One Last Halcyon Post

 

 

The start of the day it looked like Halcyon was living up to her name sake.

Full sail ahead

We’ve laid a little low for the last 22 months.  We’ve had people from Mexico trying to get our address and calling us.  For what ever reasons we just played it safe and kept our heads down.

Several months ago one of our good Mexican friends contacted us to let us know the Mexican forces had killed the cartel kingpin that had our boat and arrested the rest of the group. The Mexican government had seized our boat and we needed to let them know we wanted it back.  This raised our hopes of getting our beloved Halcyon back at last.

We began to talk to people with the right contacts within the U.S. government.  We were given a state senators private contact email and phone number to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City.  I contacted them with a long email explaining what had happened to us and asked them for their help in contacting the Mexican authorities and letting them know that Halcyon was our boat.  Our U.S. Dept. of State simply told us they did not give legal advise.  They gave us a list of Mexican lawyers we could hire.  I recontacted them and told them I had not asked for legal advise but only for them to contact the Mexican government on our behalf.  Once again I got the same answer, “Hire a Mexican attorney”

Halcyon was auctioned off.  She is gone for ever now.

Some of you know that I am a 100% combat disabled Marine Corps veteran.  Some of you may also be aware that it is the U.S. Marines that guard our embassies around the world.  From now on it is my firm belief that any time one of our embassies is attacked, the Marine detachment at that location should not defend it but, advise the staff to ” hire a Mexican attorney”.  Seems the U.S. Dept of State is not the place to go if you need help abroad, (even if you are the ambassador to Libya).

We have managed to buy another boat. She is a 37 foot ketch.  We will begin to write about her refurbishment and our adventures on her soon.

Posted in crusing, Mexican Justice, Mexico, Pirates, sailboats, sailing | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Just The Right Thing To Do

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I have to keep reminding myself, “I’m back home”.  Sort of like snapping out of a day dream from time to time.  Most of the time I’m fine but, then it hits me and I’m crushed by the memory of what was done in Mexico.  We had lost everything but our little house and studio in Florida.  Being a combat veteran, I feel loss very strongly and it comes over me like 200 lb blanket that holds me down making it hard to breath.  When we got the Mariner 31 I thought it would be a way to find our way back to normal and to some extent it did.  It proved that I could get something back.  And it brought to mind that boats are things that come and go and I would go on too.

We attended a party on Christmas Eve where, after telling another guest the story of Halcyon, this fellow tells me about another sailor that just lost his boat in much the same way with one big difference, this sailor did not have a house to retreat to.  The thieves had sunk his boat when they were through stripping it leaving him homeless.  That’s all I needed to hear, I contacted him that night and I gave him my new boat.  My family agreed with the decision.  I liked that boat and had invested time and money in it, I looked forward to sailing it but, there is a difference between “want” and “need”.

Our friends the Cooks give us a minivan because they felt we needed it (and we kept borrowing it anyway).  They gave it with no strings attached when they could have sold it for a nice profit with ease.  They don’t have money to burn but they are rich in other ways. So, in a way we paid it forward.   I think that giving that boat to someone in need is the key to my family getting over our loss.  Giving always heals us.

Posted in boat repair, crusing, crusing, living aboard, Mexico, sailing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Loss of Halcyon

