A Hodgepodge of Happenings

If I remember correctly when we last wrote we were still dealing with the ongoing saga of engine woes. Unfortunately that has yet to be corrected; a subject I’ll get to shortly, but in the meantime, here are the dazzling details about our amazing adventures. Well, amazing might not be the right word, but they were certainly fun! We put a few more air miles on the tally, and added another total to the ongoing list of how many beds we slept in during one month.

Having traveled east last Christmas looking for snow in the mountains of Bavaria, this year we decided to head west and revisit the sunny shores of Hawaii. We rendezvoused with part of the McDaniel and Johnson clans and spent a week or so enjoying some winter storms on the island of Maui. There was plenty of rain and wind, but that only made for more rainbows than usual! It was a busy week with plenty of laughs, beaches, luaus, whales, feasts, and Zachary! Zach is our 20-month-old grandnephew and was of course the life of the party.

Marty and I also fit in a few adventures on our own. One day we went up to see the sunrise from 10,000’ on the cold summit of Haleakala, and then rode bikes down the mountain. It was quite a wild ride and a tad bit unnerving when I started smelling my brakes smoking!

We also spent a few days in Hana, where we rented a little cottage perched above the ocean. It was totally quiet and totally spectacular; kind of like being in a solitary anchorage only we were tethered to shore. We took some spectacular hikes through bamboo forests and banyan trees to see the many overflowing waterfalls and spent a couple of quiet days watching the ocean.  Hana is truly magical.

Once home from our Hawaiian sojourn, we drove up to San Luis Obispo to visit Kyle and Rachael in their Prefumo Canyon hideaway. They’ve been working hard on completely remodeling two 70’s era homes in the canyon and the place looks amazing! The rain that had been with us in Hawaii was still pouring down everyday during our visit to SLO, making the hills look like a scene from the Sound of Music…with oak trees!

From SLO we then flew to Phoenix to celebrate the incredible life of Marty’s Grandmother who had recently passed away at age 103. It was a heartfelt gathering of family that came together; something I’m happy to be a part of. Grandmom, Ina Stalnaker Dresser, was quite a lady and it’s amazing to think of all that she experienced and all the people she touched in her 103 years on earth.

We flew back home to Happy Dance, where we’re currently moored in Marina Nayarit, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. With the intention of finally resolving our engine issues, we brought a new part home with us after our stateside travels. Unfortunately that part turned out to function exactly opposite to the one we have. In other words, when installed, the resting position of the valve was closed rather than open, so it would only open to let fuel through when pushing the kill switch, which is actually used to close off the supply of fuel…ARGH! Needless to say we have reinstalled the old part and will try again to find the correct part on our next foray into Yanmar land.

While here in La Cruz, a special event was just celebrated called the festival of Our Lady of Peace, patron Saint of Bucerias. One of the events during the week of celebrations is the blessing of the fleet. Crowds start gathering mid-morning in Bucerias to see the local riders on horseback in their traditional costumes, the ladies dresses spread out over the horses’ backs, and the local Mayan dancers. The fishermen gather in La Cruz to decorate their boats with palm leaves, paper flowers, balloons, and flags.  There is plenty of live music and a few bottle rockets, and then the fishermen and villagers all pile into the pangas to travel the 6 or 7 miles from La Cruz to Bucerias, where they will make dramatic surf landings on the beach and the priest will bless them. As they approach Bucerias, the pangueros form a sign of the cross with their boats. This is a tradition that occurs in many seaside villages and its intention is to bless the fishermen and their boats for safety in the coming year.

So there you have it; the latest episode in the lifestyle of the retired and not so famous!


They look the same….but they ain’t!



To Do’s, Chain, and Engine Woes Part IIIa

Interested in the continuing saga of the Happy Dance To Do list, chain, and another exciting update on our engine woes? If so, read on…

First, the engine.  See this little part?  We (aka Marty) now know how to remove and install the fuel shutoff solenoid.  So we’ve got the part in our hot little hands and we’ll get a new one on our trip north.  Hopefully, that will solve our engine woes.  Stay tuned to this blog channel until January when we install the new part and fire her up!


Bosch Fuel Shutoff Solenoid


When we’re in a marina, our To Do list usually gets plenty of attention.  This week we’ve crossed off a number of big items; we’re getting the fire extinguishers recharged, the life raft is headed to San Diego to get repacked and re-certified, we’ve emptied the v-berth in preparation for a swap meet and have already sold a number of items that we no longer use.  The other big to do, that is now tah-dahh is that we’ve replaced our anchor chain.

Chain is heavy, dirty, sometimes a little kinky, and I’m glad to say we’re finally done playing with it!  I guess it’s kind of a cruiser thing to be excited about getting new chain.  We all have those expenses that aren’t very glamorous, but that are critical to our personal lifestyles.  For us, anchor, chain and windlass, a.k.a. ground tackle, represents our security and we trust that lifeline to hold us safe as we sleep or as we ride out rough weather on the hook.

