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.