disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

4Dec/121

Catching Up, Part 4: Return to La Paz

Ok! Part four of updates, and then hopefully I can return to a more regular style of blog posts. I know I keep saying that. *sigh*. Without further ado:

gorgeous weather in La Paz

gorgeous weather in La Paz

The summer brought some intense weather shifts, including some of the first rain we'd seen since our arrival in La Paz in February - I guess I should have been tipped off by the cactuses and tumbleweeds, but the amount of precipitation here still took me by surprise. Once the season shifted into high summer however, the heat of the day combined with the extremely warm water (sometimes it would be 38º outside and the water would be 23º, warmer than most swimming pools!) made for some crazy meteorological events. We were treated with regular lightning storms and sudden shifts in wind speed and direction, not to mention a couple of hurricanes that narrowly missed us.

In this photo, a storm cell is crossing nearby to the south. At the time this photo was taken, the wind was blowing briskly towards the cell, but about five minutes afterwards the wind abruptly died and then within two minutes was blowing probably 40kn in the opposite direction! We were caught unprepared, and several items blew off the deck and I had to dash out in the RIB to retrieve them.

 

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

 While I was in Canada, I ordered a low-power Fit-PC3 computer to build into the walls of the TIE Fighter. The Fit-PC3 is a 12v-native computer very light on power consumption - set up with an internal SSD drive, it draws only  6w (1/2 an amp) at idle. I paired it with a two-terabyte external drive that automatically spins itself down when not in use, and am quite happy with the results.

Unforutnately, when I went to install the machine I didn't pay close enough attention to the polarity of the power supply, and hooked the power connection up backwards. Immediately there was a flash and a pop and suddenly the air was filled with the acrid smell of burning electronics.

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

Fortunately I'm no stranger to electronics repair, and with a bit of research and an email to the manufacturers of the Fit-PC3, I learned that the component that had exploded was a simple ferrite bead, meant solely to keep stray radio-frequency energy out of the computer. This bead is just a failsafe, sort of like a fuse, and I could just 'jump' over the section with a bit of wire for the time being. An hour or so with the soldering iron, and the computer lives.

...of course, that computer also now lives in a cupboard with a strong radio. I still need to track down a replacement ferrite, as I've seen three crashes so far when I've keyed up the mic on the ham radio on certain frequencies.

 

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

One morning as we left the boat in the RIB to go for coffee, we realized we'd forgotten something at the main boat so we turned around. When we arrived at the TIE Fighter, we found the boat swarming with bees! We estimated around 10,000 honeybees in the air around the boat.

Not knowing what to do, we went for coffee and solicited opinions from a few other cruisers, who brought to light one very important point that we somehow hadn't thought of... if the bees were to get inside the boat, they might not want to leave! We had to return to the boat immediately to close up the doors and windows, hoping that they hadn't already moved in.

 

the bees, landed

the bees, landed

When we arrived back at the boat, the bees had landed... but outside. The internet tells us that this means the queen bee is somewhere in the middle of the literal pile of bees on the boat. We figure they were stacked six or seven deep in this photo! Fortunately, they decided that the boat wouldn't make a great spot for a new hive, and within an hour or two of this photo they'd all moved on.

 

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

While I went back to my day job schedule, Miya undertook the massive task of painting the TIE Fighter's decks with anti-skid paint. We had collected a large pail full of white sand from a nearby beach, and then sifted and washed it, allowing it to dry overnight in the boatyard on a clean sheet of plywood. In the end though we decided that we'd get a better-looking result from "marmolina"; fine crushed white marble available at the local fereterias for about $0.50/kg.

 

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

The celebration of 16 de Septiembre (Mexico's Independance Day) came along, and rather than hole up in our little box on the ocean, Miya and I decided to brave the crowds and go see the fireworks display. The display lacked a certain... safety standard? that we had grown accustomed to in North America - the main celebration was in a town square flanked on three sides with two-story buildings, and the fireworks were launched from the roofs of those buildings, exploding directly over the square!

 

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

Our Honda EU2000i generator has given us incredibly reliable service for the past four years or so, but apparently one should not leave it for a Mexican summer with a third of a tank of gasoline... when I went to start it up for the first time in many months, it would not start. I quickly realized what the problem must be, and using this very well-written step-by-step howto, I tore the generator apart and cleaned the carburetor. Just like that, the little Honda purred back to life.

