We begin with the preparations for the transfer of Milagros to another harbour and are already experiencing the first ups and downs of boat life. Everyone tells you and every sailor knows it: You can’t “just” do a project on a boat – every completed task leads to five new tasks.
The universe means well
Funny how life goes sometimes. During the summertime a new plan had formed. As the end of the renovation work and the launch of Anila was in sight, Carmen and Iñaki had time for a little sailing trip with us from mid-September on.
The plan is to sail (with) Milagros to the Rocky Point shipyard in Puerto Peñasco in the far north of the Sea of Cortez. There we want to attack all the boat projects and upgrades that are on the list for our vessel. We actually planned to do this trip in May already, but you know, Covid and stuff…
David was able to take 8 weeks off in the beginning of October. My deadlines at work also allowed 4 weeks of vacation. So we could all meet on Milagros, get her ready and take her to Puerto Peñasco. I would fly to Mexico by the end of September and David would follow in early October. Carmen and Iñaki arrived a little earlier and were on vacation on Milagros. Good for me – the boat was already inhabited and I wasn’t alone.
Like a clockwork
So on 24th September, I was facing a 36-hour trip to Mexico, which also included an overnight stay at Mexico City Airport. As I’ve always wanted to try a sleep capsule hotel it was very convenient for me to have this option right inside the airport. In addition to the very clean showers, sleeping in these capsules was also very pleasant. I can only recommend it!
My flights were almost canceled due to a misunderstanding with KLM. In addition, for whatever reason, I had booked my second suitcase to Mexico City only instead of Tijuana. Apart from that, everything went fine. The bus from Tijuana Airport to Ensenada left just 2 minutes after I bought the ticket. Unfortunately, I had to go through the 2-hour bus ride on an empty stomach. The layover between buying the ticket and getting on board was simply not long enough to buy snacks. The baggage handler at the bus stop quickly walked to the bus with my suitcases, while the bus driver urgently requested me to get on board.
Welcome to Mexico! Again!!
Carmen picked me up at the bus station in a taxi. Since it was noon, we treated ourselves with some take away shrimp and fish tacos. We didn’t expect that it would take a little longer until we could eat.
Unsuspecting, the taxi driver wanted to take us to the marina. But we couldn’t enter the gates (again) – because of me this time. My name wasn’t on the entry list! It didn’t help that the security guard recognized me from the last time or that I had a letter with me issued by the Marina office confirming my access. As a result, Carmen had to go to the office with my passport and have me added to the list, which they then emailed to the guard. WELCOME TO MEXICO!! After the first and second, for the third time now we were stopped at this accursed Marina gate. Tacos were a bit limp after the ordeal, but we finally got to Milagros and were able to enjoy our well-deserved lunch time.
Exploring Gringo Gulch
After this long journey, I was looking forward to some exercise. Carmen and I went to town to toast the joyful reunion with a drink. We found what we were looking for on the so-called “Gringo Gulch”, the tourist street of Ensenada. We found a nice bar which had a Mariachi band playing on the opposite side of the street. Unfortunately, we had overlooked the fact that the bar was called “Dick and Willy’s”. The DJ had turned up the volume for his non-existent audience. Therefore, it wasn’t very comfortable.
We enjoyed the first few days and the good food. For instance we had homemade fish tacos with fresh tortillas and fresh fish from the fish market or went out to a traditional Mexican restaurant called “Guadalajara”.
Let’s get to work!
But we weren’t there just for fun: An inspection of the boat and the planning of the upcoming boat projects had to be done. These can be divided into the categories Diagnosis & Repair and Preparation.
Diagnosis & repair
- Mount the steering cable
- Motor service including impeller change, oil change, exchange of the V-belt
- Check the gas system
- Anchor windlass service including its engine
- Rigging inspection
- Mount the sails
- Test the dinghy and the outboard engine
- Test the emergency tiller and wind-vane
- Coordinate a tool delivery from the USA
- Have the hull cleaned by a diver and check the thru-hulls
- Organize life raft
- Buy provisions
First things first
Before we started working, we met with Susanne and Steven, who we had met on our last visit to Ensenada. To celebrate the reunion, we decided to go to the not very cheap Italian “Il Massimo”. Nevertheless, the food was worth every penny. At least that’s what I can say about my gorgonzola gnocchi. Quickly, we already fixed the next adventure together: A winery tour in the Valle de Guadalupe, a wine-growing region near Ensenada.
Preparation is key
To be able to carry out our planned boat projects, we first had to go shopping. Steven kindly offered to accompany us. That was great, since we now had a car available and someone with us who knows the area. On our search for all the parts we needed, we were sent from store to store. We had to visit all kinds of shops to get the material we wanted. Shopping the Mexican way. We were mostly successful, but only a properly sized impeller could not be found anywhere. However we were able to inflate the dinghy and it passed the leak test overnight.
Working ourselves through the boat projects
Milagros already had proper hull growth below the waterline – all kinds of corals and plants had settled, forming a nice little coral reef. This attracted fish looking for food. One morning we heard loud knocking noises on coming from the hull. It turned out that it was about 30 cm tall fish that chopped the corals with their caudal (tail) fins in order to get to the crabs that lived in them. Fortunately, we had already ordered the diver to come and clean Milagros. When he arrived, he also checked our sacrificial anodes. Luckily so! They were almost completely used up.
