Almost Pulled it Off

We were audacious enough to think we could pull off a major refit in a month’s time.  We limped into Fort Lauderdale, Florida with a badly clogged fuel system and loads of crud in our tanks.  Our sails and sail covers were tattered.  Our little generator seemed like it had a terminal case of the flu.  One of our rudders was making ominous knocking sounds.  Our dinghy engine was on its last legs, having rusted nearly away in its 10 years of life.

Neko limping our way into Fort Lauderdale through the 3rd Ave bridge, one of many bridges in Fort Lauderdale

Neko limping her way into Fort Lauderdale through the 3rd Ave Bridge, just one of many we had to go through going up the New River to get to Lauderdale Marine Center.

We docked at Lauderdale Marine Center after an amusing trip up the New River past waterfront mansions cheek by jowl along the crowded little waterway and immediately started interviewing potential service providers.

Can be a tight squeeze traveling the canals.

Can be a tight squeeze traveling the canals.

A different experience going up the narrow New River.  A tight squeeze sometimes, but fun sailing right through downtown.

Fun sailing right through downtown.

Some houses so close you felt like you could step off the boat into their yard.

Some houses so close you felt like you could step off the boat into their yard or take a dip in their pool.

Our list of work was long: clean the fuel tanks, replace all the standing rigging, repair the sails and replace the torn mainsail bag, much canvas work (new bimini and curtains, dinghy chaps, permanent screens for companionway door and galley window, seat cushions), refinish deck chairs, remove the old generator and replace with a new one (oh, by the way, this entailed using a crane to pull one main engine out of the boat entirely, set it on the ground and lower the new generator in and then drop the main engine back in), install two air conditioning units, rewire the boat for 240V/50hz power from its original European power, replace the washer/dryer unit, plus a whole bunch of projects we would do ourselves.

New rigging

Riggers were up the mast at least 50 times.

Mauricio and his guys were masters at their craft.  Here they are installing our new grey bimini.

Mauricio and his guys were masters at their craft. Here they are installing our new grey bimini.

Who needs 50 shades when our new 1 shade does the trick.  You can see the new dinghy chaps, bimini and sail bag

Who needs 50 shades of grey when our new 1 shade does the trick? You can see the new dinghy chaps, bimini and sail bag

Neko getting hauled out of the water.

Neko getting hauled out of the water.

Prepping New Generator

Prepping New Generator

Flying generator.  (Neko is the little sailboat that could in this neighborhood)

Flying generator. (Neko is the little sailboat that could in this neighborhood)

Down she goes

Down she goes

Main engine out of the boat.

Main engine out of the boat waiting while the new generator is installed and then back in she goes.

Guess who loves the AC the most?

Guess who loves the AC the most?

This was once salon seating. Now it is access to our electrical panels.

This was once salon seating. Now it is access to our electrical panels.

Lowering down new washer

Lowering down new washer

Mary painting anchor chain.  Each color marks 25'

Mary painting anchor chain. Each color marks 25′. We got new Maggi anchor chain.

Lots of trips to Home Depot and West Marine

Lots of trips to Home Depot and West Marine

We got down to hiring service providers and hounding them to work harder and faster.  We really wanted to get out on our timetable because the Bahamas beckoned and we had plans to get up the East Coast and meet up with friends and family.  Boat refitting is similar to making renovations on a house, but in much smaller quarters with everything you want to access under, behind or in between something else. This means the whole boat is torn apart.  And all the contents of those perfectly stowed cabinets and lockers are now spread over every square inch.  Making it hard to work, live, maneuver, breathe.

Mess spills into the cockpit

Mess spills into the cockpit

salon, where's a dog to sleep around here?

Where’s a dog to sleep around here?

workers every inch

workers in every square inch

This was once our shower

Even our shower was chock-a-block with stuff

Everybody worked diligently and understood what we wanted to accomplish.  Once they began they showed up and worked hard to get their projects done … except for one company – our riggers.  Despite our continuous hounding of them, they failed to show up and do any significant work for about a month in the middle of our stay.  It got to the point where all the other workers finished and moved onto other projects.  We’d pass them on the docks and they’d ask “Ya’ll still here?”

Yep, still in Fort Lauderdale.

Yep, still in Fort Lauderdale.

