A few months ago, Miya and I adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten, named her Alice, and welcomed her into our home on the sea. A scant five weeks later, she became sick and ultimately died. We were devastated - it was incredible to us just how deeply she'd ingrained herself into our family and our hearts. This post is her memorial.
First though, the back-story - when we returned from our visits to Canada and the US, respectively, I found myself making the daily trek back and forth to the public library in the Teatro de la Ciudad (known on our boat as "the office") about ten or twelve blocks from the docks. One day I stumbled across a large-ish cage by the side of the road, containing a mother cat, six or seven tiny newborn kittens, a bowl of dry cat food and a litterbox. The cage was slightly out of the sun, but it was filthy and the mother cat was obviously malnourished, and even in the 36ºC heat (96.8ºF) there was no water in the water dish. I walked away, wondering about the situation - there was a veterinarian's office across the street, but it was clear that this cage full of kittens was not actively being taken care of.
I can only guess at the motivations there - Mexico takes a bit of a dim view on cats, as unlike dogs they do not offer any real work in exchange for food, and as such they're looked at as a luxury, or at the other end of the spectrum, a pest. Even as I write this, I know that when I walk home from the library today I will pass the flattened, dried corpse of a run-over kitten directly in front of a nice, well-appointed home - it has been there for weeks, and nobody has bothered to pick it up.
So why was this cage full of kittens shuffled off across the road, out of the way? I can only assume that they were letting nature take its course, to avoid having to care for seven kittens that may or may not have ever found homes. I stopped at the first store I came across, purchased a large bottle of water and returned to the cage, cleaning and filling the water dish. The skinny, dirty mother cat was incredibly affectionate, purring loudly and rubbing against me before attacking the fresh water with a fervour.
For the next few weeks I stopped in every few days, bringing water when the cats had none and noting sadly that the number of kittens in the cage was slowly dropping. At one point there were two kittens down - one obviously dead, with flies starting to swarm, and one passed out in the litterbox obviously too weak to move. I tried to tell myself that I was doing what I could for these animals - the cage they were in was a prison, but it also provided protection against the many roaming street dogs in the neighborhood, who would happily make a meal of the little guys given half a chance. Each visit, I hoped to see the kitten count unchanged, but the numbers continued to dwindle.
At some point we left for our visit to Wasteland Weekend in San Diego, and I told myself that if there were any alive when we returned, I would do whatever I could to provide a good home for at least one of them. The first day back at the office, I walked over to the usual spot... but the cage was gone! I looked around and noticed that it had been moved across the street, in front of the vet's office, and I went over to take a look. The cage had been cleaned up and the water and food dish was full, but there were only two kittens remaining - a grey-and-white one, and a black one. I made arrangements with the veterinarian to come and pick up the grey-and-white kitten the next day.
When I returned with Miya, hoping to surprise her with a new kitten, the grey-and-white kitten was gone, the vet had given it away to the very next customer. I was annoyed, but willing to take the last of the litter - but Miya was hesitant. We'd talked a lot about the folly of having pets aboard and agreed not to have pets until we live on land again someday, and so we left, kittenless. Over the next few hours, however, she gradually came around to the idea and the next day we went after work to pick up the new furry member of our family.
Alice immediately made herself at home, and offered her opinions on everything and anything. We had attempted to make the boat a kitten-proof environment, but we soon found out that there would be nothing safe from her explorations or critiques. Take for example this video, in which Alice discovers the Dia de los Muertos decorations and promptly destroys them:
The next few weeks flew past at an alarming rate - Alice accompanied us on a trip north into the Sea of Cortez, bouncing between anchorages and finally coming to rest for a week just shy of Puerto Escondido in a quiet bay called Bahia Candeleras. She seemed to really enjoy boat life, spending time running around the decks or going below to nap during the rough, rocky portions. We slowly trained ourselves to look carefully before jumping down the stairs into the cabins, as Alice asserted her ownership of the boat by sleeping wherever she damned well pleased... which often meant the middle of the floor in whatever room she occupied.