 

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

The heat of the summer was intense and constant, and often we had to spend the hottest portions of the day in the water just to maintain our sanity! The underside of the TIE Fighter made for a convenient gathering space, and using a series of ropes and floating toys and platforms we created a place of refuge from the afternoon sun.

In this photo Miya is swimming with one of the schools of fish that regularly gathered under the boat. Actually, if I go looking I bet I have a video that might show the situation a little better:

Crazy how you can see them avoiding the anchor line! We'd like to identify the species of fish, and then see about catching some for grilling or pickling.

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

Miya found an inflatable toy at one of the swap meets; three inflatable bladders joined at the center by a square of mesh, forming a floating recliner. This, paired with a Canadian Tire 'Party Platform' that we picked up on clearance just before leaving Canada in September 2011, formed the seating portion of the underwing. You can also see my Traynor TVM-10 cordless rechargeable guitar amplifier in the nets above, hooked up to an iPhone and playing appropriately chilled house music down into the watery tunnel.

flips off the TIE Fighter

flips off the TIE Fighter

Of course, with freshly-added antiskid on the topsides, the boat herself - having a good meter of freeboard - made an excellent water toy. Miya had only really learned to swim in the last year or so, but managed to learn to dive in one day!

 

 

She was so impressed with her diving that she decided to try her first-ever backflip off the boat also... to a little less success.

 

Mal serenading us on his banjo

Mal serenading us on his banjo

One of my absolute favourite parts about the cruising lifestyle is the willingness of the participants to pick up new musical instruments and throw themselves into learning. Our friend and neighbor Malcolm, an Australian vagabond living on 'Wind Pirate', picked up a banjo in a trade with another boater and within days was plucking away.

 

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

When we heard about the Wasteland Weekend festival in California, the idea immediately spoke to both of us - a four-day party in the desert, sort of  like Burning Man but more Mad Max themed, if that even sounds possible. With our Wilderness First Responder first aid certifications, we figured if they were interested in having us on as volunteer medics we'd kill a few birds with one stone; go on a road trip, pick up some much-needed supplies from the states, get some practical medical experience and go to a rad party! We rented a car and prepared to head out... but of course, what with it being hurricane season, a tropical storm had formed south of the peninsula and was threatening La Paz. We couldn't leave the boat unattended until we were sure that it wouldn't turn into a hurricane.

Fortunately, the system weakened, but not before dumping rain on southern Baja - and if you haven't seen what a major rainstorm does to a desert, it's a crazy thing indeed!

In this video, we have been stopped by a washout - the road in front of us has been replaced by a river of brown water flowing at a pretty fast clip. We watched as a compact car was swept a few feet sideways - but in the true spirit of "drive 'er like a rental", we decided to take the risk and we crossed. If you watch closely you can see water come up over the hood of the car at one point!

 

Wasteland Weekend 2012

Wasteland Weekend 2012

We arrived late to Wasteland Weekend but wasted no time whatsoever getting into the groove of things. Having come internationally we had no weapons to defend ourselves from the mutant / zombie uprising, and so we decided that we were clearly 'wasteland aristocracy' and as such had no reason to carry large weaponry of our own.

 

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

With this thought in mind it wasn't long before we ran into some kindred spirits, fellow patricians of the aftermath, with whom we shared libations and cheer. The Party Hard Corps crew are a fascinating group of partiers, gamers and drinkers from the midwest, who like us traveled to the desert for a few days of debauchery.

 

winning the archery competition

winning the archery competition

There were many (semi-)organized events, including robot battles and jugger matches, but the one event I was most looking forward to taking part in was the archery competition. The rules were fairly simple - scoring was based on points awarded for your five arrows to a mannequin about thirty paces down a range. I was relieved to find they had bows available for loan, as I hadn't owned my own bow in many years.

There were three divisions, for different sorts of bows: recurve, compound and crossbow. I can say proudly that out of about forty or so competitors, not only did I win the recurve division, but I also had the highest score over all three divisions - 28 out of a possible 30. The prize was a little disappointing however; a large black t-shirt. Not my size and I refuse to wear cotton t-shirts. In retrospect I should have taken the shirt and re-gifted it to one of the Party Hard Corps guys or something.

In case you're wondering, we did stop at an archery supply store in San Diego on the way back to Mexico, purchasing two bows so that we can practice on the beaches. At some point in our travels we met a guy who swore by iguana meat; as we get further south we're thinking maybe that might be a good source of free protein...

