Summer has always been a time when we scratch our heads about what to do with our water tanks. Empty them? Fill them with water? The first time we left Juniper for the summer we emptied them but condensation and the wee bit of water we couldn’t get out left the tanks a bit slimy. I had to scrub and flush the tanks out a few times with bleach.
The second summer we left the tanks full with and the tanks got a little smelly (like the way a water bottle left in a hot car for a while smells when you open it) so I scrubbed the tanks and flushed it out a few times with bleach.
This summer, we were advised to fill the tanks with vinegar and water to prevent mildew and growth. I was really hoping this would work because scrubbing out both tanks is a lot of work. Not sure what happened but white clouds of something – bacteria, fermentation, a vinegar mother perhaps, developed. Unfortunately, I didn’t first look through the tanks inspection ports prior to running the water (because why would I expect clumps of white stuff to grow!) and the growth clogged our water filter.
Water pump filter. First indication something was wrong
Yeah, this isn’t good.
Tank 1. What is that?!
Tank 2. WTF?!
The process of getting the boat ready stops as we manually siphon the funky water out followed by yours truly scrubbing and bleaching both tanks.
But then we have the merry coincidence of our galley foot pedal biting the dust at exactly the same time! We debated about whether it was clogged with the white stuff, detached a few hoses to troubleshoot, and concluded that it just needs servicing and got it working again.
Well, it’s the beginning of August and we ended up staying in La Cruz after all. Despite all of our plans, we were unable to head up to the Sea of Cortez and reach our summer destination of San Carlos.
While we did successfully fix the engine, install the new bilge pump, filter the water out of our fuel (twice!), and readied ourselves to sail out of La Cruz, we reached a point on the calendar where it didn’t make sense to brave tropical weather to sail up north.
Instead, we readied Juniper to spend her summer in La Cruz: we washed and put away our sails, took down and stowed our lines, put on two coats of varnish, cleaned the boat inside and out, put up a tarp to help block UV, and completed a dozen more small decommissioning tasks to keep Juniper safe, dry, and clean. For the rest of the summer we’ll be back in the states spending time with family.
We’ll be back in Mexico at the end of the year and are looking forward to a proper cruising season!
Typical summer afternoon weather in La Cruz.
Typical summer afternoon weather in La Cruz.
Lots of water made it into our secondary filter. Turns out we had a leak in our deck fill.
Our exhaust riser was practically crumbling.
Drying the main after a good scrub.
Folding our main for storage. Thank goodness for the lounge at Marina La Cruz!
Viv put on two more coats of varnish to protect the wood over the summer.
We were all set to go. But you know the saying, “cruising is doing boat work in exotic places?” La Cruz is far from exotic when you’ve been here as long as we have.
Solar was up and running, we provisioned, our slip neighbor Travis on S/V Brighter Days made us some ribs for the passage, and we had a weather window.
Travis’s delicious ribs
And then things started breaking.
We discovered that one of our fuel tanks had a good amount of water in it. The washer in the cap on the deck fill was worn out and I washed the boat a few times since arriving in La Cruz. That would do it! To remove the water would require siphoning out the fuel and running it through some filters (a process called fuel polishing).
All that cloudy stuff is water
Pumping dirty, watery diesel from our tank
Changing out the washer
With that all sorted out and another good weather window available, we left our slip in Marina La Cruz and headed out of the channel and into the bay. Scott and I couldn’t wait to get the sails up, turn off our engine, and start sailing.
Goodbye, La Cruz!
As we began raising our mainsail it felt like were hitting a wall. It would just not rise more than halfway. We checked all the reef lines, the mainsail cars, but we could not figure out what was happening. Instead of forcing it, we needed to bring it down and give it a good inspection. And then the sail wouldn’t go down! Ok, that’s not good.
Then Scott increased the throttle and a bunch of white smoke came out of the exhaust. Ok, that’s not good.
