The day before leaving, sans truck: “You wanna go to Hammerheads for iced tea?” “But, we’d have to waaaalk… it’s sooo far… and it’s sooo hooooooot”. “But they’ve got air conditioning.” “But I’d still have to walk in the heat to get AT the air conditioning.” It’s amazing how quickly not having a car affects your basic decision-making process on everything. We went… for you dear reader… just so I could upload that bottom-paint blog.
So, are we ready?
There are 4 areas of preparation we are constantly contemplating before any overnight crossing.
- Is the boat ready? Have we done everything we can to make sure she is safe? Namely, engine maintenance: change oil, change impeller, check or change coolant, run engine at the dock, make sure she sounds OK and looks OK. Check for leaks. Check that solar panels, fridge, navionics and radios work, etc.
- Is the weather ready? We read various weather documents and look for a window of 48 hours with less than 10-12knots. We prefer a mixture of minimal wind and some wind, so the seas don’t have a chance to build over time. (Preferably NO wind for me equaling flat seas, but Brian wants to actually SAIL this time…pooey.) Why 48 hours when we’ll only be doing a 24 hour trip? In case we get stuck out there and have to fix something, we don’t need the added pressure to get to safe harbor with high winds bearing down the following day.
- Are the pre-passage peripherals ready? Do we have all the food we need? Water tanks filled? Extra bottled water in case of emergency? Fuel jugs filled? Is everything on the boat in its proper place for sailing: jacklines out (lines run on deck that we clip to at night so we don’t fall off accidentally), lifejackets ready, pre-prepped cold salad for dinner (so I don’t have to use the stove), fridge arranged to quickly access needed items in case of high seas, route charted on chartplotter, put up leecloths (to keep us from falling on the floor when heeled over & sleeping), cool weather gear and blankets out (so we don’t have to go digging in the middle of the night for a jacket)? Kayak folded and stowed below? Dinghy tied down on top? Are we checked out of the marina? Is the blog uploaded ? J
- Are WE ready? Mentally and physically? Does either of us feel sick or run down? If so, we don’t go. Prepping to leave on a big journey, especially one of several days at sea like the Baja Ha Ha Event, is highly stressful. It can cause frayed nerves and bickering in even the most adoring lovebirds. This is normal. There are a thousand things to do to prepare and a million things you can worry about; everyone is stressed.
The boat was prepared, and more importantly, we were prepared, mentally, for an overnight crossing. We felt great, we were super excited to be heading back out into the Sea once more. We were rarin’ to go.
Indigo had other ideas…
Bound for Punta Pulpito, 95 miles across the Sea of Cortez, we let loose the lines and quitted our cozy crib at Marina San Carlos at 9am, Oct. 30th.
At 9:15, we are in the San Carlos inner bay. While I steer us out of the bay, Brian checks the engine, as he always does, to be sure it is running fine after it warms up so we can push it to full throttle. He checks for excessive heat on the prop shaft with an infrared thermometer, as he has just tightened the leaky packing gland a few days ago. Then he checks the bilge, as we always do, to make sure we aren’t sinking. Except we ARE.
Abnormal Bilge Water
There is about 2 inches of water in the bilge. What? This NEVER happens. While some boats seem to have a propensity for constant water in the bilge, Indigo has ALWAYS been darn-near bone-dry in the slip; and we accumulate merely a thin coating of water if we’ve sailed all day. 2” of water in the bilge after only 15 minutes of motoring is a striking anomaly. It’s not the shaft packing gland, Brian fixed that the week prior and it is putting out only a minimal (and normal) drop or two. Maybe it’s that through-hull connector he had tightened and sealed, but no, it was fine too. This was a NEW leak…a slowish leak, but more than we’re comfortable with. Frickin’ boats and their holes.
So we motor into the outer bay, away from all the fishing boat and panga traffic, to shut down the engine and assess. Luckily, there is no wind and the seas are not rambunctious.
Rudder Post Packing Gland Leak
At 9:45am, with our motor still burning hot, Brian cramps himself down inside the engine room for a look-see, trying not to scald himself on the engine elbow. This NEW leak was coming from the packing gland where the rudder post attaches up into the boat. To be crass, if Indigo had a rear-end, this would be it; and her rear-end was leaking. Brian thinks the post ultimately needs new packing material (which we do not have and could not switch out at sea anyway). He could try and tighten the bolts as a temporary fix but access is nearly impossible and may not help. We contemplate.
Return or Go?
Should we return to the dock? While San Carlos is usually devoid of special boat parts, at least we will have the truck to go to the states and pick something up. On the other hand, we know we can get the stuffing we need in La Paz. But, if we keep going the way it is, will the bilge pump be able to keep up? Will it get worse? We have a very heavy duty manual pump that can suck out 1 gallon in a single pump, but we don’t want to use THAT if we don’t have to.
