2015 MAR – DUNKED…!

This is what we must have looked like... copyright latitude38.com

This is what we must have looked like… copyright latitude38.com

 Saturday 3/28

We have been in Puerto Vallarta for a month waiting for Francisco’s passport to arrive. Apparently there was a printing glitch in the govt office and no passports have been printed for weeks. However, it finally came through a day ago, so it is time to move on.

We started prepping the boat for the move south. We filled the water tanks and went shopping for provisions and got back to the marina around noon. We piled the groceries in the dinghy and set off back to FastAlley in the anchorage. As we motored along I was explaining the schedule.

“So we will pack the food away, tidy the boat ready for sea by putting all loose things back in their assigned place, lift out and secure the dinghy, then get to the fuel dock about 5:00pm. We want to go around the point at night when it’s calmest so after refueling we will cross Banderas Bay slowly, and go round the point at about 8 or 9:00PM”, I said.

My boat is anchored about 700 yards offshore in about 20-foot of water. We have had some severe storms come through in the past month that have created large swells that have rolled items around the cabin, but we don’t experience breaking waves that far offshore. If we did, the entire fleet out there would up-anchor and move further offshore.

Today the anchorage was relatively calm with almost flat seas. As we dinghied towards FastAlley I glanced to my right and was stunned to see, right beside the dink almost close enough to reach out and touch, a large swell suddenly rise 8 foot clean out of the flat sea and collapse right beside us in a boiling, thrashing, terrifying roller. Francisco just had time to turn the dinghy’s butt to the breaker before it hit us.

I knew we were not going to be able to surf that breaking monster. I knew we were doomed.

(Later when I was telling a friend who lives in La Cruz she said – oh that was a whale,  they surface all the time out there!)

I don’t remember anything of the actual dunking. I was sitting in the front of the dinghy but I don’t remember if I went sideways out the boat, or backwards, or was flung forwards. All I knew was that the next second I was deep underwater with my eyes tight shut.

I felt my backpack, that had been lying in the bottom of the dinghy, hit my left arm and I grabbed it! It held all my official boat documentation and permits, my passport, credit cards, debit cards, California drivers license, iPad, iPhone, and external battery pack. And a sweater. I never carry my docs on me, but I had just visited the Port Captain to officially Check Out of Banderas Bay, and he wants to see all the boat docs and my personal docs.  I always carry my iPad and Francisco’s phone.

If I lost the backpack it would take me weeks, if not months, to gather new copies of all the docs. They were all sealed in separate waterproof bags, so I grabbed my backpack and slid it onto my left shoulder. I started to sink deeper. I remember thinking… “I don’t care how deep I sink here, I am NOT letting go of my backpack!”.

Looking back I think I froze with the shock of being dunked!  I know I wasn’t aware of holding my breath, I was simply frozen.  As I sank, the next moment I felt the line that is tied to the front of the dinghy, wrap itself around my right hand. Once! Twice! Three times!  The sensation of the wrapping line unfroze me and I suddenly realized I was sinking and drowning.  I gripped my hand shut convulsively over the wraps knowing that at most I was 14 foot underwater – the length of the line. I dragged myself up the rope, hand over hand, until I reached the dinghy and my head burst out above the waves. I  spluttered and took gasps of fresh air into my lungs.

There were so many additional things that could have gone wrong as the dink overturned:
– the propeller could have cut either one of us before the engine stalled.
– the wooden seat could have crashed down on our heads as we were flung into the water.
– we could have tangled in the dinghy anchor and gotten dragged down
– we could have been knocked unconscious by the weight of the outboard engine.

So many things could have gone (more) wrong. None of them did.

I heard Francisco frantically calling “Julia! Julia!” and turned my head in his direction. He was about 8 feet away, swimming strongly towards me.

As a young man Francisco’s two friends were out in a dinghy. For some reason the one friend fell out and the propeller went straight over his head, ripping half his skull away and exposing a large portion of his brain. When the other friend saw that, he dived into the water to help – without first killing the dinghy engine. While in the water helping his semi-conscious friend, the boat circled and came back shredding the young man’s back and smashing his right arm. Both young men were rescued by other boaters, but the brain damaged one never fully recovered.

