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Archive for July, 2014

The ‘slide pool’ . . . high winds, horizontal rain, and slime . . . anchors away!

Late, last week, we had a small weather event.  On an apparently quiet evening–around midnight with no forecast of any significant winds–we were wakened by the boom tents attempting to take flight.

Now, just for information, our boom tents are (based on experience) absolutely stable from any direction up to about 35 knots of wind.  If we have winds predicted above 30, we sometimes drop/furl them to prevent any damage.  That evening, in the dark, we discussed it and decided–even as the boat was pitching at the docks–to leave them up, even though we were pretty sure the wind was above 30 knots.  The reason?  Because the rain was blowing sideways so hard that we barely got the cockpit enclosure (where we sleep) closed off to rain before the bedding got soaked.  We ended up closing the butterfly hatch under the boom-tent for the first time all summer because of sideways rain.

The wind was atypical for Barra.  First a brief blow, 15 minutes or so from the north side of the boat … that is from Melaque/Barra de Navidad.  Then, perhaps a five-minute lull of no wind at all and rain falling straight down.  Then, ‘wham!’, the boat listed to the opposite side … the masts moaned in the wind … with a sound I have only heard before when multiple masts were nearby.  Now, the wind was blowing with equal intensity from the opposite side of the boat, the south.  Spiritus listed about 8 degrees to each side before straightening out.  8 degrees is a lot for Spiritus because she is a heavy keeled boat with about 10,000 pounds of lead low in a full keel.  I repeat, 8 degrees is a lot at the dock!

Again, in excess of 30 knots.  Within  perhaps 15 minutes more, the winds dropped off, the rain steadied at a drizzle, the moaning stopped and we opened up the cockpit.  Temperatures were 5 degrees lower, so a nice night s sleep was had by all.

Remember, Spiritus was at the dock.

The ‘lagoon’ at Barra is famous for the difficulties of anchoring there.  It has a sand bottom with a layer of slime-like deposits of black sand and organic stuff that is almost like clay.  This can, on occasion of high or shifting winds, mean boats go ‘walkabout’.

The lagoon is frequently referred to–with no small humor–as the ‘slide pool’ by people familiar it as an anchorage.  Most boats leave the anchorage for the summer months, the hurricane season, and rent a slip.

Most, but, not all.

The other alternative is to anchor Mediterranean style with the boat’s stern against the mangroves on a small island in the northwest part of the lagoon.  This summer, there is/was one boat at anchor and five tied up against the island mangroves.


The water on that side of the island is around 9-12 feel deep depending on exactly how close you are to the mangroves.

The boat at anchor broke free and wound up ashore on the south side of the small island.  Where it lay on its side for three days.  The boat’s name is Phoenix.


Dur the early morning three days later, the panga fishermen went out and dragged it off the sandy beach back into deeper water.  Then, they tied it to  the mangroves on the north end of the island.  Only apparent damage … the bowsprit was partially torn away, probably when the anchor dragged from the look of the damage.  And, the port side stanchions and life lines were carried away.

This boat has been there all summer and is, I believe, not lived aboard.

Lessons: multiple anchors, set the anchor well, do not leave a boat unattended for long periods, be aware that weather is not easy to predict in this part of the world.  The satellite photos did show the small storm and showed a fair amount of intensity, the airport weather station predicted no rain or winds of any significance.  The only early warning was a sudden lightening storm close by just before the front hit.

The new NOAA experimental offshore waters for cast for Mexico’s Coast did not predict the intense small storm either.  But, we are not ‘at sea’.


A follow up note:  Evidently what we experienced was a small ‘chubasco’ wind event … for more info go here : The July 28, 2014 issue of ‘Lectronic Latitude’ at Latitude 38

Barra de Navidad’s ‘new’ beach . . . or your tax ‘pesos’ at work!

If you have been to Barra de Navidad, then you know, ’cause you did your research on hurricane holes, that it is seldom hit by hurricanes.  This is because (1) it is very south (2) the storms usually track NW and (3) it can count on its natural ‘sand bar’ , the word in Spanish for bar is ‘barra’, for protection of the ships at anchor in its lagoon.  And, now there is a very nice well-protected, recently built (1996) , modern marina at Isla Navidad Marina, which is part of the Wyndham Grand Isle Navidad Hotel complex on the other side of the channel.