Before we make any decision, Brian tries to fix it himself, or at least minimize the water flow by tightening 3 bolts at the steering column. Well, no big deal, right? Just tighten 3 wittle bolty woltys. Easy, peasy, summer breezy! Nope. The problem lies in WHERE those 3 bolts are located. Time for some Engine Room Hot Yoga! “Hot Yoga” is actually a thing if you haven’t heard of it…yoga class purposefully done in a superheated room (up to 105 degrees), to induce maximum sweat equity and flexibility. No need to pay that instructor, I got your hot yoga right here.
New Yoga Position: Crouching Dragon.
Because he is trying to reach the verrrry far, far back of the boat, under the steering column, where no normal human should ever be forced to go…he must contort himself into an entirely new yoga position. I call it the Crouching Dragon because he looks like a dragon squatting at an angle, ready for take off… and because he is so hot he is practically breathing fire.
You Too Can Do the Crouching Dragon
Stand in engine room (about 1-1/2ft square), bend over to hangman placing your arms inside, slight crouch ‘til your butt hits the engine…dip your head down like you’re going under the bridge (under the hatch). Keep your back arched and your butt in the air because there’s just no room for it yet and it can’t touch the hot engine. Then, feet remaining still, crawl up on elbows at an angle into the bowels of the tiny space and slowly lower your butt into a 45degree-angled, fetal position crouch (except you're standing on tippy toes). With your head scraping the fiberglass above, booty abutting a hot engine, arms wedged in a triangle… desperately reach for those bolts in the vanishing V-space of Indigo’s rear. That’s it. Now hold. Keep holding...
Do this in a stifling space the size of a mid-size moving box…with a scalding, hot engine….in humid, 94 degree weather… in a rocking and rolling boat.
Good Thing He’s Not Claustrophobic
Once he was in there, he wasn’t getting out until he was finished. He could barely move. There have been cases of people getting stuck in their boats – arms, legs or spines not bending the right way to get back out. Talk about claustrophobia-inducing. If he wasn’t thinking this at the moment, I was.
Knee-deep in his jail cell, I noticed a jerk powerboat zooming towards us, purposefully too close. (Why do powerboaters LOVE tormenting sailboats with wake-inducing drive-by's?) So I steered perpendicular to his inevitable wake to omit side-to-side motion. Because Brian could see nothing, I grabbed him by the back of his shorts and told him to hold on (so he didn’t lose his grip and fall against fragile or hot engine parts). Insert smattering of expletives here. In this tiny space, with the boat pitching for a half a minute…how he didn’t puke, I’ll never know.
I was mildly nervous, trying to be super-fast at finding tools. Not because we were sinking…it was a slowish leak… but because Brian was sweating like a banshee (if banshees sweated) and looked like he was about to pass out any second. At one point, he thought there was another leak – no, it’s just massive amounts of sweat pouring on top of engine parts from his poor, battered body sweltering in this triangle torture chamber… like those hotboxes used in the Vietnam war.
Can't Get a Grip
He couldn’t get a good angle or grip on the packing gland bolts, trying a variety of wrenches, sockets, and vice-clamps…sweaty hands and limited to zero mobility and visibility didn’t help. It took forever to adjust. Forever in a hotbox seems like an eternity. Funny thing was, there wasn’t much swearing involved on this project, other than the powerboat wake incident. He was too focused on getting the job done and getting the hell out of there to become irate. After 45 minutes in this horrible position, he tightened those bolts as much as was humanly possible and wrenched himself unstuck and into the open air where he sucked down a bottle of Gatorade in 2 seconds flat. All this for 3 bolts.
No Record of the Crouching Dragon
I did not take a picture of this awkward position… sometimes there is room for decorum, even by my standards. I mean, after reading this, don’t you feel bad for him? This was a semi-serious situation and I wasn’t going to make light of it by snapping a pic when he’s in the middle of a crucial problem, just for your benefit. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t THINK about it. But… I refrained…for morale’s sake. And I highly doubt I could goad him into performing a reenaction scene just for our curiosity.
The Chuck Norris of Engine Yoga
Today, Brian was to this problem what Chuck Norris is to any bad guy who crosses his path – he punched it right in the face and kept on walking. Bam! Brian stopped the leak and we continued on with our journey. We’ll buy new packing material and redo it in La Paz. Wait, does that mean he has to get up in there again? Shhh. Don’t remind him.
A Benign Crossing
While delayed by a couple hours, the crossing itself went off without a hitch. Although we had no moon, the stars were out in droves so we could discern a faint horizon. We started out with no wind, but by 1pm we had a perfect 9-knots and sailed with minimal effort and no wave action until 10pm. Then the wind picked up to 14-16 knots for a couple hours, but settled itself back down to 8-10 knots until pre-dawn. And while we got some lumpy waves afterwards and a banging boom for a couple hours, we can’t complain. Our bilge water level was back to normal due to Brian’s hotbox fix. And we sailed nearly the entire way, only using 3 engine hours of 24! Guess who was ecstatic!