It’s been eight weeks since we were towed into Mazatlan and put Juniper on the hard. We have lots of work being done to the boat at Active Marine, including:
Replacing the stern tube, cutlass bearing, prop shaft, shaft seal, engine mounts and both aft mounting feet (the main reason we’re here)
Replace the engine stop solenoid
Servicing our Lighthouse 1501 windlass
Replacing the engine room insulation
Revarnishing all exterior wood (we’ve neglected this badly since leaving SF)
New bottom paint
While Scott did a parts run to San Diego at the end of April, we’re still waiting on one crucial part that should be here later this week (the stern tube). In the meantime, Juniper is getting eight coats of varnish and her bottom painted.
Sanding the toe rail
First coat of varnish on our companionway
Applying bottom paint
It’s off-season here in Mazatlan and the local net stopped meeting every day and shifted to a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday schedule. Looking out over the balcony towards the marina, traffic in and out of slips has come to a stop and the boats are all prepped for summer storage. Scott and I haven’t met anyone while here, so we’ve been hanging out by ourselves.
Exploring in Cerritos
Reclining at the movie theatre
I spent most of May going to physical therapy three days a week due to a shoulder impingement. I’ve also spent time reading all of the hard copy books I packed on Juniper so that I can donate them to the marina library and gain precious boat space back. Scott’s been enjoying uninterrupted and fast wifi and working on software projects (more on that in another post down the road). We both have been enjoying regular hot showers, a washer/dryer, regular access to fresh produce, plenty of home cooked meals, and popcorn and a movie either on the sofa or at the “platinum” movie theatre nearby.
We’ve checked out a few restaurants here in Mazatlan and explored Old Town, which we really like. We’ve done most of the touristy things except for visiting El Faro and the aquarium, which we need to get around to doing before it gets exceptionally hot and humid. We’re making the best out of being here. Mazatlan isn’t a bad place, but it’s hard when you’re stuck in a city that you didn’t intend on spending so much time in. We’re really looking forward to Juniper getting back in the water and moving on.
When David and Ernesto from Active Marine came by Juniper to see what was going on, they told us we were pretty lucky. With the bellows of our PSS shaft seal melted and seemingly hanging on by a thread, it appeared that melted rubber and a damaged cutlass bearing was keeping water from steadily streaming into the boat. Then David, who was in our engine room, yells out to us, “your motor mount’s broken, man! Your motor mount’s broken!”
With David in the engine room looking at the engine from the rear and me, Scott, and Ernesto in the cabin looking at the engine from the front, he points it out to us. We couldn’t see it at first, and we were both looking at David skeptically. Then we see it, a piece of metal just snapped in two, looking completely rusted out. For the past two days Scott and I have been staring at prop shaft seal, where all the smoke had been coming from. We didn’t bother to look anywhere else.
Our engine sits on four motor mounts: two in the front and two in the back. The two in the back have “feet” that attach to the motor mount and one of those feet is what actually snapped in two. A little bit about motor mounts. In a car or in a boat, a motor, or engine mount, is the part that holds the engine to the body, in our case to the body of the boat. Our engine and transmission are bolted together and held in place by four mounts. When they’re good, they also help keep noise and vibrations to a minimum. The rumblings we’ve been hearing on our last passage, the vibrations and the increase in engine noise were all signs that we were having issues with our motor mounts but we didn’t know to check them.
There’s some hustling as David and Ernesto start moving around, pointing their phone flashlights at the engine. “And the bolt on this motor mount has sheared off. ” They are both clearly surprised. A rush of words in Spanish, followed by Ernesto on his hands and knees taking pictures. “Wait, the bolts have sheared off on all the other motor mounts too! Your engine isn’t attached to anything on the boat! Your engine could have just walked right on out and into your cabin!”
Overview of the damage
This mounting foot snapped completely.
The bolts have separated and the engine moved forward.