When we bought Happy Dance she had a Delta anchor with 300 feet of 5/16 inch chain with 150 feet of rope rode in the anchor locker.  We replaced the Delta anchor with a 55 pound Rocna anchor, but kept the original chain.  We have no way of knowing how old the chain was when we got it, but we have used it for four years and it’s seen lots of ups and downs!  One summer while we were away the chain rusted horribly, and since then it’s been flaking rust off with each use so that the anchor locker was full of yucky rusty shavings.  The chain itself was looking a bit sketchy too, so we decided it was time for new chain!

Thankfully we were able to get our hands on new 5/16 inch chain here in La Cruz, and didn’t have to deal with trying to ship it in.  We ordered 300 feet, but the store cut it a little short (guess they didn’t know that saying…measure twice cut once), so we only got 250 feet since it was now the longest length they had.  We hope not to need the full 300 feet, and luckily anchorages in our current cruising areas are fairly shallow so that we rarely put out more than 125-150 feet.  When we were in the NW and Alaska, the anchorages were much deeper and we often used more than that.  At any rate, we went ahead and purchased the 250 feet and started the process of changing out the chain.  UGH!

First job was to empty the anchor locker.  Pulling 300 feet of rusty, nasty chain out was a dirty job.  We laid it out on the dock so that we could see what we had and clean it.  Then we pulled out the nylon rode from the bottom of the locker that was covered in mud and rust.  We tied the nylon line into a bundle, tied it to the boat, and tossed it overboard for a soak.  Marty started cleaning out the locker and I started washing down the chain.  Day one, done!

The next day we hauled up the nylon rode and started cleaning it off with the hose.  Amazingly, it came clean and is totally usable.  We also measured out the old chain and determined that the bottom 150 feet of it was still good.  So when the new chain arrived we borrowed the store’s huge chain cutter and cut off the rusty end.  Then it was time to measure out the new chain and put markers on it so that Marty would be able to tell how much chain is out when we anchor.  Day two done!

Now we have 150 feet of old chain that we’ll use for our spare anchor, the Delta, and we have 250 feet of new chain that we’ll use on the primary anchor, our much loved Rocna.  The next step was to splice the nylon line to each length of chain, whip the ends and tie it into the chain locker and reload everything back into the locker.  We’ve seen boats where the chain is directly attached to the anchor locker; NOT a good idea considering that someday it may be critical to be able to cut the boat free from the anchor.  With Marty feeding and me layering the nylon and chain neatly into the locker we soon had it all filled up.  Attach the anchor, and PHEW, we’re done!  Time for a cerveza!

We only carry our primary anchor on the bow with the spare stowed in the bilge, but we’ll keep all the chain in the locker for easier access.  At some point we’ll divide the anchor locker so that we can keep each set of rode separate, but for now we have it layered with the thought being that the only reason we’d use the spare chain is if the primary is either lost or already in use.  So we realize it’s not the best way to have it stored, but it will do for now.  Long story short we feel better with a clean anchor locker that will no longer drip rust stains down the bow, and with lovely new strong chain to keep us safe.  It’s kind of funny how our must have’s have changed since becoming cruisers!

So now we can cross that item off the to do list and get back to watching sunrises and sunsets…ahhh…have I mentioned I love this life?



View of the sunrise from our back porch…


P.S….Aretha even sang a song about us…

Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools….

Morning Musings of a Grateful Wanderer

For the past week we’ve been anchored in Punta de Mita, near the entrance to Banderas Bay. Depending on which book you read, the village inside the point is either called El Anclote, or simply Punta de Mita. This was once a sleepy fishing village, but like so many places in Mexico it has grown into a vacation destination, with a few hotels and restaurants on shore along with the luxurious Four Seasons Resort located on the point.

We’re about half a mile offshore and Happy Dance surfs on the big swells rolling in from the south, lifting us up and pushing us forward onto our anchor, and then slowly drifting back in time for the next wave. Whenever we stay in an anchorage for more than a few days we tend to get into a certain routine that fits our location. Here in Punta de Mita our days are a bit different from when we’re up in the Sea of Cortez., mostly because there is a lot going on!

When dawn starts lighting up the porthole we wake to the sounds of Happy Dance rocking gently on the waves, with all her squeaks and rattles as wind plays in the shrouds. Marty (with his coffee-man hat on) starts the coffee while I put on the swim attire of the day and head for the cockpit. We like to sit outside, sip our java, and watch the day take shape. As we’ve been sleeping the fishermen who are out all night fishing in the bay or offshore past the point have come in and anchored their pangas so they can catch a nap until it is light.