Waking slowly in my bed I hoped it was just a dream, when I realized it wasn’t I didn’t know if I would cry or vomit. The last entry was about bending the shaft on our 51 Formosa Halcyon and taking refuge in Zihuatanejo.  At first I didn’t think I would be able to get a new shaft there but within a week we had found two sources for them at good prices.  I would also need new engine mounts that I could not get there.  To replace the shaft we would need to pull the boat and we just didn’t have the cash to do it.  We decided to send our son Mike back to the states to finish his schooling.  Because of a health issue, Shannon and I would follow in thirty days.  We could spend the summer months in Fort Myers putting together the funds to do the work the boat needed to head to Panama when the sailing season began.  I began to make arrangements to have a mooring made so that I could leave Halcyon safely.  Checking with the Port Captains office I was told not to place the mooring on the town side of the bay.  I wanted to put it with all the other moorings because I felt there would be more eyes on the boat but, the port Captain insisted that I drop the mooring in an isolated spot on the opposite side of the bay.  Only one other boat was moored there, Azteca, a power boat that used to belong to a drug runner that was found shot on the beach. Zihuatanejo was once a cartel hot spot.  The police chief had an exact replica of the Parthenon built, on top of one of the hills surrounding the bay, as his house.  One local said, “Up there, they killed people like chickens”.  The police chief along with another cartel family controlled Zihuatanejo until they were finally removed.  The people who used to be seen with AK 47’s on the streets disappeared.  We were warned, by a Mexican friend, of the bandito’s there.  They were my only concern.  The town does not have a place to tie your dingy up so you have to land it through the surf on the beach.  There we were met by men that offered to watch it so no one would steal the motor or the boat.  They would always laugh when they said that and charge me one hundred pesos not to steal my stuff.  They never bothered to actually watch my dingy.  As soon as I paid them they went to get beer and grass and disappeared.   Yes, there are bandits there.  Before Shannon and I left we had an alarm installed on the boat to keep people from coming aboard and stripping gear from her.  The Port Captain’s office offered to store any expensive gear, we wished to remove from the boat at their office.   I also hired a local man to keep an eye on the boat for me until we returned. Halcyon was left sitting on a 1,500 pound mooring with 3/8 triple B chain on swivels.  We connected to that with a forty foot 1 inch nylon bridle and heavy leather chafe gear.  Having done all we could think of we left Mexico.  Within a week we got a call from the caretaker.  Someone had come aboard and pulled the wiring out of the steering console and disarmed the alarm.  They had not gained entrance to the boat interior thought they had stolen things up on deck.  I arranged to have the alarm reinstalled. Last Monday we were called again.  The chain had broken and Halcyon had gone up on the rocks.  The hull was holed and she had filled with sea water.  I scraped together plane fare and arrived on Wednesday.  I found Halcyon sitting back on her mooring, taking on water and covered with Mexicans.  There was one man in the water stuffing epoxy putty into cracks on the underside of the boat.  I was trying to get my head around how the chain could have broken.  We were without doubt the most substantial mooring in the bay yet no one else broke loose that night.  I wanted to pay the people who had been working on the boat since Monday so we all sat down in the cockpit to thank and pay them.  One man, Able, began to speak, telling me of all they had done and how much it had cost.  He was clearly the leader of the group.  As he spoke questions began to pop into my head.  First he had said the wind came from the east.  To the east was the beach and hills at a distance of about 100 yards, hardly enough fetch to form waves to break the chain.  Another fellow, the same guy that made and set the mooring for me, said that if I looked at the chain it might look like it had been sawed but, that was only caused by him re-attaching it.  Only Able could look me in the eye as the story unfolded.  The boat had gone on the rocks in the middle of the night yet they were there to save her.  What were they doing way over there in the middle of the night? I began to understand that the people with the AK’s were still there and I kept my mouth shut.  Able kept mentioning that the Port Captain worked for him.  He said that I needed to have a meeting with the Port Captain first thing in the morning.  As we spoke more and more people began to show up claiming to have helped.  Able finely stopped explaining himself and said I owed 8,000.  When I handed him the pesos he laughed and said, “Dollars”.  Nobody in the crowd wanted less than $1,000.  Even the ponga driver wanted $1,000.  They charge 50 pesos for the ride over to this area so that worked out to 240 trips at the 12 to 1 exchange rate.  One of the divers wanted $1,500 for one dive because it was at 1am.  He also happened to be the man that now owned Azteca.  They all lined up.  They had already gone through my belongings including my mother’s ashes that were in a box tied with a ribbon.  The box was empty and her ashes were on the counter top.  I gave Able 10,000 pesos and he said he would  tell the Port Captain to meet with all parties at 10 am the next morning.  I asked if we needed to check with the Port Captain about the meeting time and was told again the Port Captain worked for Able and would meet when he was told to. It was clear that I would never have enough money to pay them what they asked (close to $10,000) and get the boat out of the water, I had lost the boat.  