 

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

Our medical shift was Saturday night from 10pm until 4am - arguably the worst possible shift if your goal is solely to party, but we got enough of that in during the previous night and the Saturday afternoon, and as both the new jacks on the scene and late to the party to boot, we were happy to help out and glad to feel useful. We were surprised at how few emergencies there were, to be honest - the partygoers seemed to self-regulate very well, and aside from a few scalds from fire-show screwups and a few cuts and scrapes, we weren't actually very busy! There was always something going on, but we never felt overwhelmed.

 

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

After Wasteland Weekend, we had a couple of days to spend in San Diego - we slotted one of those days to provisioning and shopping, but the second day was spent touring the San Diego Zoo. This was something Miya had wanted to do ever since we left Vancouver but somehow we hadn't found the time during the two months we spent in San Diego back in December 2011. Many photos were taken, but surely if you'd like to see a photo of a giraffe you can find one on Google Image Search. 😉

 

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

After a long but uneventful drive back down the Baja Peninsula, we settled back into our routine by immediately having people over for another party. In this photo, Scott is demonstrating his ability to do a full split!

In the foreground of the photo, next to our friend Mike, is one of Miya's margueritas, made in the "proper Baja style". For a perfect Baja cruiser marguerita, combine:

  • one part decent tequila (100% agave only, José Cuervo is NOT acceptable!)
  • one part triple sec
  • one part freshly-squeezed lime juice

That's it; serve with ice cubes if you have them. Do not blend. Do not rim with salt. Do not use lime bar mix or Fresca. Do not add simple syrup. Mix and enjoy!

 

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

Whoops - we left the party platform deployed under the boat while we were in the states! When we pulled it up, the side-pockets were full of life. If you click on this photo, you can clearly see the large fish at the top, and several big, transparent, shrimp-like invertebrates swimming around in the captive pool.

 

the new addition to the family!

the new addition to the family!

There's a really sad story here - but before it was sad, it was a very happy story. We adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten and added her to our boat-gypsy family. I'll tell the story of little 'Alice' in another blog post.

 

zombie walk La Paz 2012

zombie walk La Paz 2012

It turns out that the 'Zombie Walk' phenomenon is wider-spread than we'd previously thought, and La Paz actually played host to an entire horror-themed film festival entitled 'Morbido La Paz'. There are few things that Miya and I like better than an excuse to get dressed up and silly, so we put together the best zombie costumes we could with our limited boat resources and shambled out into the town.

Best part: wandering around for at least an hour looking for the meet-up point for the zombie walk, soliciting help from the other boaters over the VHF radio and getting drastically contrasting reports of where to find the rest of the undead. Fortunately when we finally did find the other zombies, we found to our surprise that instead of the expected dozen or so fellow walkers/biters, we found a huge herd of probably two hundred! We moaned and shuffled our way through the night in search of cerebros...

 

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

One of the things we brought back to La Paz from San Diego was a long-coveted item - an icebox conversion kit which would turn our little built-in icebox into a proper refrigerator, complete with freezer! The kit cost an arm and a leg, and came as a box of parts and a series of cryptic instructions, including a bunch of crazy tool requirements. I had to track down someone in the boating community who would be willing to loan me an industrial vacuum pump and a set of refrigerator manifold gauges. As it turned out, none of the tools were far away and even though the build took much longer than expected, our friend Bill on s/v Wandering Puffin was a huge help in getting the system up and running.

Now, for the first time since moving aboard in 2009, we have the ability to store food for longer than a couple of days at a time! What a huge step forward... though admittedly so far my favourite use of the fridge is making ice cubes. Sill though - just because nothing in our world can ever be completely normal - the fact that our fridge is a top-loading icebox means that we're forced to use an expensive vertical ice cube tray.

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

One of the sad facts of cruising life is the realization that no matter how much you like your new friends, everyone is traveling, and sooner or later we all have to pull up the anchor and move on. This photo is of some of our friends from the summer; Malcolm and Lowell left on s/v Libertatia for California, arriving recently in San Francisco, and Mike and Nia left La Paz for Mazatlan in their boat s/v Azul, making it across the Sea of Cortez without incident... and without an engine!

Well, I think that pretty much brings us back up to current. More updates to come soon!

8Oct/123

Catching Up, Part 2: Boatyard

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.

 

first time hauling out on a trailer

first time hauling out on a trailer

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.

 

you're going to back us through that?!

you're going to back us through that?!

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.

 

we must have hit the rocks at some point

we must have hit the rocks at some point

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 grinding fiberglass in the sun

Miya grinding fiberglass in the sun

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.

 

building the base for the new forward hatch

building the base for the new forward hatch

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!

