Sunday, January 15, 2012

Remembering Lazarus

This is a poor attempt at trying to remember Lazarus. Lazarus was my first boat, a Hardin 44 Ketch. She was clearly to large for my first boat but she had great "pirate ship" lines and I could afford her. She had previously been named "Mahalus" or something like that and I wanted to resurrect her from a dock-side condo, which she had become under the previous ownership, back to a sailing vessel which she was designed to be. However, I did not know the fury of the sea and wind gods when you rename a boat and they lose track of her.

Lazarus was purchased in March or maybe April of 2001, I can't remember which, and after receiving new rigging, extensive interior floor work, new scroll work on her exterior lines, a new radar, a chart plotter, and a GPS she was planning on spending three months in Ensenada, Mexico to avoid California state tax.

I set sail toward Mexico in early July having previously driven to Ensenada and purchased a three-month slip. The crew included my girlfriend, a male "friend" of mine and his wife. Neither of the women had any previous sailing experience. I had never done an overnighter and I only knew of my friend's daysailing experience. But, I thought, it was a simple one-day trip and nothing could go wrong.

Lazarus was a heavy, slow ketch. We left San Diego around 9am and made our way South under very light winds. It was dark before we got close to Ensenada and my friend wanted to do the navigating, as he was fascinated with all the electronics. Foolishly, I did not double check his work and did not have night-lights on my depth sounder or the other instruments that were already on the boat when I purchased it.

Nearing midnight on Saturday, my friend looked at the Ensenada harbor on the chart, found something similar on the chart plotter and guided us directly into a slough. The first time I knew we were in shallow water was when the keel hit bottom with a solid thud. I tried to back out but we were on a full moon high tide and the waves kept bumping us toward shore. I called a "Mayday" to the US Coast Guard who, after ascertaining we were not in immediate danger, called my towing service, Boat US, for me. I was told Boat US towing would be arriving in about six hours from San Diego. The crew and I put on life-vests and spent the night listening to the boat bump up onto the beach. By daybreak Lazarus was at a severe angle and, upon coming up on deck, I found we were completely on the beach. At low tide you could walk off the boat.

I contacted the Coast Guard, having actually kept in touch with them every hour to confirm our safety. Great bunch of folks, the US Coast Guard. They informed me that Boat US towing had declined to come down to Mexico and that Boat US towing had instructed I find a local towing service. Yes, I was to call channel 16 at 6am Sunday morning in Mexico to find a towing service. Unfortunately, I do not speak Spanish and did not get any reply. Surprise, surprise!

Finally, I convinced my friend, his wife, and my girlfriend to leave the boat and walk into town. We could see the town across the bay. They did so very reluctantly as they did not want to leave me alone. My friend found a telephone and contacted my insurance carrier, who contacted SeaTow in San Diego. SeaTow dispatched a boat and a crew by car toward my location. They arrived on site late Sunday afternoon after Lazarus had spent an entire day on the beach. Fortunately at this point there was only some rudder damage to the boat.

SeaTow brought lines from their boat to Lazarus and attempted to pull her off the beach but it was not to be. After trying for two days and numerous tide changes, the surf started to break into Lazarus' portholes and she began taking on water. I stayed with the boat the entire time as to leave it would be to give up salvage rights. The scariest night for me was the second night on board when Lazarus was partly filled with water, heeling at a severe angle on the beach. I had to untie the lines from Lazarus to the towboat at midnight with surf breaking over the bow. It felt like something from a movie. I stayed on board sleeping in the rear cabin with diesel-filled water lapping at the bunk.

Finally, Lazarus was declared a wreck and the instructions were to destroy her. My son, God bless his sweet soul, had driven down the previous day and some good Samaritans had offered us a bed for the night in their near-by house. The last I saw of Lazarus was when my son and I spent an hour early Tuesday morning looking at her from the beach. We were so exhausted from the events that we didn't even think about any part salvage operation. The only thing I removed was my girlfriend’s clothes from the stateroom.

Slowly, exhausted, we drove back to to the US. We were stopped several times by Mexican police because the car was so filthy and we looked so ragged.

Perhaps I should give up sailing and buy a cabin on top of a mountain. That's the thought that ran through my mind for the first week. Watching Lazarus die was like watching a friend die. It was slow, painful, and horrible. But no, the problem was not in the sailing. Sailing was still a good idea; the problem was in the execution. I had become lackadaisical. I had not delegated responsibilities but had abdicated them. If you are going to be captain of the boat, then you have to be captain. Nothing is abdicated and you check everything.

Why didn't I throw out an anchor? I didn't even think of an anchor until the next day when I was already up on the beach. Maybe I was just too tired and stressed from the trip down. Maybe I just wasn't prepared for such a trip. I don't know but the thought never entered my mind. It is so easy to second-guess yourself after the event.

