Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Favorite Gadgets #2 - The Outboard Davit

On our 1990-1993 cruise we did not make any arrangements for carrying or stowing our dinghy outboard on Kavenga. It was just one of those items on the project list that never got addressed. Consequently, the outboard wound up being stowed in the cockpit well (where one would normally put one*s feet when sitting in the cockpit).

When we wanted to use the outboard one of us had to lift it out of the cockpit well, horse it over to the side of the boat and hand it down to the other person standing in the dinghy. This was all well and good when we were in a smooth anchorage. But as was often the case, if there were any kind of chop or wakes running through the anchorage, it was a real test of balance, strength and timing to get the outboard into the dinghy and over the transom without losing it or wrenching a back muscle in the process. And we were 14 years younger back then.

So for this cruise we did two things to improve the dinghy storage and loading situation. First we made a custom mounting bracket for the stern pulpit so that the outboard could be clamped in a vertical position on the back railing of the boat. This also lessened the possibility that salt water in the cooling system could backflow into the cylinder and cause corrosion.

Second we installed an outboard davit on the stainless tower pole that supports the wind generator. This davit is in essence a small crane or hoist which uses a multi-part block and tackle system to increase the mechanical advantage. It is made of stainless steel and includes a cam-cleat which is a device that automatically holds the rope for you when you let go of it. It has a stainless snap-hook at the end of the rope, which clips on to a harness around the power head of the outboard.

Loading and unloading the outboard has gone from a major pain to a relatively easy task. One of us gets in the dinghy and positions it under the outboard. The other uses the davit to lift the outboard off its rail mount and slowly lower it down. Even in choppy water it is a relatively easy and controlled task, with little chance of dunking or dropping the outboard. Another nice thing is that the tasks are interchangeable, meaning either of us can do either task because there is no heavy lifting or toting involved.

The davit was purchased from a small company in California named Garhauer. They are well known for making high quality, reasonably priced stainless steel rigging equipment for sailboats.

Friday, March 18, 2005

On Our Way Back up the Riviera

As it turned out we did return to Zihuatenejo for a few days to sit out the strong northwesterly winds that arrived per forecast. Despite delaying our departure a few positives resulted.

We might not have stopped at Isla Grande if we had received a favorable forecast for sailing up the Riviera coast. Isla Grande proved to be a pleasant stop. With our friends Joan and Jason on the sailboat Mildred Kane, we hiked the island and went on two snorkeling expeditions. We observed several species of tropical fish that we had never seen, even in all of our South Pacific travels. One of the most striking was a Zebra Moray eel--quite beautiful actually.

We anchored back in Zihua very near our old spot. We had another opportunity to have shrimp tacos at one of our favorite restaurants, La Braserros. And as it turned out Kay was able to get her Academy Awards fix right on the boat. We heard from friends that the awards show was going to be broadcast on the local Mexican TV channel, whose signal was so strong we didnt even need to hook up the rabbit ears antenna. The only difficulty was hearing what the actors were saying beneath the simultaneous Spanish translation, which was of course, louder. But we pretty much got it all and enjoyed the humor of host Chris Rock.

After spending the weekend in Zihua we got an improving forecast for the next couple of days, so once again we headed out in company with Mildred Kane, a Valiant 32. Joan and Jason knew that we had stopped at Lazaro Cardenas on the way down and they thought it would be good to stop there on the way back up the coast to avoid having to do an overnighter to the next anchorage further north, Caleta de Campos.

Lazaro Cardenas is not a popular stop for cruisers, other than to spend the night in a calm anchorage, because it is totally devoted to large commercial ships which come to unload ore for the steel mill, or deliver grain and petroleum products. We knew that a few yachts had been coming in late and leaving early to avoid having to clear in and out with the Port Captain. It had worked for us on our way down. There is an undeveloped section of the cross-shaped harbor that is somewhat hidden from view of the rest of the harbor. We spent a wonderfully restful night there on our way down, leaving at sunrise the following morning. We were hoping for the same on the run back up.