I love pangas* – they are amazing. They’re the perfectly designed working boat with a high bow, a deep vee-ed hull, maybe a seat or two, and they’re completely open.   They can carry a full load and still power through any sea state, flying over the waves and slicing down into the troughs without slowing, and they can be driven right up on the beach. The bows ride high off the water so that it’s hard to know if the driver can even see you when he’s coming bows on. Personally I can’t imagine sleeping in one, but as Marty says, if you’re tired enough you can sleep anywhere.

When the sun comes up we start to see the heads of the pescadores (fishermen) popping up over the edges of their pangas. A few stretches to work out the kinks, then they’ll stand on the bow doing a balancing act as they take off their orange slickers that kept them warm overnight. Pretty soon the work begins; pulling fish from the nets or from the hold, cleaning them, laying the ice over them, cleaning and bailing the boat…it’s a process. The frigates, boobies, and pelicans circle around dipping and diving as the fishermen serve breakfast up to them. On any given morning there are up to a dozen pangas anchored or rafted up to each other outside the breakwater protected panga harbor as they prepare their catch to transfer to the waiting trucks onshore.

There’s also “Bait-man” as we’ve affectionately named him. This is an elderly man who comes out in his panga long before daylight, to tie up to a buoy that marks his 6’ round netted fish trap.   He pulls fish out of the trap, and sells them to the fishermen that will be going out in the daytime. From our research vessel investigation, (a.k.a. coffee in the cockpit) we’ve determined that “Bait-man” seems to be focused on selling to the pangueros who take tourists out early to fish, as opposed to the pescadores who get their own bait. It doesn’t appear to be a booming business, but maybe the live bait rush is before dawn when we’re still snoozing. More research required.

Another main event is watching the sunrise. Today’s show was spectacular, as there were clouds on the horizon leftover from the hurricane/tropical depression named Otto.   The sun didn’t actually appear until it was well above the mountains behind Puerto Vallarta that were hidden in a thick bank of clouds. The sky however was speckled with pink puffy clouds that glowed brighter and brighter until suddenly there was the huge golden orb peeking through and spreading silver rays glimmering across the sea. Stunning!

Now a decision had to be made; should we listen to the morning radio net, or get on the paddleboards and head for shore? This morning a shore trip won out because it’s been getting rather blowsy in the afternoon and that makes for a bumpy paddle. Also the swell increases throughout the day so that our beach landings become a bit clumsier. So we flop the paddle boards into the water from the deck, walk the lines aft while dodging the shrouds, sheets, and arch supports, tie them to the stern and then with paddles in hand it’s a delicate step off the swim step onto the board, a little push and we’re off!

We paddled the half-mile or so to the beach, timed our landing to miss the breakers (I’m still a little nervous about falling on my new hip), then hauled the boards up to the beach. Since Marty’s having a bit of gout pain in his foot, he found a good perch to enjoy while I went trekking down the beach. It’s been high tide in the mornings, so my walk kept me on the steeper upper beach and eventually hopping across some rock outcroppings. The sun was still hiding behind the cloud bank, turning the sky a pale silver blue, while the white sand was rippled with color that reflected off the trees and sky as each receding wave left a mirror on the sand. It was hypnotic to watch the surf rolling in, with each breaker creating a transparent shiny window to the sea beyond before hesitating for a final moment before crashing down into white foam.

I love watching birds and there was one little shorebird running up and down the beach keeping a wary eye on me as he poked his long beak into the sand to find some tasty treat. There was also a white egret wading in the pools near the rocks, and up in the trees there were a dozen or so yellow birds singing up a storm.

As I walked back to where we’d left the boards I came across three 20-somethings who had come out of the trees by the shore where it appeared they’d been sleeping. They were each sitting in different patches of rocks that had been washed up the beach and they were sorting and filling 5 gallon buckets with rocks of a certain size. I asked what they were collecting and one of the men said they were gathering rocks for the garden. It made me wonder if this was something they were getting paid to do, or if they were taking them back to their home, or maybe he was just feeding me a line of BS. It also made me aware once again that we live in Mexico, but we really don’t live in Mexico.

The pescadores who fish all night and clean their fish while anchored next to us in our floating homes, the vendors at the local tiendas and market stalls, the artisans who sell us goods or cook our food, the men raking the beach in front of the hotels, and now the people collecting rocks for a garden; they all represent a life we won’t ever know. We share this beautiful country with the people who live here, but we see things through such a different lens. We’re so incredibly lucky and thankful that we can be here, living a lifestyle that most would pay dearly for, and we’re especially grateful at the way the Mexican people welcome us with their generosity and friendly smiles.

If you’re still reading this post (and you have my sincerest thanks for your perseverance), you can tell that I’m definitely in a musing mood! Walking on beaches and floating at anchor has a tendency to make you slow down and think about things. One thing I’m thinking on this morning is being aware of others’ sacrifices. We are all given so much by the things that others’ do or give to us, often in silence. I was struck this morning how Marty joined me for a paddle and walk on the beach even though his foot was bothering him. Watching him step gingerly down on the sand to find a perch where he could wait for me while I walked…I do love him so…and yes, I’m a grateful wanderer. This crazy floating life that we lead…it’s incredible.