Francisco said that the instant we flipped over, his immediate thought was the terrible damage that the propeller might do before the kill switch took effect and the engine stalled.

He swam up to me, so upset with his face creased with worry. He blurted, “I was so afraid for you. I couldn’t see you. I dived and dived and couldn’t find you! Are you hurt? Are you okay?”, as he scanned what he could see of me, for injury.

I assured him I was fine, albeit swimming in deep water, next to an upside down dinghy! And all around me floated our newly purchased provisions – spaghetti, fruit, vegetables, detergent, etc.

The dinghy was too heavy to flip back upright in deep water so we started swimming it to the shore a few hundred yards away. When Francisco touched bottom he heaved the dinghy back upright and we pushed it onto the sand and dragged it up the beach using the rope that had saved me by wrapping itself around my hand as I sank.

Some local kids on the beach were running back and forth in the surf collecting our provisions that had washed up and piling it all in a heap on the sand. We paid them with some chicken wings that miraculously remained sealed and a bag of marshmallows. They scampered off happily and I transferred the salty, sandy, soggy stuff to the dink.

We both sank exhausted onto the sand and stared at each other bemused. Where had that wave come from? And so far offshore? And just the one breaker?

But all it took was the one roller to stop us leaving that night.

“What now?”, asked Francisco as we sat there.

“Now you go and talk to those fishermen over there and find out where we can get the outboard serviced. It will never start after being dunked in the sea and we shouldn’t even try to start it because the salt water will do further damage to the engine. While you take the engine to the mechanic they recommend, please also ask them to bring their panga to drag me and the dinghy over to FastAlley”.

Pretty much the rest of the afternoon was uneventful. One fisherman tied my dinghy to his panga and carefully dragged me to FastAlley.

The other fisherman helped Francisco load the outboard onto his motorbike (somehow) and drove him to the mechanic up the road. After first ensuring that the outboard was being taken care of, Francisco returned some hours later and waited on the dinghy dock until a cruiser arrived and gave him a ride to FastAlley.

There was no one around to take our photo..... thank heavens!

There was no one around to take our photo….. thank heavens!

That evening I reviewed the incident.

A few days before this dunking, we had dragged the dink up on the beach to clean the bottom of the algae and critters that stick to it while it sits in the water. At the time I disconnected the little anchor and it’s rode (rope) from the dink and didn’t reconnect it when we were done. I just threw the anchor and line into the bottom of the dink. This was just as well because when we overturned, I lost the anchor as it sank like a stone – as it is wont to do. If it hadn’t fallen out, it would have hampered our exit efforts by doing its job – anchoring the now upside down dinghy to the ocean floor. This would have been a disaster for us, because we were already floundering and couldn’t spare the time to dive and (repeatedly) loosen a helpful heavy anchor from the sea floor. So while I am sad I lost my anchor, I am glad I lost it at that moment.

Amazingly the gasoline tank for the outboard had stayed attached to the outboard engine by its fuel chord. So as Francisco righted the dink, the 5-gallon tank floated back into the dinghy. That was a blessing. I expect some salt water got into the tank, so we took it to the mechanic to have the container properly washed out. I didn’t want to service the outboard, then feed salt water back into it via the portable gasoline tank.

My biggest loss was my prescription glasses. I am as blind as a bat without them. I can read just fine but I can’t see far, so I can’t stand Watch without them. I would have to get a new pair before we can leave.

Francisco lost his dark glasses but his wallet had remained in his pocket, and his new passport was safe on the boat. I was carrying his phone which is now sitting in a bag of rice.

Everything in my backpack was fine, except some water had gotten into the electronics pouch. I put the iPad, iPhone, and external battery pack into bags of rice in the hopes of salvaging them. I don’t know if my telcel sym card will still work – I guess I will find out. Otherwise everything else had remained waterproofed.

UPDATE:  my iPad and external battery pack cannot be saved.  Ditto for Francisco’s phone.  I have heard that there is an Apple store in Mexico City, so I will try to get a replacement iPad there, when I get there, because it is insured.