It was clear that Halcyon had pounded on the rocks and had begun to push the keel up through the bottom.  I could fix her but I couldn’t fix her and pay these pirates.  I called Shannon to tell her the boat was lost.  Shannon called a lawyer friend who checked with two others for advice about maritime law. I had lived on the Outer Banks for 15 years teaching boatbuilding for a community college so I had learned the story of Nags Head all too well.  In the old days the locals would tie a lantern to the neck of a horse, then stake it out on the beach.  The horse would move around a bit which from sea would look like a floating buoy and safe passage through the shoals to the safety of the sounds.  The ship would end up on the beach where it would be “salvaged” by the locals.  It’s known as “Ship wrecking”.  A form of Piracy.  The Mexican shipwreckers made one mistake, they thought I was a rich gringo and never thought I would have to just walk away.  I also believe they intended the boat to go out through the inlet of the bay but, I leave my rudder hard over while on the hook, to stop it from swinging, so it went south of the inlet and on to the rocks.  Now they had to save the contents of the boat if they expected to profit.  Or they could keep me until I paid them. Shannon called me with the lawyer’s response.  It was, “Get out of there now!”.   If I met with the Port Captain he would order me held in Mexico until I paid everyone  anything they wanted.  If I got out before he could order that, according to maritime law, any claims would be against the boat.  If I stayed it would be against me and I would be held.  This confirmed what I was already thinking, I just needed to hear someone else say it.   Shannon also informed me that the last flight out of there left in 30 minutes.   I excused myself to go ashore and get a shower.  I grabbed my bag along with Shannon’s violin and headed in.  The ponga I was on made a stop at the pier at Los Gatos where about half of the guys involved got on board.  I thought for sure they would wonder why I was taking a violin to the shower but, they still didn’t understand that I valued my freedom more than the boat.  On shore I had to walk past the Port Captain’s office carrying all my bags but went unnoticed.  I grabbed the first cabby I could find and handed him a wad of cash with instructions to get me to the airport within 15 minutes.  We flew through the streets and though he earned every peso he stopped my heart a couple of times.  With just 10 minutes until take off I bought a ticket for the last seat available on the last plane of the day and was gone.  I wasn’t in the clear yet as the flight was to Mexico City.  There I was to catch another flight to Washington/Dulles but I arrived too late to get on board.  The next flight stateside was at 1:30 am.  I pulled my hat down in an out-of-the-way section of the airport and bit my nails till then.  I didn’t breathe much until we were air-borne to New York, where I had a 5 hour layover.  I had gone three days without sleep and was beginning to hallucinate.  Shannon and son Mike were on the phone texting me, keeping me focused enough to get on the last flight home.  I flew Jet Blue home where I saw my tray table turned into a computer for a few minutes.  I kept thinking that I used to do this all the time when I was 18.  Those days are over.  As my head jerked back and forth I wonder what the guy sitting next to me was thinking about me.  We touched down at Fort Myers and I launched off the plane.  I was home. Back at the house, facing Shannon and Mike I tried to apologize for not being able to save the boat but choked up.  I ate something and went to bed.  The next morning I woke up to face the recovery that we would all have to handle in our own way. The Port Captain and his friends divided the boats contents up two days later. Zihuatanejo is a nice little town filled with wonderful people but, like a lot of towns it has a dark side.  What I hope you learn from this experience is this, if you are on a boat, stay clear of Zihuatanejo.  If you have to go there, never leave the boat unattended.  This shipwrecking endeavor paid off well for them so I wouldn’t expect them to abandon the business.  I was told by one official there that another gringo boat had “broken free” and ended up on the beach where it was stripped.  This had happened a year earlier and the owner had to walk away.  While there are still great places to cruise in Mexico, the fact is that as times get harder, those places will begin to go away.  I’ve made many good friends in Mexico and have met many very honest and good people but, I’m sad to say that there are still many bad people there looking for the “Rich Gringo”. Believe it or not, this is the second 50+ foot boat I’ve had stolen.  The first experience was just as bizarre as Halcyon.  It isn’t getting any easier.  We did succeed in accomplishing the goals we set when we decided to buy a boat and go sailing, with one exception.  I am a disabled veteran and I had intended to offer the boat for outings for soldiers and family in the Wounded Warrior barracks.  That is my only real regret.  Maybe I can do it with the next boat. Halcyon wasn’t a pleasure boat though she brought us a lot of it.  She was our home.  We lived aboard her and she was all we had.  She was a member of the family.  So when they stole the boat they also took a piece of our hearts.  The one thing these people could not get their hands on was the most valuable thing on the boat, our experiences and our memories. I can’t bring myself to hate them.  Budha said that “Hate is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die”.  I will not give them that too.  Our lives go on and we will enjoy them to the fullest.