And then I went downstairs and found the bilge was running nonstop. Ok, that’s really not good.
We quickly did a U-turn, dropped the hook in the anchorage, and started troubleshooting. Once we discovered that our bilge pump was corroded, we knew we had to give up and go back into the marina.
Inside the lazerette where our pump is
Yeah, that’s broken
Once safely inside the marina, we order a new bilge pump from the US and begin to troubleshoot the engine. Of course the throttle control mechanisms breaks, requiring another order from the US.
Power management on a cruising sailboat is a pretty important and sometimes frustrating topic. Since purchasing Juniper we’ve done what we can to reduce our energy usage (e.g. replaced all cabin lighting with LED, etc), but our primary issue has been generating enough power to replenish our batteries each night. We have a wind generator that is fantastic when there’s > 15 knots of wind. The problem is that there’s very little wind here in Baja and Pacific Mexico.
That takes us to solar which should be great since we do have tons and tons of sunlight. Juniper came with two well-used 80 watt solar panels, and that’s not nearly enough. At anchor, we usually have to run the engine at least an hour each day to make enough power.
With Viv flying back to the states for a month earlier this year and Sam being sick, we knew we’d be in La Cruz for a while. We decided it would be a good time to upgrade our solar. Ordering the panels out of Querétaro City, refurbishing the wiring, and getting the solar panel mounts made and installed took a lot longer than we wanted it to, but we’re really happy with the outcome. We now have a total of 300 watts of solar, which still isn’t enough to support our electricity needs should really help.
Sam, our Sailing Kitty, passed away peacefully on Saturday, April 14th. He was 15 years old. Sam was a beloved companion and crew. A world-traveler, a purr monster, a lap cat, a good kitty, our friend, and dearly loved, Sam will be greatly missed.
Eight bells* for Sam, our little friend. You’ll always be in our hearts.
My sweet kitty.
This is the first time Sam felt adventurous enough to leave the cabin.
My little friend.
Sam relaxing in the cockpit during a passage
Sam’s seasick. 🙁
Sam just loves going upwind.
Basking in the sun.
Some chilly downtime while getting some rigging work done at KKMI in Richmond.
What’s that, little buddy?
Where’s all the water?
Scott and Sam in conversation
Blep. We’re guessing he could smell that we were with other cats.
Napping on Scott.
*The practice of using bells stems from the days of the sailing ships. Sailors couldn’t afford to have their own time pieces and relied on the ship’s bells to tell time. The ship’s boy kept time by using a half-hour glass. Each time the sand ran out, he would turn the glass over and ring the appropriate number of bells. Each ship “watch” is four hours, or eight bells, in length.
The tradition of Eight Bells pays respect to deceased mariners and signifies that a sailor’s “watch” is over. Source
Spending time in La Cruz hasn’t only been about eating churros. We’ve been here 1) waiting for the weather to shift so that we can go back north to the Sea of Cortez 2) doing some boat work while we wait, and 3) tending to our ailing sailing kitty, Sam.
In the winter and early spring months, cruisers in Mexico tend to do a few things, depending on their plans. Some cruisers stop here in Banderas Bay and continue south, often to Panama. Others do the Pacific Puddle Jump to French Polynesia, and some wait for the weather to shift and go north into the Sea of Cortez. We’re in the latter camp this year, awaiting the shift in winds to sail up north.
Scott went up the mast a few times. First to wash and grease our mainsail track to make it easier to bring our mainsail up and down. Next, he went up and changed our spreader lights from amp-hogging incandescents to energy-saving LEDs and they’re very nice and bright. Finally, Scott went up to the very top of the mast to bring down our wind instrument to test it out, confirm that it indeed died on us, and then went back up with a new one.
Changing spreader lights
At the very top
We had workers from Marvel Boat Services waxing the topsides and hull and had them give Juniper two coats of varnish. We do not recommend them. They did a very sloppy job on the varnish, left a lot of ripples and holidays, and spilled varnish on Juniper and didn’t properly clean it up. I had to redo our starboard cockpit combing because there were so many ripples.