*Pangas – there are some great articles about the design of the panga.  If you like reading up on stuff…here’s one to get you started!!  http://www.boatingmag.com/boats/history-panga



Milestones and Maintenance, or Engine Woes Part III

When we last posted we were lying at anchor in Bahia Falsa, just north of La Paz, in the state of Baja California Sur. Since then we’ve traveled south from the Sea of Cortez to Banderas Bay on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve made the 300+ mile trek between the Baja and the mainland, but each trip is always different. This one was fun in that we buddy-boated for the first time. We left Bahia de Los Muertos before dawn, and a few hours behind our early rising friends on Cake. We finally caught up to them around noon and then continued the next two days and nights within a mile of each other. It was nice to look over in the darkness and see their navigation lights, and to share sightings of turtles, dolphins, and the occasional confusion of lighted long lines and shrimpers as we closed in on Isla Isabel.

This passage was an easy one, and we were able to steer the rhumb line the entire way. We sailed much of the first day on a bit of a beam swell, then the wind died and we ended up motoring the second day on smooth seas, with the current pushing us so that we made great time. We arrived in Ensenada de Matanchen at sunrise, dropped the hook, popped an anchor beer and hit the sack!

The next day the forecast was for NW wind 9-11, so we planned for an easy run to Chacala. NOT! After rounding the first point to change course to Chacala, a dark blue line of off shore easterly wind, 20+ knots with gusts in the high 20’s hit us across the beam. We had been motor sailing with our full main out, so we turned into the wind, reefed the main, and then rolled out the staysail so that we wouldn’t be overpowered by the gusts. Even with such a conservative sail set, the mast was pumping like crazy and the rigging was shaking. It was a bumpy ride with the northern swell opposing the offshore wind waves, but we were still making good time under sail.

Cruising is all about making plans and changing them and this day was no different. It didn’t seem like Chacala would be the best anchorage with the swell running, so we decided to press on to Punta de Mita. With hindsight we should have just anchored and ridden it out in Chacala or Bahia de Jaltemba, but that’s after the fact. The wind started veering to the south, right on our nose, so we furled the headsail and motor-sailed close to the wind with the mainsail giving us an extra push. That was fine, but the sea state was messy to say the least, with large square rollers coming from 3 directions, and none of them in our favor! We took a bit of water over the deck, and even over the paddleboards a few times, but it wasn’t anything worrisome, just uncomfortable. Cake was a few miles behind us taking the same waves as we both pounded into the wind. We pulled around the corner into Punta de Mita as the sun was setting so that we could see the large surf breaking on the point. Cake arrived an hour behind us in the dark so we got on the radio and flashed our beacon to help them make sense of all the lights in the anchorage while they found a spot to drop the hook.   Another example of an expected easy passage that turned into something quite different!

We stayed in Punta de Mita a couple of days, enjoying the sun and the sand, then headed to the marina in La Cruz where we slept to the sounds of the squeaking and stretching of our dock lines as Happy Dance gently danced with the tide. La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is one of our favorite spots, situated on the Pacific Ocean’s Bahía de Banderas in the state of Nayarit, just north of Puerto Vallarta, which is in the state of Jalisco. While here we’ll do some provisioning, eat lots of fresh fish and shrimp, check off a few things on the to do list, enjoy the local music and restaurant scene and meet up with lots of friends, old and new!

The one big item on our to do list is obviously to resolve our engine issues. Marty spent an entire day with his head in the bilge pulling fuel lines, blowing them out to make sure they were clear, re-attaching and checking connections. Marty was one with all things fuel! The mystery was still there though, as no lines were blocked or letting air in. A new friend that we’d met at a local get together, was Alan on Kemo Sabe, and he knew a thing or two about diesel engines. He was nice enough to come over to peruse the issue with Marty and they came up with a working theory that we’ve since put to the test by running out to Punta de Mita and trying to start the engine while it was hot, then cool. The test has potentially validated the theory, which is…

There is a part in the engine called the Internal Fuel Control Lever that shuts the fuel off when we press the kill switch at the helm.  When the engine is hot we think this switch is not resetting itself to let fuel pass through again so the engine won’t start. When we put a fan on the engine to cool the area where this switch is, the engine starts!  This seems to be our work around, since that lever is buried inside the fuel pump assembly, which means lots of mess to get it out and checked!  That’s the next area of research; to see if the fuel pump can be removed and worked on here in La Cruz.

So there you have it, Engine Woes Part III, or the Mystery of the Missing Fuel. With a working work-around, we’ve now moved down the to do list to anchor chain. We need new anchor chain to replace the rusty pile in the anchor locker. Think of buying 4 new tires with fancy rims, that’s what anchor chain will set you back. And here’s your trivia question for the day; how much does 300’ of 5/16” chain weigh? If you figure it out will you come and carry it to the boat for us?