Posted in boat repair, crusing, crusing, Formosa 51, living aboard, Mexican Justice, Mexico, Pirates, sailboats, sailing | Tagged , , , , | 49 Comments

Awash in a Sea of Disappointment

Well, we almost made it. We continued to move down the coast towards Panama making slow progress due largely to the weather and currents. There comes a time of year when the wind patterns change and start to work against you,… that time has come. We  have to try to move against the northbound Equatorial Counter Current that is moving north a 3 – 4 knots. We had started motoring because of the complete lack of favorable wind but were only able to make 4 -5 knots against the current. It was a very slow slog. When we put the boat back in the water way back in La Paz I had noticed that we had a slight rumble when we motored. This sometimes happens when a boat is hauled out of the water.  A boat can lose its shape without the water supporting it from all sides. Once they are back in the water, it takes a while for them to regain the shape. I was surprised that this had occurred to a boat that is this heavily built but, there it was so, I thought I would wait and see if it settled back into shape. It didn’t go away but, it didn’t get worse ether. On our last leg from Las Hadas to Zihuatanejo it got a lot worse. We were taking long tall swells on the beam and each time we rolled the rumble turned into a grind. What was happening was that at least one of the motor mounts was allowing the motor to lean with each roll. This leaning would throw the alignment of the engine transmission and the propeller shaft all out of whack. There was nothing to do but grit my teeth and hope it would hold together until we could make port. We were forced to motor 188 miles at 3 knots. Once we were safely at anchor I check the shaft alignment and confirmed my fears, the trip was over for this year. The only fix for this is a new shaft, an 11 ft long 1-¾ inch solid stainless steel rod, probably not available in Mexico. We will have to travel back to Florida, locate a new one and then, because it won’t fit under the seat or in the overhead, drive it back here in a cheap van that we will have to leave here when we leave. Driving the cheap van through the Mts. of central Mexico might be another blog of it’s own. Next problem to solve; our visas expire in 5 days. We had planned on arriving in Huatulco by now and checking out of the country there but that also did not happen. Jimmy, our trusty guide/waiter, told us that his friend Alahandro, was the head of the immigration office here and that he could give us another 30 days, no problem. First, Jimmy’s friend was on vacation when we walked in. We sat down in front of “Alex” who told us we had to leave Mexico and then return to get a new visa. I told him that the boat was broken but we might be able to get it 12 miles off shore and back thereby checking out and then back in. Alex also told us that the immigration office could not handle this, only the immigration office at the airport could do this. He called the airport and arranged for two immigration officers to meet us in front of the port captains office on the pier. When they arrived we explained what we needed and I asked if I actually had to move the boat, “couldn’t I just say we went out so you wouldn’t have to make a second trip here to check me in and I don’t have to risk further damage to the boat?”. They had a short chat and got on the phone to Alahandro, “Everything is fine” they said, “Alex was wrong, you don’t need to leave, go back and see Alex”. Off we went again. Alex was much more helpful when he got off the phone to everyone that called him. To do the “paperwork” would cost us 550 pesos each and what he was telling us was that we needed to apply for permanent resident status, an FM 3, which would cost us 1451 pesos each. Our son Mike, has a flight out of here in less than a week so he was told he should, at the last minute, say he had changed his mind about the FM 3 at which point he would be thrown out of the country in 10 days and not have to pay for the FM 3. He’d be gone before he could be thrown out. Shannon and I on the other hand ,will get the new status because we need to come back and the FM 3 comes with some real benefits that I won’t go into here but, it just allows us to come and go as we please. The plan is to get a new shaft and new engine mounts in the states and drive back to install them in Dec or Jan. Then head south again but this time without Mike who has to get back to school. He wants to come back in time to go through the canal with us and that makes me feel much better about him having to leave. He’s been a great 1st mate and a quick and eager learner. He has struggled with his command and management skills but, no father has been prouder of his son and the man he has become on this voyage. He has faced his fears without flinching and endured many hardships without much talk of mutiny. I will miss his wit and companionship, I will miss my son for the first time in my life.

