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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays from Nuevo Vallarta

20 degrees 41.385 minutes North
105 degrees 17.525 minutes West

So we managed to get a spot on the pilings in Marina Nuevo Vallarta where we spent some time two years ago for the Banderas Bay Regatta when John crewed on Air Power. If we have to be tied up anywhere in Vallarta, this is ideal because it's only $8 a night. There's no electricity or water and we have to use the dinghy to get to the marina docks to go ashore, but the shower/bathrooms are very clean, the harbor master is very accommodating, and best of all Ziggy can't get off the boat so we don't have to keep close tabs on him. We came in late on Saturday after waiting for a very low tide to pass so we could cross the shallow bar entrance into Nuevo Vallarta. This is also the site of Paradise Village where we spent some time our first two winters in Mexico. Boy, have things changed there. You're now required to carry a special Paradise Village photo ID with you to access their property. Guards will stop you to check your ID if you try to cross any of their perimeters. This means we're not welcome to land our dinghy at the dock outside the Vallarta Yacht Club (which means no access to the mall there), nor can we get to the beach by walking through the Paradise Village resort. If we visit friends on boats in Paradise, we wouldn't be allowed to walk around the property with them either. Welcome to Paradise...

We had a good trip from Mazatlan, with a stop in Chacala rather than San Blas. We had originally planned to finally visit San Blas but negative reports of interference from the local self-appointed cruiser representative once again deterred us from stopping there. Instead we joined old friends for our first visit to Chacala, which was absolutely charming. We all anchored bow and stern to keep us pointed into the swell, and if you had a rocker stopper, you were wise to use it. It was a fun stop and we could have easily stayed longer. We played bocci ball on the beach and enjoyed the best shrimp empanadas in Mexico at the Las Brisas beach palapa (look for the three big flags on the roof), thanks to the expert guidance of Ray and Jayne on Adios. We also finally broke down and bought two small Huichol yarn pieces for much less than you would pay in a higher end place like La Cruz.

After two nights in Chacala we motored for awhile and then had an easy spinnaker run down to Punta de Mita on the NW edge of Banderas Bay. We spent three nights there visiting our friends Ralph and Nicole, and their three month old daughter, Delfina Marina, at Mita'z Pizza. They sell whole wheat baguettes that are out of this world, and they'll also deliver fresh pizzas to the dinghy landing (talk about pizza to go!). We also made a bus trip from there to meet up with V'ger in La Cruz, and to see the new marina there. It was good to visit with Casey and Annie, but very sobering to see what the new marina has done to the landscape of La Cruz. If you ever need an example of the risks associated with buying property in Mexico, just take a look at all the formerly ocean view/beach front homes that are now for sale because of new high rise development on land fill right in front of them. The little beach in front of Ana Bananas where we used to land our dinghies is now buried under dirt fill, beyond which is the huge new marina for mega yachts. At current rates of about .75/foot (which will rise to .90/foot when the marina is completed), it's way beyond the average full time cruiser's budget, but is perfect for people who want to leave their boats in Mexico while they go back to the States to work (to pay for the marina, to keep the boat, that they wish they could sail, while they have to work, to pay for the marina...). There are still lots of boats anchored outside the marina, but no place to land your dinghy other than at the marina (for $3/day), or by braving a steep scramble up the seawall inside the harbor. It all seems very sad to us, and we just hope that some of the big bucks being passed around are making it down to the locals who need it most.

We've been delighted by all the wonders of mainland cruising that we forget about while we're on the Baja side of the Sea: humpback whales flapping their fins and flukes, and babies shooting straight out of the water; turtles passing a boat length away; butterflies and bird song; speckled dolphins streaking past our bow wave; palm trees and gorgeous vegetation up sloping hills; the smell of smoke from burning (garbage, or all those palm leaves they have to trim?). Okay, that last one isn't a favorite, but the rest makes for a nice change of pace.

Banderas Bay was an unscheduled stop for us as we had planned to be in Bahia Santiago by now. We discovered a diesel fuel smell which is present when we run the engine, and John is in the process of troubleshooting the problem. It isn't incapacitating but we decided to investigate it while we can stay in a place with lots of service options (and with inexpensive moorage). We will be out of here as soon as the part is fixed, heading south again.

Happy holidays to all our friends and family!

Linda and John

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Done. Well for now anyway.

Once again we spent a good part of the prime cruising season working on the boat. This year, projects included:

o Finishing the teak deck removal project (started almost 2 years ago)
o Completing the non-skid deck
o Install a new solar panel arch and solar panel
o Rebuild a teak hatch that has been coming apart for 5 years
o Refinish all the exterior teak
o Repair the mainsail
o Align the engine

When I first put the project list together I added up all the time I thought I would need and it came out to about 55 days (more than 2 months). We had planned for a month and a half in Marina Mazatlan, so it was clear I was going to have my hands full. As it turned out I was able to combine projects into one day; take apart the hatch that needed rebuilding while the paint on the deck dried, repair the mainsail after applying a coat of Cetol to the exterior teak. But I think in the end I worked all but about 3 of our 46 days in the marina. I guess that's what I get for goofing off all summer long.

We almost had a show stopper at the end. Linda had left for her visit to the Northwest and I began the final project: Align the engine. A month or two before I had checked the alignment and found that it was pretty far out, so it was obviously past time to do something about it. However, when I started I immediately found that the coupler between the transmission and propeller shaft was broken (probably caused by the bad alignment) and that the bolts for one of the motor mounts had stripped their beds (probably the cause of the bad alignment)!

Good thing Linda was in Seattle, because the vendor for the coupler is close by in Lynwood. A quick phone call had a new coupler on its way. But that didn't take care of the cause of all the problems, the stripped bolts. It was not only obvious that I needed to do something about the bolts, fate was telling me to do something about them. Right when I was thinking I should remove the shaft zinc to make the alignment easier, the diver walked by and asked if I needed anything. "Yes", I said, "would you mind getting into the cold water and taking off the shaft zinc"? Then, right when I was thinking that I needed some heavy duty epoxy filler for the job, my dock neighbor reminded me that he still had the filler that I had loaned him.

That settled it, I was going to do a good job. No need to tempt fate any further. All that was required was removing the two bolts, turning the engine mount 90 degrees to expose the stripped hole (it turned out that only one hole was stripped, the other just needed a longer bolt. Fate again). Drill out the hole and then epoxy a nut into the bottom of the enlarged hole. Sound's easy huh? Did I say this was on the back engine mount? The engine mount that's located under the exhaust system? The one that you can't work on unless you actually lay on top of the engine? Yeah, it's that one.

After a mere 4 hours of yoga I had a nut bedded in epoxy a full two inches under the engine mount. Hopefully it will be strong enough to hold against the vibration.

A couple more hours of yoga and I had the engine aligned. (To align the engine you have to kneel with your head below your backside and use a feeler about the thickness of two pieces of paper to make sure the shaft and transmission are completely in alignment. If they are not aligned, you have to extract yourself from said yoga position and crawl into the main cabin, there to make your adjustment that will hopefully bring everything into alignment. If not, you get to do it again. I think I only did it about 10 times. It's a zen thing).

We left Mazatlan with our very spiffy looking and smooth running boat yesterday and are headed for Chacala. The engine seems to be holding together after 20 hours of motoring and the cat didn't even get sick after not being underway for a month and a half. Looks like fate is keeping up her end of the bargain, so far.

John, Linda and Ziggy
Bahia Chacala
21o 09.78' N 105o 13.71 W