We’ve also passed a big milestone this month; we’ve lived on board Happy Dance for 4 years now, and we’ve put over 13,000 statute miles under the keel. Ahhh, life afloat; rocking at anchor enjoying paradise, and doing boat chores in exotic places. Later today, we’ll probably polish something, paddleboard to shore, watch the surfers, or take a walk on the beach, followed by some sunset watching. It’s a tough life, but I’m glad it’s ours!



Engine Woes Part II

The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and there’s a turtle swimming around the bay keeping us entertained. What more could we want? Maybe an engine that ran!?

When we last reported, the engine-fix-it-guy was on his way to our rescue while we were docked in Marina de La Paz. We finally made it onto his busy schedule on Thursday, and after putting all the pieces back in place and tweaking this and that, voila, we had an engine! The alternator was charging the batteries, there were no leaks to be seen, the valves were doing their valve thing and the injectors were injecting; all was good! The problems with the engine were chalked up to an air leak that was causing the engine to shut down. The hose and hose clamps that were the culprits were fixed and the alternator mysteriously fixed itself. Who knows…at any rate we said goodbye to Mr. Fix-it and planned for an early departure from the dock.

In the morning we did all our last minute chores, removed all the garbage from the boat, made sure everything was stowed in preparation for the expected lumpy sea, completed our pre-departure engine and instrument checks, updated the log book, shared a traditional PDH (Pre-Departure Hug); then it was time to cast off the lines! We motored out of the marina, and made our way out the channel, coasting along on the outgoing tide. Ahhhh, it felt great to be underway.

We needed to refuel so we pulled into the fuel dock at Marina Palmira. We also needed to pay for the engine work, so Marty walked over to the Cross Marine office to get all that taken care of. All fueled, all paid, and ready to go, but Happy Dance had other plans. The engine didn’t want to start! We chalked it up to possibly being too hot, so we ran the fan a bit longer until the engine temp was lower. It took a number of tries, but eventually we got it started. In hindsight we should have gone back to Cross Marine then and there, but you know what they say about hindsight.

We motored out of the channel and headed north toward the islands. Our plan was to anchor somewhere up on Isla Espiritu Santos where we’d be out of the NE winds that were forecast to be in the high teens, low twenties. Along the way we got a call on the VHF from our friends on Cake who had decided that bashing into the waves for three hours wasn’t going to be all that fun so they were anchored in Bahia Falsa, just a few miles up the way. We figured that sounded like a good choice and joined them for a lovely calm night after a blustery day.

Happy Dance enjoying the sunset in Bahia Falsa...photo credit to s/v Cake!

Happy Dance enjoying the sunset in Bahia Falsa…photo credit to s/v Cake!


The next morning we were up at dawn and watched as Cake weighed anchor to head north before the NE winds kicked up again. We had a second cup of coffee and listened to the morning weather reports before starting the engine and weighing anchor around 8:15am. Once out of the bay the wind was already in the high-teens with some steep choppy waves so we rolled out the mainsail and staysail, and set our course as close to the wind as possible since we’d have to do two sides of the triangle to get to where we were going! Then it was time to turn off the iron genny.  Ahh, silence. As we got further offshore, the wind picked up and we were doing 6 to 7 knots while beating to windward in a lively sea. It was a great sail and Happy Dance was perfectly balanced with the staysail and the main out, so we were able to point at about 40 degrees off the wind with zero weather helm. Lovely!

A great day for a sail!

A great day for a sail!

Then we crossed into the lee of the island and it was like someone turned off the fan. The wind immediately fell to about 9 knots from the 18-20 we’d been enjoying. We rolled up the staysail and rolled out our big 135 Genoa. Even with more sail out our speed fell to about 3-4 knots in a rough sea. We kept tweaking the sails to keep moving along as best we could but without a strong wind, the waves kept pushing us back, so we decided to start the engine and motor sail for a bit.

At least that was the plan! As you may have guessed, we couldn’t start the engine. After a few tries, Marty went below to see what he could see. He bled the fuel lines thinking it might be a fuel problem, but there was plenty of fuel at the engine. There didn’t appear to be any air in the system either. Everything looked to be working fine, with the one exception that it wouldn’t start!

We can’t pull off the freeway and call the two truck, so now what. We’re about 6 miles offshore heading to an anchorage that may or may not be an easy entrance depending on how deep the wind is blowing into the bay. If it’s not blowing over the mountain into the bay we won’t be able to sail in deep enough to be in shallow water and out of the swell. Plus if we can’t get the engine going again, we’re stuck on an uninhabited island!