In between eating tacos and churros, we fixed our wash down pump, serviced our outboard, cleaned out our food lockers (and rediscovered booze we bought back in SF), defrosted and added new refrigerant to our freezer/refrigerator, and now we need professional help with our next two projects: installing our new solar panels, and fixing our electric winch. We might have to punt on these projects as the company that works on these things here in La Cruz is slammed.
Reaching for the washdown pump
Cleaning the food lockers
At this point in April, the weather has shifted, but the main reason we haven’t yet left La Cruz is because Sam is very ill. When we were back in Miami for the summer he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and he was prescribed medication to manage the disease. Unfortunately, the medication – which is the most popular kind used for treating hyperthyroidism in cats – has some really nasty side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, lethargy, inappetence and Sam has suffered from all of these. Since the summer, he’s lost a lot of weight and since February, he lost even more. It’s been a daily struggle to get Sam to eat food, and we had a smorgasbord going, but what flavors he liked one moment he disliked the next until it reached a point where he stopped eating entirely. Cats can’t go more than a few days without eating and over the Easter weekend, we were pretty certain we were going to lose him. Sam’s condition has since stabilized, but he has not recovered. I’ve been syringe-feeding Sam, because otherwise he won’t eat, and we’re taking it day by day and hoping that he gets well, but his prognosis isn’t very good. Thankfully, there’s a vet in La Cruz and we’ve been taking Sam there once or twice a week for bloodwork, subcutaneous fluids, and exams.
Scott and I have been in crisis mode for a while now, and the mood on Juniper has been pretty subdued. We’re keeping busy with projects, but it’s really heartbreaking to do all we can and see Sam’s health decline. We’re all hoping for a turnaround.
Here’s a cute picture of Sam going cross-eyed for food, from December, just to not end on such a sad note:
We’ve walked by this guy making churros over a dozen times and never pulled the trigger but, after a nice dinner with our friends from SV Ingenium, we stopped instead of passing him by and we’re so glad we did! We all just kind of went bonkers after the first bite.
He’s on Calle Langosta, next to the Kiosko, and he’s there in the evenings until 10pm, every day of the week, I believe. Churros are a legitimately good reason to visit La Cruz!
The forecast for our passage to La Cruz from Mazatlan called for it to be a wind-filled sailing adventure but aside from a brief moment outside of Mazatlan, it turned out to be one long motor slog through dead calm waters. Not ideal, but it ended up working out because whatever hesitation Scott and I had about running the motor for extended periods of time vanished after 30 hours of motor sailing.
Viv on passage
Sam relaxing in the cockpit during a passage
As we left Mazatlan, we were behind SV Full and By and followed by SV Shannon’s Spirit. They were buddy-boating and we were right in between them. We all ended up sticking together the entire passage with Full and By taking the lead at times and Shannon’s Spirit a good distance behind us. It was our first time being close to other boats for a passage, and it was helpful as Full and By repeatedly hailed us to warn of fishing lines they’ve spotted.
The only hitch in all of this was a strong diesel smell a few miles outside of La Cruz. Upon our arrival we found a cracked fuel line spraying a light mist. We had a spare on board so it was easy to replace.
We’ve been here at the La Cruz anchorage since December 12th. We went to the Festival of Guadalupe and spent Christmas with Paul and Judy (former cruisers who’ve settled in Puerto Vallarta), SV Due West, and SV Windcharmer. New Year’s Eve we spent with SV Ingenium and their family and SV Tigress II.
Christmas on Juniper
At anchor in La Cruz
There’s plenty of marine life here in the anchorage. At night, we often hear whale songs (and sometimes, it’s loud enough to wake us up!), and we have a beautiful Dorado fish (aka Mahi Mahi) who likes to swim around Juniper.
