February 19-20, 2009
It is 5:00 a.m., one more hour to go of my shift. The feared Tehuantepec is almost completely astern; the crossing picked at a perfect \”weather window\”. Predictions are it will be blowing 30-40 knots from the north, a full blown \”TEHUANTE-PECKER\” in less than 24 hours.
At 3:00 am the crescent moon rose right in front of me. Bright orange while it was still low on the horizon. That was worth being up for. I\’ve enjoyed a lot of bioluminescent creatures also. Calm conditions, motoring along. We are still going quite slow at the RPMs we are at. Must be current (soon to find out OTHERWISE). Hope to clear it eventually.
I will warn you right up front that this is going to be a long one. You won\’t believe what has transpired in the past 24 hrs. I hardly believe it myself… For those of you who have to rush off to work & can\’t read this right now, just know we are safe & fine & on our way to Guatemala instead of El Salvador. Yes, with the boat. Here\’s why:
I am writing on my first night shift of our 2nd night. When I got off my 2-6:00 am shift, I was looking forward to a good sleep. At 7:30 am I am abruptly awakened by Scott slamming the boat into reverse. Another string of fishing lines he almost ran over. There is no significant boat traffic in this area, so the fisherman just string out their long lines (up to 2000 feet!) wherever they feel they can catch fish. We are more than 10 miles offshore. Thankfully no damage was done & the guys in the panga seemed somewhat apologetic. But the fact is the fishermen are not expecting us anymore than we are expecting them. Thus the 24 hour watch. To make sure we did not have any bit of line caught under the boat we backed down. In the process of motoring backwards I noticed we were turning in a circle, not going straight back. Despite the rudder being centered. Despite both engines in reverse at the same RPM. Only one answer: the port transmission was not engaged. Scott climbs back to check & sure enough the motor on port is running smoothly, but completely ineffective because the transmission, though apparently engaging, is not working. We test it: it will not move us forward. It will not move us in reverse. So our assumption that we were going so slow last night due to a current being against us was wrong. We were going so slow because we were effectively only being propelled with the starboard engine. This is not a happy discovery. It is not just the matter of going slow on 1 engine, it makes it very difficult to maneuver. In many ways we are like a twin screw powerboat. We rely heavily on both engines when docking & maneuvering. The entry to the marina in El Salvador requires us to cross a \”bar\”. I will explain that elsewhere it has nothing to do with drinking�..:). We would definitely want to be fully maneuverable when crossing the \”bar\”.
These transmissions have given us heck since the beginning. We have had warranty replacements from Yanmar twice. The reason we hauled out in Mazatlan in November was for warranty fix of the transmissions. They are our weakest essential piece of equipment. And there are no alternatives to Yanmar due to the installation space, fitting, machining etc. Scott did extensive research on this & failure of the transmissions has been one of his big fears – now realized. We start to discuss our options. He gets on the morning net & puts out \”a cry for information\”. Two boats we know switched with him to another channel to discuss our plight. One being Chuck of \”Jacaranda\” who was with us in San Benedicto & Socorro. He told Scott to take a deep breath, which I really appreciated. Something I did not dare suggest myself. Scott is an emotional creature who needs to moan & gnash his teeth & stomp & swear before moving on to solve the problem. I wait out this phase & focus on deep breathing for myself. Chuck offered to post our situation on the \”Southbound Yahoo Net\” which is a Yahoo users group & may bring insight & information from other boaters.
The information we needed first was: How to diagnose the problem? The sea was calm enough that I was able to essentially stop the boat. Scott jumped in with his mask & snorkel to see if anything was not normal below. Besides getting stung by a jelly fish, he discovered that the propeller turned way too easily by hand. Next, satellite phone call: our friendly Mazatlan mechanic Bob, who did the last work on our transmissions. He said unfortunately it did NOT sound like the cone clutches slipped. The cone clutches are known to fail after an unreasonably low number of hours & we have been prepared for this part of the transmissions to fail. It would have been a relatively easy fix & we have the parts needed onboard. But no, it is sounding more like the drive train is broken somewhere along the line. That would require the boat to be hauled out. Where can we get hauled out? What parts are needed? What mechanic can do the job?
Next, Scott calls Yanmar technical support in Georgia. The guy there confirms that it does NOT sound like a cone clutch problem. Perhaps the \”splined coupling\”. (Don\’t worry there will not be a quiz at the end.)
Will we need to haul the boat out to get this fixed? Yes, because if it broke, there will be metal debris inside the transmission. How do we go about finding out where to haul out?