It became clear that we'd taken Alice from her mother a little too early - certainly she was able to eat solid food and run around the boat. Still, we began to notice some behaviours that marked her as something of a unique cat... for one, she had no problem communicating her discontent vocally. Alice would make very well known her needs, howling in her tiny kitten voice for more food, or more attention, or less food, or less attention, or her will to be picked up and moved to a higher location, or a lower location, or... well, anything. She was incredibly vocal, and we quickly learned to distinguish between her cries for food over her cries for attention or assistance climbing the steeper set of stairs.
Another unique feature of Alice was her immediate recognition of the humans on the boat as other sentient beings, by making regular eye contact. I took this behaviour at such a young age to be a sign of intelligence, but I was later corrected by my friend Tom, who said that constant eye contact was another sign of her having been taken too early from her mother. Apparently eye contact is a taboo in cat society, and Alice had just not learned that. "Proper" or not, we enjoyed her eye contact and vocal communications greatly.
The less-welcome habit began a few weeks after she arrived on the boat - suddenly, as though a lightswitch had been thrown, Alice decided that she needed to nurse on us. No body part was safe - we'd awaken in the night to find Alice suckling on our necks, or arms, or ankles. We were as firm as possible in trying to curb this behaviour - it wasn't damaging or painful in any way but hey, creepy. Eventually Miya offered up her favourite ultra-soft blanket, and somehow Alice decided that this would be her new suckling target - the blanket went into a shoebox and Alice began sleeping in that shoebox almost exclusively. The suckling on our necks and arms stopped overnight.
The end came quietly and without warning. We had sailed to the Isla Espiritu Santo with our friends Tom and Dan, and there was an incident on a Thursday in which Alice discovered a wedge of 'Laughing Cow' spreadable cheese and absconded with it. She was chased down, and when we attempted to take the cheese from her, she flipped - she went completely feral, with gutteral growls and all four paws flailing like windmills with claws outstretched. Taking this tiny wolverine by the scruff of the neck, I dropped her in the kitchen sink and turned on the water - she was shocked, and immediately stopped fighting and dropped the cheese. Alice spent the next few hours cuddling up to us, as though trying to apologize for her horrible behaviour.
Days later, on the Saturday morning, she seemed somewhat lower-energy than usual. She wasn't yowling, but she seemed mostly normal, if a little tired... we let her go back to bed and went about our day. When we returned at 4pm however, she was noticeably weak and shaky, not at all herself. When Miya realized that her food bowl was at the same level, she asked when I'd last fed Alice... I hadn't fed her in two days, and neither had Miya, and so Alice hadn't eaten in at least a day, possibly more. Kittens need to eat about every three hours, so this was a very bad sign!
We took her immediately to the vet from whom we'd adopted, and the vet told us that Alice had some kind of blockage. She gave the kitten a suppository and told us to feed her canned tuna juice and a special energy gel for animals recovering from surgery, and to call her the next day if Alice hadn't gone to the bathroom yet. Unconvinced, we took Alice home. When we examined her litter box closely, we found traces of aluminum wrapper - could she have eaten a larger chunk of the foil cheese wrapper?
We watched her carefully, like fitful parents, trying to get her to eat tuna juice and the energy gel - but at around 10pm, Alice stood to walk to her litter box, made it a few steps and collapsed. We immediately got on the VHF radio and polled the fleet, looking for recommendations of a better veterinarian, someone who could help us in our emergency. A call came back; a strong recommendation of a young local veterinary surgeon with excellent english and modern education. We immediately called her, then jumped in a taxi.
The new vet was amazing, putting Alice immediately on an IV of saline and glucose and trying several procedures to assist with whatever was blocking her intestines. We stayed with her until after midnight, until the vet said there was nothing further to do but wait and see if the procedures would take effect. She offered to take Alice home with her for the night for observation, and let us know in the morning how things went.
We went home and slept fitfully, knowing that our kitten was in the best possible hands and wishing with all our might that she'd recover... but in the morning we were met with a the worst possible news. An email arrived at 9am, saying that Alice had had a terrible night, and that she was not expected to live through the morning. In the vet's opinion, she was now too weak to survive surgery, and as such she recommended euthanasia. With extremely heavy hearts, we discussed it and ultimately agreed.