We look and see that except for the mount with the broken “foot”, the other bolts on the other three mounts are positioned next to each other. That’s now how it’s supposed to be. The bolts should be just one piece but they sheared off and our engine has moved forward towards the cabin. It’s also the reason why Juniper wasn’t flooded with water. As the engine moved forward it pulled the propeller forward into the boat thus blocking any significant water from getting in. We all just silently take that in for a moment and Scott and I have our “holy shit” moment. “You guys are lucky, man,” David breaks the silence. We nervously laugh.
Why did one of them break? David thinks it was exposure to salt water, directly and indirectly. Indirectly? Yes, indirectly by having salt water in our bilge. The salt water heats up and releases salt into the bilge, finding its way to weak points such as our motor mounts, which are made out of iron and thus vulnerable to rust. When one broke, the engine began to move, putting stress on the other three motor mounts shearing off the bolts. As the engine started to move, the alignment of our shaft changed, which created friction on our shaft, shaft seal, and cutlass bearing. The reason that our engine room didn’t go up in flames is because salt water was putting out the fire.
How long did this whole thing take? How quickly did it go from the mount breaking , engine shifting, and damage-causing friction? We don’t know exactly when the motor mount broke and when the other mounts sheared off. We can guess that each time we heard deeper rumblings, a breakdown was happening.
The following day, David coordinates to have Juniper lifted out of the water. Over the next two weeks, we come to learn that our cutlass bearing was ground down to dust, the fiberglass tubing that the shaft goes through was burned and needs replacement, and our propeller shaft was ground down a bit, but not enough to warrant a complete replacement. Scott coordinates with the yard on which parts can be shipped and which ones to pick up in San Diego, and we take advantage of us being on the hard to get our varnish done and our bottom painted. We’ll likely be here for a few more weeks as our fiberglass tubing is a custom order, and there’s a lot of work to do.
Tow boat on our starboard side
Tow boat on our port side
Juniper out of the water
Where’s all the water?
In the meantime, we’ve got ourselves an AirBnB around the corner from the boatyard and we’re making the best out of this situation. At the very least, Sam is pleased that he’s no longer on the water!
Our last night in Matanchen Bay was really nice. We grilled pizza and enjoyed a mostly still night in the anchorage followed by an early morning rise to prep for the overnight sail to Mazatlan and the Stone Island anchorage.
We raised anchor and as we motored past the entrance to San Blas we heard and felt a slight shift in engine sound. I brought it up to Scott but we didn’t know what it was and it eventually went away.
Sam just loves going upwind.
We found some wind and sailed, mostly close-hauled, which kept us a little heeled over and making for a not so fun sail, but better to sail than to motor! But, like it does sometimes, the wind died in the evening and we motored through the night and early morning. Throughout both of our watches, we had moments were we heard rumbling and knocking, and we both questioned whether the engine seemed louder than normal, but we kept on going as the engine seemed to be alright.
Piedra Blanca del Mar
Sunset as we approached Isla Isabel. We’d tack towards Mazatlan a few minutes later.
At 6:00am I took over. We were only a several hours away from Mazatlan. While Scott slept down below, I kept a watch for boats and buoys. We passed several buoys out about 25 miles out from Mazatlan, sets of three buoys tied together, sometimes with palm fronds and coke bottles to help keep them afloat. The engine was running at 2800 RPM, as it had been for several hours now. I began to hear subtle shifts in sound from the engine, deep rumblings. We heard some rumblings earlier too, but the engine seemed fine. I checked the temperatures and they were normal so I didn’t wake Scott up to point out yet more rumbling.
Early Saturday morning, before things went awry.
A little before 9am, I made myself some tea. Twenty or so minutes later I smelled something burning and ran down the stairs, thinking I left a burner on. I did not. As I walked back to the companionway to go upstairs, the smell got stronger, which meant it was coming from the engine so I woke Scott up.