Posted in boat repair, crusing, Formosa 51, living aboard, living aboard, Mexican Justice, Mexico, sailing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South by Southeast

False starts are becoming the norm on board. The old description of a boat being a hole in the water that you shovel money into has become all too true. The good news is that we have replaced almost everything at this point. Almost everything. After getting squared away in La Cruz I pulled into the fuel dock to top off the tanks before heading over to Yelapa. My tanks have sight tubes installed (small clear tubes that allow you to see the fuel level in the tanks) so I positioned myself below in the engine room to watch the tubes while my son pumped the fuel. We filled the starboard tank with 100 gallons and began to fill the port tank when I suddenly heard a loud gushing sound followed by the sound of me yelling for him to stop. Of all things, the fuel fill hose had exploded, just blew apart and of course the high pressure fuel pump filled the bilge with fresh diesel. Exactly Oh Gezzz gallons. I had to take a slip in the marina for two days while I looked for inch and a half red strip fuel hose. And yes, it cost an arm and a leg for the hose and 600 pesos for the cab. I took the opportunity to talk Mike into letting me hoist him up the mizzen mast once more to haul the wind generator down so I could see what happened to it. I can’t remember if I mentioned that it cooked thousand bucks worth of batteries. When I bought it I was told that it had just been rebuilt and that turned out to be true but, the fellow had neglected to wire tie the wires from the windings so the slip ring cut through them and shorted the whole thing out. A huge expense for the lack of a couple one cent wire ties. Lucky for me that he had given me the old parts he replaced as they were still good. It seems to be working fine now. With the hose installed and the generator fixed we set sail for Yelapa. This is a place that everyone should visit. I don’t think you will find it on any travel agency brochure stand. This is a tiny cove on the southwest shore of Bandaras Bay. It is inhabited by an Indian tribe that that has been there for a very long time. The land was given to them by the Queen of Spain and the current Mexican government still honors the grant to this day. No one owns the land they live on because they don’t believe in ownership of the earth. The only way to get to the village is by boat, horse or burro through the mountains. Yalapa has only had electricity for the past eleven years. There is a small hotel and a couple restaurants but not much more. Just peace and quiet like you have never imagined. The residents are happy and very friendly. As we approached the bay we were met by a ponga and the man sleeping in it awoke and offered us a mooring in the bay which we took for $200 pesos. Once we were secured we noticed that the sailboat moored next us was Liquid 8 which belongs to an old Marine buddy of mine. I hadn’t seen him in two years. I found him with the binoculars sitting on the beach in front of a grass hut. I launched the kayak on the opposite side of Halcyon and paddled into the beach. Looking in from the sea you don’t notice the waves breaking onto the sand so I rolled the kayak in the surf and arrived dripping water and picking sea shells out of everywhere. He still didn’t notice me until I was on him. Being a former Marine, I can’t quote him here but, he was delighted to see us and we got together on Halcyon for happy hour at sunset. The following morning he was headed north and we were headed south around Cabo Correntes and on to Panama. We stayed in Yelapa because it is the last place to stop before you try to round Cabo Correntes We are told it is best to attempt it late at night or early in the morning. The weather and sea conditions can be somewhat violent during the day so, we bow to local knowledge. Still it was a bumpy ride the morning we began the leg. Seas were running about four feet and a light wind out of the north. Within the hour we began to see a large number of humpback in the distance. Shannon began to shoot pictures that were not going to amount to much because they were so far off and all you could see was a sliver of their backs. Suddenly one mother with a calf rolled over and waved her huge pectoral fin in the air and the next second a whale launched completely out of the water. These shots are sure to be the best ones of the trip unless we meet aliens along the way. The whales far behind us, the weather took a turn for the worse. The wind and seas are on our transom and building up. This wouldn’t have been too bad except the waves were very confused. Most of them came from the northwest but every five minutes or so a really big one would hit from the east and roll us over on our side. The wind began to clock and then veer, then clock and veer etc, etc. We took in the sails and continued on under power. The sea began to reach six and seven feet with the occasional eight and nine. We had to turn off the auto pilot and wrestle the wheel by hand. The sea was trying to turn the boat sideways with every wave. It is exhausting work trying to stay within 15 or 20 degrees of your intended course. I expected the conditions to die down after dark but they did not. They got worse. So, I did what all prudent sailors have done for centuries, I tucked my tail between my legs and headed for the nearest port. As it turned out it wasn’t that “near”. We rounded Punta Perula into Bahia Chamela at 1300 hours feeling rode hard and put away wet. We were still two miles from the safety of the anchorage. There was no moon so it was pitch black and the fog was just setting in. The pilot house windows have no wipers so I had to hand squeegee every three or four minutes and still I could see nothing. The charts of this coast line are based on the charts made in the eighteen hundreds and very inaccurate. My electronic charts are based on those same charts so they can be up to two miles off. In the case of this bay, which is filled with rocks and reefs, they are only a mile off. I have the ability to overlay satellite photography onto my chart so I could see the huge discrepancies. I had purchase a night vision scope at the last swap meet and I was really glad I did now. I put Mike on the bow to scan the area as we inched our way in. When I hit thirty feet of water I ordered the anchor down. We backed down on a hundred-fifty feet of chain, setting the anchor in the sand bottom. The next morning, when I poked my head out of the companionway, I could see that we had sailed right over a fisherman’s unlit net stretched out between two large steel drums and never knew it.