But, ‘seldom’ does not mean ‘never’.  In October, 2011, late in the hurricane season Jova came ashore at Barra.  Damage to beaches and business has not entirely been repaired.  But, Barra is now a part of a push to create a Mediterranean style coast for central Mexico, called the CostaLegra Project.

If you have been following this blog, you may also recall that Barra de Navidad got a dredge several months back.


This dredge is part of that project.  It’s first contribution to the community is this ‘new’ beach just inside the breakwater.  It is a newly completed restoration of the old beach that was so popular.


On the very day the beach was completed … it was transformed by the arrival of beach umbrellas.  And, it now is even more inviting.



The area in front of this beach and the water taxi docks is being dredged to 22 feet depth approximately.  The massive amounts of sand removed are being used to create or recreate beaches.  Most of the sand is being moved to the west side of the breakwater.  Extensive damage was done to the beach, the ‘malecon’ style walkways, and the ocean side of hotels and restaurants.

If you look closely at this picture, you can see the beach is already under use as they refill it.  People in Mexico love beaches as much or maybe more than Norte Americanos.


To give you some idea of the damage from Jova. I am adding a link to a video of the storm as it hit … this is not even the height of the wind and waves.  The video was shot from almost the same spot I took the picture from today.

The video is from Reuters with permission not required for use.

Barra is beloved amongst the resort towns of the central coast of Mexico to Mexicans from all over Mexico.  We are only just discovering its quaint earthy old Mexico style.  But, time is short as the changes being wrought by the CostaLegre project will ‘improve’ acess to thei part of the coast and change it forever in the process.

But, for now it is just plain beautiful … and not at all crowded.


The view looking the other way from the same spot that the last picture was taken.  Melaque is the cluster of buildings and homes two and a half miles along this beach.  Close enough to walk.  But only if you like lonely beaches and sand between your toes.


Blow, blow . . . suck is just a figure of speech!

This post is about the science of siphons.

Mexico is a funny sort of place about its water supplies.  The marina here does not have potable water.  The Grand Wyndham Isla Navidad resort hotel also does not have potable water.  For a host of reasons, Mexicans, in general, do not trust their water supplies.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, uses bottled water.  If you order a glass of water  in a restaurant, you get a bottle (unopened) of purified water.  I tested the water in the marina’s system and it tests fine according to the tester for our RO desalinator.  Which, in reality, just means it is not salty; it does not mean it is safe to drink from because of a host of other things.  But if a five-star resort says its water is not drinkable, I will believe them.

Our water taxi was late this morning, so we missed church and stayed on the boat instead.  As with all things cruising, there is never a shortage of work to do.  We chose to use the time to fill Spiritus’ water tanks.  We use about three gallons a day of fresh potable water, so we have to fill our 55 gallon tank more or less every two weeks.  Yes, I did the math … we usually have ten gallons or so left in the tank when we refill it.

Spiritus’ water holding tanks are built into the keel and use the space that the builder saved when they used lead, instead of iron, to ballast the boat.  The fill-point for the tanks is in the main cabin inside the boat.  You access it by lifting a floor panel.  This presents a couple of problems when filling the boat’s potable-water storage.  The problems are getting the water downstairs into the cabin and the mess, which pouring multiple five-gallon bottles can make.  There is always spillage.


We noticed Sven on Senta II using a method I had not seen.  At first, I didn’t pay any attention because it was a simple siphon.  Duh!  Remember he and his wife Nancy really are rocket scientists in real life.  When I looked back a second time, I noticed he simply thrust the hose into the bottle, made a seal with his fingers, and put his mouth to his hand, and …. blew!

Miraculously, as I watched, the bottle emptied itself.

Now, this will give my age away slightly, if the accompanying pictures don’t.  I remember siphons as things that left your mouth full of gasoline or diesel or God-knows-what.  This is because you sucked the fluid up to till it started to run down whatever hose you had in your mouth and you deftly removed the hose from your mouth and put it in whatever container you were trying to fill–all the while, desperately attempting not to gag, retch, or swallow in the process.