We eventually gave up on getting to the Bahamas this season, making apologies to our nephews, whom we’d promised some time in the islands, as well as friends Lloyd and Rob, who wanted to do the sail over with us.   Also, we were then approaching the time of year when our insurance would not cover us for tropical storm damage because we were lingering in the south for too long.  So we also lost the chance to stop in northern Florida and visit with Uncle Bob and Aunt Lorraine.  But on the bright side, being stuck in Fort Lauderdale so long allowed us to see family and friends, attend our dear friends’ wedding, see Mary’s folks and Mr Kitty in Central Florida and Mary to travel up to NYC to celebrate her god daughter’s high school graduation.  Also, we had a wonderful visit from Uncle Bob, who drove all the way down from Stuart to meet us on Neko.  And we saw Mary’s brother Tom (and Andre) before he moved from Miami and who kindly lent us his car for a month.

And Mary made time to help rescue a baby raccoon who had fallen in the water.

Raccoon rescue, off to the wild life sanctuary.

Raccoon rescue, off to the wild life sanctuary.

So good things do come to those who wait and Neko is almost as good as new. And we leave Fort Lauderdale much better than when we came.

See ya later alligator

See ya later alligator

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Dagger To The Heart

You may recall an earlier post where we described a little damage done to one of our daggerboards when we hit a rock in the Las Perlas islands.  Well, thanks to some FORMER friends ;-), we now have a landmark in Panama named after us in perpetuity.

Neko Rock in Eric Bauhaus' "Panama Cruising Guide"

Neko Rock in Eric Bauhaus’ “Panama Cruising Guide”

We attempted to have the daggerboard repaired in Balboa Panama by the local boatworkers.  But they did a poor job and the board did not fit in its trunk very well.  We decided to have Shelter Bay redo the repair, and at the same time perform a few other cosmetic jobs – remove old bootstripes and paint new ones, raise the transoms 3″, repair a few gelcoat dings, etc.

Neko's new stripes

Neko’s new stripes

new swim steps

new swim step

These jobs ended up taking a LONG time.  This is why it seemed we were stuck in Panama forever and why blog posts were few and far between.  We started the work in August and it was not completed until Thanksgiving.  We spent one month in the hotel in Shelter Bay while the boat was out of the water (NB: a lot of cruisers remain living on their boat while it is on the hard, but Shelter Bay keeps the cats far from the showers/heads and it is not easy to lift Lucy up and down several times a day, so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel – it having air conditioning did not hurt).  When the boat was put back in – splashed in boatspeak – all the work was finished except the daggerboards.  After one more month, the boards were finally ready and we provisioned up and got ready to head back out for more cruising.

Pete leading the dagger lines

Pete leading the dagger lines

Attempt #387 trying to fit dagger boards

Attempt #387 trying to fit dagger boards

However, upon inserting the beautiful new daggerboards back into the boat, they once again were just too thick to slide into their slots.  We were crushed that our job was back to square one. Shelter Bay has a good overall mechanic in Victor, a very good paint/fiberglass guy in Ramon and Edwin, the yard manager, does the best he can with the resources he has.  Diesel work, general rigging, electronic work and sail repairs are done by journeyman sailors who may or may not be there when you arrive.  Also, they may or may not want to or have time to work on your problem.   We got big help from Scott and Eddie (the man) as well and Scott’s dog Eddie, Greg the diesel whisperer, and Pierrick.  The issue with the Shelter Bay yard, however, is that the owners do not provide the resources to function as a proper yard, yet they hold themselves out as being one.

Hard working Scott, Eddie and Peter

Hard working Scott, Eddie and Peter

Scott and Peter make a jig to shape the boards

Scott and Peter make a jig to shape the boards. Eddie the dog supervising.

DSC_0010

Victor is as ready for us to leave as we are

DSC_0007

Ramon, Scott and Pete use the travel lift to hoist the 300lb dagger board

DSC_0003 DSC_0008 DSC_0015 For example, our daggerboard repair took place outside in a work area with a mud floor, an insufficient amount of gravel strewn around to deal with the mud and old planks lying around to walk on.  The area was surrounded by marshy reeds and riven with mosquitoes.  One of the workers flicked a giant spider off him one day and they all worked in fear of snakes every day.  The structure was mere wooden posts with old jibsails tacked to them to attempt to keep dust out, a leaky, rusty corrugated roof that prevented work during rain (do you think it rains in Panama in the rainy season?) and barely adequate electricity.

Scott sanding boards in the mud pit, I mean work shop

Scott sanding boards in the mud pit, I mean work shop

make shift workshop

make shift workshop

Then we moved to an open air area where the ever-present vultures were an ominous metaphor for the entire job.  Once the boards were shaped properly, we moved again to the abandoned theater, er I mean sail loft, to hang for painting.

