Look Ma, No Motor

Trip Start Dec 01, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
On the Hook
El Coyote Cove

Flag of Mexico  , Baja California Sur,
Monday, June 14, 2010

We learned to bleed the hard way.

We were just having too much fun. The water temp was around eighty degrees, although the daytime highs were closer to 100. Our days were spent exploring coves littered with shells and soft sand made of finely ground and polished coral. We snorkled amazing crystal waters filled with brightly colored tropical fish with glowing neon accents. We would dive down into schools of dinner plate sized King Angel fish seemingly as curious about us as we were about them.

We were meeting other cruisers and like clownfish to sea anenomes, we bonded instantly. Evenings were often spent sharing fresh caught seafood and swapping sea stories with our water based community.

And Ashika continued moving north. Our eventual destination was Guaymas on the mainland side of Mexico. Our jumping off place from Baja would likely be somewhere just north of Bahia de Concepcion; a stunning slice of paradise. But first we had to leave a delightful little cove called La Ramada and run out of gas. That was our first mistake.

We actually had another sixty gallons of diesel available in tank no.2 , but should have switched over before we sucked air into our iron genny.We killed the engine or it spluttered to a stop on it's own, we weren't sure which happened first. What we did know is that now we had air where there should be fuel and there was very little air in our sails. We were uncomfortably close to shore with an island just ahead and we needed to be much further out in order to feel safe enough to work on the engine. Bleeding the engine of trapped air was going to be difficult under the circumstances and it was a job we had never actually tried to do, second mistake (or was that our first?).

We had our main up, but the wind was light at five or six knots and it was dead downwind. To make it even more interesting, there was a short period swell of four to five feet that was rolling us around like a gyroscope. We raised every sail on the boat.. mizzen, staysail and genoa added to the main, trying to get enough material up to push us out to sea. We did not raise the spinnaker because I have not made nice with that sail yet and I was afraid I would have to handle it by myself while Dois worked below.

Hand steering our course was our only option as the autopilot could not handle such a delicate situation. The helms person had to maintain constant focus so the breeze we had would not blow on the wrong side of the main and jybe it to the other side of the boat... a dangerous manuever. We took turns at the wheel, me trying to get speed, Dois trying to keep a course. Our track looked much like the edge of the scalloped shells I found on the beach. We went along like that, milking it and eeked out two and a half knots, which gave us five miles of leeway within two hours. Only 45 miles to go... and if the wind stopped we might really be in trouble.

We took turns working on the engine, trying to follow the instructions from a page of the manual photocopied from a photocopy. We took turns because the diesel fumes and tossing of the boat would chase us out of the engine room after twenty minutes or so. While trying to bleed the engine, we inadvertently opened up a screw that held a fuel filter in place.. (I loosened it, Dois loosened it some more...) mistake no.3. As it came off, the seals fell into the dark no mans land of the bilge. This left the entire fuel system offline including the generator. Power and batteries were now an issue. In our overall power scheme, we had backups to our backups. If our engine wouldn't produce, then we would use the generator. If that was not available, we have solar panels. Except our panels had been producing so much energy they burned the deck connections and overpowered the controller. They were not working. We couldn't afford to run our batteries down, we needed them to restart the engine once we fixed our fuel delivery system. We turned everything off that wasn't absolutely essential, including the refrigerator.

We radioed our friends that were ahead of us to let them know of our predicament and get advice on bleeding the fuel system. They have the same engine in their boat, and tried their best to guide us through the process. But we had litterally made the situation worse. We decided to put all our efforts into sailing her into an anchorage. It was vitally important to try and make it to Santo Domingo Cove at the tip of Bahia Concepcion by dark.

Going downwind in a light and shifty breeze can rattle a person to the core. It was as if Mother Nature herself was breathing into the sails. They would sag and flutter when she inhaled, then the sails would roll out to a thunderous snap on the exhale. As I sat there in the cockpit, watching the dogs sleep and Dois steer, the snapping of the sails took me back to a moment back in Puerto Vallarta when an old man had raised his arm towards the crowd and snapped his hand in a dramatic invitation to dance. Some cruisers had put together a charity event in the concrete amphitheater at La Cruz Marina for the local school. There was a latin band playing lilting flamenco tunes when an elderly cruiser, well into his eighties made his way to the pit in front of the stage. I saw his feet first, as they jerked and shuffled past me on his way to center stage when I realized the shuffle was his interpretation of dancing, At first I thought this would be funny, but it quickly turned dramatic. The man shuffled in a circle to face the crowded amphitheater and slowly raised his hand toward the crowd... extending his arm up throwing his hand out in a sail snapping manner. The extention was directed toward the woman who had been seated beside him. The snapping extention was an invitation, an invitation to dance. The woman was tall and sat erect, in pink shorts and white tshirt, she too was no spring chicken, sporting a loose grey bun on top of her head. She refused the first invite shaking her head demurly. The man snapped his hand high over his head again and again, insisting she join him on the floor. Every eye was on her now and so she stood and made her way down to him. She met him face to face and smiled sweetly at him and it was magic. They moved to the latin beat as if they were alone, celebrating a life together... her in bobby socks and tennis shoes, he in typical cruiser attire and well worn boat shoes. He twirled her under the stars and and then pulled her back into his embrace and then twirled her back out again. The dance was an expression of his love and life with her and they moved to the latin beat in celebration . I could not stop the tears. These two were living in the moment and they were showing us all how it's done. I wiped my face surreptiously and looked around at Dois. He smiled lamely, back-handing his own wet face. Looking to my left and then right, I was astounded to see men and woman with tissues or hiding behind sunglasses although it was night. The octogenarians had moved the crowd to tears. When the music stopped, the man held the woman's hand while she curtsied to uproarious applause. The band laid down thier instruments and walked to edge of the stage to participate in a standing ovation.

We had left La Ramada Cove at eight oclock in the morning and sailed over 50 miles into the anchorage and dropped our anchor. We made our harbor in 12 hours averaging slightly over 4 knots of speed. Our friends were stringing a large strand of Christmas lights that spelled out "JOY" in case we needed a guiding light, but we had at least 1 minute more before the sun dipped behind the Sierra Madres of Baja. We would gather ourselves together and work on our accumulated problems in the safety of this beautiful little cove in the morning. We are indeed learning to live in the moment.

Dois and I believe we can't end this story without mentioning the enormous support we received from the cruising community. It was and is an amazing group. One captain suggested leaving his vessel (while his wife stayed aboard to tend the ship) in the middle of the sea while he dinghies over to help us. It turns out we were out of range at the time, but their generosity of spirit did not go unnoticed. That was not the beginning or end of the myriad of serious offers of help and we are grateful for the sincere and generous nature of our peers. Thank you!
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Linda & Ted on

Wow - what an adventure! Our 27' Watkins sailboat is on its way from Maryland. We can't wait! Miss you guys.

Pati on

Amazing tale. I have tears in my eyes, i better put in some eye drops and get back to work. Daisy and Ginger look happy. Nothing much to say about SP Marina. Same old thing. I am living vicariously through you...

Leo on

Unbelievable!!! I think BOTH Pati and I are living vicariously through your stories.
Throughout, your writing has been nothing less than pure poetry. And with the fantastic photography, the mental movie just plays in my head almost like I was there. But Its hard to imagine just how fragile situations can be and just how close you can come to disaster. What a GREAT posting!

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