the Chedraui store has a lot of American products squirreled away in what looks like the gourmet foods section.  It was there that I finally found diced tomatoes and had earlier located coconut milk.  Scott was delighted to discover a limited selection of Pop Tarts.  They also stocked a surprising selection of diabetic and gluten free foods, not that we needed them.  We still had not been able to find anything other than tiny jars of peanut butter and had to go to Soriana to get the granola bars that Scott likes.  Tortillas and tortilla chips are made fresh and are sold in the bakery section of Mexican grocery stores.  While I had enjoyed the chips very much everywhere else, the Chedraui in La Crucecita made the most disgustingly greasy chips I had ever encountered.  Oil literally pooled on the bottom of the bag.  This was too bad because avocados sold for a mere 29 pesos a kilo (about $1 per pound.)  They were considerably cheaper than apples at 45 pesos/kilo.  I made a lot of guacamole and slathered it on everything I could think of besides chips.

The Megayacht Docks in Marina Chahue
Earlier in the week, we had hoped to leave on Friday, but our generator coil wasn't finished in time and the promised weather window didn't actually materialize.  The marina began to fill up with boats that had arrived, hoping to take advantage of that weather window.  I set an alarm and got up at 6 AM in order to run four miles over to the hotel zone in Tangolunda and back before the sun got too high.  I identified the comical looking birds with feathered topknots bobbing on their heads like antennae as white throated magpie-jays. Our North American bird book was beginning to fail us.  We lacked a book for Central America, so had to do some detective work on the internet.  There are lots of noisy Kiskadee Flycatchers in the marina, but I was not able to identify the large black and yellow birds flitting around in the jungle.  These turned out to be black headed trogons.

Our Shiny New Generator Coil
Scott spent Friday researching how to test the generator without re-installing it first.  I started work on mosquito nets for the remaining two hatches.  It was beastly hot.  Temperatures inside the boat soared to 98 degrees.  As all of my cool clothes were at the laundry, I was reduced to lounging about in my bikini, drinking micheladas.  Having discerned that my liver function was slightly off while we were at home, I had resolved to limit myself to one alcoholic beverage per day.  Micheladas (beer, Clamato, lime juice, worcestershire (known in Mexico as "Salsa Inglesa" or "English Sauce") and hot sauce over ice were a blessing.  Not only were they cold and refreshing, but they stretched one beer into two drinks.  I had taken to drinking beer with lime juice over ice, anyway, since our refrigerator didn't get it cold enough for my taste.

Saturday was equally hot, although somehow it didn't bother me as much.  Scott still wasn't enthusiastic about wrestling a heavy generator in the engine compartment, so he spent much of the day testing the coil. Finally, about 2:00, he decided we needed to go to the hardware store.  For some reason, we seemed incapable of remembering that stores close at 2:00 on Saturdays.  When our cab pulled up in front of Casa Pepe, they had already started rolling down the doors.  Fortunately, they were kind enough to stay open long enough for us to buy the small wrenches and C-clamps that we needed.
Ferre Tornillos in La Crucecita

Luckily, the owner of the local screw store was not in a hurry to go home and was still open when we finished with the hardware store.  We crossed the street and bought new bolts to reassemble the generator.  It was very hot and ice cream sounded like a good idea.  The ice cream store in the hardware ghetto didn't open until 8:00 PM for some reason, so we walked over to the main plaza and bought popsicles from a vendor in the park.  We sat in the shade, eating our ice cream, while I amused myself reading the protest signs posted on the gazebo in the center of the park.  They were exhorting the president to listen to the poor, treat them with respect, and provide decent housing .  The signs would not have been out of place at an "Occupy" rally. After our break, we walked back to the marina and were ready for a cold drink. We went out to dinner to avoid cooking in the hot boat.

Raising the Generator Engine
When Sunday rolled around, we could delay installing the generator no longer.  Hot or not, we had to get started if we were to be ready to leave by Wednesday.  We needed the boom to raise the generator, but I balked when Scott suggested that I take down the awning.  Instead, I moved the boom over to the starboard side of the boat and re-positioned the awning.  This actually provided us with better shade than we had had previously, since the sun was coming from that direction.  I didn't want to re-rig the shade structure, but managed to tie some of the panels to the rigging in such a way as to provide us with shade from above and to starboard, which helped to keep Scott cool while working in the cockpit.

Scott Wrestling with the Coil
When mounted, the generator coil is flush with the side of the engine compartment.  In order to remove it, we had to dismount the generator, raise it up, and move it backwards.  Our eight kilowatt generator has a 20 hp engine which is larger than the engine in my 35 foot boat. Moving it about is no small feat.  First, we ran a block and tackle from the boom down through a hatch and attached a lifting harness to the engine in order to raise it off the floor.  We then moved the engine back and set it back down on the floor. Then Scott wrestled the 70 pound coil and housing down the companionway and into the engine compartment, where he reattached it to the front of the generator.