Not a good omen to see vultures hanging around the boards

Not a good omen to see vultures hanging around the boards

on the move

on the move

Boards hanging to paint

Boards hanging to paint

In any event, after another month of work in these conditions, the daggerboards were finally done.  It was now two days before Thanksgiving and we desperately wanted to have the holiday at anchor in a pretty spot with our friends.  So we ran around frantically for two days cleaning, stowing, provisioning and otherwise getting ready.  We got it done and were finally able to escape Shertel Bay.  Shertel Bay

Technical difficulties

technicaldiff

Our blogging has slowed down because my computer went to the big tech heap in the sky, and of course all our photos were on my computer.  Thankfully I backed up my files (yes, go and back up your computers now) and successfully transferred my photos to Peter’s computer.  Now Peter and I just have to learn to share, “gasp”, one computer.   Who says we aren’t roughing it out here on the high seas 😉

 

 

Two Down, One To Go

Sailing south from Mexico to Panama a boat has to pass three hairy spots where the wind can be fierce. These are areas where the trade winds from the Caribbean blow across the narrow Central America isthmus and accelerate as they are funneled through mountain valleys.  The first such place is the Gulf of Tehuantepec. We crossed this 250 mile stretch of water with little difficulty. The second are the Papagayo winds that blow along the coast from El Salvador to northern Costa Rica, but are strongest on Nicaragua’s’ Pacific coast.  The third is the Gulf of Panama which we will face on our way to the canal.

1 = Tehuantepec 2 = Papagayo 3 = Golfo de Panama

1 = Tehuantepec
2 = Papagayo
3 = Golfo de Panama

We crossed the second of these most recently.  We left El Salvador with a good weather window but quickly ran into a steady 20 knots of wind on the nose. The strategy for navigating these winds is to stay very close to shore.  Since the winds blow from the land, staying close to land gives little room (fetch, in sailing terminology) for the winds to build up waves. Dealing with a lot of wind is one thing, dealing with a lot of wind and big waves is another, and one we try not to face.  DSCN2754So hugging the shore and passing along the barren shores of El Salvador and Nicaragua, we, along with our buddy boat Mermaid, sailed into this stuff hour after hour. Finally, as dark was setting in on the second night, we had had enough and looked for a bay to wait it out (these winds can blow even harder after dark). We pulled into Astillera in Nicaragua, a largely empty bay, to anchor overnight. The winds howled all night but we slept well in the shelter of this remote bay. The next morning, we were greeted by a stern young man from the Nicaraguan navy on our stern. He asked what we were doing here and to see our papers.

Neko being boarded by the Nicaraguan navy.

Neko being boarded by the Nicaraguan navy.

Satisfied that we were leaving in an hour and were only there to wait out the wind, he went over to inspect Mermaid. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to pay any “fees” or “fines”. With no choice but to leave, we went out into more wind than the day before. That day we had a blistering sail with gusts to 45. With 2 reefs in the main and the staysail up, we hit speeds up to 11 knots. We hugged the coast and with the wind more to the side of the boat, the sailing was easier. We flew down the coast of Nicaragua, past our last intended “bailout” bay and into the relative safety of Costa Rica. By the end of the day the Papagayo winds had slowed down, and we coasted into an anchorage tired and exhilarated. Now we can slow down and sight-see a bit (off to the Monteverde cloud forest).

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Adios Mexico

After four fun filled months in Mexico, it’s time to go, but first…

Mexican Navy checks to see if we are legit

Mexican Navy checks to see if we are legit

We ride in trucks to immigrations.

Truck ride to immigrations

We get our passports stamped

We get our passports stamped

Back in the truck to the port captain

Back in the truck to the port captain

Port Captain's office to clear out of the country

Port Captain’s office to clear out of the country

Lots of stamping and paperwork

Lots of stamping and paperwork

Another visit from the Mexican Navy

Another visit from the Mexican Navy

Courtesy flag down

Courtesy flag down

Our pals on Kia Ora head out

Our pals on Kia Ora head out

Other buddy boat, Talos IV heads out

Other buddy boat, Talos IV heads out

Neko under sail

Neko under sail

There goes Guatemala

There goes Guatemala

Thanks Mexico, here we come El Salvador

Thanks Mexico, here we come El Salvador

Little Tehuantepecker

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec is one of the most dreaded pieces of sailing in Mexico.  The gulf is a narrow isthmus separating the Pacific from the Gulf of Mexico.  When northerly winds are blowing in the Gulf of Mexico they cross the isthmus into the Tehuantepec and a narrow gap in the mountains funnels and accelerates the wind.  What may be a pleasant 15 knot breeze on the eastern side can become a 40 knot gale on the western.  This is an example of a prediction of the Tehuantepec winds (thankfully, not for our crossing of it).