Alice was perfect in her imperfections, and she made her way instantly into the hearts of any who encountered her, either in person or through Miya's and my regular Facebook blatherings. She was opinionated and audacious, and brave until the end. We were able to take her in from probable death on the streets of Mexico and give her everything a kitten could possibly hope for - but sadly, our time with her was cut far too short. In five short weeks Alice changed our lives for the better, and we miss her deeply.
Round two of this set of blog updates, this is the chapter I like to refer to as "Dust, Pain and Exhaustion: Oh God, Not Another Boatyard", or perhaps "How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Four". It was a couple of months of hard labour in unpleasant working conditions, but we got through it and have a stronger, faster, more capable boat as a result.
We hauled out at 'Talleres Navales Bercovich', under the supervision of the main boss, Abel. That's not Abel on the trailer - that's Mark, or 'Tarzan', who was a great deal of help to us tracking down materials and figuring out random problems.
The guys in the boatyard were extremely capable with their equipment, and managed to back us through about a hundred meters of very, very cramped quarters between many other boats being stored for the summer months.
Once we had the bottom powerwashed and the boat blocked, we got started - clearly we had hit the bottom at some point. Whether it was dragging anchor in Tsehum Harbour in Sidney BC, or maybe when we dragged anchor in the A9 anchorage in San Diego, at some point we tore a bunch of fiberglass off the bottom of the rudder and the skeg on which it was hung. Time to grind it out and patch it over with new glass.
Miya took on the topsides as her main project - there were dozens of places where the 25-year-old fiberglass had cracked from expansion or been worn through or damaged, and each of those spots would have to be ground out, fiberglassed, sanded, faired, sanded, primed and painted.
We picked up a very nice new bathroom hatch at Second Wave, a used-sailing-gear store in Seattle, but I had never yet had the chance to properly install it. The old hatch coping had to be cut away, and a new lip had to be fabricated approximately one inch smaller than the old one, and then the whole thing would need fiberglassing for waterproofedness. This was a task I had been looking forward to for over a year!
Working in a boatyard quickly drops your standards - at the end of a day of grinding fiberglass a shower is critical, but this is what we had to look forward to... two inches of stagnant water and a large dead cockroach. If you were lucky you got to the showers before the sun went down - as soon as the site cooled off, the mosquitoes would descend in a cloud!
Miya continued to work on fiberglass patches, while I worked on structural patches on the hull. We had to make several trips to the marine store for more epoxy resin - we went through three large gallon-sized tins of resin (and accompanying tins of hardener), each costing about $180 USD.
You can barely make me out in this photo, but I'm working away under the port wing, patching ground-out blisters and bubbles in the hull fiberglass. The garden is still going strong at this point; you can clearly see the carrots growing out the rear window.
Eventually I realized that the rudder had more damage than previously thought, and it made a lot more sense to remove it to work on it. It also made sense to spend time overdrilling all the previous mounting holes, filling them with epoxy, and re-drilling them, giving the hard-working rudder a much stronger connection to the fitting hardware.
The swing-keel on a Searunner trimaran is simultaneously one of the best and worst features of the boat. It's the best feature, because it allows us to float happily in one meter of water, but if the keel gets damaged it's a real hassle to pull it out to repair it. The binnacle (the pedestal the steering wheel is mounted on) has to be completely removed, which means disconnecting the steering, the engine controls and a bunch of wires.. and then you have to drag the filthy thing up across the decks and lower it to the ground for repair. Our keel, being waterlogged from breaks in the fiberglass, weighed about 200kg!
The boatyard was apparently quite quiet while we were in residence, though there were a few longtime denizens to spend time with - shown here is Doug from Snug Harbour Sails, a salty old sailor who would come visit with us regularly and made the time in the boatyard markedly more bearable.
This photo was also taken shortly after the sun drove me a little bit nuts, and haircut one of two occurred... Miya helped, but mostly it was me sitting under the boat with the clippers removing the bulky weight of hair that was nothing but a liability in the yard.
Project after project slowly got done. For instance, those pointy nails in the ceiling of the bathroom, the ones that punctured both Miya and my head on numerous occasions? TERMINATED.
The more time you spend looking at the bottom of a boat like the TIE Fighter, the more damage you realize you have to repair. Looks like another bit of rock-rash here that'll need to be ground out and fiberglassed.