 

you should really click this photo

you should really click this photo

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 laying up fiberglass patches

Miya laying up fiberglass patches

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.

 

fixing bubbles and blisters under the waterline

fixing bubbles and blisters under the waterline

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.

 

the rudder, removed for repairs

the rudder, removed for repairs

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 damaged swing-keel

the damaged swing-keel

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!

 

our boatyard friend Doug

our boatyard friend Doug

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.

 

grinding pointy nails off the ceiling

grinding pointy nails off the ceiling

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.

 

whoops, another bit of rock damage found

whoops, another bit of rock damage found

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.

 

the end of another long, hot day

the end of another long, hot day

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.

 

Miya planning our next destination on our day out

Miya planning our next destination on our day out

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.

 

cutting big holes in the deck

cutting big holes in the deck

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...

 

a tiny sample of our nightly guests

a tiny sample of our nightly guests

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!

 

laminating the new keel, using rocks

laminating the new keel, using rocks

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.

 

freshly glassed new hatch covers drying in the sun

freshly glassed new hatch covers drying in the sun

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.

 

powerwashing off the old paint

powerwashing off the old paint

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. 😀

 

the paint on the topsides came off easily!

the paint on the topsides came off easily!

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.

 

...though powerwashing exposed a LOT more fiberglass problems

...though powerwashing exposed a LOT more fiberglass problems

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!

 

many of the newly-exposed patches

many of the newly-exposed patches

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.

 

pulling out the propellor shaft

pulling out the propellor shaft

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 nickname in the yard: "Lady Polvo"

Miya's nickname in the yard: "Lady Polvo"

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.

 

how to destroy a brand-new cutless bearing

how to destroy a brand-new cutless bearing

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 diligently patching the deck

Miya diligently patching the deck

Miya, stalwartly continuing to patch all the deck problems. She was at this all day, every day, for weeks.

 

the rudder, fully repaired and re-hung

the rudder, fully repaired and re-hung

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!

 

a month in, and she looks far worse than when we started

a month in, and she looks far worse than when we started

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.

 

the interior of the boat is starting to get less habitable

the interior of the boat is starting to get less habitable

...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.

 

many of the fiberglass patches complete

many of the fiberglass patches complete

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!

 

the new swing-keel shaped, glassed and primed

the new swing-keel shaped, glassed and primed

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.

 

the deck, primed, sanded, washed and ready for paint!

the deck, primed, sanded, washed and ready for paint!

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!

 

installing the new radar reflector

installing the new radar reflector

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!

 

TIE Fighter with a fresh coat of (cheap) paint!

TIE Fighter with a fresh coat of (cheap) paint!

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.

 

wiring the binnacle so that we can remove it easier next time

wiring the binnacle so that we can remove it easier next time

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!

 

Miya painting the bootstripe

Miya painting the bootstripe

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.

 

I did a poor job repairing the minikeel; live and learn

I did a poor job repairing the minikeel; live and learn

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.

 

back into the water!

back into the water!

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...

 

28Feb/122

San Diego, Round Two

We were in San Diego for almost two months, but that time seemed to blow past us at an extremely accelerated pitch. Our 'Cruising Permit' (the customs paperwork allowing the TIE Fighter to remain in the US while being a Canadian-flagged vessel) would expire February 1st, so we had to hustle if we wanted to get all the pending projects completed before we left for Mexico, where everything would be an order of magnitude more complicated!

When we originally cleared customs in Port Angeles, Washington back in September, the customs officer asked how long we'd like the permit to be - we laughed and told him that we intended to be in Mexico before Christmas. He nodded and said

"I'll just give you a couple of extra months anyway, just in case you run into bad weather..."

I guess he must had some experience with that sort of thing...

Anyway! On to the photos!

San Diego at sunset with fog rolling in downtown

San Diego at sunset with fog rolling in downtown

San Diego, despite being a bizarre mix of old-money Republicans and impressionable young military personnel from the midwest, had its moments of beauty. Click this photo for the full-size version; check out the sunbeams reflecting off the mirrored buildings and through the early evening fog bank!

 

a frankenstein part I built for the water maker

a frankenstein part I built for the water maker

At no point did we expect that the water maker install would be simple, but I have to admit I  was expecting all of the parts to be readily available. That wasn't really the case, and I had to build this fitting to attach the product water feed to the tank inlet, while also adding a vent line so that the water maker water feed will never see more than 3psi in back pressure - apparently that would irreversibly damage the water maker membrane, which is a very expensive replacement.

