Heading north to Guaymas

It’s nearly 2 weeks now since Kathy boarded her flight at the small airport of Ixtapa. I’m about to start my leisurely trek north to Guaymas, back into the Sea of Cortez. I plan to haul out in a yard known as ‘Gabriels’ as it is he who runs it. I understand it’s basically a fenced of bit of desert where the boat will be propped up for the 3 months during which the hurricanes may or may not whiz by. Another section of the desert is separated for those who want to work and live on their boats, I will have mine moved to the work area in October when I return and get the hull antifouled. This will be the first time I have left Sister Midnight alone on the hard and I will have to remind myself about what’s involved. Guaymas is in the Sonoran desert and will be very hot and dry, but with it being hurricane season, it could also face some serious downpours. 

Before Kathy left we took a trip over to the resort at Ixtapa to see the Crocodile sanctuary, boy they are big crocs, and they are so still most of the time, scary. There were also lots of Iguanas and impressive white vulture type birds, I’m not very good at species of anything.

After seeing the crocs we had a drink on the beach then got the bus back to Zihuatanejo.

Great decoration

One morning as I was re-anchoring I was forced to reconsider where to drop the hook, which was swinging over the bow ready to go due to a mussel diver suddenly surfacing in front of me, we waved at each other, to make it clear we were both aware of the danger, when I noticed the Hallberg Rassy yacht below sailing towards us as it was leaving the anchorage. I thought this wasn’t the best time or place to be showing off your anchoring skills whilst under sail, and I worried that he might not have seen us or worse, the diver, as he was tearing along and heading straight for us. I waved and gestured at the diver, and I think he saw and changed course away from the diver and more towards me, I thought best get out of here quickly so I motored away from everything quickly. I went round the block as the HR raced past, the diver was further away now and I re-anchored safely. The HR Skipper dropped by later in his dinghy to apologise and explain he has engine problems and had to use his sail to get out. Seemed like a nice bloke.

Later that day Kathy and I enjoyed a last meal at a wonderful restaurant on the northern hillside overlooking the bay, they did a lovely vegan dish for Kathy and a fine fish steak for me.

The view of Zihuat bay from the restaurant
Casa Bahia

So in the 2 weeks since Kathy left, quite a lot has happened. 

Mon 3rd April: Kathy flies home
The main event, after getting the bags ashore in the dinghy was the first taxi wanting 350 pesos to take us to the airport, I offered 200 for a laugh, he countered with 300, I said it was two much and he laughed and walked off, the next taxi in the rank had already agreed 250 with me the day before so in his cab we jumped and sped off. 

The fare back is more like 800 pesos as they have a monopoly over who can collect at the airport, so after Kathy went through security, I walked to the road at the edge of the airport and flagged down the next taxi leaving the airport, who was happy to take me back to Zihuatanejo for just 200 peso (£8) rather than have an empty cab.  My friend Arturo says the English are the meanest when it comes to money, don’t know what he means 😉

Back in town I started provisioning for a couple of months back at sea. Mostly dry goods and cleaning stuff.

I decide I may as well clean the port water tank now Kathy has gone, getting to it is quite a chore, but in the end it works out well. I do need to source new gaskets.

Table Removed and inspection covers off. Cushions need a deep clean

Having cleaned the tank, I contact Ismail the local fix it up man, who brings me a load of water, plus I use him to get 140 ltrs of fuel and a bottle of propane refilled. This works out to be quite expensive, but it saves me a lot of hassle.

More liquid supplies

Now we start with the first of the expensive jobs
I spot a crack in the rigging, I inspect the rest of the rigging and find a crack in another shroud, both lowers, and both unlikely to bring the mast down should they fail, but bad enough to require me to change them ASAP, I also need to go aloft and check the other end of the shrouds, also the fittings inside the two headsail furler drums aren’t easy to access but must be checked. I can replace the two faulty shrouds for a few hundred pounds, but in reality, the whole rig should be replaced, last time, just 6 years ago, this cost me around £6000, so not cheap.

