Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 - Abracadabra's Year At The Dock

First: Adiós to 2015! 

As you can read in this blog, 2015 was a great travel year for us - but not a good year for Travels on Abracadabra.  In fact, there were no travels on Abracadabra at all in 2015 as she spent the entire year tied to the dock at Paradise Fishing Lodge in Bahia Jaltepeque, El Salvador. First it was because both Captain Bryce needed to bond with his new hip and Abracadabra needed a new engine, but both of those mechanical details were resolved by October.

In anticipation that 2016 will actually be a sailing year this post is a summary of the most recent reasons we have not been underway: mostly routine cruising issues (Cruising def: "fixing boats in exotic places"), but one a true "adventure in equipment failure".

In October All Seemed Well

When we posted in early October a late October departure was looking feasible. Our first projects, which were in large part about making life in the tropics more comfortable, were completed or underway and going well. [Warning: If you're not interested in boat bits you may wish to skip the next couple of headings . . . ]

           Bow Hatch Retrofit:  We turned Abracadabra's Canadian-style bow hatch (one that deflects cold breezes) into a tropical-style bow hatch (one open to warm bow breezes) by removing the hatch, scraping out the bedding goo, turning it around and re-bedding it. Nighttime breezes into the V-berth have made sleeping much more pleasant.

It's All About The Breeze

          Wind Generator:  Bryce, with the assistance of José, an industrious young guy who works for the marina and does projects for us on his days off, installed our new-to-us (gracias for the good deal, Gallant Fox!) KISS wind generator. Gotta love a business that promises an easy system in its very name. We're looking forward to more "free electricity" to power our fans!  

KISS Wind Generator

          Cosmetics:  José brought our sad looking "front door" (hatch boards) back to life:

A Welcomed Improvement!

Then There Were Some "Unanticipated Projects"

Just as it looked like we were getting it all together, a few things went sideways. 

          Rainy Season Thrill:  Molly reached into the clothes locker in the bow and found. . . wet clothes. Ugh. A leak. Bryce tracked the source and we were relieved to find a relatively simple fix: a deck plate above the anchor locker had worn through allowing the anchor locker with its plugged up drain to fill with rain water in the recent series of downpours. Happily he figured this out before opening the weeping access plate between the anchor locker and the clothes locker . . . otherwise the water pooled in the anchor locker would have come gushing onto our bed! Fix: a deck plate ($13), two unanticipated loads of laundry ($14) and a trip to San Salvador to buy a deck plate ($50 for car and driver). We're filing the payment for José to wash out the anchor locker under "routine maintenance". 

          Importation Tango: Once the fear of having some sort of catastrophic leak was behind us, Bryce began installing a new starter battery -- only to realize that the trickle charger for the battery had gone kaput. Hmmm. And then he realized that the GPS antenna we thought had miraculously survived last year's knockdown actually  . . . hadn't. Hmmm again. 

The local chandleries didn't have either item, so Bryce went internet shopping and had a trickle charger and GPS antenna delivered from the U.S. The Salvadorean customs process turned out to be remarkably inexpensive ($5) because the customs officials (surprisingly) decided the items could be treated as replacement parts for a boat in transit (which, in fact, they were, but we didn't expect to be able to make that case). We think the officials were motivated to kindness because we had both spent five hours of our lives hanging around the airport customs terminal (which has spectacularly uncomfortable plastic chairs). Bryce spent his time standing in various lines and getting various pieces of paper signed and schmoozing with the customs officials; Molly was engaged in a study of El Salvadorean fashions (Bryce was among only six men in the entire place wearing shorts). Importation Tip: If you decide not to hire an importation agent and do this process yourself, go armed with plenty of patience, strong Spanish language skills and a good book. If you are importing more than $1,000 worth of equipment you'll have to hire an agent (no exceptions).

The GPS antenna was installed along with the new satellite telephone antenna that we had  brought down with us:

Abracadabra's Antenna Forest

And The New Satellite Phone Antenna

The new trickle charger was also installed. 

Both worked and, once again we began to feel optimistic that we could actually go sailing. 

And In November It Fell Out From Under Us -- Literally

On November 10, while zipping along the estuary in our little dinghy after a nice lunch at the larger hotel/marina at the mouth of the estuary, we began talking about when we could get sailing . . . 

Apparently the sea gods found this to be an exercise in hubris. 

Bryce interrupted the flow of this conversation to say something along the line of WTF. The dinghy's transom (non-sailors: the wooden back of the boat between the inflated pontoons) was leaning outward. It had become disconnected from the floor of the dinghy and water was gushing in. Even worse (or at least as bad as the possibility of sinking) - the transom was folding down into the water taking the outboard motor with it into the river. 

It took a few distressed minutes to realize that the rubber gasket that holds the transom to the floor and pontoons of the dinghy had completely let go. 

Gasket - Unconnected to Transom.

Water continued to flood in under the now-detached transom. Bryce jammed his foot against the bottom of the transom, pressing it sort-of back into place, keeping the outboard motor out of the river and marginally slowing the flood. He powered the motor down, which also slowed the flood. Molly dug out our high-tech bailing device (the bottom of a plastic drink bottle - gracias Pedro!) and began to scoop river water out of the dinghy. We putted along ever so slowly . . . feeling really stupid that we had not taken any life jackets with us on a four kilometer ride . . . and eventually completed the last kilometer of our trip to the dock. 