 

the remains of the impeller

the remains of the impeller

One night just before Christmas, just prior to having the water maker up and running, we decided to make a run to the fuel dock to fill up our water tanks. We made it out of the A9 anchorage and around the corner a few hundred meters when suddenly our engine alarms started screaming...

We blew the seals on one of our freshwater pumps on the way down - it was still working, but leaking coolant. I had a guy in San Diego rebuild the pump ($50 instead of a $400 new pump), but when I reattached the pump I didn't properly bleed the air out of the coolant lines. A brand-new impeller was just spinning away with nothing to pump, and it was destroyed within minutes.

Mostly I'm impressed with myself, that I was able to determine the cause of the problem and fix it within about an hour, without having to call for help or even consult any manuals. That kind of thing really helps with a person's confidence in taking their vessel far offshore.

 

 

the bridge to Tiajuana

the bridge to Tijuana

As it turns out, Tijuana is a $2.50 public-transit train ride from downtown San Diego, and so we decided to take a brief day trip south of the border. Tijuana is everything that I dislike about Mexico, condensed into a single city - a stark contrast to La Paz, which is absolutely nothing like it.

 

a spraypainted "zebra"

a spraypainted "zebra"

Between hundreds of shopkeepers (all bafflingly selling the exact same items for the same prices) yelling at us to come into their stores and restaurant owners offering cheap tequila (followed by "I've got something for your nose, amigo!"), there were random street "displays". This one, a burro spray painted with zebra stripes, was apparently available for tourists to take their photo with... for a fee, of course.

 

laundry day

laundry day

The first step to arriving in a new city is to figure out where the basics are coming from - internet, showers, groceries, laundry, etc. Most of the facilities were a good five kilometres away from the anchorage, however, so we made the most of our time and split up the tasks between us. This is Miya, with all of our laundry packed into a series of heavy dry bags and our collapsible pull cart, headed for the laundromat.

 

one of the acrobatic mackerel

one of the acrobatic mackerel

In my last post, I began by describing hundreds of tiny acrobatic fish hurling themselves at the side of the boat. Later that day I discovered that several of the fish had leapt into the dinghy! The internet told us that these fish were mackerel, but unfortunately it also told us that you should never eat fish that you've found dead; there would be no way to know how long the fish had been dead. Pity I hadn't looked into the dinghy earlier, these little guys would have made for a delicious breakfast.

 

Miya at the masthead

Miya at the masthead

One of the biggest projects I wanted to have completed before leaving offshore was the ham radio install. This required several trips up the mast; one to affix a temporary backstay (length of steel cable holding up the mast) to measure the length of the new antenna, one to take down the temporary backstay, and one to affix the new backstay.

After hoisting me up the mast with our largest winch, Miya decided that it would be easier for both of us if she went up and I manned the winch.

 

the pelican mafia

the pelican mafia

The pelicans in San Diego were pretty much completely unafraid of humans, and would regularly surround our boat during their fishing expeditions. A few times they almost appeared threatening...

 

yup, it's grand

yup, it's grand

When we realized that the Grand Canyon was a short-ish eight-hour car ride away, and that we'd be unlikely to be anywhere near as close to it every again, we decided to take a few days and go on a road trip. Despite the cold January air, the canyon was everything that television and movies made it out to be: a very large, very beautiful hole in the ground.

 

pretty steep drop there

pretty steep drop there

 

obligatory awful tourist take-our-photo shot

obligatory awful tourist take-our-photo shot

This is us enjoying the last moments of  warm sunshine, just prior to the sun falling below the horizon and sending us sprinting for the car and warm sweaters. The desert gets COLD at night!

 

heiroglyphs in the painted desert

heiroglyphs in the painted desert

The canyon was nice, but to be honest we preferred the drive through the Painted Desert and the strolls through the petrified forests. If you click this photo and look right at the centre, you can see the 6000-year-old drawings on the side of this boulder, known as "Newspaper Rock".

 

continuing our world tour

continuing our world tour

Miya and I have a habit of visiting places with identical names to larger, more famous places; in 2011 we visited Moscow and Paris, both in Idaho.

 

salvation mountain!

salvation mountain!

Salvation Mountain, at the entrance to Slab City (as seen in the movie "Into The Wild") was probably the highlight of the epic January road trip. The life's work of a devout born-again Christian artist, the mountain is made from found materials, mostly dirt, hay bales, wood and leftover paint... lots and lots of paint.

