Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Who's the Cat in the Hat?

Rob asks in his recent comment. So here's one of many of Tom Waits' performances on YouTube:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Looks like...

Whattya' mean, this is your truck?...

These two local cats have the "looks like trouble" thing going. And the yellow cat on the right, in my mind, anyway, looks like Tom Waits...

You never know who you might find lying on your truck in the morning.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm not so snart...

The last few days I've been putting in long hours in the desert, building large structures out of steel. In the evening, I bring a truckload of stuff that needs to be fixed back to the duplex. The last few weeks I've been frustrated with my Makita drill/driver. I bought this thing back in the 90's and it's the best all around tool I've ever owned. It's got an expensive habit of going through NiCad batteries (around $35 each) and lately I had problems with the charger. Again. Last time I found a used one that I bought.

This time I decided I'd fix it or replace the guts with a 9v charger that I had laying around. So I took it apart and found a little circuit board inside that everything was wired to. I remembered that someone once told me that most service techs fix circuit boards like this: if there's corrosion they clean it off and then test the unit. If it works, they button it up, charge you $25 and go out to dinner on your dime.

If the cleaning doesn't work, they heat up a small soldering iron and lightly touch it to each connector on the board, reflowing the solder. They test it, and if it works, they put it together and charge you $35 and go out to dinner.

If that doesn't fix it, then it gets into deep dark secrets of leaking or clogged electrons, of which I know next to nothing, so I won't go there...

But I've learned that I can do the first 2 things. And you know what? I fixed the first one with the soldering iron ($5.95 at Radio Shack 10 years ago-came complete with solder). The second one I will do tomorrow.

Don't have to be genius, but a good memory goes a long way.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Boatyard Pedicure

I like to wear sandals. I wear them everywhere, except to bed.

Today I was unbolting chainplates from the boat and I dropped one on my foot. When I drop things on my foot, though, the only thing between the thing I drop and my foot is, well, nothing. A chainplate is 3/8 inch stainless steel 8 inches by about 20 inches long. Maybe 20 or 25 pounds. If you drop one of these on your toe, you'll probably break the toe.

That's where the sandals come in... just tuck an ice cube between the toe and the sandal and keep on working. No sweat.

Put some iodine on it when you get home and don't drop anything else on it for a couple of months. 'Cause that would really hurt.

Friday, October 30, 2009


The Sands Hotel in Barra de Navidad has a monkey cage. Monkeys are hard to photograph when they're moving around, I've learned.

I have a friend who lives in Barra de Navidad, Jalisco state. Fred has a boat next to mine in the little marina in Barra, and, as a favor, keeps an eye on it for me and puts water in the deep cycle batteries I keep on board… That's so the bilge pump has electricity if water intrudes into the boat. My batteries are powered by two large solar panels, and I don't attach the shore power connection to the boat when I'm gone. Why, you ask? Well, the Mexican utility company, CFE, is known for its "variable" voltage. I don't want the boat to experience a power surge while I'm working in San Carlos… power surges can fry the wiring on a boat and cause a fire, or burn up the battery charger (and maybe the batteries, too). So I rely on solar. Simple, safe and free. Fred sent me an email this week that said "the boat has 4 inches of water of the floorboards… I tried bailing it out but got tired because I've got some flu."

Was that 4 inches of water under or over the floorboards? Well, Fred lost his cell phone and didn't reply to my frantic email for clarification. He had moved so I didn't have his new house phone. Fred is in his mid-seventies now and I did not want him to have heart attack trying to save my boat, so I got online and bought a plane ticket for Guadalajara (airport code: GDL).

Barra is about 150 miles south of Puerto Vallarta (PVR) on the southern coast of Mexico. I didn't fly into PVR because there's no direct flights from Hermosillo (HMO) to PVR. Also, the road between Barra and PVR is a twisting, mountainous two lane jungle road. It's murder to drive and no fun on a bus. On the other hand, Guadalajara is a four lane toll road to Colima, Manzanillo (ZLO) and then Barra. Also, Barra is served from GDL by the ETN bus line, an executive class bus that is a dream to use. The beat up buses that run to PVR can be (and have been) a nightmare journey through Hell.