Next choice was to return to La Paz, but the thought of sailing up the 4.5-mile narrow, dredged, buoyed channel against the current without an engine made us cringe. It wasn’t a very nice scenario to think of the sand bars and shoals on the edges of the channel that would limit our maneuverability. Our next option was to head back to Bahia Falsa where we had been overnight. There was plenty of room to anchor there and if the wind held out of the NE we could possibly sail right in. Plus, we would have cell phone coverage and could call Cross Marine directly rather than on the VHF.

Decision made; furl the mainsail, tack the Genoa, and do a 180-degree turn! It’s always such a drastic change to head downwind after beating to windward. The boat starts surfing over the waves, and traveling with the wind feels calm even when it’s blowing 15-18, and you’re still moving along at 6+ knots under just the Genoa! We set a course for the channel marker at the entrance of the bay that is used by cruise ships, ferries, and tankers making a sharp turn into the larger section of the bay. Hopefully we wouldn’t meet one as we made the turn!

Before reaching the channel marker we tried the engine again, but no luck. Time to get ready for another anchor under sail. Expecting to have to tack our way into the bay we rolled out the smaller staysail and furled the big Genoa. Having two sails is great, except that to tack our Genoa requires that we furl it, and then unfurl it on the new tack, in order to get it through the narrow gap between the two fore stays. So, we were now sailing under staysail alone, trying to keep our heading as close to the wind and the back of the bay as possible.

After passing the point, the wind started getting very fluky, changing strength and direction by as much as 60 degrees. We kept adjusting the sail, tacked a few times, trying all the while to keep our speed and not lose steerage. At one point we were about to tack and suddenly the wind veered off to leeward; we had to change course so much that we were just about pointed toward the entrance. I thought we’d have to do a 360 to get back on course, but luckily along came a strong gust that slowly gave us steerage again, and allowed us to tack one last time. Then the wind was pretty much on our nose no matter what we did and our headway was severely limited, so in 25′ of water we dropped anchor and rolled up the sail. The wind was still strong enough to push us down on the anchor and we were soon set, safe and sound in Bahia Falsa.

So now we wait. It’s the weekend and we will have to wait until Monday to reach anyone at Cross Marine. Thankfully we’re in a safe anchorage, we have all we need, and we can dinghy to shore to pick up Rob when he’s available. And the best part is that we have seals and two huge resident turtles swimming around the boat! OH, and sunsets….did I mention awesome sunsets?? Ah, life is good!

Snap, Crackle, Pop, or Engine Woes Part I

As we were motoring along with the current at 7 knots, in a 30’ deep channel between a reef and a shoaling shoreline, Marty suddenly peered out at me over the engine compartment and calmly said; “If you’re in a safe spot, we need to shut down the engine, it’s sparking”. Uhhhhh…WHAT??

But I’m starting in the middle of the story. This problem arose days earlier so let me start at the beginning. Electrical problems tend to make my hair curl. They would make Marty’s hair curl too, if…well that’s another story. At any rate, sparking, engines, and boats are not a good combo.

A few days before this incident, Marty noticed that the voltage gauge for the batteries was registering high, indicating that the batteries were being over charged. He took a look at the alternator and sure enough, one of the wires had fallen off its connector. Since we’d been motoring for a while that day, the engine was too hot for him to be sticking his hand down into it. We soon got to the anchorage where we could let things cool off so he could re-attach the wire, and all was well once again.

Until the next incident. It seemed that in the process of attaching the wire that kept the alternator from over-charging the batteries, another connector had somehow loosened. This time it was the one that charged batteries from the alternator (not very technical, but you get the idea). So now the batteries weren’t charging at all. And of course this wire was buried a little deeper than the first one. No problem though, Marty is fast becoming one with the engine and had it reattached after a few sailor-esque type words.

Until the NEXT incident. This is the one with sparks. During all this attaching and re-attaching, one of the nuts holding the wire had fallen off, so that there was now a space missing between the wires, and yes, we had sparking. This is when Marty informed me that we should shut the engine off…when it was safe…ahhhhhh, how about NOW?? As it turned out, we were able to change course and head into a nearby anchorage, drop the anchor and turn off the engine. During this time the sparking stopped, but as we found out later, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

The definition of cruising; working on your boat in exotic locations.

The definition of cruising; working on your boat in exotic locations.


We had anchored next to Isla Coronados, where I sat on deck and watched turtles and manta rays swimming by while Marty sweated over a hot engine trying to fix the latest issue. He was able to get everything back together, and more importantly, get us back on the road to Caleta San Juanico. Unfortunately, even though we were on the road again, the alternator still wasn’t charging. Thank goodness for generators and solar panels!

When we got to Caleta San Juanico we dropped the anchor next to our buddies on s/v Cake and swam over for an anchor beer. We could worry about the engine tomorrow! The water was crystal clear, we were anchored in 15’, we were with friends and had cold beers; ahhhh…la vida es bueno!