Slab City was fascinating as well, though less photogenic - a squatter community in the desert, completely off the grid and self-reliant, on concrete slabs left over from an abandoned military base. I could see myself spending time there, especially if it were with a group of like-minded adventurers.

 

Rich recording voiceovers

Rich recording voiceovers

Following the trip to Arizona, we jumped a plane and headed to Vancouver to help throw Sequential Circus 10, an event series that I've been throwing (well, with the heavy assistance of a group of close friends and dedicated volunteers) for the past five years or so. In this photo, Rich Hamakawa is recording voiceovers (in the booth, the vocal talents of France Perras) for use as the introductions on each of the podcast recordings. Sitting in the TopFloorUnderground studios with good friends and a bottle of nice tequila is a fine way to spend an afternoon.

 

photo by Luke Szczepanski

photo by Luke Szczepanski

I have to admit, we do throw a helluva party. This is Drew 'Vespers' Betts performing for a packed dancefloor. All of the performances at Sequential Circus shows are live acts.

 

another excellent photo by Luke Szczepanski

another excellent photo by Luke Szczepanski

Much fun was had by all - thanks for the great photos, Luke! Much more of his most excellent work can be found on his Flickr site.

 

Miya working on the garden

Miya working on the garden

Back to San Diego and back to the grind - with only a few short days left until we left, I had my hands full with important travel-related boat projects, like finishing the water maker install and getting the ham radio up and running and retrieving up-to-date weather info. Miya took advantage of the boat being in "project mode" to make a mess on the deck, building her custom garden boxes. It's worth noting that Miya's blog, http://www.thenomadist.com, has lately been far more up-to-date than my own. 🙂

 

installing the through-hull for the water maker

installing the through-hull for the water maker

The hardest part of the install was the through-hull that needed to be installed below the waterline. Normally this would require a haul out, but we decided to try it in the water. I plugged the new brass scoop fitting with a small softwood plug, got all the tools and fittings ready, and then did the unthinkable: I drilled a hole into the bottom of the boat directly into the ocean!

I figured that given the balmy San Diego weather the water would be warm enough to do the install in just my swimsuit, but once I jumped in I quickly changed my mind and switched to my wetsuit. In the end verything went smoothly, and overall we only had about four litres of seawater pour into the bilge.

 

project day, viewed from above

project day, viewed from above

The project days were fruitful, and if you click into this photo you can see many of them on the go - the flippers on the deck from the water maker install, the detritus from the garden construction, pillows out on the bow nets to air out, the blue bins of winter clothes out in preparation for cold offshore nights, the new Achilles dinghy and the old Zodiac dinghy alongside our venerable folding "beater" row dinghy... so much going on in this photo!

And that brings us to the end of January! One more blog post to go and I should be actually up to date and back to posting about things as they happen, instead of posting about them two months later...

 

21Sep/111

Neah Bay

Well, we're away.  We left on Monday September 12th 2011 as planned, leaving Vancouver about ten hours later than expected but making good time across the Georgia Straight, spent the night at the mouth of Porlier Pass and motor-sailed the next day down to Cadboro Bay just east of Victoria. We crossed the Juan de Fuca on Wednesday, cleared customs and spent two days in Port Angeles, then motored on up the Juan de Fuca arriving in Neah Bay on Friday night. The weekend was spent carefully watching for a "weather window", in which we could set out with six to ten days of reasonably good weather to look forward to... but then I made an expensive mistake.

We've entered another one of these infuriating "hurry up and wait" scenarios, as a result of my carelessness while working on the steering system. I was removing a sprocket when it got away from me and clattered down the centerboard trunk and into the ocean. Given that we're anchored in soft mud in about 10m of water the chances of finding a heavy 10cm chunk of dark bronze were pretty slim, but we had a diver go down twice to look anyway. The replacement part is on rush delivery from Ontario and will hopefully arrive in the next few days.

The big question now is whether or not we've missed our weather window to head out into the open ocean, or whether the big storm winds of October and November are upon us. Traditionally, the end of October is the absolute cutoff time for heading out on an offshore passage south from the Pacific Northwest, but what with the changing weather patterns of the past couple of years it's anyone's guess.

Too much has happened lately to give a full rundown, so I will return once more to a pictorial style of blogging; here are a few snapshots of life over the past few weeks..:

Chad Taylor and Dan Ross jamming on the bows

Chad Taylor and Dan Ross jamming on the bows

During the last weeks leading up to the final departure, we spent as much time as possible hanging out with friends, enjoying what little summer Vancouver had to offer up this year. With so many projects to complete, perfect moments like this were rare but treasured.