About ten miles out from Lazaro, the wind started to pipe up, coming directly from the direction we were wanting to go. It continued to increase on our approach, reaching 20 knots apparent (the sum of boat and wind speed). We really did not want to bash into that all night so the flat calm of Lazaro Cardenas was especially appealing as we approached the harbor entrance.

Unlike our arrival here on the way down, when we saw no boats or ships going in or coming out, this time we had to race to get ahead of a large ship that was picking up its pilot just as we arrived at the harbor entrance. There were also two huge tugs waiting for the ship near the tips of the jetties. So, we were not unobserved this time.

Undeterred we continued on into the same anchorage area as before, also known as the Hurricane Anchorage. Both Mildred Kane and Kavenga had their anchors down well before sunset. After dinner, Steve rowed down to taxi Joan and Jason back to Kavenga for a movie. He had no more than got underway when we both noticed a gray panga (large, open fiberglass launch) alongside Mildred Kane. Steve correctly surmised that the two men on board were representatives of the Mexican Navy. This was not cause for concern because other boats that had stopped here reported being visited by the Navy and merely being subjected to a brief and friendly safety inspection and filling out a questionnaire. And that was exactly what was transpiring at Mildred Kane when Steve arrived. Steve asked the senior naval representative if they would mind transporting Joan and Jason to Kavenga when they came to inspect us. They happily agreed to his request.

Steve had no more than arrived back at Kavenga when Kay reported that another official-looking panga was headed our way. This one was cause for concern. Along the side of the panga was the familiar logo of the Capitania de Puertos de Mexico--representatives of the Port Captain. Joan and Jason arrived in the Navy Panga shortly after the arrival of the Port Captain panga at Kavenga. The senior representative told us that we could not anchor where we were, that we would have to move to the anchorage between the Port Captains office and the Navy base. Steve asked if it would be possible to stay where we were and leave very early the following morning. No. At Joans prompting he then asked if it would be possible to leave right then (although none of us really wanted to do that). It was immaterial because the immediate response was, no. In fact we were told we would need to come into the Port Captains office the next morning to have our papers, endorsed, which he had already taken from us.

By the time we finished with the Navy inspection it was well after sunset by now and getting dark and so Steve asked if the Port Captain representatives would guide us to the anchorage. They readily agreed and so both crews hoisted anchors and began following the panga in from one branch of the cross-shaped harbor and up another. The panga had a light on it but either it was non-functional or they didnt think to turn it on and several times we lost sight of them and they had to come back for us, waving for us to hurry up. The only charts we had showed water depths in this area of less than six feet, just about Kavengas draft, so you can understand why we were reluctant to charge ahead without our guide in sight. Apparently, this channel has been thoroughly dredged since our charts were printed and all of the depths we saw were over twenty feet.

Finally, at nearly 8PM, we arrived at the designated anchorage and dropped anchor again. The Naval base here is quite large with several destroyer-escort sized ships rafted to piers across the river from where we were, just off the compound of the Capitania de Puerto. Although a movie was now out of the question, we rowed over to Mildred Kane for a chat about our mutual predicament. We figured our best case scenario was that we would be required to clear in and out and pay the associated fees. The worst case was that we would also have to pay overtime fees (for the panga visit) and get a lecture about anchoring in a prohibited area (we were not aware that it was) and failing to clear in, although we had arrived after office hours.

Nevertheless, it was a very calm anchorage, except when the fishing pangas headed out at full speed in the morning rocking us with their wakes. Wanting to make a good impression, we all got dressed up and rowed ashore in time to be at the port captains office a little after it opened at 9AM.