Anchored next to Cake in Caleta San Juanico

Anchored next to Cake in Caleta San Juanico


After a couple of days of running the generator to keep the batteries charged, and nights of mulling over possible fixes, Marty finally felt like tackling the alternator/wiring predicament. Also, during a get together on the beach, we met new friends Derrick and Trisha on Interabang*, and Derrick was kind enough to read up on our quandary and he came over the next day with his multi-meter in hand to help Marty try to determine where the problem was. They did a number of tests and concluded that the alternator was fine, but that maybe the voltage regulator wasn’t. Out in secluded anchorages is not the best place to find engine parts, so it was time to head to town.

The next day we weighed anchor to leave Caleta San Juanico and headed for the anchorage off of Loreto, where we dinghied into town to find the auto parts store. Marty had his Spanish words ready to ask for a “regulador de voltaje”, which they had, but it didn’t have as many slots for wires as the one we had. For 100 pesos (about $5) it was worth a try. Back on board, Marty wired it in, we started the engine and kept our fingers crossed…no go. There was still no charge coming into the batteries while the engine was running.

Next stop, Puerto Escondido. Marty went to visit Elvin, the local self-proclaimed fix-it guy, and though he wasn’t all that interested in our problem, he did offer to deliver our alternator to a guy in Loreto who could tell us if it was indeed working okay, and if not he could rebuild it.

Remember (I know it’s been a long story..sorry), when I mentioned how having the sparking stop wasn’t necessarily a good thing? Well, as Marty was pulling the alternator off he discovered that the big wire leading off the alternator had fused itself to another wire where the nut had fallen off. The sparking must have melted them together. At any rate Marty was able to separate them, add some length and move the fuse on the wire in question, and get everything put back together. We’d hoped that fixing the wires would solve the problem, but no, still no luck….argh!

While Marco the alternator guy in Loreto checked the alternator, Elvin told more stories while siting in his chair, and Marty made many trips back and forth from our mooring ball to the dock. Eventually we were told that the alternator was working fine, which was sort of good news/bad news. If the alternator was working, then why wasn’t it charging?

We’d run out of options in Loreto and Puerto Escondido, so it was now time to head for La Paz. With sails out as much as possible, and the generator keeping the lights and instruments on, we made a fast but leisurely passage to La Paz. We stopped overnight in San Marte, a lovely quiet anchorage, followed by a couple of nights in Isla San Francisco and Caleta Partida with all the behemoth yachts. The trip wasn’t without its moments though.

On the 50 mile trip from San Marte into Isla San Francisco we were heading south through the San Jose channel. This is an area known to have some pretty strong winds funnel down through the channel. The day we were there was a good example of how fast the winds can appear. In about half an hour we went from motoring on glassy seas to sailing under a reefed Genoa directly downwind with gusty winds in the high teens. It was a great sail and we were thoroughly enjoying it, but with a caveat of worrying about the engine. When we’d unfurled the sail and started to shut down the engine, it had just died when I put it into neutral. Normally, the process is put the engine in neutral, hit the kill switch and then it turns off. This time it just quit suddenly. Hmmm…not good.

We sailed for a few hours in order to let the engine cool off, then when we were about 30 minutes away from the anchorage we tried to start it just to make sure all was well. Nope! Nothing happened when I turned the ignition; no click, no nothing, no battery. Marty went to check the gauge and sure enough, the engine battery was dead. What the #&#??

We started the generator hoping to charge the battery enough to get the engine started, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time before reaching the anchorage to build up a strong enough charge and the engine wouldn’t start. Okay, time to get ready for anchoring under sail. Thankfully the house batteries still had a charge so we were able to turn on the anchor windlass.

The entrance into the bay is wide open and it’s a large anchorage so we hoped for an easy drop. As luck would have it though, when we rounded the point and could see into the anchorage we saw half a dozen mega yachts anchored, leaving us only one wide spot in which to anchor that was next to the shallows and on the lee end of the bay. We had one chance for the anchor to catch and if we missed…we’d be cleaning the keel on the sand!

The wind was still blowing pretty strong, so we triple reefed the headsail and headed in. We’d planned that I would drop the anchor from the helm, while Marty handled the sail. All was going according to plan except that when I started rounding up into the wind I completely lost steerage. We weren’t turning. And even worse, we were drifting downwind toward the shallows and towards another big boat already anchored there. I started dropping the anchor, but couldn’t hear if it was running out, so Marty ran up on deck to make sure. We were further from shore than we’d planned and in 30’ of water, so it was important to get the anchor to the ground as soon as possible! We were still drifting sideways as I was trying to adjust the sails to regain steerage as the anchor was being run out. We finally had enough chain out, and regained steerage to luff the sail and waited for Happy Dance to drift down on the anchor. Phew, a great feeling when the anchor chain stretched out and we were set. Roll up the sail, and take a break! Time for an anchor beer!