Posted in boat repair, crusing, Formosa 51, humor, living aboard, living aboard, Mexico, sailing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Close Encounters

We set sail for Punta De Mita at Bahia Banderas where we would meet up with some cruising friends coming north. The wind was light but we were making some way. It felt good to be heading south. Within the first couple hours the wind freshened, we started picking up speed and soon began to sight whales in the distance. Humpbacks on their way south to the warm waters for breeding and calving and there were a lot of them. We are concerned about them because a collision between them and us is usually fatal to the whale. Not to mention it could sink us in 1,100 feet of water. There have been some rare events of a male mistaking a sailboat hull for another male and attacking the boat, as with the Essex, the boat that Moby Dick was based on. If you ever want to read a really grim tale, read the Essex’s true story. Most of the time it’s just a simple bumping into each other but with that kind of mass, the damage is bad. I was below and Shannon was on the wheel when I heard her yell, “Whuuha, whuuha, Whale! I got up the companionway just in time to see the 80,000 pound animal about to cross our bow at less than 30 ft. So, of course, I grabbed the camera and began shooting. She crossed under our bow and surfaced 20 feet from our starboard side, blowing a huge spray of breath before diving. As it dove it raised it’s tale and seemed to wave good-bye to the people on the boat with their jaws hanging and their hearts stopped.

 Standing watch at four in the morning on a moonless night with nothing to see but the glowing red light from the compass, we sometimes ask ourselves why we are doing this, then we see something like today’s encounter on the endless sea and those thoughts melt away.

Posted in crusing, crusing, Formosa 51, living aboard, living aboard, Mexico, sailboats, sailing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sleep Deprivation and Decisions at Sea

Note; I use my internet connection for weather updates.  My time is very limited here on the Mexican coast so I will not be adding any pictures for a while.  I am taking a lot of shots and will include them when I get somewhere I can upload them on another account.

The first few days at sea are the hardest in my view.  You have to learn a whole new sleep cycle and be able to fall asleep on command.  We are a three person crew which means a four-hour watch at the wheel every eight hours.  Mine is from four to eight morning and night.  Shannon’s is from twelve to four and Mikes is from eight to twelve.  These are the times that each of us felt were the easiest for us.  Being asleep when you are scheduled to sleep becomes very important both to the individual and to the boat.  My job as any Captain is as follows; my first consideration is always for the boat and not the crew.  This might seem wrong at first glance but consider that I’ll have a tough time seeing to the welfare of my crew if I lose the boat.  My second consideration is the crew (in this case, my loved ones).  I have to keep them well rested, well fed as well as warm and dry.  A crew that is tired, hungry, cold and wet steers a lousy course.

Our sail over from La Paz to the mainland of Mexico was going well even though we were unable to sail.  A Northern was forecasted to begin in a couple of days so we couldn’t take time to tack across the Sea of Cortez.  Sailing from west to east with a wind event coming down on us from the north would make for a very uncomfortable ride and even dangerous.  In my opinion my crew still needed some experience under their belts before they took on any weather.  So, we motored along at 6.5 knots.

The goal was to make it around Cabo Corrientes, a point of land on the south side of Bahia de Banderas at Puerto Vallarta.  Getting around this point would bring a whole new weather system that would be much nicer to sail in.

With the mainland of Mexico just 34 miles off  the wind shifted from the nose and to the north, we turned south toward Puerto Vallarta to take advantage of a slight breeze now coming from behind us. We pulled out the jib and mizzen and began to motor sail south.  With everything going well I turned in and the midnight shift change took place.  Mike stayed up talking to Shannon for a few minutes before he turned in for the night.  While he was talking he heard the exhaust note change abruptly and called down to me that something was up.  When we checked we found the top of the engine covered with a huge amount of oil and the bilge filled with water.  We shut the engine down and began looking for the source of all this chaos.