At the end of eight-to-ten hours of hard labour, punctuated by the occasional break to jump in the nearby ocean to cool down, there's very little that can be done besides crashing hard. In this photo you can also see the ill-fated broccoli plant on the right side of the garden, attempting to take over the rear cabin... we never did get any broccoli crowns from that plant.
At some point we realized that if we wanted to continue being sane, rational humans, we'd need to take a break from all this work. We packed up our things and took a shuttle bus back into La Paz, where we spent the day wandering and doing our best tourist impressions, much to the delight of the locals. Many margueritas later, we stumbled back into the boatyard.
During our time away, we paid a visit to Sea Otter Jimmy, a local with the same make and model boat as ours (though in MUCH better shape!). Jimmy's boat, s/v Sea Otter, had four more deck hatches than ours, giving him a tonne more wet-storage space for line, cleaning supplies, beach toys or whatever. We were jealous, so we took a bunch of measurements and decided to cut hatches into the TIE Fighter.
My tan is getting deeper and deeper...
The mosquitoes in the boatyard were TERRIBLE - and the TIE Fighter, having no sealing hatches (not that you'd want them anyway, the boat would become a sauna), was the idea place for them to congregate. Miya visited the fabric store and returned with this sheer fabric, which she made a series of overlapping mosquito screens with, hot-glueing them to the walls of the cabin around the opening to our berth. Several iterations later, we finally had our first good night of sleep.
This photo is just the ones we found dead at the bottom of the mesh at the end of the first night!
When I finally got around to grinding out the problems in the swing keel, as I ground around the edge of the keel the laminated plywood suddenly jumped apart, leaving me with a giant, heavy, waterlogged, delaminated mess. It was time to face the facts: that keel was finished, and a new one would have to be built.
I went to town and found a place selling plywood - I had six sheets shipped in, cut them into the shapes I needed and coated them liberally with epoxy glue, then laminated them all together by weighting them with heavy rocks while the glue dried. I also destroyed our angle grinder during the "shape the newly-laminated raw keel into a foil shape" stage of the construction.
The hatches for the newly-cut wet storage lockers are here drying in the sun, fiberglassed but not yet sanded or painted. I was pretty proud of my carpentry work on these - the hatches fit really nicely, and the extra locker space is definitely appreciated.
A month in, I finally convinced the yard that the best way to take off the old paint would be to rent me their largest power washer, which I knew would take the previous coat of (non-sticking) paint off, leaving the previous coat of (very good) two-part epoxy primer behind. The power washer was 7,000psi - compare if you will to the strongest power washer available at Home Depot being 4,000psi!
Also notable in this photograph are the second boatyard haircut, taking my hair down from the #4 clippers to the #1 clippers, or 1/8", and the fact that all the hard labour has kicked in and I'm looking a lot more ripped than before the boatyard.
Sadly, I was very much correct about the paint on the topsides coming off with the power washer... but with the exposure of the grey primer came exposure of dozens - no, hundreds - of new problems with the fiberglass. It didn't help that the power washer also tore away any weakened fiberglass, probably creating at least half of those new problems, though it was pretty clear that those problems would have surfaced sooner or later anyway.
You can also see a bit of brown in the bottom right of the photo - Miya spent days on end repairing all the damage to the bows done by dragging the anchor chain up over the edges of the bows. We finally have a bow roller now, and will get around to installing it sometime in the near future.
With all the new patches, it almost seemed like we would have been ahead of the game to strip off the entire deck and replace the fiberglass, but it was a bit late for that - not to mention the price of fiberglass and epoxy in Mexico is prohibitive!
Another shot of the deck with all the new patches opened - before powerwashing we were pretty sure we were almost done with 'glassing the deck! It would have saved a lot of time if we'd been allowed access to the power washer much earlier on, but there wasn't much point in getting mad about it.
One of the big under-the-boat tasks was to replace the cutless bearings, rubber sleeves that hold the propellor shaft steady and perfectly aligned. Unfortunately to do this you really need to remove the propellor shaft, and I'd never done that before. Here Mark is heating up the propellor shaft coupling with a torch.
Miya's constant sanding, sanding, sanding of the deck earned her the nickname "Lady Polvo", where 'polvo' is spanish for dust or powder. The more we sanded, the more we had to jump into the ocean, which you can see about twenty meters behind Miya.