After a couple of lovely relaxing days in Isla San Francisco, we nervously tried to start the engine on the day we’d planned to head further south. Phew, she started right up. We motor sailed to Caleta Partida for a night, then the next day we woke up early to head into La Paz. As luck would have it our plans for a flat sea at dawn became a noserly of 15-18 knots with a fairly lumpy sea. Then we entered the channel into La Paz with the tide turning against us. When we called in to the Marina for our slip number we were told to go to the fuel dock because the weekend crew didn’t know what slip we’d been assigned. The current was running pretty swift and as we made the 180 degree turn to head into the Marina and to the fuel dock, Happy Dance was moving sideways faster than she was going forward. Rutro, time for a hot docking! I gave her some power to make the turn around Slim Carlos’ houseboat, then headed to the dock. Once alongside the dock I needed to reverse to counteract the strong current that was driving us forward into the boat in front of us. I gave it one good burst of reverse and then the engine died again! Yikes! Thankfully we had line handlers on the dock that already held our lines, or we would have t-boned the powerboat in front of us. Phew…this engine situation is getting a little crazy!

So now we sit tied to a dock, waiting. We had Rob Cross of Cross Marine come out to the boat to see what was what. He and Marty fiddled with things for a while and soon the engine was running again. They fixed this, tweaked that, and determined all was working okay. HUH? Damn that Murphy!! The going theory is that a loose hose clamp was letting air into the system when we changed gears and that was stopping the engine. That doesn’t answer the question of why the alternator wasn’t charging, but we hope to have an answer for that soon.

Our current status is that the alternator has been removed and checked, the valves and injectors have been removed and tuned, and Rob, the nice engine fix it guy who has too much work on his schedule to squeeze us in, will be back sometime NEXT week to put it all back together and to give our Happy Dance some TLC. Obviously we’re bummed to be stuck on the dock this long, and even more bummed that we may miss traveling under the super moon on our three-day crossing to the mainland, but as soon as all is put back together we’ll leave La Paz and start working our way south to La Cruz.  Stay tuned to this Happy Channel for more news on the saga of the little engine that could!


* Interabang – (interabang. [in-ter-uh-bang] /ɪnˈtɛr əˌbæŋ/ noun. 1. a printed punctuation mark (‽), available only in some typefaces, designed to combine the question mark (?) and the exclamation point (!), indicating a mixture of query and interjection.

El Día de los Muertos

While we’re in La Paz getting some much needed attention to our engine, we’ve been soaking up some of the local culture and cuisine. Our latest outing was an excursion to the Festival de Día de Muertos, a two-evening festival celebrating The Day of the Dead. There were displays of altars to the dead, a competition for those dressed as Catrinas and Calaveras, children’s workshops, traditional foods, and entertainment all evening on stage. It’s a huge family event, a great La Paz tradition, and it’s free!

I think the entire population of La Paz was there as it was standing room only, and we seemed to be the only gringos around.  It was amazing to be in such a crowd of happy people all sharing their traditions; music all around, the tasty aroma from the many food stands, the sound of kids laughter.  We walked around viewing the altars, had a couple of tamales de res and mango empanadas, then found a seat to enjoy the music and a play being performed on stage.  We couldn’t understand the dialog, but we just joined in with our neighbors when they laughed..ha!

Not to be confused with Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is its own entity, when souls of deceased loved ones are welcomed home in Mexico, where friends and family have prepared for their arrival for weeks. The souls of children arrive one day prior at midnight Oct. 31, and the adult souls are welcomed home the following night. Born out of the Aztec festival for the goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl, and the Catholic Spanish conquistadors’ All Saints/Souls Day, the modern tradition has become a Mexican National Holiday and the country’s biggest celebration of the year.

Candy skulls, chocolates, sweet bread and candles are prepared to present at altars and gravesites of the deceased. Cemeteries are adorned with hundreds of candles to light the way home.  Alters are erected in homes and furnished with food and drink to nourish the dead, decorated with the symbolic Mexican flower of death, the Marigold. Even a bar of soap and a mirror might be presented in case the deceased would like to freshen up. The dead receive a warm and festive welcome from the living during the observance of el Dia de los Muertos in Mexico.

Another major focus of the festival is the parade of Catrinas. These are ladies, young girls, and even a few men, who dress in elaborate costumes and stroll around the grounds for all to see. The outfits that they wear are incredibly detailed, with lace and ribbons, hats with huge feathers, and one lady was even on stilts!  I read up on what the Catrina is all about and it’s really an interesting history.  The skeleton lady was created by lithographer and printer Jose Guadalupe Posada around 1910 as an illustration, and it has since become a national icon.

The Day of the Dead highlights one of the greatest differences between Mexican and U.S. cultures; the 180-degree divide between attitudes toward death. Mexicans keep death and their dead loved ones close, treating it with familiarity, even hospitality, instead of dread. Catrina embodies that, and has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but originally Catrina was an elegant or well-dressed woman, so it refers to rich people. Catrina reminds us that death is the great neutralizer; everyone is equal in the end.