Tehuantepec grib

Tehuantepec grib

These are GRIB files – raw government weather forecast data displayed graphically.  This one shows 40-45 knots of wind in the middle of the Tehuantepec.  (I keep writing Tehuantepec because I like the way it sounds, although not as much as Topalabampo in the north).   That’s enough to create 15 – 20 foot seas at very short periods – ie, boat breaking stuff.

We download these images, along with other weather resources to see what we will get whenever we go anywhere.  We looked intensely at weather predictions before leaving on the 250 mile (2 day) trip across the Tehuantepec.  We were hoping to leave Monday morning and our predictions varied but some showed very light winds for the entire trip and some showed a short period of heavier winds Tuesday morning.  We decided to brave it and left with one other boat, Wanuskewin with Mike and Holly aboard.  Sure enough Tuesday morning, well more like Monday night, just as we were approaching a shallow sandy bar clogged with large fishing boats, the wind piped up.  We saw a max of about 35 knots, which is a lot of wind, but we reefed (reduced the size of our sails) and carried on.  It only lasted a few hours and for the rest of the trip we had little to no wind.

25lbs. yellow fin tuna

25lbs. yellow fin tuna

Calm enough catch and filet this crevalle jack on the back of the boat.  So those weather forecasters were pretty close to spot on.

By Tuesday morning (and by that I mean about 3 am – we sail the boat 24 hours a day, taking 3 hour shifts) we were ready to get into port.  It was only about 2 miles away and we were motoring right for it in calm weather.  Arrivals after a few days at sea are really rewarding.  However, our trials were not quite complete.  Suddenly, the boat lumbered to a halt and the engine stalled.  Looking over the side, I could see that we were snagged in a large and long fishing net.  What was this thing doing strung right across the main channel into a large port?  Who knows but the fishermen were soon on the scene and, characteristic of most Mexicans we’ve met, they were not angry and took their loss in stride.  They helped me cut the net away and left to salvage what they could of their catch.  This left a large chunk of net tangled around our propeller, daggerboard and rudders like a fly in a giant spider web.  Mary and I anchored the boat in the calm ocean to figure out what to do. Mike and Holly from Wanuskewin witnessed the whole thing from a mile behind us and were super kind to anchor near us and help.

Pete and Mike dive to free the prop from the fishing net

Pete and Mike dive to free the prop from the fishing net

Mike and I dove with snorkels and knives to saw away the remainder of the net that was so tightly twisted around stuff under the boat, being careful not to let it tangle us.  After about an hour we had every last bit of it off.  We saved what we could to throw out so it would not catch any more sea creatures and mourned the fish who were caught in the discarded net.  I kept some of the floats from the net as a reminder of this little battle.

The culprit

The culprit

Secondary Anchor Rode

And now for something completely boring.  I have to add a little boating content just to keep things salty.  We have a 7/8″ double braid rope as our backup anchor rode.  We will connect it to 40′ of chain and then the anchor.  A metal thimble (metal piece that goes inside a loop of rope to attach to other metal things) for this size rope is a big hunk of metal that I don’t want flinging around.  So I was planning to just attach the soft loop at the end of the rope to the chain but I hadn’t fully thought through how to connect the rope to the chain, and was being lazy about it.  But recently at Isla Isabel, where the anchoring ground was all rock, I was very worried about our main anchor getting stuck in a rock and us not being able to pull it up.  In that situation, you would re-anchor on your secondary anchor and dive to free the primary one.  Well, my laziness was coming back to bite us because we couldn’t use the backup.  But luckily the primary anchor came up and I quickly got lazy again about the  backup.  Now that we are safely in a marina one of the To-Do’s was to tackle this.

With the help of Allen Edwards who runs the immensely helpful L-36.com website, I made a long loop of Amsteel which I attached to the rope with a prusik hitch and to the shackle on the chain with a cow hitch.  Here are some pics.  My foot is in there for perspective.

Secondary Anchor Rode

Secondary Anchor Rode

Amsteel Loop

Amsteel Loop

Chain and Swivel

Chain and Swivel

Primary Anchor

Primary Anchor