I had Sven show me exactly what he was doing and had one of those moments of epiphany … “duh … boy am I dumb” moment as I watched.  In Arkansas, where I grew up, and especially in my family, the feeling you were suddenly dumb for not knowing something, is what the rest of the world describes as an epiphany.  He told me later that one of the local fishermen in a panga had shown him the technique.

You simply open the bottle and

(1) with bottle sitting on floor,

(2) insert hose (in our case, a three-and-a-half foot long, inch-and-a-half diameter, clear water line hose)

(3) wrap two fingers around the hose at the top of the bottle

(4) take a deep breath

(5) make a seal with your lips

(6) exhale forcefully (blow . . . this pressurizes the bottle and forces water up over the top of the loop initiating the siphon effect)

(7) watch a five gallon, 30 pound bottle empty in about 70 seconds.



Repeat ’till all the bottles sit empty on the dock. Takes perhaps 15 minutes, or so.


We are good for another two weeks.

So, the gist of the posting is that everything we know about siphons is wrong headed.  The panga operators have it right.  Viva Mexico!

A note:

We have a water maker/ desalinator on board.  It is a good one but mostly used on passages for a couple of reasons.  It takes an hour to make a gallon-and-a-half of water.  This means a constant drain on the batteries so it is only used when under motor power.  We could use it at the dock but the water quality of the lagoon here and especially of the water near the docks is at times very, very questionable.  (Read your water-maker hand book for cautions …. it is meant to be used in open water …  even our step filtering system for cruising would be stressed by the water here in the marina.)

Finally, we looked at what using bottled water for the summer would cost and decided to save the wear on this expensive piece of equipment.  We pickled it ’till the sailing season is back.

The only thing we are going to change about this siphon system is to get a 14 foot long piece of wate- hose so the tank can be filled from the deck.  This would take away the necessity of lifting  and carrying 8-10 bottles that weigh 30 pounds each up and down the hatchway.

And, yes, in the background, behind the now-empty bottles,  is two pots of pork roast being solar cooked to make arrachara or Mexican pulled-pork tacos.  When it stops raining, we cook with solar.

Gaming in the Rain!

What do cruisers do in port?  Especially, what do we do when the weather is of the indoor variety.  Most of us are outdoor types, hence the avocation of sailing and cruising.  Like small children on a a bad day, we have to find something to do on rotten-weather days.  Otherwise our wives, spouses, quartermasters, and lovers would go insane trapped inside with us.

Bad weather days look a lot like this!



If you have read my earlier article from La Paz, called “Have you got game?”, then you know my setup for gaming.  If you haven’t read it , go here…o-you-got-game/

Like many cruisers, I have a laptop on board.  We actually have two; one is for personal business like this blog and emails and surfing the net to learn Spanish.  The other is for gaming.  I find gaming a good way to pass the time when the weather is less than friendly to working on the boat or just being outside.

I have recently been playing a game called Assassin’s Creed IV : Black Flag. It is a pirate game, and the 6th or 7th in the series by Ubisoft Montreal.  Most people play this game on a game console.  I am using a computer.  I repeat it is a PIRATE GAME!  If you felt cheated because you were born in the wrong century or continent, or  you always wanted to sail the Caribbean, meet Blackbeard, and a host of other pirates and see how you stack up … set sail!

I will discuss it here, because art sometimes takes a turn and mimics reality.  I recommend this game to sailors because it has simply the most beautiful sailing simulation I have ever fooled with.  Oh, and it is FUN!

I thought I would show some screen shots and compare them to the realities of cruising … I think you will enjoy.

First, when it is rainy outside …. go sailing in a virtual Caribbean world.  ‘Cause, it is rainy outside!


As you can see, the game simulates weather, too.  Ok, enough with the rain torture … or is it Chinese-water torture?

If you always wanted tanbark sails, get them for this ship … see?