We couldn’t easily turn off the engine because our stop button, which is in the cockpit, was broken. Instead, we have to go into our quarter berth, open up a side door and, with a long flat-head screwdriver, stick our hand in the engine compartment and push down engine stop solenoid arm to turn it off (Note: we thought the stop button was a convenience not a safety issue. We were wrong!) This time though when Scott opened up that compartment, a bunch of smoke poured out. We stopped the engine and when enough smoke cleared and we saw that our PSS shaft seal had melted. The shaft seal is what keeps water from coming into the boat through the hole that the propeller goes through. Kind of important! Did one of those buoys get caught in our prop and cause this? Did all that rumbling lead to this? We’d have to wait until we were safely at a marina to investigate. In the meantime, the amount of water coming into the boat was easily managed by our bilge pump, so we were not in immediate danger of sinking.
Our PSS shaft seal
What a PSS shaft seal should look like
We were 23 miles out from Mazatlan. We had no way of using the engine and we had no wind to sail, and no way to maneuver into a marina slip. We had no cell phone service and we were too far out to use our vhf radio. We used our satellite phone to email our friends Kirk and Heidi on SV Due West for help and they stepped up big time. They called the marinas in Mazatlan for help, hounded the port captain to line up a tow, got us a slip at a marina, and coordinated these efforts and checked in with us repeatedly during the ten hours we were stuck out at sea in this condition. We cannot begin to express our gratitude and sincere thanks to Heidi and Kirk for all their help!
Getting towed to Mazatlan
It was unclear to us exactly how the tow boat was going to get us into the slip at Marina El Cid. For the past hour I had visions of Juniper getting slingshotted into the slip and guess what? That’s exactly what happened! The tow boat pulled up on the tow lines, passed the slip, and swung us towards the slip and we were going pretty fast. Thankfully the slip we were aimed at was 1) large and 2) at a diagonal so we were able to get alongside the dock where I jumped off and quickly tied us up with zero damage. It was a ballsy move, one bordering on insanity, and while I was laughing at the execution and their resourcefulness, Scott was annoyed by the risk.
It was 7pm. We now wait for Monday to start the process of getting Juniper out of the water and fixed up.
We left La Cruz in the morning and motored all the way to Chacala. Scott was really nervous about this anchorage as this would be the first time we’d have to use our stern anchor to keep the boat pointing into the swell. After hemming and hawing and at one point diverting away from Chacala, I convinced him to just give a a try. There were three other sailboats when we arrived and, due to the tricky current, it took us four tries to just get our bow anchor down between two boats without being rudely right next to either of them. When we finally anchored we backed up (not directly backwards since Juniper isn’t really controllable in reverse) and successfully dropped our stern anchor overboard. Scott did it! High fives all around!
Those high fives were given out prematurely. As day turned to night we learned that we didn’t give our stern anchor enough scope and Juniper ended up broadside to the swell resulting in us having a lousy night of fitful sleep.
At anchor in Chacala. At this point our stern anchor was working nicely and we were pointed into the swell. Overnight we’d be pointed in the same direction as the boat in front of us, beam to the swell.
At dawn, we tried to quietly correct our problem but Scott didn’t feel confident about fixing it so we upped anchor and headed towards or next destination, Matanchen Bay. Well Chacala, you were pretty! Wish we could have explored a bit!
We motored our way to Matanchen when we saw a whale breach four times! Horray! A first for us! And later on, we were joined at the bow by our dolphin friends. What a great day!
There were five other boats in Matanchen Bay, but this place is so big that we’re all so far away from one another. I finally get back to my Net Control duties on Amigo Net the next morning and am super excited to once again facilitate check-ins and read the weather report. That said, we’re not too excited about being here. We woke up early to find a bunch dead bugs and bug wings on deck. Come to learn from Dan on SV Karvi that they could be termites. Whaaat? We have a lot of wood on deck so this isn’t what we want to hear. The good news is that the deck was covered in dew so I wiped down all the wood looking for damage and found none. We looked the next morning and found no damage but it was time to get out of here and head to Mazatlan.