My best price for a flight was through Vivaerobus… a sort of aggregator that puts bus lines and plane flight packages together. I just bought the flight (roundtrip for $190) because they didn't offer a deal to Barra by bus, but on the plane, my middling Spanish caught the words "discuenta" and "autobus" during an announcement.

Once I got to GDL and the Centro de Autobus, I found the ETN desk and started to buy the ticket for $315 pesos, one way. I stopped and showed the counter girl my boarding pass and she refigured my rate for the bus to 73 pesos. Wow. I had two hours to wait, but once on the bus I kicked back with my book (fare includes a soft drink and bag lunch) and read and dozed all the way to Barra.

I arrived at 11 pm local time, walked to my sinking boat (almost trembling with trepidation) and checked the waterline before I climbed aboard. It didn't look bad from outside, and inside I found the water sitting in the bilge, about 4 inches below the floorboards. I pulled the switch for the bilge pump and it started running, clearing the water out in five minutes. It's a real mess in there though, so I will degunk the bilge while I'm here and see if I can fix the automatic switch on the pump… the one that failed.

I also installed a replacement pump for the fresh water supply in the boat that I took with me on the plane. ("What's in the bag? A Bomba!") The water system is now first class, with plenty of pressure and fast hot water. The new pump is almost silent and energy efficient (and retails for around $300 Yikes!).

Some of the boat has mold growing, and an Italian stovetop pot that I left with coffee in it created some kind of living blob thing that was hard as hell to kill. (Pour boiling vinegar on it and then throw on some oxyclean and stand back when it explodes).I think it ate all the bugs cause there's no bugs on the boat (not even mosquitos). I had it soaking all night in baking soda to remove any remaining blob.

This is the year of mold and pump problems.
Pumps that failed this year:
1) The raw water intake pump on BLISS failed. Shredding rubber impeller, over-heating the diesel engine.
2) The fresh water pump on BLISS failed. Water to sinks and shower.
3) The pump that supplies the duplex with water from the tinaco burned up.
4) The fuel pump of the Dodge pickup failed, requiring removal/replacing.
5) The bilge pump automatic switch on BLISS failed, requiring an emergency roundtrip flight and bus ride to Barra from San Carlos.
6) and the year isn't over yet…

ETN really knows their stuff. I stopped at the office on the way back from town to find they have a bus direct to the GDL airport leaving Barra at 1 am. There's no local wifi access around the boat so I'll need to carry the laptop into town to a cafe to print out my new boarding pass for the return flight. (I'm only here for a few days, because of the work needed on our book and the new condo.) Then I'll get my bus ticket. (As it turned out, nobody in Barra had a working printer, so I emailed the boarding pass to myself and printed it in an Internet cafe in Melaque, 5 miles distant and home of Steve).

I've hoisted the dinghy off the deck and put it in the water, but there's no gasoline aboard. A gringo fisherman named John promised to fill a jug for me on his way back to his boat this morning. John lives in Chapala, on the lake. Once the dink is running, I'll be able to get the large drinking water bottles refilled and buy a bag of ice. The ice machine is now cleaned and runs fine, but there's the problem of feeding it drinking water. Life on a boat is a lot easier with a car to support it. 

Barra is still hot during the day- it hit 100 degrees yesterday, and now that I'm accustomed to the great air conditioning in the condo, it seems even hotter on the boat. The evenings are nice though- I took a walk last night to my favorite restaurant and had a burger with fries, picked up more vinegar and water, and lugged it to the marina. I confess that I let the monthly rent to the marina lapse, so I'll have to pay up the last three months today.

The coffee is good, so my efforts paid off there. I'm up early: 4:45 am local time. When the sun comes up, I'll go to Bananas restaurant for their great fruit plate and oceanfront seating. With coffee, still under $5. 