 

installing spreader lights, repairing the steaming light

installing spreader lights, repairing the steaming light

Most of the boat projects were one-man jobs, but Miya had to winch me up the mast several times for minor repairs. The next time we haul out I will likely run a few more wires up to the masthead; it'd be a much better place to mount the Ubiquity Bullet router and high-gain wireless antenna than the current location on the aft cabin roof, for instance, and someday I'd like to mount a webcam up there as well.

 

Jared and Thu departing on S/V Resolution

Jared and Thu departing on S/V Resolution

Our friend Jared has been working on his boat 'Resolution' for the past year or so, and left about ten days before we did for San Francisco.  He's taken a few different routes than we have; going with a smaller monohull for instance, installing davits and monster solar panels and choosing a SatPhone instead of radio communications. It's been very interesting to watch another geek take on the challenges of living aboard on his own terms.

 

electrical room complete

electrical room overhaul completed!

I've finally gotten the electrical room into a state that I can consider "finished". New features since the last photos - a smart alternator regulator on the far left, and a homebrew fuel polishing system on the bottom left, comprised of a pair of Racor diesel fuel filters and a Reverso fuel pump. The polishing system should help keep our engine Maude healthy even in the third world, where fuel quality can be questionable at best. Incidentally, since the last cooling system overhaul she's been running like a top!

On the extreme left you can see a little piece of the yet-to-be-installed Spectra Ventura 150 watermaker; the next compartment over houses our water system, and that project will be a fun challenge I'm sure... it will require a haulout to finish as the watermaker will need two new through-hull fittings, one for seawater intake and one for brine discharge.

 

first aid kit

first aid kit, populated

If you're planning to head offshore, you'd best be prepared for whatever may come to pass - and the first-aid kit on TIE Fighter was not exactly anything to write home about. Taking careful notes at both a Red Cross First Aid course and a pair of Bluewater Cruising Offshore First-Aid seminar, I assembled our new kit into a bomb-proof Pelican 1550EMS case which should survive anything that we throw at it. The kit contains everything from happy-face bandaids to hardcore prescription antibiotics and injectable painkillers.

An awesome first-aid kit is only half the battle though; Miya and I have enrolled in a Wilderness First Responder first aid course in San Francisco in October, which is an intensive 80-hour course covering emergency first aid in remote scenarios where professional help might not be coming right away.

 

leaving Vancouver

the middle of the Georgia Straight at sunset

Once we finally got away, the stress of getting ready to leave didn't fall away as easily as planned. We were off, for sure, but tensions ran a little high while we adjusted to the new state of being. The first night we pulled into an anchorage in the dark, and currents and tides and deadheads made the situation questionable, but once the full moon rose everything came into focus. Waking up the next morning everything was much clearer.

 

freezing on watch

freezing on watch

Neither of us were prepared for the realities of sailing in September; I think we were both spoiled by the 29º temperatures in Vancouver the days leading up to the grand departure. All of our winter clothes were packed away in tupperware containers in the amas, but those were quickly pulled out as it became apparent that gloves, hats and scarves would be necessary. We are very glad to have high-quality foul weather gear, and look forward to soon sailing in warm waters.

 

raising the courtesy flag

raising the courtesy flag

Before clearing customs into a new country, a vessel should fly a yellow flag - the symbol for the letter 'Q', or 'quarantine' - to indicate to the port that the vessel has not yet cleared customs but intends to. After clearing customs, the yellow flag is replaced by a flag of the country being visited, known as a 'courtesy flag'. Raising the courtesy flag of the US is something I had been looking forward to for a very long time, as it marks a huge milestone in this adventure!

 

morning in Neah Bay

morning in Neah Bay

Neah Bay, at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, is the last safe harbour before heading out into the open Pacific Ocean. It is a small Makah indian reservation with a population of about 700 people, but we are still able to steal internet access from several open wireless networks using our high-powered antenna and router. The bay is wild and beautiful, with loons calling in the night and thick fog rolling in regularly.

 

surface analysis for the eastern pacific ocean

surface analysis for the eastern pacific ocean

This is a 'weatherfax' transmission, retrieved from the internet. This is basically our window into what's going on weather-wise on the open ocean, and once we have a working HF ham radio rig on the boat we should be able to pull down these images for free from wherever we happen to be on the ocean. Learning to interpret these images is a steep learning curve, but once you get past a few key hurdles the information becomes somewhat fascinating.