We have a cruising guide with emails & phone numbers of the various Central American ports & marinas. Scott starts calling. Thank God he just bought an additional 500 minutes for our satellite phone. The guy that runs part of the cruisers mooring system at Bahia del Sol in El Salvador where we were heading is a Canadian. We get his cell phone to discover he is visiting his sick mother in Canada for a month. We get this information from his Latino assistant. We call Murray\’s cell phone number. He answers. He describes to Scott the option of \”careening\” the boat at low tide & quickly doing the job. Hmmmm. The very sound of \”careening\” does not appeal much to us. We look at other options.
We had intended to skip Puerto Quetzal, the only Pacific port in Guatemala because we heard it was commercial, dirty, and had no appeal for cruisers. But as a commercial port, it may be just the place that can haul us out if they are used to dealing with bigger cruising boats. We call our friend Carmina in Guatemala City & she starts making calls on our behalf. Very soon an American mechanic named \”Ziggy\” calls her. When we call her back she gives us his number. Ziggy describes the haul out option there. It is pretty much how we were launched in France. You get pulled up on railroad tracks & then blocked up for the job. No careening. No rushing to finish the job due to the tide. You are out of the water until ready to go back in. Also when you go back in you can quickly check for leaks & haul her back out if needed. The whole working with the tide situation in El Salvador is probably fine for bottom paint or some minor work, but not this. One little detail!….We have to go over a \”bar\” entrance at high tide with a local guide. This is not a bar that much discussion has been heard as no one really ever has to take their cruising boat across it. The local sport fishers however have been doing it for years as have the local large fishing boats. This will be our first \”bar\” crossing; we will check it out by land before attempting via sea.
What is the job going to be? Scott makes the command decision to order an entire new transmission. We can have the old failed one rebuilt somewhere down the line & keep it onboard as a spare. Each transmission weighs about 100 lbs & is about 3 feet long by 1 foot in diameter. Where can we get one – fast? He calls 2 resources: one Yanmar dealer in Florida & one in So. Cal. They will check their inventory & ask Scott to call back in an hour. We cannot easily receive incoming calls on the satellite phone.
On follow up calls to the Yanmar reps they both have what we need in stock. Florida refuses to ship DHL. This is a deal breaker. DHL is the only shipping company that works in this region of the world. We have had great luck with them so far & are not willing to risk Fed Ex, which we had a disastrous one time experience. The So. Cal dealer will not ship at all. Someone has to pick it up & ship it for us.
We consider flying to LA & bringing it back as baggage. Without being able to talk to the airlines we don\’t know if this is possible or not. Someone tells us that they do not think you can check baggage over 100 lbs. Plus the time to go there & back when we already have a flight booked for March 12th seems like a pain.
We need someone in So. Cal to drive to the Yanmar dealer, pick up the transmission, take it to a DHL shipper & send it to Guatemala City. Who can we ask to do this enormous favor? Scott Adam comes to mind. He is our cruiser friend that saved our bacon last year. Buying a new power cord end (that was fried at the Barra de Navidad dock) at West Marine & meeting my sister Alberta at LAX just before she checked in to board her plane to visit us. He was a godsend then & we decide he might be willing to be our Angel once more. He & Jean\’s sailboat s/v \”Quest\” is in Australia, but they are currently in LA until the 1st week of March, living onboard the power boat they keep at Del Rey Yacht Club. First call to his cell phone reaches his answering machine. Scott leaves a message. Jeff & Gayle are also cruisers back in LA on a visit, we call him next. He answers his cell. He\’d love to help us, but is tied up until Tuesday. But he gives us another phone number for Scott\’s wife Jean. Scott the Angel answers, hears our plea & rises to the occasion once again. He will do it tomorrow.
Scott calls the So. Cal Yanmar parts department back, pays by credit card & notifies them that Scott Adam will pick up the transmission for us tomorrow – Friday. We email Scott aka: \”Our Hero\” the address for Yanmar (Boatswains Locker) Costa Mesa. We call Carmina to have her get the address of the main DHL office in Guatemala City. The Puerto Quetzal mechanic, Ziggy said do not have it shipped to the marina because it could take days longer. Since we have the benefit of Carmina\’s assistance & car, we can ship it \”Para Recoger\” (hold for pick up). The DHL office will hold it. We did this once before in Cabo del San Jose & it worked out great. We have had DHL shipments arrive in Mexico as quickly as 2 business days. If it gets out of LA Friday, it could be in Guatemala City on Monday. Then it is just a matter of how long will it get delayed in customs. We expect to pay some import duty. But when will they actually release it to us?