The portable keyboards I have on the boat lost 3 more keys and is now virtually unplayable. The airlines wanted $40 more per flight to bring a guitar, so I passed on that. It reminds me that the return flight was only $1.16 plus tax. The tax was $74.00! The guitar would have generated more tax, as well. The keyboards may go cruising this winter, but I doubt it…

The Not-So-Super Superswitch
The Rule Superswitch (above) sells for about $65 in most places. It's about twice the price of the Rule Regular switch because it lasts more than one year. This switch has a little container of mercury in a float. When water in the bilge makes the float tilt up (being on a pivot) the mercury flows down to make contact between two wires. That's all it does. The wires carry the current to the bilge pump, which pumps out the water. The float drops back down, and so does the mercury, and disconnects the pump from the electricity. This switch quit doing that and so the bilge started filling up, and my friend Fred sent me an email saying my boat was sinking, more or less. Water gets in through the propellor shaft, and when it rains, various parts of the boat, mostly the engine room hatch in the cockpit.

Enlarged version of bad wire (bottom).
Since there's not a marine supply store in Barra, I thought I would see if this switch was repairable… Look closely at the photo and you see a broken wire. It's not supposed to be like that. So I created a jumper wire to fix it, but I didn't bring anything to seal up the wire with…

In a risky experiment, I've encapsulated
the wiring repair in hot glue. 
I think it will be strong and waterproof.

 I found the hot glue gun and embedded the bare wires in a little capsule of hot glue to protect it from all the nasty stuff in the bilge (you can see lots of nasty stuff in the pictures) and to give the connections some strength. I'll probably buy a new Superswitch to replace this one and put this switch in storage for the spare. The regular switches aren't worth the money, and frankly, neither are the Superswitches. Maybe I'll just make one of my own and start selling them… 
So, in response to a broken wire, I have to buy a plane ticket and fly a thousand miles to reconnect the wires. Now that the wires are connected, I can fly a thousand miles back and pick up where I left off in my life, which was, as I remember, fixing some stuff.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It looks like a late season hurricane...

Rick is now a category 5 hurricane and heading toward us.

We've been watching this developing storm for the last 4 or 5 days, when we caught wind of it from one of the sailmail weather sites. It's now due south of Puerto Vallarta and moving northwesterly at about  11 knots, with winds gusting to 170 knots and seas of around 48 feet (that's waves as high as the Green Flash standing on its nose). Most of the models have it hitting Baja, and crossing the Sea of Cortez near Topobolampo, 200 miles south of us.

We just got back tonight from Tucson, where we bought sandbags (among other things). If this thing dumps more water on San Carlos, we'll be a little better prepared. But there's still plenty of roads and bridges that are still out, and still plenty that could go wrong. Pray and prepare.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

There's still hdpe... or Time Traveling Trash

No, not a typo. HDPE is a common plastic.
A few weeks back, it occurred to me that what Mexico really needs are cars that run on white plastic bags, since the entire landscape of many of Mexico's roads are littered with them. If you live and/or drive in Mexico you know exactly what I mean. It's unsightly and sad. You will see drivers in front of you casually toss trash out the windows. Kids see the parents do it and litter and littering travels through time this way.

But there is hope. I recently caught wind of a company that makes conversion plants for plastics. One ton of waste plastic can be converted into "approximately four 42-gallon barrels of high quality, synthetic light to medium oil. That oil in turn could be used to produce gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and kerosene."

More information is here

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Latest Recording... Black Orpheus

The theme song from the movie of the same name, performed by the 1st Mate, myself and our good friend, Daniel. Listen to it at the 1st Mate's Blog here (I promised her she could post the next song we record). As usual, Bliss does vocals, I play electric guitar and the keyboards and do the mix. This time Daniel sat in to add his muy rico acoustic guitar work.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hurricanes I've known and loved

Hurricane Jimena. Beauty and power.

(Sept 6) Since I wrote the stuff below, Jimena stretched across the Sea of Cortez to slap us around a little bit, kinda' like a strict aunt at dinner, correcting bad table manners.

You can read more about Jimena at the 1st Mate's blog, while I reminisce.

(Sept 3) I'm stretched out in bed writing this on my laptop. Casual, you say?
Right now Tropical Storm Jimena is raging outside, filling the landscape with seascape, knocking out power (ours has been out since last night). The dogs refuse to go out do their thing this morning because it sounds like freight train out there.