I found new sacrificial anodes in the spare parts, but they did not fit. Kindly, however, they were already marked where and how much they had to be adjusted. Thanks for marking but not shortening! So Iñaki borrowed Stevens’ hacksaw and did the job. We sued the occasion and had underwater pictures taken of our thru-hulls.
They seem in working order, but we can definitely add them to the list of projects once we’re hauled out in Puerto Peñasco.
The engine service – a typical boat project
The next big boat project was the engine service. We had to replace the V-belts and the impeller (a rubber propeller in the raw water pump that delivers the flow of seawater to feed into the engine’s cooling water circuit), change the oil and oil filter. The oil change was unspectacular (except that we accidentally refilled too much oil and then had to pump out again), as did changing the V-belts.
But, now it’s getting technical. In order to be able to change the impeller, we first had to remove the V-belt of the raw water pump, then unscrew the pump and its housing. So far so good.
It was bound to happen
When I unscrewed the pump, water gushed towards me. Oops, we forgot to close the thru-hull for the raw water inlet. It should be closed when the engine is not in use. Upon inspections, the lever was in closed position. And no one had touched the installation since December. From this we could conclude that this thru-hull fitting could not be properly closed. Not good. So we had to find another solution to cut off the water supply. Iñaki opened the sieve without further ado, stuck a cork stopper in it and stopped the water from entering. I was then able to unscrew the housing of the impeller. It was quite tedious to remove the impeller, but with the help of a little swearing the new impeller was installed (luckily there were still replacement impellers on the ship). I was very happy about my first self-installed impeller.
Houston, we have a problem!
During the engine test that followed, it turned out that no cooling water was coming out of the exhaust when the engine was running, so troubleshooting started again. A wise man once said: If you do something to an engine and it doesn’t work, then you’ve done it wrong. So the whole game started all over again. And we found out: The impeller did not turn. I had overlooked the fact that there is a so-called key between the pump and the impeller, which connects the two. It must have gotten lost it when I changed the impeller before.
I searched the bilge meticulously – had the little piece of metal fallen off? But there was nothing in the bilge. The last hope was that the key had fallen into the water hose below the water pump. Oh dear. We were already wondering what we would do if we couldn’t find the tiny piece anymore. Then Steven came to help which was a motivation boost.
The needle in the haystack
So, we dismantled the clamps on both sides of the cooling water hose and tadaaaaaa: The small piece of metal tumbled out. Phuuuuh, lucky. Steven then reinstalled the impeller, not without greasing everything up properly to make life easier. The subsequent engine test showed: Nothing – again no cooling water from the exhaust. We were slowly running out of ideas. We decided to let the matter rest overnight and devoted ourselves to the problem again the next day.
The third time I dismantled the water pump, I found that the small impeller key wasn’t lost this time, but wasn’t sitting where it should. Since everything was greased, I had to fumble around until I had everything back in place. The impeller passed the subsequent rotation test. I can almost say that I am now an impeller professional! Usually this procedure is only done once per season. And the result of the engine test? Cooling water is flowing now!
A Birthday on the boat
The working engine cooling was like a little birthday present for Iñaki. Finally, something that worked, after all. After some brain jogging, we also managed to attach our new Dyneema steering cables using a newly spliced part. Whew, we are no longer unable to maneuver.
But the anchor winch still gave up after 3 seconds and the gas system didn’t work anymore. So Iñaki and Stacy’s birthday burgers (our neighbor’s birthday was one day later) had to be prepared on their grill and brought to us on the boat.
Criss-cross through Ensenada
The next thing on the long list of boat projects was the gas system and anchor windlass problems. With some boat yoga, Carmen and I managed to pull the 8m long gas hose out of the boat. On the windlass, we pumped out the gear oil so we could dismantle the engine to have it tested in town and find out what was causing the voltage drop. A supposedly short tour to two shops turned into a 4-hour odyssey through Ensenada. The engine test was done quickly: It was tested in the first shop and worked. Unfortunately, we didn’t ask the right questions and now only know that it works, but not if it is drawing too much voltage or amps. In hindsight, you’re always smarter.
The whole thing looked different for the gas hose. We simply could not find a shop in Ensenada that sells 8m long propane gas hoses with suitable connections. Frustrated, we treated ourselves to fine shrimp tacos and then desserts from the best bakery in town called “Panaderia el Nuevo Cristal”.
Boat life – where there is shadow, there is light
In addition to the lows, we also always experienced highs. Steven and Susanne invited us over for delicious eggplant parmigiana, or Steven brought us awesome sandwiches for lunch because we couldn’t cook without a properly working gas system on board Milagros. Our morning routine therefore now also included a coffee visit to their sailboat “Tranquila”.
Our trip to the winery was also a highlight: In addition to fantastic food and good wine, we also saw another area of Mexico. And it was interesting that – although the wine valley was only a 30-minute drive away – the thermometer climbed from 28°C in the marina to a mere 40°C in a very short time. However, a stroll on the beach afterwards and a cold beer in La Salina helped.
What a life…
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