So the plan is forming & we are feeling that this makes the most sense. Even if our current trouble is some doinky repair that needs some inexpensive part, it is still a problematic unit. I have some concerns that even new out of the box these sail drive transmissions seem unreliable, but we don\’t know what else to do. We are not willing to risk getting further afield without having a functional transmission for each engine. An entire new unit is expensive, but can be installed in a few hours. We did this in Ventura, twice, so we know.
All of the above takes until about 3:00 pm. Meanwhile I have had one hour sleep x 2 in the past 24 hours. I had to be on watch while Scott did all the calls & emails because 3 more times we came upon fishing lines strung out. If our 2nd remaining engine/transmission gets fouled we would be sitting ducks out here for a very long time. There has been very little wind – Lake Pacific. Makes for a comfortable ride, but requires the starboard engine to run many hours. We were able to fly the spinnaker for a couple of hours just before sunset tonight so it got a brief rest.
Because we are on one engine we are going only 5 1/2 to 6 knots instead of the normal 7.2 to 8. So instead of getting all the way down to El Salvador in 3 days & 3 nights. We will spend nearly that time just getting to Guatemala.
Ziggy drove to the haul out yard (where they take out the shrimp boats) & confirmed that they would be able & willing to handle us on their railroad system. Ziggy and Carmina each called Marina Pez Vela to tell them we are on our way, expecting a Saturday morning arrival & request a dock while we wait for the transmission to arrive.
Meanwhile we will make the most of our unplanned stop in Guatemala. It is a 2 hr drive from Guatemala City for Carmina to come meet us at the marina. She is determined to be standing on the dock when we pull in & she will be a welcome sight. Hopefully we can do some sightseeing with her while waiting for the transmission to arrive. She will be a big help with translation everywhere. We have a recommendation of a local agent to help with the check in & out process. But having a native daughter onboard can only help smooth the process. Carmina is also checking out a hotel for us to stay while the boat is hauled out. Hopefully it will not be more than 1-2 nights, but my refrigerator & freezer will have to be taken offline, and we won\’t have power. It is never fun to stay onboard when hauled out. We used to do it in Ventura, but not in these foreign yards. They are so dirty & often smelly too.
Scott emailed Bahia del Sol in El Salvador informing them of our delay. We hope they understand why we chose to do the job here instead of there. We still hope to get there eventually. Since we were so quickly in & out of Huatulco, we are ok on time if things move along as hoped. Que sera sera… We are safe. It is warm & a lovely evening. I got an hour & half rest & after an iced coffee feel pretty darn good. Only 1 hour left of my 1st night shift, although I may let Scott stay down longer because I don\’t think he is really sleeping.
So my friends, that is the current news from \”Beach House\”. Never a dull moment!
Additional Report – February 20th
After reviewing the charts & speaking to the harbor master we decided we could make a night entry & not have to stay out until dawn. We just kept motoring along. The main excitement was 1 whale seen briefly and dodging fishing boats. There were numerous \”purse sieners\” which drag nets and pangas managing string lines. During the daylight it wasn\’t so difficult to avoid them. Once the sun set it got a bit more nerve wracking because the pangas do not always light each end of their lines. The Mexican & now Guatemalan \”net boats\” are often improperly lit. But we managed to crawl our way in without snagging any nets or lines & entered the breakwater at 8:54 pm in this easy to enter deep water port.
We hailed the port captain on VHF channel 16 to announce our arrival as is protocol. He spoke to us in perfect English & welcomed us to Guatemala. Without the use of the port engine we cannot turn right at low speed. After driving us into a pickle, I abandoned the helm to Scott & he managed to avoid the outlying poles & get us to the dock. There was a harbor security guy, as promised, waiting to catch our lines. The floating dock is a bit rickety but has power & is fine. There is a US Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC Chase) docked just opposite us & the sailors are partying hard at the beach palapa. We are a bit too tired to go join in. Scott called Carmina to let her know we safely arrived & she will come meet us in the morning.
So all is well in our first Central American port. It is very commercial, looks like possibly oil refinement goes on here as well as commercial shipping and receiving. We will sleep like babies I am sure. We were both awake most of the day. Since we have shore power we can use the air conditioner – yippee! It is 80 degrees outside with 85% humidity at 10:20 pm. So we anticipate it will be hot, hot, hot tomorrow.
We got confirmation from the Costa Mesa Yanmar dealer that boater friend Scott Adam indeed picked up our new transmission this morning. But we have not yet gotten confirmation from Scott that it has been shipped DHL. Will have to wait until the morning. I\’m sure it will work out be fine. Sure hope that fixes the problem. We are happy to be here & will be even happier when we know the new transmission is on its way. Oh there will be so much more to this story�..stand by!
Scott & Cindy
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