We were shown into the office of an older, uniformed official we at first thought was the port captain, but was instead, Chief of Navigation. Through an interpreter we were asked a number of questions about our being in Lazaro Cardenas, the most important of which was, why we had stopped there. Rather than fib about engine problems or some other excuse, Steve said that we had encountered contrary winds and had simply come in to rest for the night. The interpreter said, so it was for your safety that you stopped? Steve said, right.

We were in the office for the better part of two hours, answering questions while some kind of documents were apparently being drawn up. Finally, we were asked to sign one of the documents that explained timing and purpose of our stop, and our clearance papers were endorsed. We were then told we would not have to pay any fees and were free to continue on our way.

By 11:45AM both vessels were headed out of Lazaro Cardenas. We all waited to breathe our sighs of relief until we had cleared the jetties and were on our way to the northwest.

With hindsight, the only negatives our visit to Lazaro Cardenas was the after-dark re-anchoring drill, and the four to five hour later departure than we had planned, which as it turned out had no negative consequences.

Assuming we will be headed south again next season, if we stop at Lazaro Cardenas, we know where to anchor and we will check in and probably stay a night or two to check out the town, which is not far from the Port Captains office.

We will not be attempting to anchor in the hurricane anchorage again--unless there is a hurricane!

PS: The apostrophe and quotes key is not working on this, the old IBM computer, so please forgive the missing punctuation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lucky wind, lucky break.

Winds from the south are uncommon along the Mexican mainland during the winter, but with a combination of luck and attention to the weather forecasts, we managed to catch a two-day southerly as we left Tenacatita for Puerto Vallarta.

We weren*t the only ones. Somewhere between 8 and 15 other boats at Tenacatita and Chamela took advantage of this fair weather window and sprinted north as well. By sheer happenstance, we happened to be leading the pack with the others strung out behind us.

If one dared complain about the weather, the only issues would be that there wasnt quite enough wind to sail and it was coming from dead astern (an unpopular point of sail for us). Nevertheless, we did manage to shut the engine off for three hours and enjoy the relative silence of pure sailing.

Cabo Corrientes, the cape at the southern end of Banderas Bay (in which sits Puerto Vallarta), has a reputation somewhat like Capes Mendocino and Blanco in the US. Cabo Corrientes (Cape Currents) tends to accentuate whatever wind flows past it. It is the source of some hand-wringing and weather-worrying amongst the cruising sailors down here. We would be passing it just after midnight with no moon, so that added a little to the pucker factor.

As it turned out, the light southerly winds continued without augmentation and we rounded the black cape with its lighthouse blinking reassuringly. Now we just had a straight shot to Puerto Vallarta (PV) across Banderas Bay.

The lights of PV and all of its hotels made a pretty sight as we approached. We had expected the possibility of heavy boat traffic in the bay, but there was none at all until we arrived at the harbor entrance. But just prior to that arrival we were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the Sierra Madre Mountains which rise precipitously behind the town.

Arriving in PV harbor at 0830 is not the best time. All of the tour boats and charter fishing boats are getting underway about then. The narrow channel from the cruise ship harbor to the marina was as clogged as a Russian toilet. Kay was steering while Steve conned from above and behind her. We had to slow to a crawl and drift in neutral as we threaded our way through a Tijuana traffic situation.

Once through that obstacle course we had to find the slip we were to use. Now here comes another amazing story....well, its amazing to us. Just before we left Zihuatenejo we went ashore one last time to check our land-based email. We received a message from old friend and former co-worker, Gary Crowell. We had forgotten that Gary owns a condo moorage slip at Marina Vallarta. Gary had recently visited our website and noted that we were heading in that direction. He informed us that his slip would be vacant soon and that we were welcomed to use it as long as we were in PV!! Yahoo! Boy did that make our day, especially Kay*s, as she has been looking forward to some marina time.

So, with many thanks to Gary, we were looking for his slip, E-27. We vaguely remembered where it was from our air visit here in 1994, when his boat, Galore, was still here. We had to go around an enormous power yacht (Silver Lining) moored at the end of E-dock, and then we breathed a sigh of relief and joy as we saw that E-27 was empty and waiting for us.