So now, my motto is: No one gets on this boat unless they know how to navigate or look very good in a bikini. And those are two separate activities. The result is that I check everyone's work that wants to do anything on my boat.

I now have great night-lights, the sonar is always on and visible at night, I don't use a chart plotter but plot everything on a paper chart, and most importantly, never come into an unknown harbor at night. I will stay out all night versus coming into unknown shallow water. And I spend a lot of time trying to think about what I would do if certain emergencies came up. Am I now prepared? Well, yes better than before but I'm sure there is something I haven't thought about. I spend a lot of time listening to other sailors and how they have handled, or mishandled, things in their life.

And, finally, I give credit to the wind and sea gods. They are powerful and full of vengeance. But they are also merciful. I have since been in a couple rough seas and, having given them proper respect, they have led me safely to shore.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

To Santiago

I decided to go to Santiago today to get some spare fan belts for my engine. As I stated in a previous email, the belts I bought here in Luperon were very cheap and burnt out quickly. So I decided to get good quality "GATES" belts. On to Santiago.

The problem is that Santiago is about 3 hours away by bus and I didn't know how to get there by bus. Fortunately I found that a friend was planning on going to Santiago today, so I decided to go with him. I went to his boat this morning at 8am to find he had changed his mind and wasn't going, but, don't worry, a friend of his was going. Hm. So I met his friend at the dinghy dock. The friend, Roger, turned out to be a Canadian who is married to an Argentinian and speaks fluent Spanish.

He guided me to the "Gua-Guas", which are the local buses that run from Luperon to Imbert. The Gua-Gua is a van designed for 8 passengers but we were able to put 17 in at the high point of the ride to Imbert. You get to know you neighbor very well and hope like heck you remembered to put on your deodorant. And guys, it helps a lot if you figure out how to get a girl setting next to you. The trip from Luperon to Imbert is about half an hour and costs one dollar.

At Imbert you catch an Express bus to Santiago. The bus is very nice, clean and they don't appear to put more people on than there are seats. This trip is over the mountains, takes about one and a half hours, and costs $2.50.

Arriving in Santiago my new friend Roger had to take off to get what he was after and left me near a larger ferratereria (hardware store). So, in I go with my great command of Spanish and ask them if they have fan belts and specifically Gates XXXX. Nope, they no have.

Well, now what am I going to do.

I walked out of the store and started down the street but then it dawned on me I didn't have the least idea where I was going and if I didn't stay near the route I understood from the bus trip could become hopelessly lost. Well, I've been lost many times in my years of traveling and have discovered I'm not really lost, I'm just misplaced. I must be misplaced because I'm still here. If I ever got lost then I wouldn't be here would I? I try not to think about it, it gives me a headache.

So anyway, back into the store and try to communicate where there might be another ferreteraria. I finally get the message there is another one a little ways away and approximately what direction it's in. Out the door and up the street.

Now is the time God decided to remind me he is always there. I'm walking along and see an automotive parts store across the street. What the heck, might as well check it out. I go in and ask if they have fan belts. Yep, they have fan belts. Do they have Gates? Yep, they have Gates. Do they have Gates XXXX? Yep, here is one. Do they have any more? Don't push your luck, they only have that one. Thank you God. I bought it.

Now, armed with a good fan belt I go on an adventure to see if I can find anymore. I finally found a couple similar types, same size and length but from a Japanese Co. that I faintly recognize so I buy them also. I'm ecstatic. A highly successful day.

Now, I just have to get back to my boat.

I start flagging down buses but no one is going toward Imbert. After starting to feel like I may have to stay overnight in Santiago, if I could find someplace other than a park bench to sleep on, I finally go into a furniture store - because there was a cute saleslady - and ask them how to catch the bus to Imbert. But, they don't speak English and my Spanish is failing.

However, being good Latinas, they have someone take me across the street to catch a taxi to Caribe 2. Why I want to go to Caribe 2, I don't know but that's where they want me to go. So, I go. The taxi, already loaded with four other people, takes me to Caribe 2 (total cost twenty five cents) and I find it's not Caribe 2, it's Caribe Tours. Caribe Tours is a major bus company on the island and they go through Imbert. Thank you God. So, for $2.50, it's a Premier bus not an Express bus with an onboard television with a cheap movie blaring away, I get a ride back to Imbert.

Getting off the bus in Imbert, I cross the street to catch the Gua-Gua. But, no Gua-Guas. A taxi driver asks me if I want a ride to Luperon. No, thank you, I'm waiting for the Gua-Gua. But then, there is Roger sitting under a tree. He tells me we should catch the taxi as there are no Gua-Guas running right now because there aren't enough passengers. We negotiate with the taxi to take us to Luperon for the same cost as the Gua-Gua and we are off. Well, almost. The taxi is a little Toyota coupe but the driver puts six of us in the car plus himself. You are forced to get to know the locals here. But, anyway, made it back to the boat, put on a new fan belt and everything is lovely again in paradise.