We spent quite a bit of time in Nuevo Vallarta, three months to be exact. There was a trip to the states for the holidays followed by another one for some medical issues. Here are the highlights of our time in Banderas Bay.
Festival of Guadalupe
Coconuts in Yelapa. After drinking the water, they cut up the meat for you.
We had a great time in La Paz. First, we got our refrigeration issues sorted and we now have cold beverages and a working freezer! We hung out with our pals Kirk and Heidi on SV Due West, took care of their gatos, Tikka and Tosh, and made plans to buddy boat across the sea to Banderas Bay.
Tosh and Tikka
We’re guessing he could smell that we were with other cats.
Before meeting up with Due West, we decided to get out of Marina Costa Baja and anchor out in Bahia Falsa where we could prep for the passage to Banderas Bay. On our way there, our auto pilot completely gave out. We’ve been having intermittent problems, but this time it was done. As soon as we anchored Scott was trying to figure out what was happening. He changed a fuse and then our wind instruments died.
Without the auto pilot, our passage to Banderas Bay would involve hand-steering, and it was estimated to be a three-day passage. Not something we were looking to take on. Scott dove into the port lazarette and found frayed and corroded wires.
Climbing into the laz
After spending hours doing boat yoga in a lazarette Scott finally found the cause of the intermittent electronics issues we’ve been having for the past two years.
After changing the wires the auto pilot worked! No more “low battery” or “heading not found” messages like we were getting whenever the auto pilot decided to reset. We were ready to go tomorrow morning.
Not so fast.
This is what was in the glass bowl of our Racor filter.
In the morning Scott did his routine engine checks and found the fuel filter half full and mostly full of gunk. Algae in the fuel, we guess. It can happen with the heat and condensation that builds up in the fuel tank if sits around for a bit and not completely full. Scott wasn’t feeling too good about starting a passage like this so we radioed Due West who came by and circled our boat while Kirk assisted via radio.
Finally we were all set and ready to go! Due West gained a huge lead on us, primarily because we were cautious and going slow, and then their lead on us increased even more as we decided to sail with the little wind we were getting. We sailed most of the day into the night, with Due West just a small light on the horizon until we couldn’t see them anymore.
On our passage to Banderas Bay
I admit that these passages are my favorite part of cruising. I love the journey and watching the skies the the water.
A beautiful end to our passage.
We arrived early morning to La Cruz and spent a day exchanging passage stories with Due West (who saw the same bank of clouds and took almost an identical pictures) before heading off to Nuevo Vallarta and Paradise Village Marina, where we’d keep the boat for a couple months while we head back to the state for the holidays.
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know we’ve been having refrigeration issues for a long time. It completely stopped working in October 2016 when Scott and I attempted to replace a valve and tore a hole in the copper tubing, resulting in the need for a full replacement of the holding plate. It would take a few weeks for the new holding plate to arrive in Mexico and we had the option to stick around San Carlos or have the holding plate delivered to La Paz instead. The decision was easy. We would mosey on down to La Paz, stopping at various locations along the way, and pickup and install the holding plate there. The catch? We would only be able to re-provision once we reached La Paz, as the places we’d be stopping would be, for the most part, uninhabited.
We would have no cold beverages, nothing, nada. So what’s it like to go without a refrigeration?
Provisioning when you don’t have a refrigerator was a little challenging. We eat vegetarian on the boat, so we didn’t have to change our way of eating. However, produce doesn’t last too long in the heat. Any greens had to be eaten right away or risk wilting. Carrots really do need to be refrigerated or they turn rubbery. Bell peppers were fine for a few days but otherwise had to be eaten quickly, but halves would survive a day or two cut if left in a well-ventilated area. Onions, garlic, potatoes, cabbages, coconuts, tomatoes (when bought green) were our saviors as they lasted until the end. Fruits also had to be eaten fairly quickly, as they ripened immediately in the heat. Eggs are sold unrefrigerated here in Mexico and can last for weeks if you turn them over regularly.