Just a pic off Google images ~ we were not racing, like this pic

Just a pic off Google images ~ we were not racing, like this pic

This trip has been a series of delays.  My guardian angels have been trying to block this trip from the beginning!

It all started in Los Angeles way back in October.  An erstwhile friend and I had been planning the cruise for nearly a year.  We were going to do the trip together, but on the VERY DAY that I was to cut the lines to the dock and head for San Diego for the start of the Baja Haha, she backed out.  I was left crew-less.

I convinced my son to accompany me to San Diego while I frantically searched the Latitude38 website for crew willing to join me at such short notice.  I found 2 guys who flew to San Diego and joined me just the night before the Haha fleet left en masse for Mexico.  Talk about last minute…!

My crew left me in Cabo San Lucas and I singlehanded to La Paz.  By then I knew that I could not continue without my watermaker which I had sent in to be serviced, but it had not been returned to me in time for the start of the Haha.

I flew to Los Angeles to collect the watermaker.

I spent 5 weeks in LA, from Xmas to the end of January, waiting to get my watermaker back from its servicing by the manufacturer.  Eventually I contacted the VP of Global Communications to speed up delivery.  It arrived 2 days later.

So I was 5 weeks behind my loose schedule of reaching Panama by mid May.

Then I crossed from La Paz to Mazatlan and noticed that my inboard diesel engine was running cold. It usually runs at 180 degrees but it was running at 160. I know nothing about engines, but I do know that they dont like running either too hot or too cold.

The mechanic looked at all the usual suspects and found that my water pump was leaking badly. He removed it and after opening it up, said it needed some new parts which he would buy the next day. A week later he admitted that he couldn’t find the parts anywhere in Mazatlan and would have to order them. It was 3 weeks before the parts arrived and he re-installed the water pump the next day.

So I was now 8 weeks behind schedule to reach Panama by mid May.

Francisco says if I hadn’t been delayed the 8 weeks I would never have met up with him because he had only been working in the marina for the past 2 weeks when he resigned that job and accompanied me instead. I’ll give him that.

Then we got to Puerto Vallarta. And more delays.

First we waited 3 weeks for Francisco’s passport which was delayed by a govt printing glitch.

So I was now 11 weeks behind schedule to reach Panama by mid May.

Then when we are about to leave, we get dunked by a freak roller OFFSHORE and can’t move for another 2 weeks until my new spectacles arrive and the outboard is serviced.

So I was now 13 weeks behind schedule to reach Panama by mid May.

At this point I am admitting to myself that I won’t make it to the Panama San Blas islands by the start of hurricane season. At least I won’t make it unless I go 100 miles out to sea and bolt passed Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama’s west coast. Which I don’t want to do, so I guess I will just have to find a hurricane hole in Mexico.

I am at a loss as to why I am being prevented from steadily moving south – but I am grateful for the intervention of my guardian angels if they know going south right now would be bad for me. And Francisco.

But if stopping me is their intention then I wish there was some easier way to tell me rather than dunking me in the sea…!

Another racing capsize

Another racing capsize – copyright galleyship.com

Sunday 3/29 ~ FOLLOW UP

Since the outboard was with the mechanic, we had no way of getting off FastAlley. The dinghy has oars but the chocks for the oars broke, so we can’t row. Also in the afternoon the wind is pretty high so rowing in that blow would be interesting, to say the least.

Consequently I decided to move FastAlley into the marina.

Then the outboard mechanic said he would loan us an engine until mine was repaired, so I decided against moving FastAlley into the marina.

As I discovered later, I don’t think my guardian angels liked the fact that I reversed my decision!

The next day we were out all morning getting the outboard sorted out. Then we ran around doing some chores and by midday we headed back to the boat – by hitching a dinghy lift with some helpful cruisers.

Just minutes after stepping onto FastAlley I heard a loud CRACK and the boat jerked spasmodically! I though someone had crashed into us and rushed up on deck. Instead I noticed that the bridle hinge had snapped.

The bridle is critical for spreading the stresses of being at anchor from the bow (middle pontoon) to the two side pontoons. Without the bridle the load was being carried only by the bow.

I ran back to the cabin, grabbed the keys, and started the engine. If anything further was going to fail, I wanted power at hand.

