Sailing Through Turbulent Waters

We’ve previously highlighted that the sailor’s life isn’t always a bed of roses. Currently, our motivation to sail, particularly mine, is like a flag in the wind. At times it points south, towards Panama, and other times west to the Sea of Cortez, or even east, homeward.

It was that time of year again. I flew around the globe for work. I’ve been with my employer for over 10 years now and have travelled thousands of miles by air. I really enjoy business trips, even though in my current job they involve longer-than-average flights from Mexico to Asia. Since I once got a pilot’s license and I’m fascinated by anything that flies, I don’t mind the long flights at all. And I always look forward to seeing my workmates again.

A Rocky Start

This time, my travels took me back to Bangkok. Pati stayed alone on Milagros. Time in Thailand flew by, and soon I was back in Guaymas and aboard Milagros. Three months ago, we travelled to Mexico with the plan to stay in Guaymas for a maximum of three weeks. Yet here we were, still there. Three months had passed, and we still hadn’t set sail, and the boat was just sitting in a marina. This situation frustrated me massively upon my return, which didn’t exactly contribute to a good atmosphere on board.

Hard to Believe

Everything, absolutely everything, annoyed me. Life on a sailboat, I’m telling you. Sometimes we’re just exhausted and grumpy. We read and heard a lot beforehand. It’s a lot of work – it’s more work in every respect than we could have ever imagined. It’s fantastic – it’s breathtakingly beautiful and will leave a lasting impression on us. You have to experience it yourself to even begin to imagine this lifestyle. But enough of the meaningful talk. For where there is shade, there is also light. Apart from the friction, we’ve also experienced many great things again.

But the Journey Continues

Disclaimer, a load of tech-talk follows! Pati tackled many, many tasks on the boat while I was away. What was still missing was a regulator for our alternator. With our new lithium battery bank, it was in danger. Our new batteries can absorb many times more energy at once for charging than their predecessors. Actually, as much as they can. That makes them great, but also dangerous, because you practically have to protect the rest of the system from their energy cravings.

Safety First

Hungry lithium batteries in an unprotected system could overload individual components because they would want to draw too much power. And what happens with an overload and too much energy in an electrical system? Right – heat. And with too much heat? Exactly – sparks and fire. And what do we not want aboard Milagros? Correct – sparks and fire. So, we had to regulate the power supply for our new batteries.

Overload Protection

An alternator can be a victim of overload. Like in your car, it’s attached to the engine and converts the engine’s rotations into electricity. Depending on its size, an alternator can only deliver a limited amount of power. The lithium batteries on board Milagros couldn’t care less about this limit. They would simply suck the poor alternator dry, overload it, and burn it out.

Enter the Regulator

This is where the regulator comes into play. It is wired between the alternator and the batteries. As the name implies, it regulates the flow of electricity from the alternator to the batteries, allowing you to define exactly how much power the alternator should/must deliver. Fortunately, our two friends on SV Holoholo had exactly such a regulator lying around unused on board. And our electrical guru Lucas was still around, so we seized the opportunity to install it.

The installed alternator regulator

An Upgrade is Necessary

Lucas, as always, spent hours with us, patiently providing advice and assistance. In return, we fed him with everything the galley had to offer. And who would have thought? We needed a new, larger alternator. Our current alternator was too small for the new system. I’ll spare you more details; enough of another deep dive into boat technology.

Adding a Boat Touch

After the usual detours, a few days later we were proud owners of a new, over four times stronger, and affordable alternator. However, it needed some modifications to its wiring to convert it from “car mode” to “boat mode” – from an internal to an external regulator, to be precise. Easier said than done, as most Mexican workshops only know the “car mode”.

The Conversion Process

When we arrived at our trusted workshop with our new alternator, we felt that the mechanic had actually understood our instructions. We were even allowed to watch him make the adjustments. A young employee jumped in shock when unfamiliar faces suddenly appeared behind the counter. Unfortunately, in Mexico, that often means “attack,” and the alarm bells were ringing for him. Sorry for that! Shortly after, the boss got to work. Note the posters on the wall in the background. That’s what a real workshop should look like, right?