Swinging the Reassembled Generator Into Place
One of the rails supporting the motor mounts had rusted through, so we had had a new one fabricated.  I winched the engine back up off the floor and Scott attached the new rail to the bottom of the engine while it hung suspended.  He had experienced a great deal of trouble when he removed the engine from its mounts because there was not sufficient space between the engine and the wall of the engine compartment to turn a wrench.  Scott had directed the machine shop to drill some additional holes in the replacement rail that he hoped would give him better access.  The area under the generator was covered with half an inch or so of greasy, rusted bits of metal and dirt.  We attempted to vacuum it up, which was quite a process since our vacuum hose had collapsed in parts.  Scott cleaned under the generator while I attempted to keep the vacuum hose in a reasonably tubular shape.  We eventually had to amputate a foot or so of the softest part of the hose, but the engine compartment finally became a much more pleasant work environment.

Next, we attached the mounts to the rails.  Scott tightened the bolts while I held the engine out of the way with my toes, my leg fully extended as I suspended myself above the gaping pit of the engine compartment. There must be a law requiring that all mechanical work be performed at the absolute farthest possible extension of one's limbs. We positioned the engine over the rails, with lots of winching up and down on my part while Scott struggled to get everything aligned. The last bolt required my sticking my foot into the far corner of the engine compartment to press on a crescent wrench attached to the rail and lever the motor into place while Scott fit the bolt into the hole.  Finally, the generator was back on its mounts and Scott could tighten it in place.  It was time to call it a day.

The Blessed Fan
Despite having started my day at 6:00 AM with a run to Tangolunda, Monday was a frustrating day for me. Scott's back was sore from the day before, so he didn't start working on the generator until almost 4:00. By the time he realized he needed to go to the hardware store, they were already closed.  I wanted to clean and oil the teak in the cockpit, but a pipe had broken and there was no water available in the marina for most of the day.  I did manage to get the teak in the cockpit cleaned late in the day, but ran out of light before I could get it all oiled.  Once again, it was hot.  It had reached the point where 95 degrees felt reasonable cool.  Our large fan operated 24 hours per day and we moved it back and forth from the main salon to the aft cabin. Unfortunately, there were no level surfaces upon which to set the fan in the main salon.  We had to balance it precariously on the slanted chart table and bungee cord it to the reading lamp.  The smaller fans barely made a difference unless you sat right under them.

Sangria Flavored Soda
Tuesday, we got started slightly earlier.  Just after lunch, we headed over to the hardware store to buy wire ties and an easy out and tap so that Scott could remove a broken bolt and re-thread the hole.  I managed to explain to the clerk what we needed and learned a few new words in Spanish.  "Easy out" is "extractor" in Spanish and "tap" is "machuela."  Wire ties are "cinchos de plastico."  From the hardware store, we headed over to the Soriana to stock up on groceries to get us to El Salvador.  This was possibly my last chance to buy bags of refried beans with chorizo and queso and pina colada flavored Tang.

Scott worked hard on the generator from 4:00 to about 8:15, when he fired it up and immediately shredded our beautiful new coil because it was not wrapped tightly enough and tangled with the fan.  Scott was livid.  I was disappointed, but we had made it to Huatulco without the generator.  We would have to push on to Florida without it, as well.

We worked hard, getting ready to leave, on Wednesday.  All the items we had stowed below when we left for the United States had to be dragged back up on deck and lashed in place.  I finished oiling the teak in the cockpit and disassembled and stowed the barbecue.  The weight of the dinghy and motor riding on the davits behind the boat had pulled the stern rail away from the side rail.  The day before, I had winched the stern rail back into place and secured it there with a ratchet strap, but the motor had to be lashed to the deck next to the spare outboard.  Scott spent the day installing the new pump for the autopilot and replacing all its wiring. I organized and stowed all the tools and spare parts that Scott had scattered about the boat from stem to stern.  While it would have been nice to have the original freezer repaired so that we could use it for a refrigerator, having the space where it once resided to use for storage was a great boon.  We could now access our oddball tools and spare parts without having to unload all the items stowed in the center cabin in order to get to them.

I went up to the office to pay our bill and check out.  The harbormaster checked the weather for me and pronounced us good to go.  He used the Mexican equivalent of NOAA at http://smn.conagua.gob.mx/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48.  It's in Spanish, but has good weather information.  I also use http://www.weather-forecast.com/maps/Mexico?over=pressure_arrows&symbols=none&type=wind, which has animated wind maps for the visual learners out there.  While I was in the office, I ordered a couple of 5 gallon bottles of water.  We were getting low and planned on making water on the way to Chiapas.  If our watermaker failed us, at least we would have enough water to get to the next marina.  There were still last minute chores to do, but we were ready to leave by Thursday afternoon, which we hoped would allow us to arrive in Chiapas during daylight on Saturday.

After having been in Huatulco for two months, it was almost like leaving home all over again.  We re-provisioned and restowed seemingly everything.  Just like the first time, new tasks appeared out of nowhere that had to be completed before we could leave.  The water company delivered our two jugs, but wouldn't accept our bottles from Barra de Navidad in trade. We had to empty the jugs into our tanks while the delivery fellow, who spoke perfect English, patiently waited.  I spent the evening installing tie downs so that we could secure the new freezer.  Scott wanted to replace the gypsy on the windlass.  (The one we had didn't really fit our new chain.)  It was 8:30 before I even started cooking dinner and bedtime by the time we finished.  Fortunately, our planned departure was not until Thursday afternoon.

Thursday dawned clear and sunny.  I was eager to get underway and finally get a chance to cool off.  We would, however, miss the good wi-fi and being able to watch Netflix in the evenings.  We hoped our new wi-fi antenna would allow us to find a signal further south.

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