One of the things I've enjoyed most about moving onto the ocean is the amount of knowledge about the world around me that I've been forced to learn - it boggles the mind that the tides move in and out with such regularity, yet mere meters away from the ocean Vancouver has a half a million people who have no idea what phase the tide is at any given time. Similarly, I feel like I've been living with the weather for my entire life, looking up at the sky without having the foggiest (heh) idea what I've been looking at. The more I learn about how weather systems function, the more I want to know!

 

working on the reefing systems

working on the reefing systems

While we wait for the weather to change to a more favourable window there are dozens of small projects that didn't get finished before we left Vancouver. In this photo I'm working on the reefing system; a series of ropes and pulleys and hooks that helps to get the main sail "reefed", or shortened by a third - or two thirds - in case of heavy winds. Now complete, the improved reefing system will help us to sail even when the winds blow at gale force or higher.

 

out in the zodiac with a local diver

out in the zodiac with a local diver, gps in hand

When I dropped the sprocket from the steering system into the ocean, I essentially paralyzed us; we can't steer at all. We're not only stuck in Neah Bay, we're stuck right where we've anchored until we can replace the part or work around it somehow. Miya walked the local docks looking for a diver, and to our luck the first person she talked to offered to dive for us. Daren Akin, a local diver, went down twice to try to find the part - sadly he was unable to locate it, though the attempt was greatly appreciated!

I cannot believe I did this. I really need to rewire my brain to assign more importance to small bits of hardware when working over a big hole that leads to oblivion. You'd think I would have learned that lesson from my bicycle.

 

Miya playing Nintendo on a rainy afternoon

Miya playing Nintendo on a rainy afternoon

So now we're stuck, with most of the projects out of the way and a boat fully stocked and ready to travel. The delay has been a blessing in some ways, letting us finish up work that we hadn't had time for and giving us a chance to catch our breaths and adapt to the new realities of life on the road, to sleep in and prepare for the monster ten-day marathon sail down to San Francisco.

Soon the company in Ontario from whom I've purchased the replacement part for the steering column will send me the tracking number for the UPS shipment, so that I might have a better idea of when we'll be out of here - but until then, we remain at anchor.

30Aug/112

Anchor Musings

With less than two weeks until our scheduled departure, every single day is filled with project work!  I've been trying to balance boat projects with tying off the last loose ends of life ashore, with good, steady progress. Still, I'm faced with having to carefully choose between which projects can be left for the time being and which projects are critical to the offshore voyage portion of our adventure.

anchor fail

the rock that nearly wrecked the boat

I'm definitely feeling "in touch" with the TIE Fighter and the ocean, however. This morning I was awoken by a wake from a passing boat, one which must have been pretty massive because it lasted for far more than the typical three or four waves. After about the twentieth wave or so I figured something was amiss, so I jumped out of bed and checked - sure enough, TIE Fighter was lying perpendicular to the incoming ocean swell, causing her to rock sideways. Usually the anchor line holds her bows pretty much directly into the swell, so this was out of the ordinary. I pulled out the GPS, and just as I suspected, the anchor was dragging.

The anchor I've been using lately is a Fortress FX-37. The benefits of a danforth-style anchor are many, but the real value of the Fortress model is that it's made out of cast aluminum alloy instead of steel. The FX-37 weighs a mere 21lbs, but the holding strength is reputed to be that of a steel anchor at least double its weight!

The biggest downside of the folding anchor model is that if the anchor should fail to fold, it ceases to work. This morning I was nearly blown onto the rocky shore as a result of a little one-inch rock getting wedged between the anchor flukes and the shaft! Fortress anchors may have the best holding power in their class, but they don't handle being re-seated due to shifting tides or winds very well. I'll be spending some time re-thinking the anchoring situation in the near future, let me assure you.

Update: when I went down to Seattle to help Miya move out of her apartment and onto the boat fulltime, disaster struck - I received a phonecall from the Kits Beach lifeguards saying that the TIE Fighter was about 100m off the rocks and headed in fast! Fortunately a friend from another boat rushed out and deployed a second anchor for me, and a phonecall to my good friend Simon had him scrambling to rescue the boat. He was able to pull the anchor and head in to False Creek, albeit with some hassle as the new fuel polishing system apparently siphons fuel from the engine lines if the valves aren't closed properly! He made it as far as the Burrard Bridge before the engine conked out, and had to enlist the help of the Coast Guard to tow the TIE Fighter in to safer waters.

It really never stops!