We're on the internet now because I have a 2000 watt inverter connected to the VW van parked in the carport with the engine running.

I've been in a few hurricanes, starting with Arlene in late July 1963.

Arlene's track in 1963

Hurricane Arlene

I was on a 200 ft flat-bottomed troop transport ship in 50 ft seas. Of the 100 people on board, only 8 of us didn't get seasick (maybe I should have joined the Navy instead of the Marines). We were in that storm for 3 days and nights.

Wikipedia: A cloud mass in the central Atlantic became a tropical depression on July 31. It headed to the west, becoming a tropical storm on August 2. Arlene rapidly intensified that day to become a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane, but lack of outflow weakened Arlene to a tropical depression on the 4th. For the next three days, a disturbed area of low pressure that may have had a circulation moved to the northwest. On the 8th, while turning northeastward, conditions favored development again, and Arlene rapidly intensified to a hurricane that night. Arlene passed over Bermuda on the 9th, and, after reaching its peak of 100 mph again that night, steadily weakened until it became extratropical on the 11th. Arlene caused $300,000 in property damage in Bermuda, but no lives were lost.

Then came Flora...

Hurricane Flora

Flora struck the southwest peninsula of Haiti on October 4 as a 140 mph hurricane, causing heavy rains. Flora then hit southeast Cuba near Guantanamo Bay on the same day, but a high pressure system to its north and west caused it to drift over Cuba and nearby waters. During this time, intense driving rains caused catastrophic flooding, resulting in thousands of deaths and millions in crop damage. A shortwave trough finally pulled Flora to the northeast, bringing the hurricane into the Atlantic Ocean on the 8th. Flora strengthened over the open Atlantic, but posed a threat only to shipping, and became extratropical on the 12th.Hurricane Flora originated from a tropical depression which formed on September 26 in the Central Atlantic. The depression moved rapidly west-northwestward, and on the 29th it reached tropical storm status. It then rapidly intensified into a 120 mph Category 3 hurricane by the 30th. Flora moved through the Leeward Islands, first striking the island of Tobago, and passing near Grenada shortly afterwards. Flora then crossed the Caribbean Sea and strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane, peaking at 140 mph winds.

Hurricane Flora was the 5th or 6th deadliest Atlantic hurricane of all time, causing over 7,000 deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, mostly due to flooding from intense rains as it stalled over Cuba and the surrounding areas. Damage estimates (mostly crop losses) reached over $500 million.

Enlargement of Flora's Track over Cuba

I spent all of that storm alone in an underground bunker- the nerve center for a 155mm howitzer battery in Guantanamo. I was there for a week, and by the time Flora was done, I had three feet of water in the bunker with me. Water and C-rations was all I had to eat and drink.

In 1964, I was stationed on Okinawa before heading to Danang. That's where I spent some time with:

Wilda's track in 1964

Actually, the 13 months I was in Vietnam and the Far East, we had dozens of typhoons. So, I've lost count. Wikipedia states,

"The 1964 Pacific typhoon season was the most active season in recorded history with 39 storms.."

Super Typhoon Wilda.

Super Typhoon Wilda, having started on September 19 and reaching a peak of 175 mph (282 km/h) on the 21st, steadily weakened after its peak. It turned northward and northeastward, and made landfall on southern Japan on the 24th as a 115 mph (185 km/h) typhoon, and became extratropical the next day. Wilda left 42 dead or missing from its heavy flooding.

Nobody was talking about global warming then...

The last hurricane that sticks in my memory is Carlotta, because I was solo sailing in Cortez when it caught me 20 miles offshore of Bahia Conception. After 13 hours of dodging shoals, reefs and islands, I blasted into Santa Rosalia on a breaking wave, nearly decapitating a fisherman who parked his panga at the mouth of the manmade harbor there. (No I didn't hit him or his boat, but it was really close).