Your ship is the Jackdaw–small, maneuverable, and moderately fast.  You will have to steal her, equip her throughout the game, and learn to sail her in this virtual world.  Oh, you need to supply her (money), get crew, repair damages, and upgrade her cannons as you progress through the game.  The actual sailing game is a sub-game of the Assassin Missions but you can spend hours or days exploring this virtual sailing world.


It models wind, wave states, weather, rogue waves, ship condition, crew strength and morale, cities, docks, Mayan ruins, islands, and so on.

For example,  in the virtual world, there are “Harbour Masters”!


Sort of like the Captain Jack Sparrow entrance to the wooden docks as his ship sinks.  In real life, we have comparable individuals.  Here is the one in Barra de Navidad at the Grand Wyndham Isla Navidad Marina.


There are many docks in the harbor (not at the marina) that look like this.


And, in the virtual world of sailing that is Black Flag, you have to be able to get your boat against this dock (amongst others).


To find your way around, you have a version of GPS (it is more accurate than my Garmin) that shows you the shorelines of the virtual world.  You can also use a spyglass to look over a harbor entrance or another ship.


Realistic as the game is,  I have to say, I have not had to lay offshore all night and wait for dawn because I did not trust my GPS.  If you sense a slight irritation that has crossed over  from the  real world to a virtual one .. see the entry: “How I lost my faith in GPS”  here…ps-and-reality/

The game models fog, storms, daylight cycles including twilight , dark, full moon sailing, and dawn-to-dusk daylight.  The fog is so thick you will slow to match what you can see.

You can hide her from bad weather in hurricane holes like this one.


Which looks remarkably like what we are doing in the real world right now as hurricane season  is under way here.


If you don’t like slip fees ( you, Pirate, you), you can just anchor out in some picturesque little nook.


‘Till the off-season rates for slips in Tortuga drops.


Or you can take her out.  There are all kinds of storms, rogue waves, and even an occasional water spout to keep the sailing interesting.  You get wind direction and wave-set direction modeled.

You get to meet new people, some of whom don’t speak your language.  How do you say “Friend”?  What is the Mayan for “Put down the knife, please!”?


What sailing blog would be complete, even a virtual one, without pictures of whales?  These are from near Los Frailes on the Baja California peninsula.


This humpback is from Black Flag.


And, no you don’t have to kill them (even pretend-like … for all you PETA types).  There is whaling and hunting of all kinds of exotic animals (virtual) for the creation of clothing, goods, trade goods, and many useful objects of crafting.  Or, you can sell them for money.  But, you can generate or buy anything you need to replace these animals if you choose not to hunt.

It was kind of interesting, in a virtual moral sense, I couldn’t/wouldn’t hunt the humpbacks.  Sorry, have seen them close up and they are just too beautiful.  Didn’t have a qualm about Great Whites … a la JAWS.  Went after the killer whales, too.  One of them ate my whale boat.

For the obsessive literary types among you in the sailing community, there is even a white whale– a sperm whale–of Moby Dick proportions, and it only appears on very very rare occasions.  I have seen it twice and tried unsuccessfully to hunt it once … lost my whale boat and whale boat crew to it.  So, sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted.  I have to admit that the white whale is very cool and a piece of gaming magic.

The sea is alive with Great White Sharks, Hammerheads, Killer whales, and even moray eels when you are diving wrecks for treasure or cannon and other salvage.

You can find bottles on the beach with treasure maps in them, find your way into Mayan ruins; and–oh yeah– chase, battle, capture, and plunder enemy ships to your heart’s content.  You will learn the language of sailing this kind of ship.  One of my favorite things in this game is to collect sailing ‘shantys’–songs of sailing,–the more you collect, the more songs your crew will sing while manning the rigging and guns of your ship.  A stirring rendition of “What do you do with a drunken sailor?” just makes you want to shout, “Avast, me hearties!”.

Anyway, for rainy days, this is the best thing since being a kid and hiding under the blankets with a flashlight to read a comic book, or moving toy tanks and army men across the vast battle-fields of the blankets on my bed.

Maybe, if I am lucky, it will rain tomorrow.

Captain Jack Sparrow, eat your heart out!