Probably crevice corrosion

Thursday 6th: I try to clear out
I headed ashore to clear out with the Port Captain, but hadn’t banked on them taking the whole week off due to Easter.  Instead I did more provisioning and had another chilled day.

Monday 10th
One of the problems with Zihuatanejo is sewage, for a while I thought I had a problem with our holding tanks, as I would wake up in the middle of the night to a strong smell of sewage, however it turns out to be the town discharging into the bay. We were anchored very close to the Town Pier, a mistake I think. Perversely I think the excess of organic matter causes there to be a lot of life in the water, and a lot of growth. So I was having to haul the anchor chain every few days and give it a scrub down. Every few days we would motor out of the bay into the big ocean to dump our holding tanks, and on the last trip I had noticed we were struggling to make 4 knots, at quite high revs, it seems the hull is very badly fouled, too much in fact for me to be able to travel north, unless I could arrange in transit refuelling, like the fighter jets do. So I arranged to have a local couple come out and clean the hull, I had to collect them from a dock I hadn’t been to before, and realised as I approached in the dinghy, that it must be very close to the said sewage outlet. Yuk, anyway we all dinghied back to the boat where they spent 90 minutes scraping and scrubbing. They did a great job, but they, and the dinghy, ended up covered in what I at first thought was grit, but in fact turned out to be very small critters all wriggling around. 

After dropping them back at the dock, I cleaned up and went back to the capitanias office and managed to clear out. I find them to be very helpful and efficient, unlike several gringos who seemed to resent the whole business of clearing in and out. If they find it hard here, I hope they don’t ever sail to SE Asia. The problem for one of the sailors was that this office requires you to bring copies of your documents as unlike other offices they say they can’t copy them. One particular gringo angrily pointed out the copier in the corner of the office and was insinuating they have this rule just to make things hard for us poor sailors. I don’t know why, but I expect they have their reasons, and Sailors should always have copies anyway, it’s not a big deal.

From the captains office I walked out of town a little, in what turned out to be around 35 deg C blistering sunshine to buy some oil. I have to do an oil change real soon. With the oil I headed back to Soriano, a Hyper supermarket and filled a trolley with liquid refreshments, and fresh goodies, bread cakes etc. A taxi back to the dinghy and then back to the boat and away to the far side of the bay to the La Ropa beach so I could swim and check out the cleaning job.

That should get me to the next supermarket

Las Ropas means ‘the clothes’ and the beach got it names after a Chinese ship was wrecked here and its cargo of clothes wash washed ashore in 1910. Presumably it was known as ‘la noname beach’ before then. As I hauled the anchor up I was hosing down and scrubbing the chain with the deck wash hose when it suddenly stopped working. A check at the pump showed that there was a blockage at the water intake side, related to the recent cleaning I presumed, so I got a bucket of sea water and slowly continued the job.

Tuesday 11th
The engine refuses to start, nothing when I flick the switch, I rummage around with the wiring harness, just in case there’s a bad connection, but nothing, I pull the engine box off and flick the hot start solenoid override switch, only to hear a whimpering noise from the starter, looking at the batteries, they’re showing a very low voltage and I twig the batteries are flat. 

I have been waiting for this day for a while now, the batteries were bought as a temporary measure in Japan, almost exactly 5 years ago, to replace the previous batteries that had lasted 5 years. However we have taken to discharging these more since I plumbed in the 3kw Inverter and we started making toast with the electric toaster most mornings. The addition of Starlink and the watching of BBC until late at night hasn’t helped. So I wait for the sun to charge them up then around 10AM I have enough charge to start the engine, that will then put a lot of charge into the batteries, except it doesn’t. On closer inspection I see the alternator isn’t doing any charging. I’m not big on coincidences, and two engine electrical faults both happening at the same time means they must be related. I measure the feed voltage to the alternator and it’s zero, so that’s easy when I wiggled the wiring harness behind the engine control panel, I must have disabled this wire somehow, except I didn’t. Very odd. It’s getting hot and I want to get going, the engines running so I think I will fix it later, but realise without the engine giving me lots of amps, the batteries are still quite low and using them on the anchor windlass in their poorly state will be a bad move. So like hot starting the starter, I hot start the alternator by connectingg a little 12v bulb I have on a pair of wire tails between the + and the 61 terminal, the alternator fires up and I have an extra 35 amps flowing into the battery. Things are good to go, but I’m getting that horrible feeling that big things are breaking faster than I’m fixing them.