For Heidi’s birthday, we went whale watching and hiked up to a waterfall. We had the most incredible whale watching experience when two humpback whales came over to our panga, and just dove all around, watching us and seeming to want the boat to play with them. It was awe inspiring to be so close to these creatures, and such an adrenaline rush when the whales burst out of the water!
We initially planned to leave La Cruz for points south after the new year, but we’re upgrading our solar panels instead. This is our first experience cruising during the winter (we were at the marina all winter last year) and our combined 160 watt solar can’t meet our energy demands, small as it is. So we’re sticking around and upgrading solar vs going south to Tenecatitia and Barra de Navidad. While we’d like to check those anchorages out, better solar would really help us out with our longer term plans.
We’re suffering a bit of a delay here in Mazatlan, some of it is the boat yard and some of it us. We were anticipating being out of here by Thanksgiving but it looks like we’ll be lucky if we’re out of here by Christmas.
In kitty news, when we were in Miami we found out that Sam has hyperthyroidism and needs to take medication for the rest of his kitty life. Unbeknownst to us, his initial dosage was pretty high and he became lethargic and uninterested in eating which gave us quite a scare! We took him to a local vet here in Mazatlan and we’ve adjusted his dosage and he seems to be doing better. Hopefully Sam will be sailing with us for years to come.
Sam at the vet
In the meantime, we’ve:
Gone up the mast a few times to inspect the rigging, wash and grease the mainsail track, repair some deteriorated leather on the rigging, and replace our spreader lights. Unfortunately the screws for the lights are frozen to the spreaders so we’re going to wait to fix that when we have the mast pulled next year.
Rigged jib back onto the roller furler (we’re leaving staysail off for repairs when we reach La Cruz)
Removed the sunshades from the porthole windows and screwed in the screens
Inflated and tested the dinghy for leaks. 3 years in and it’s still good!
Ran the outboard (it had been sitting idle for six months)
Multiple dingy trips to the fuel dock to top off our tanks and filled our jerry cans with diesel and gasoline.
Ran the engine at the dock to further test the prop shaft work we had done over the summer. So far, no leaks!
Active Marine came by last week to ground the prop (there was some electricity discharging from the boat and as a symptom, our zincs were wearing out way faster than they should) and in doing so discovered they made an error in rewiring that resulted in our starter battery being tapped the entire summer and is now completely drained and dead. That sucks.
We still need to:
Buy and replace our starter battery
Finish re-varnishing the cap rail where the varnish lifted at the scarf joints (Active Marine is doing this but we’ll probably finish up ourselves as it’s taking too long)
After three months away from Mazatlan and Juniper, we returned to find the boat in pretty good shape here at Marina Mazatlan. No mildew, thanks to a small dehumidifier we set up prior to leaving (to which Scott attached a hose to auto-drain into the sink). We discovered some minor issues that we’ll need to take care of such as:
Our battery monitor died and needs replacing.
The varnish has begun to peel at the joints on both toe rails so we’ll need to have that area sanded down and revarnished (covered under warranty).
The head needs to be rebuilt. We did this a couple of years ago and it’s about as unpleasant as you might expect.
Replacing a slide on our mainsail. We won’t be able to raise the sail otherwise.
Go up the mast and replace our spreader lights. One went out last year during Hurricane Newton and rather than fix it we’re replacing both of them with LED lights.
Once that’s all sorted we’ll be heading south to some of the places we’ve already been (Matanchen, Chacala, Banderas Bay) and to some we haven’t (Barra de Navidad, Tenacatita).
But first we’re going to test out the major work that we had done by motoring over to Stone Island here in Mazatlan. If everything works well, we’ll anchor out and head south. If not, we’ll head back into the marina for more work.
We’re both a little hesitant about our first passage and want to test out the engine to make sure that it’s working properly. Last thing we want is another issue in the middle of nowhere. We’re chomping at the bit to get out of Mazatlan and we’re really excited to begin cruising again!