Hurricane Carlotta was the most powerful hurricane of the 2000 Pacific hurricane season. The third tropical cyclone of the season, Carlotta developed from a tropical wave on June 18 about 270 miles (470 km) southeast off the coast of Mexico. With favorable conditions for development, it strengthened steadily at first, followed by a period of rapid deepening to peak winds of 155 mph (250 km/h) on June 22. Cooler waters caused Carlotta to gradually weaken, and on June 25 it degenerated into a remnant area of low pressure while located about 260 miles (420 km) west-southwest of Cabo San Lucas.

The hurricane produced heavy rainfall and rough surf along the southwest coast of Mexico, though no serious damage was reported. A Lithuanian freighter traversing through the peak of the hurricane was lost after experiencing an engine failure; its crew of 18 was presumed killed.

Carlotta track in June 2000

Carlotta contributed a lot of southerly wave action to the Sea of Cortez by taking huge storm tossed seas from the Pacific and, by virtue of her counterclock rotation, spinning them up into the Cortez as I solo sailed across.

My sense of things are this: I would rather be ashore than at sea in a hurricane, but when it's time to clean up afterwards? Well, I'd rather be at sea.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the references and photos.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vegetarian Tacos, instantly.

Today was the day the 1st Mate ran out of ideas for lunch. She told me that yesterday, so I could plan on cooking today. There's criteria for cooking for the 1st Mate: it has to conform to the diet we've been on since April, i.e. No meat, no cheese or dairy, no eggs, no bread.

We had been talking about Soyrizo™, a local (as in Mexico, local) vegetarian chorizo made with TVP (textured vegetable protein) but we didn't want to run off to buy it because they use pig lard in it... ('nuff said about that.)

So I cranked up the new laptop and looked for recipes for pig-lard-free chorizo. I found this one:
2 cups(dried; not reconstituted) TVP*
6 Dried Anchos or New Mexico chile or some combination of the two
2 Dried Chipotles; optional, if you want smokey flavor
½ teaspoonCoriander seeds
3 Whole cloves
½ teaspoonPepercorns
½ teaspoonOregano
¼ teaspoonCumin seeds
1 smallPiece cinnamon; about 1/3" x 3/4"
8 Cloves garlic; peeled and crushed
2 teaspoonsPaprika
2 teaspoonsSalt
¼ cupVinegar
½ cupRed wine
¾ cupWater or stock
¼ cupOil or more
Mix it up and put in the fridge for two days.

This recipe is really a lot harder than it needs to be, in my lazy opinion. All the spices here I have already ground up... And two days in the fridge?? I could die of starvation.

So, I did this: I took the TVP we had and ground it fine in a mini food processor we have. Two cups full size TVP rendered down to about half that. I poured hot water on it and I had two full cups of reconstituted stuff. In the mini blender I dropped in 8 cloves of peeled garlic (1st Mate buys it that way), 2 tsps salt, 1-1/2 tsps of Chipotle abodados, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp clove, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 cup of veg oil, 1/6 cup Basalmic vinegar. I don't drink, so the wine came out, as did the paprika and oregano. Blended it well and mixed everything together in a bowl, fired up the skillet with a little veg oil in it and cooked.

Because the TVP is finer, it picked up the flavors right away, so it's virtually instant. I figured that since I was going to use these in tacos, if somebody wants it hotter, they can add salsa.

I think it was better than Soyrizo™, and certainly cheaper and healthier. The 1st Mate approves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

See the Cherubs?

Ask the 1st Mate. All I see is nekkid wimmin'.

Odds and Ends

One thing leads to another, I believe.
The air conditioner in "my" room failed, and being mostly stark raving mad, I removed it so I could repair it.

It's not like I don't have anything to do.

With the a/c gone, the window was was letting in the desert heat and something had to be done, so I took a block of styrofoam that I had purchased to modify the dinghy (The Three Dollar Cure) and cut it to fit the window. It wasn't quite wide enough to fill the space so I decided to foam in the rest with Touch 'n Foam polyurethane one part sealing foam.

That led to my finding the can was a little old. This stuff is under pressure, sort of, and the trigger to release the foam is to bend the spout over to one side. I really had to lean into it, because, for some reason, as hard as I tried, only a "trickle" would come out. (If you're a man over fifty I don't have to explain). I finally got enough out to do the job and I put the can aside on the workbench.