Neither we nor the outboard motor went swimming or sinking in the river.  But now we needed a dinghy. 

[For non-sailors: A dinghy acts as the "car" for a sailboat at anchor or on a mooring ball. While it would be possible for us to go sailing without one, sooner or later food or beer would have to be purchased or clothes would have to get to the laundry. Traveling without a dinghy would require us to (a) become the annoying people always asking other boats for a ride to shore or (b) spend only the occasional night at anchor and travel from marina to marina. Neither sound like a good plan to us.] 

It took us several weeks to sort through our options. We researched and then rejected trying to repair the gasket because everyone who has attempted this repair told us: save your sanity; at most you'll get three months out of the repair and then you'll find yourself in the same disintegrating position, just in a different bay or river. 

So we began figuring out how to get a replacement inflatable dinghy in or to El Salvador and found:

  • Nothing in-country was small enough or light weight enough for Abracadabra to carry. 
  • There was a small, light-weight dinghy in a chandlery on the Rio Dulce along the Caribbean coast of Guatemala - a day's drive away. Hmmm -- rent a truck, stay at least one night, convince Salvadorian customs officials that the dinghy was a replacement for a boat in transit (?), look for an importation agent (were there any right at the border?), probably pay full importation cost . . . muy complicado.  
  • Purchasing from our usual discount chandlery in the U.S. and having it shipped to Salvador also sounded muy complicado: bigger than a bread box, too heavy for UPS or FedEx, we'd need a freight forwarder and an importation agent . . . mucho undetermined dolares (dollars - literally - El Salvador uses U.S. currency) and tiempo (time).
  • The big national chandlery could deliver an appropriate dinghy to our marina within four to six weeks for mucho dolares but with a significant reduction in hassle factor.

We finally decided to throw a clearly determinable amount of money at the problem and ordered from the big Salvadorian chandlery. Four to six weeks seemed dishearteningly long but we decided that it gave us time for a road trip that would otherwise be spent dealing with delivery and importation issues. We ordered the dinghy on Thanksgiving and it should (might?) be in Miami next week. So it may be here within the six week outside delivery date -- but we are now expecting more like seven or eight.

So that's the sad story of why we're still here. 

But as Molly's brother Robert once said when we complained about being detained by the Mexican government for two months near Puerto Vallarta: "Stuck in Puerto Vallarta - boo hoo." With that perspective in mind, we'll also report that, though we've had a few frustrated and frustrating days, in between contemplating our situation --

Contemplation - Before Our Afternoon Pool Moment

But We've Also Had Time To:

           Watch Life On The Estuary 

Including local traffic:

Mom and Dad Go Fishing

Color Coordinated Cayuco (Dugout Canoe) Paddlers

Sport Fishing Expeditions

the weather:

Pot of Gold Somewhere Nearby . . . 

and a moonrise or two: 

          Socialize With Cruisers and Ex-Pats

We never miss a Sunday potluck swim at Linda and Lou's (ex-pats from Carmichael, California!):

Solving The World's Problems

We gave thanks at Casa L&L on U.S. Thanksgiving -- for friends and, not incidentally for the wonderful pig roast they put together with Bill and Jean of La Palma moorings.

Lin and Lou and Pig

Apple - A Nice Touch

One Saturday we joined a group at a restaurant on stilts in the estuary for a really yummy fish dinner:

Bill and Jean's "Pink Panga" At The Restaurant On Stilts

Dining Al Fresco

Open Fire. Wooden Structure.
What Could Go Wrong?

And we have joined Lin and Lou for lunch a couple of times - once at Estero y Mar, a Disney-esq place down the coast:

L&L Taking A Walk In The Painted Woods

Real Parrots

And Painted Parrots

Dancing Horses On The Beach

           And Get To Know The Neighbors

We have also achieved nodding / "buenos dias" level acquaintance with some very interesting neighbors. 

The Salvadorian Navy's drug enforcement force (it's been described as "like the DEA") operates from a drug-seizure property down the road. The story we've been told is that the house was taken from a lawyer who represented drug dealers. The force uses the Paradise Fishing Lodge to dock their boats on occasion. One afternoon, fascinated by their balaclavas and body armor (remember it's about 85 degrees and 80 percent humidity here) Molly asked if she could take a photo. They agreed - and then invited her on board to pose along with the Balaclava Boys! 

Molly With The (Intimidating) Salvadorian Navy

[Side note: There are two U.S. Coast Guard C-130's that fly from the nearby airport.  We watch our tax dollars at work once and sometimes twice a day, as these behemoths leave to circle over the Pacific. We assume their job is to identify interception targets for the Balaclava Boys.]

Sooooo . . . 

We've also had some in-country travels and a four week trip to Guatemala and Belize -- way too much for one post. So if you're interested in what there is to see and do in Salvador, Guatemala and/or Belize, stay tuned and travel along with future posts. 

And of course we'll let you know when our eagerly anticipated joint Christmas gift - the new dinghy - arrives! 

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