I head over to Isla Grande (Ixtapa) which is only 8 miles or so away, I can’t wait to be in lovely clear water so I can do some swimming, it’s been getting hotter and hotter every day. Once there I set about fixing the deck wash, it turns out a shrimp has decided to climb into the recently cleaned thru hull fitting and was sucked into the system. I have to take a few pipes and fitting off to find the little bugger, he’s turned to rubber now and doesn’t look much like  a shrimp anymore. I decide as I have it all in bits I will clean the grocko  filter on that system as it’s bound to be clogged, the lid won’t come off, after an hour of battle, and a bit of lost skin, I win, only to find the filter 95% ok. Cleaned up and reinstalled, I get back to hosing down the bow area.

Wednesday 12th, I need to fix this charging problem, and set about checking all the connections on the panel, I decide to replace a few older connections and replace the buzzer with a better one I have had on board for a few years waiting its turn. Everything is looking smart there, and it’s feeding the voltage down to the alternator just fine. However it’s not arriving there. The cable goes to a junction box at the back of the engine, and from there to the front where the alternator lives. To get to the back I have to do a lot of cupboard emptying and dismantling, when I reach the box I’m thinking it’s a pain to dismantle it, it all looks solid, lets just check the alternator connections again. I follow the wire from the 61+ terminal on the alternator and it weaves its way up to my starter motor override switch. And there it terminates in another switch, installed by the previous owner in order to disable the alternator, and some idiot has knocked it to the off position by accident. A measured amount of cursing at full volume ensues, the switch is flicked, the engine starts, the charging charges, and another byproduct of this is that the taco (Rev counter, not the edible type) starts working again. Will I miss these four wasted hours of my life I wonder.

The mess created just chasing down a bad connection.

Looking at the engine in all its glory, with the covers off I think it makes sense to do the oil change now. So out with all the bits and off we go. Now I wonder if anyones knows if Einstein had anything to say on the matter of Oil changes, It seems to me that gravity works differently during an oil change, Oil never flows down onto the rag under the source, but always just misses it, as if it bends towards the thing you really don’t want to get oil on. Then you have the weak force, the strong force, and the get oil over Pauls shoulders and forehead force. All unstoppable.

Thursday 13th, Wake up on the sofa last night at midnight having fallen asleep watching a YouTube boat building video. I see the battery voltage is down to 11.5 Volts. Very bad. I also had problems earlier with not being able to charge the Mac using the 12v-240v 300W inverter. So I empty the Quarter berth and dismantle the bed to access the battery bank. There are 4 house batteries in parallel, giving me about 400AH and a separate 100AH battery, from the same batch for the engine starter. I normally have them all in parallel giving me one 500AH house bank which I use to start the engine. I have gone back to splitting them up so that I can flatten the house bank, but rely on having a separate engine battery to start the engine in an emergency.
Going through each battery, I find one of the house batteries is in very poor shape, falls to 10V with a small 5A load, and the starter battery isn’t much better. I disconnect the weak house battery, and set the switch to keep the house and engine batteries separate. Tomorrow I will see what happens with the batteries. No internet at night now.

Having put everything away, in a much neater manner I book flights home, confirm my haul out date with the yard in Guaymas and jump into the Kayak. I land on some rocks in some swell, I wonder about the wisdom of this, but I’m rewarded by snorkelling with some amazing fish, sea snakes, rays and I find the biggest bestest shell ever, looks brand new and has a slimy thing living inside. I want to take it home, but I leave it there as it would be mean on the resident.

I have scribbled down a rough itinerary for my trip north, I will leave this Sunday 16th or the day after, depending on how this norther, further north plays out.

Paul Collister 14th April 2023