We have a lot of grains and dry legumes on board: chickpeas, lentils, chana dal, oats, quinoa, brown and white rice, black beans and peruano beans, couscous. We also had two boxes of whole wheat pasta and whole wheat, masa, and white flour.
As for packaged goods, we had two big bags of Japanese Peanuts, one bag of tostadas, several pouches of Isadora refried beans, dozens of cans of vegetables and Amy’s chili, peanut butter, and a dozen pouches of Tasty Bite Madras Lentils. The chili, canned veggies, and Madras pouches were meant for emergencies since it was heat and serve, but it made sense to use these now.
We didn’t have any dairy on board, but we had some powdered milk. (Not to drink straight, but to use in baking, scrambled eggs, and when making cafe con leche.)
Breakfast was the most challenging meal. Once the eggs ran out we switched to oatmeal. Oatmeal every single day. We had some piloncillo on board (amazing, btw) that I would chop and add to the oatmeal, but we didn’t have any dried fruits or pecans or walnuts to add more variety. Breakfast was the one meal that made us really unhappy.
That said, opening up the bilge and trying to figure out what to make every day for lunch and dinner became a fun game. Without produce, I turned to my expansive spice collection. What spices could I use to make a tasty meal? Smoked paprika elevated beans. Remembering that I had brought berbere spice made for excellent Ethiopian-inspired lentils. Relying on my Indian recipe collection transformed cabbage and fresh coconut into a ridiculously addictive and filling meal.
What did we eat? We ate what we normally ate, really. Here’s a small list of what we ate while we had no refrigeration:
Banana bread (using up our overripe bananas)
Black bean soup
Bean dip with tostadas
White rice with fried egg
Rice and cabbage with turmeric, cumin, and freshly grated coconut (Cabbage Thoran)
Pasta with garlic, red pepper flakes, capers, and olive oil
Rice with Madras Lentils (this was what we ate after a long day of sailing because it was really easy to make)
“Deconstructed” bean dip – When the refried bean pouches ran out, I made peruano beans cooked down with cinnamon, cumin, chipotle peppers, and “refried” it with garlic and onions
Raw almonds and raisins with salt and spices
Peanut butter and saltines when on passages
Vegan potato salad
Black beans and rice, a no-refrigeration staple.
Pico de gallo when we find some fresh produce. This goes great with black beans and rice.
Normally when I cook I have leftovers. Or, I intentionally make a bunch of food and freeze it for passages. I had to make every meal from scratch, and only beans or lentils could safely hang out for a few hours between lunch and dinner. This probably was the most challenging aspect of this experience. Nothing could be saved overnight, and I cooked every meal.
By the time we pulled into La Paz in mid-November, a month and 370 miles had passed. All the vegetables were gone; the last clove of garlic used the night before. While we were in a major city with plenty of markets, we still had our fridge situation to deal with before we could get back to normal. We picked up the holding plate, booked a slip, and had Juan from Hector’s Refrigeration over the very same day. Two days later, we were back up and running! The refrigerator is running better than ever. Having lettuce, avocados, and cilantro back on board is a wonderful thing! Oh, and cold water to drink!
After having an amazing time in San Marte, it was time to move on and sail towards San Evaristo. We had a fantastic sail, sailing wing-on-wing most of the way there.
Scott pointing at the telltales.
Approaching San Evaristo
Sunset in San Evaristo
San Evaristo at sunrise
We only spent a day in San Evaristo as the town seemed to be completely empty. Both the restaurant and the tienda were closed. We woke up early and headed to Ensenada El Cardonal in Isla Partida.
Ensenada El Cardonal is a gigantic anchorage, one that seems to go on forever. We arrived to find one other boat there but they left early the next morning. We found ourselves in the position of being the only boat around and we breathed a sigh and soaked it in. We took the dinghy and explored and tried to snorkel, but were unable to anchor anywhere around the reef as it was too deep. Then when we got back we swam around the boat and lazed around. We saw a dorado chase a fish, leaping out of the water several times. Then watched as a sea turtle swam by our boat. We enjoyed our last bottle of wine and relaxed in this beautiful place. In the evening, we were privileged to watch the moon rise between the two hills that separate the west side of Isla Partida from the east.