Once Kavenga was tied up and we both had quick showers, we collapsed for long naps as we had had only two to three hours of sleep during the overnight passage from Tenacatita. Later we checked in with the marina office and an agent who will take care of clearing us in to Puerto Vallarta (pronounced vy-yarta).

We have a long list of boat projects and fun projects to accomplish while we are here. Thanks to Gary and his slip, we will be able to make a big dent in both. By the way, I think Gary might be willing to sell his slip, so if anyone needs a great place to park there boat in Mexico, let us know and we will put you in contact with him.

* The darn quote/apostrophe key still isn*t working.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Favorite Gadgets #1 - The Shower Mixer

This is the first in a series of hopefully short blogs about gadgets that we have added to Kavenga since our last cruise that are making the cruising life more enjoyable.

The honor of being the first gadget featured is our shower mixer.

Prior to this cruise we had an ordinary household-style shower mixer; i.e. a hot tap and a cold tap that you turned on and adjusted until you got the water to a comfortable level for your shower.

There were several problems. First, both sources of heat, our diesel engine and our diesel furnace made water much hotter than a normal household water heater; e.g. 165 degrees or even hotter. Consequently, you could only just barely turn on the hot water tap or it overwhelmed the cold water tap, especially down here in the tropics where the ambient temperature never drops below 70F.

Second, due to the small capacity of the heat exchanger tank, the temperature of the hot water would rapidly decline while you were taking a shower. The net result was that it took a lot of fiddling to get the temperature set initially, and then midway through your shower you had to readjust it. This was not only inconvenient, it also wasted water.

Thanks to our Mattison shower mixer all those problems and frustrations are gone. This shower mixer has a thermostatically controlled valve in it much like a cars radiator. It adjusts the mix of hot and cold water in order to maintain a comfortable, preset temperature. In fact it has a notched position for a standard comfortable shower temperature. Just set it there and its good forever. If you want a hotter or cooler shower though, you can change the position.

So now, no matter how hot the hot water is, or how much it changes over the course of a shower, we always get a constant temperature all the way through.

Any cruising sailor will tell you that fresh water showers are one of lifes best simple luxuries. On this, our second blue-water cruise, life is just a little sweeter thanks to our smart shower mixer.

Send any questions about this to kavenga at-sign att dot net (spelled out to foil spammers)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Roaring Dragon, Raging Winds

From Lazaro Cardenas we sailed overnight to Caleta Carrizal, the same unspoiled little cove that we had stopped for one night on our way south(east). Once again it was a pleasant and only slightly rolly anchorage. We were told by our friends on Gia, who were leaving there just as we came in, that they had heard a dragon roar the previous night. As they were sailing away, there was no time to get an explanation.

We did not hear the dragon roar until we were leaving the following morning. As we motored out of the cove, close to the west shore, virtually a rock wall, a swell sent a surge of water into a narrow cave and a blast of air roared out. So now, we too had heard the dragon roar.

It was an easy motorboat trip from Carrizal to Barra de Navidad, a place we fell in love with on the way down. It is very scenic, not overly touristy, and has a great, calm anchorage.

It can be a bit tricky navigating into the shallow lagoon. However, we had used our handheld GPS and portable depthsounder in the inflatable dinghy during our last visit to sound the lagoon and establish the boundaries of the entrance channel and area of the lagoon deep enough for anchoring.

A planned short stay of 3-4 days in the lagoon stretched into six days due to unusually strong northwest winds, which we would have had to punch straight into if we continued up the coast.

The winds finally let up this morning and we made the short jump up to Tenacatita, a favorite anchorage of Mexico cruisers, and a place we had stayed for awhile when Steves dad was with us in 1991. We would love to spend some time here but we also want to high-tail it to Puerto Vallarta and possibly do some kind of inland excursion before it is time to head further north.