Once the replacement cutless bearings were acquired, the old worn-out bearings had to be removed. This I accomplished without much hassle, but when I went to put in the new bearing it seized halfway up the shaft - no matter how much I hammered it, it just wasn't going back in. I had the bright idea of heating up the stainless steel strut to make it expand and free up the brass bearing sleeve, but the end result was that the rubber part of the bearing separated from the brass part, rendering the bearing unusable. Nuts - that was a waste of a hundred bucks.
Miya, stalwartly continuing to patch all the deck problems. She was at this all day, every day, for weeks.
I finally finished up the patching and repairing of the rudder, and eventually we tracked down a new rubber gasket for the steering assembly - the black rubber bit in the center of the photo is actually the boot from the gear shift of a Mack truck, found at a place called "Diesel Professional" in La Paz!
It can be difficult to keep your spirits up when you've been working your fingers to the bone for over a month, and the boat looks far worse than it did when you arrived... but in reality she's much closer to finished.
...although now that we had to tear apart the kitchen to access the steering gear to reattach the rudder, there was a domino effect throughout the boat, and the normally tidy interior just kept getting more and more cluttered with tools and equipment.
This is the deck, two steps away from being finished. All of the brown patches are epoxy thickened with a talc-like powder, turning it into a fairing compound that flattens nicely and is very easy to sand. One more round of sanding, then a splash of primer, then another quick sand and she'd be ready for her final paint job!
Sadly I didn't take more photos of the swing keel during the construction process, but needless to say I was several long days under the boat with a large industrial-size angle grinder and an eight-inch 60-grit sanding disc, shaping the plywood laminate into a smooth foil. Two layers of 8oz fiberglass over the whole thing, then a PVC tube glassed into the pivot point to protect the wood, and finally several coats of industrial-grade two-part epoxy primer, and we're left with a swing-keel that should last for the rest of the life of the boat.
Once the fairing was sanded and the primer applied, a quick sand to make it all smooth and it's time to wash down the decks in preparation for the first coat of her final paint job!
After seeing all the big freighters and fishing boats offshore, we realized that our little wooden boat probably didn't show up all that well on radar, especially with our little metal ball-type radar reflector mounted six feet off the cabin roof. We did a bunch of research and settled on an EchoMax 230 reflector, that I mounted just above the staysail stay. Apparently this will make us look HUGE on a radar screen!
Once all the prep work was complete, the painting of the boat went very quickly, and we were done within two days. The bottom was taped and painted by the yard, but we rolled on three coats of latex-based housepaint quickly and efficiently.
In retrospect we probably should have just bitten the bullet and paid for the more expensive two-part epoxy paint. House paint is cheap and non-toxic, but it never really hardens completely, and you're left with more of a latex "skin" over the entire boat. Time will tell if this was a nightmare decision, but currently in the dry southern tip of Baja it is working out acceptably - there have been a few instances of the paint becoming tacky in wet weather though, and I am a bit nervous to see what will happen in damper climates, like the rainy season of Costa Rica.
As I mentioned, removing the swing keel requires removing the binnacle, which in turn requires cutting a bunch of wires. Rather than ever have to deal with that again, this time I added terminal blocks and ring terminals to all of the wires, so that they can be easily disconnected and reconnected. I'm a big fan of well-organized wiring!
The last step to painting a boat is always the boot stripe - a quick splash of color parallel to the water line. Jim Brown, the designer of the Searunner trimarans, says that a boot stripe can make the difference between a home-built backyard boat and a jaunty yacht, and so for the past two paintjobs we've added a grey stripe at the end. I am extremely fond of how this looks.
Apparently when you repair a keel you should use more fiberglass and less filler, as I discovered painfully when we finally got the boat ready to be lifted up and put back in the water. My repairs just didn't stand up to the pressure of lifting the whole boat - this was actually good to find out; if we'd been lifted with a travelift this error never would have come to light, and then next time we ran aground we'd be faced with a much larger problem. The trailer was pulled away and we spent an extra few days in the yard grinding and fiberglassing.