A Mexican-Style Conversion

Back on Milagros, what Lucas had secretly suspected (and what we had also suspected while watching) was confirmed. The adjustments were “mexicanized,” as we lovingly call it when it works but doesn’t have to be perfect or last long. In this case, the work was good enough for an old Mexican car, but not for a sailboat that can’t just pull over if it smokes and sparks in the engine room. So Lucas promptly took everything apart again and rebuilt it better. And behold – everything worked splendidly after installation.

A Genius at Work

We can’t thank the Polish kraken (Lucas) enough for his help. He is a living legend, who has even been honoured with T-shirts. He helps wherever he can on countless boats in Guaymas and San Carlos and is simply a genius. We don’t know what we would do without him. Unfortunately, because of his helpfulness, he neglects the work on his own boat, as he says.

Cheers to Lucas

We want to lend Lucas a helping hand, so all donations in the beer fund for this post will be reinvested directly into “Modelo Negro,” his Mexican beer of choice! So, get out your wallets and credit cards! Let’s make Lucas happy together! Click the link below the post (or this one) and help us replenish Lucas’s beer supply.

Ready, Set, Go

Now we were actually ready to set sail. Despite low morale on board, we wanted to take a shot and cover a one-and-a-half-day passage to Topolobampo as quickly as possible. You already know about our (non-existent) love for nighttime sailing. But one night should be doable. So, one morning, we set off bright and early. But it just wasn’t meant to be.

A bad start

As soon as we left our berth, Milagros did as she pleased. No matter how much I tried to steer, Milagros just did her own thing. So, we did a complete 360° pirouette in reverse in the marina basin, in very limited space with only one meter (3 ft) of water under the keel. All I could do was guide the boat through the turn in a controlled manner before we could exit the marina in the right direction. Luckily, no one saw that. The wind vane’s rudder was not fixed and thus completely distorted all my steering movements.

It Doesn’t Get Better

But that wasn’t all. We had barely left the supposedly safe marina basin when the stress continued. Not only had fishermen, with limitless foresight, laid a net across half the channel through which we had to exit. No, Pati had already positioned herself at the bow with a flashlight when we realized that we also had to navigate through a minefield of crab traps. Everywhere, floating PET bottles on ropes leading into the depths. First-class traps not only for crabs but also for boat propellers. Thanks for that, dear fishermen. So much for night sailing.

And Another Thing

Whoever thought that was it, is mistaken. Just as the passage was clear again and we wanted to put our little autopilot into operation on the open water, its plug spun and wouldn’t work. Too much for me. Screw Topolobampo, screw the Mexican mainland, Panama, and screw sailing altogether. Swearing and cursing, we anchored in Bahia Carricito. We didn’t know if our autopilot had kicked the bucket or simply had a loose connection. And with the bad mood, we weren’t in the mood for this long haul. So we missed the good weather window.

A rare sight

What lifted our mood though was a very unusual weather phenomenon: rain! It had been cloudy all morning that day, but when the rain started, it just wouldn’t stop. For one hour it just kept raining. You might wonder why rain would lift our mood. Because it never rains, and when it does, it’s usually just a few drops. So, we sat in the cockpit just enjoying this wonderful moment.

That’s It

And for the subsequent days, we just did absolutely nothing. Nada. Niente. When we had pulled ourselves together again, we quickly agreed on one thing – making day-long crossings and covering as many nautical miles southwards was simply not on the cards at the moment. The whole situation was a bit too fragile, and the nerves were severely strained. We decided to take it day by day. And behold – the moods calmed down again. Maybe we subconsciously put more pressure on ourselves with our Panama plans than we had thought.

You never stop learning, especially not on a sailboat. What happens next? Who knows – we have no idea. Time will tell. Anything is possible.

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