Ensenada El Cardonal
Moonrise in Ensenada El Cardonal
Next stop, La Paz where we’ll fix our refrigeration!
We motored from Honeymoon Cove to Bahia San Marte to charge our batteries and arrived in the afternoon. It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by reefs, which we’re able to spot because of the breaking waves. As the sun sets, we’re approached by a panga with three pangueros – fishermen – asking for batteries in exchange for fish. Ok! We’ve heard about this happening but this is a first for us and we’re dying for something fresh to eat. We get them four batteries but, in the eager exchange, I accidentally drop one into the sea (Note: always exchange things from boat-to-boat over the boat, not the water). Sadly, the fishermen did not return the next day as promised.
The snorkeling here made up for that. The first spot we tried was a dud with no visibility or fish, but the next spot was mind blowing. It’s like we stumbled upon a fish city where none of the fish were too concerned about these two giants swimming among them. Giant parrotfish, hogfish, triggerfish, dorado. Hundreds and hundreds of fish going on about their day. We spent hours in their world, just watching. It was incredible and like being in an aquarium.
Parrotfish and Sergeant Major
Cortez Angelfish and Sergeant Majors
We don’t know why kind of fish these were but there were thousands of them.
Look closely, there’s a scorpionfish hanging out at the bottom of the rock.
After a terrible night staying up listening to the election results, the mood was somber and we had a quiet sail to Honeymoon Cove. This place instantly lifted our spirits. What a beautiful place! The waters were ridiculously clear that when we dropped the anchor, we could see it hit the ground 40 feet below. We watched a dorado slowly swim by and spotted over twenty sergeant majors immediately taking residence around the boat. This has proven to be our favorite anchorage thus far and we’re flabbergasted that there’s only one other boat here, Steve on MV Pacific. He hasn’t been keeping this place a secret; in fact Steve has been on both the Amigo and Sonrisa nets for the past five days letting everyone know about the clear waters and amazing diving to be found and that he’s the only boat around. Sure, there are bees and that’s likely keeping people away. Bees came to our boat, looked around and, once it was determined that we had screens on all our windows and no fresh water on deck, left us alone.
Rain over the Sierra Gigantes from Isla Danzante
We spent some time with Steve, listening to his diving stories and learning the names of some of the fish we’re seeing here. He takes video of his dives and we watched and remarked on his techniques and excellent footage. He’s very nice, a good storyteller, and after learning of our refrigeration woes, shares with us some avocado, cilantro, tomatoes, bell peppers, and a bottle of merlot. We are grateful and touched by his generosity. We’re sad to learn that he’s making his way back to Puerto Escondito and heading back to the States, but happy to hear that he’ll be back in the spring. We hope to see him again.
Lovely vegetables provided by Steve from MV Pacific
The snorkeling has been amazing with reefs everywhere. While snorkeling, I saw a dorado swim past me and when I went after her she swam away. I turned around and she’s right in front of me. I admired her colors – green, yellow, and blue – and realized that my rash guard had the same colors. I excitedly pointed my GoPro at her and hoped I had a good shot but the GoPro was out of batteries. Of course!
Slate Pencil Sea Urchin
After a day of snorkeling that concluded with Scott’s fins missing (did they fall out of the dinghy? Did someone swing by and take them? So weird!) we were excited to snorkel again the next day and look for Scott’s fins. Steve signaled to us and pointed to his dinghy. He found and dove for the fins in 25 feet of water, near where we were yesterday! Incredible!
We spent another three hours in the water, this time spotting a seahorse. We’re so excited that we repeatedly dive down, trying hard to get some footage of the shy little guy.
The next day, Steve heads back to Puerto Escondido and it’s just us here. We don’t revel too long in being the only ones in the anchorage as it’s time for us to move on as well. We loved this place and are looking forward to coming back.