At this point Mike has been up all day and is due for his bunk.  Shannon has not been able to sleep when she is supposed to and I have been catnapping while overseeing everyone’s watches.  We are all in need of sleep and we are not going to get it.  My brain is trying to come up with logical decisions.  What to do?  The first decision is to head to the closest port and get the anchor down.  The closest port is Mazatlan and at our present speed we won’t get there for another nine hours.  It looked like we were going to have to enter a strange port under sail.  Mike and I got to work on the engine while Shannon did her best at the wheel in light wind and three foot swells hitting on the beam every few seconds.  Mike and I soon found the source of the mess, a broken ½  inch nut.  This one brass nut held together the entire cooling system.  A boat has no radiator like a car but rather, a heat exchanger for both engine cooling water and oil.  When the nut broke the whole assembly came apart.  The water pump continued to pump seawater though now it wasn’t going into the cooler but into the bilge.  The oil pump continued it’s job of pumping oil, also into the bilge until the engine was totally out of oil.  The nut was not an ordinary nut ether, it was really special which means that we didn’t have anything to replace it with.  The heat exchanger is several individual units that have a rod passing through the center with the “special” nut on the end.  The rod is threaded on the end and the nut has a sleeve that passes through the end cap and onto the rod.  The rod does not extend beyond the  cap.  That would have made it simple to put on a new nut but, no, some engineer wanted it to be “special”.

I am aware that I am very tired and I know it is effecting my ability to think clearly so each decision is filled with self-doubt.  I think and rethink everything.  I finally decide that attaching anything to the interior rod isn’t going to happen with anything we have onboard.  I keep drifting back to the ground crew for Apollo 13 scrambling to come up with something workable using just what is on hand, then I snap back to the here and now.  I decide that the only other option is to clamp it back together from the outside.  I have some threaded rod in the foc’sle and I go up and sit on the floor and begin to play with the parts I have on hand.  After perhaps a half hour I come on the idea to use the rod connected to four turnbuckles and use the turnbuckles to tighten the whole mess down on the heat exchanger.  Mike comes down from the pilot house and says, “I have an idea, why don’t we clamp it from the outside?  We could use some threaded rod and a couple blocks of wood on the ends to hold it together.  Then we could tighten it all down.”  The same approach with slightly different components, a proud moment for papa.  He was still thinking in spite of his lack of sleep and he was well outside the “box” as the situation called for.  I already had assembled the parts for my version so we use the turnbuckles and rod.  Thinking back I think the blocks might have worked better.

Getting it all attached and clamped down evenly was no small trick while standing in an oily bilge in a rolling boat.  We got it on and started the motor.  Water sprayed out of the end cap like the broken pipes in a submarine movie.  After a few more adjustments we were able to get it down to an acceptable leak.  We shut down the engine thinking that the clamp would not hold for long.  I wanted to sail as close to the harbor entrance as possible before using it.  The harbor is a busy shipping center that requires each vessel entering to get clearance from the port manager.  I would have only one shot.  If the clamp failed while entering I could be left in the path of a tanker that would be hard pressed to stop before running me down.

I sent Mike to his bunk as I would need him to be sharp when we made port.  Shannon and I continued to try to squeeze something out of one to two knots of wind.  I thought briefly about hoving to but decided not to as we were more or less drifting anyway.  At day break I decided not to enter the harbor but to divert to an anchorage to the south of it.  It would keep me out of the shipping channel.  I started the engine with ten miles to go and began to creep at three knots toward the anchorage.  I kept a close watch on our exhaust water to tell me if the clamp failed.  I had Shannon wake Mike.  As we neared the shipping channel we could see a ship approaching from the north.  I turned to get out of it’s way but it turned into me again.  I was not going to be able to cross the channel without cutting across his bow so I had to do a large circle to port, letting him pass.  Each second I expected the clamp to explode.  It didn’t explode, it held.  Mike let the anchor go in twenty-four feet of water and I backed down hard on One hundred-fifty feet of chain, shut down the engine and we all went to sleep in the lee of the Mazatlan Light House.  The clean up would have to wait.

For those of you that might like to hear the womans version of these events I would suggest you visit www.Wenchhandle.wordpress.com which is my wife Shannon’s site.

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