Suddenly another LOUD CRACK and the brake on the bow holding the anchor chain ripped right out of the deck!

Now the full load of the anchor was being held by the windlass – which is lightly designed to lift the anchor and certainly not to bear the load stresses.

The windlass would be the next single point of failure!

I put the boat in gear and drove slowly forward lifting the anchor as I went. Now I was no longer tethered to Mother Earth, but floating free.

The wind wasn’t blowing any harder than usual, and the swells weren’t running any higher than usual, so the stresses should not have been unusually high on the anchoring system.  After all, I had 100-foot of chain out in just 18 foot of water.   While Francisco pointed out the direction of the chain, I drove that way over the chain to relieve the pressure on the windlass as it dragged up the chain. I noticed that the boat immediately executed a small tight circle!  So that explained the problem…the chain must have tangled on something on the seabed so instead of having 100-foot to gently take up the strain of movement, there must have been (say) just 30-foot of chain yanking on the bow.  And without the give of the extra 70-foot, the system failed.

I got on the radio and called the marina and told them I was coming in NOW and they were to please find me a dock. I left Francisco on the radio to the marina discussing where we would berth.  I also had to rely on his eyes because my prescription glasses were swimming with the fishes from the dinghy dunking.

Even though it was blowing heavily out in the anchorage, it was pretty calm inside the marina so we docked carefully with no issues.

So my guardian angels now have me tied safely to a dock!

I calculate that I will be delayed about 4 weeks as:
A) I wait for my glasses
B) I get the outboard serviced
C) I get the anchor brake re-bedded in the bow

So I was now 17  weeks (over 4 months) behind schedule to reach Panama by mid May. I definitely won’t make it to Panama this season….

Saturday 4/11 UPDATE

My prescription glasses finally arrived this week, and it is wonderful to be able to see past my nose again.

The outboard cannot be saved.  I suspect the mechanic had a lot to do with the damage.  He took one look at this gringo woman and saw $$$ signs!  He said he had changed the oil 3 times, and cleaned the engine, but it wouldnt start.  He had it running at the time but it emitted a loud clunking noise.  It would probably start with no noise after I gave him 3000+ pesos, he said!

I can see a scam when its that obvious, so I took my outboard back.  I changed the oil and the removed oil separated into 2 layers of mostly water and some oil.  Clearly the mechanic had not changed the oil as claimed. I also bought new spark plugs, and a friendly cruiser drained the carburetor.  He found that the scam mechanic had run 2-stroke fuel (oil and gasoline) thru my 4-stroke engine (pure gasoline).   We tried to get it to start and it backfires ferociously but otherwise wont kick in.  Francisco then cleaned the engine some more, but the engine refuses to start.  I think – thanks to the scam mechanic – the thing is dead.

I will have to buy a new 6-horsepower Yamaha outboard before I can continue south.  Without an outboard, I cant use my dinghy – and I dont intend to row the thing. And without a dinghy you are confined to quarters – an obviously undesirable situation especially when provisions run low.

We spent nearly a week trying to find the pieces to fix the anchor brake.  In Mexico each store specializes in one thing only.  So we would catch a taxi to the next town and get the long bolts in one shop.  Then we would catch a taxi (or walk 100 meters!) to the next store for an extra long drill.  Then walk 100 meters (?) to the next store for the nuts for the bolts.   And so on…..   And sometimes the shop we were directed to didnt have what we wanted and suggested the shop in the next town.

But whatever we did, all the pieces together did not present the correct solution.

A week later Francisco suggested we machine the solution and explained what he had in mind.  So we went back to all the stores and bought the separate pieces and took them all to a machine shop who listened to Francisco’s solution and said they would have it machined by Saturday.  That is today.  So we picked up the finished piece today and will fit it next week.

While I am about it, I am also fixing some scrapes and dings in my fibreglass that have “magically” appeared as a result of my lousy docking ability.

So by mid next week, I am ready to move on South again.  However, since my guardian angels have tried so hard, and so often, to delay me from the start that I have decided to just land cruise for awhile and wait out the summer here.  I will move on southwards in November 2015.

I have heard that Mexico City is treasure trove of Things-To-See.







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