This morning I found the foam was still oozing out of the can... and creating this-
1st Mate was seeing cherubim in the thing (read her recent post on the 60's), so I decided to photograph it against the morning sky. What do you see?

This is my good friend Alan. He has said his goodbyes and is going back to Colorado to die. He's contracted lung cancer, which has moved into the rest of his body. Alan came to San Carlos for the last time to put his condo on the market, sell his sailboat, and say goodbye. He a smart, sweet man with a loving wife and a ton of grandkids.

It makes me aware of my own mortality, and grateful for every day I have. His latest gift to me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wish I had good news...

The Westy motor is now in the car.
That qualifies as neutral news, I think.

Looks complicated doesn't it? Well, it is.

Getting it to run will be good news, but that will have to wait for another day. And perhaps another, and another.

I've decided that I will sell this car once it's ready. I have a big boat to work on and the money and time I have available should go there. Neither of those things are unlimited.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

All that jazz...

I'm addicted to music.
And so is the 1st Mate. So, when life permits, we do music together.

I've been playing since I was a small child: piano at five, trumpet at nine, guitar at thirteen. And my favorite music is jazz, because it offers a framework with a lot of freedom... two things I need to structure my energy.

I mention in an earlier post that we acquired an interface for the Mac computers we have to record our instruments and vocals. So our first attempt is this recording made famous by Julie London in 1955, a latin number entitled "Sway." 1st Mate performs the vocals, I play the instruments and do the mix in Apple's GarageBand software.

And finally, tonight and tomorrow is the annual Perseid meteor shower. Look northwest after dark. Take some nice music and a cold beverage with you.

Westy Update

Not much to say. The work continues on the motor, which is all but complete. Today I degreased the engine compartment in the van. Having a major oil leak, with all that stuff spinning around in there, showers everything with oil... and then everything picks up all the road dust and dirt (and in Mexico, there a lot of that!)

So, here's my Sow's Ear Project. The motor after being removed from the car and sitting in a cardboard box in the Errorzona desert for a year or so. Call this BEFORE.

And the motor today...AFTER.

I'm not sure I like the red. I have time to change that. BTW, it's still summer in Mexico, and I'm getting seriously adapted to the heat and humidity.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Back to it

We had a nice little trip up to Tucson this week, staying in the Quality Inn Airport for two nights. The hotel made this journey a pleasure... everything was clean and kept up, the price was right and it was an easy drive to all the places we had to go to spend our money. We took our time and rested up, took a swim in the pool, went out to eat, took naps.

The stop at San Xavier Mexico Insurance, where we have our internet orders sent, was almost like Christmas. Included in the pile of goodies was the new piston and cylinder set for the Westfalia Vanagon camper we own. And now that the parts are here, I'm back at work on the engine.

Also in the pile was a USB digital interface to plug microphones and stuff into for recording music on a computer... and the new computer (previous post).

I also picked up some tools at Harbor Freight... an air sander, an engine stand, sockets for big stuff, tarps to cover some of the projects I'm working on, etc.

I should have the motor finished this week, but that's pure speculation. Today when we drove into Guaymas to pay our rent, I stopped and bought some spark plugs. There will be other stuff to get I'm sure... San Carlos really needs a car parts store.

In other news...
The photo below is a nine pin molded plug that connects a controller to a 400 watt sound system I bought a few years ago. It stopped working because there was, I guessed, a broken wire inside the plug. This is not a part I can order anymore, the system was discontinued. So I had this wonderful stereo collecting dust because of a cheap little plug. I said to myself, "Self? I bet you could fix this plug yourself and get your stereo back."

I took a single sided razor blade and started carving away the plastic covering and discovered the blue wire to its pin was broken off. I went back up the wire and open up the sheath, clipped the blue wire, stripped it and ran a substitute wire to the plug and it works just fine, thank you. One of the nice things about this repair is that this system isn't residing in a landfill because of a tiny little flaw. And it sounds awesome.