FINALLY, two months to the day since we'd been hauled out, we were back into the water. Of course, there was a strong wind blowing and as we drifted away we were blown right back into the shore, forcing the boatyard owner and his employees into the water, fully clothed, to help push the TIE Fighter back out into open waters before she ground onto the rocks... ahhh, memories.
More to come...
OK! So! It's been over six months since the last posting, and I'm finally just now finding myself with
enough free time motivation to update the blog with what we've been up to. Miya and I just returned to La Paz after a month-and-a-half whirlwind "vacation" back to Oklahoma and Vancouver, respectively, culminating in a return to the Black Rock Desert for the incredible Burning Man Festival.
Regardless, we're back now and I haven't updated since March, so it's time to bring you up to speed about where we've been. There were four distinct chapters to the past six months: pre-boatyard, boatyard, post-boatyard and traveling back to the first world. I'll break these parts up into four pasts just to keep things logical.
So! Without further ado, here's some photos from the pre-boatyard chapter.
Miya picked up a food dehydrator online in San Diego and started drying fruits and vegetables. It's a lot of work, but the results are worth the efforts. Flashing forward a few months, Miya's mother actually bought me a hand-cranked apple peeler/slicer, which is something I'd been envying for a long time now, and Miya just dried the first batch of Red Delicious apple slices, which we've been eating all weekend.
La Paz certainly has no lack of natural beauty, and each evening we're treated to a spectacular sunset. It's gotten to the point that we're not easily impressed anymore, which is both amusing and sad; it's strange how quickly you can acclimatize to any situation, and no matter how otherwordly, sooner or later anything can become "normal".
We did manage to pull ourselves away from La Paz for a few days, and spent an amazing ten days or so living in anchorages on the Islas Espirtu Santo and Paritida, just north of La Paz. Uninhabited, the islands are beautiful rocky deserts surrounded by blue waters teeming with fish. Here Miya is pulling in one of her trolling lines - the colors above her are the woven hammock we found in La Paz.
Aside from trolling from the TIE Fighter when we're underway, Miya also enjoys trolling behind the inflatable dinghy when we're exploring, and in this case she landed some sort of fish that we have never
managed bothered to identify. Is it a bonita? Who knows! It was delicious.
Certainly sunsets at anchor in the city are beautiful, but they've got nothing on sunsets in (nearly) empty anchorages out on the islands! This was taken in the northernmost anchorage on Isla Partida. Not shown is the 35kn winds that picked up after midnight - we had a 15kg 'Delta' anchor down, but I jumped into the dinghy in the pitch black night to kedge out a second anchor just in case... we're able to anchor the TIE Fighter very close to the shore due to her shallow one-meter draft, but when the wind picks up the rocky shoreline starts to look terribly dangerous...
The anchorage on Isla Partida in the daytime - nowhere near as scary in the daytime!! Funny how howling winds and pitch black with no moon can turn even the prettiest tropical anchorage into a scary place. Here we could swim to shore and hike up into the hills, which were riddled with sandstone caves, some of which showed signs of being inhabited hundreds of years ago.
Summertime brought excellent growth to the garden, and Miya explored the local grocers to feed us with the best things she could find... here is avocado, tuna, eggs, potatoes and peppers served on green lettuce from the garden.
Nothing quite like harnessing the sun to help with food production!
(sure, that's what I like best about this photo... the dehydrator... right...)
Leading up to "Bay Fest 2012", a call would regularly come over the VHF radio - "Volleyball practice today, 5pm, no experience necessary!". Back when I was a young pup I enjoyed beach volleyball every summer at camp, so it wasn't too great a stretch to think I might enjoy it again. Despite not having volleyed, bumped or spiked in well over twenty years, I got back into the routine very quickly and greatly enjoyed the activity.
During Bay Fest, one of the seminars was put on by our friends Rob from s/v Keetya-1 and Will from s/v Shaman - they enlisted Miya to help with their "Safety Aloft" session, teaching us the basics of working safely on a mast.
The end of Bay Fest was a big costume party blowout, but very few of our new friends had costumes - this wasn't a problem, as both Miya and I travel with a big tickle-trunk of costumes each. We were able to costume Tim and Meredith from s/v Luckiest, though Jody from s/v Avatar already had his own costume planned out.
...and that brings us up to the 2012 haulout, which I will have to present as another blog post.