I'm going to open a beer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Touch One Thing, Something Else Breaks

You all know how this goes. Everything is working fine but you decide to just tweak this one little thing and then ...

I had a diesel mechanic come over to check my engine. It seemed to be vibrating more than it used to and also needed a 500 hour valve adjustment. So he checks the alignment, no problem. Checks the valves, a little tweak here and there but essentially no problem. But, oh by the way, did you notice your fan belt is wearing. Should probably replace it.

So, ok, I go into town and buy a fan belt. Lovely no name Japanese version. I install it and within 10 minutes it blows up. Humm, could be defective so I went back and bought another belt. Installed it and within 10 minutes it blows up leaving pieces of fan belt all over the engine compartment and an overheating engine. Ok, so enough of that for the day. Close everything up and go to the marina for a fiesta. We are retired you know!

Saturday morning I get up and decide to find the root cause - my old Quality management days weren't wasted after all. I cleaned the three pulleys, polishing them until they shined. I inspected the alternator, hm, the alternator seems a little loose on the bottom. I checked the bottom bolt and there is some play in it. I pulled the bottom bolt, put a couple washers on it, and … wait a minute … shouldn't there be a spacer here to fill up the gap between the two horns sticking off the alternator? Oh. I wonder if that rusty piece of tubing I found in the bilge yesterday could be used. I'll be darned, it's exactly the right size. When did I replace the alternator and not put the spacer tube back in place? No wonder the alternator wobbles.

I put everything back together, put the old, slightly worn belt back on, and, viola, it's making electricity and not burning up belts. Am I good or what? The answer is "what!"

So Monday I am off to Santiago for fan belts. I'll buy about a 1/2 dozen just in case. Interesting place where you have to make an all day trip just to get fan belts. There must be something else I can buy while I am there.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Busy Night in Luperon

Saturday evening was a highlight in Luperon. The local marina had a pre-hurricane 60s party that I went to. The food was horrible, very dry, and overpriced. The one man band, a local cruiser, was off key.

So, a group that I met heard that the Bahia Luperon (a restaurant in town) was televising the Lewis-Tyson heavyweight fight. Everyone hops in their dinghy and motors across the bay to Luperon. It's 9pm, so two drinks later (one in my hand) and off we go. I wish to report that I made it all the way across the bay holding a flashlight in one hand, the outboard controls in the other, and still didn't spill a drop of gin and tonic.

Bahia Luperon is a new restaurant opened by a guy from Belgium and a woman from England. The food is outstanding, the drinks are cheap, and the restaurant is clean. What else could you ask for? The fight was suppose to start at 9pm but nothing came on, 10pm still nothing, 11pm and the owner announces that everyone should grab their chair and come down the street to sit outside a house that has the proper cable adapter. So, off everyone goes to sit in the middle of the street at 11pm watching a television set sitting on a beer box. The TV is hooked up to a cable extension hanging from a second story window. Occasionally traffic comes by but there is room to squeeze between the seats. I had a balcony view which means I was on the curb with the open sewer running down in front of my feet. The cable would freeze frame every once in a while so we actually saw about 1/2 of the fight live.

But, what an experience. Only in Luperon.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Luperon Stuff

Well, I have learned some interesting stuff over the last few days. For instance, did you know that 30% of the population has AIDS and another 30% has a antibiotic resistant version of syphilis? Wow, that's enough to keep "Willie" in the barn, if you know what I mean!!!

On the positive side, food here is very cheap. A can of corn costs 10 cents, and fresh bakery cookies are 10 cents each. A cup of delicious coffee in a nice restaurant is 25 cents. A large beer, enough for three glasses, is $1.00. Fresh live lobster is less than $10 delivered cooked and on your plate with rice and beans. Even imported stuff costs the same or less than in the U.S.

Ok, so I am now in a Spanish class two times a week. There are two other people in the class, a French Canadian couple. Very nice people.

Went for a ride through the countryside today. Wow, is it ever beautiful. Fresh green farm land with coconut palms. Terrific mountains and lovely valleys. The only down side is the people throw trash everywhere. It is very similar to Mexico, and parts of Southern California to be truthful. At least regarding the trash problem.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Trip With a French Couple

I just got back from a three day trip around the DR with a French Canadian "family." We went East to the end of the island, a place called Semana. It is billed as a lovely city and the waterfront was ok but deserted. There is a huge bay coming into Semana but only a couple boats. I have heard it is not very safe with a lot of dinghy's being stolen. I can't afford to have that happen again.

We went on to Los Torreanos, which is basically a Swiss-French colony on the island. No one speaks English. The bay there is picture postcard perfect and the prices are wonderful. I paid $20/night for a bungalow with a double bed, bath, shower, and overhead fan. It was lovely. The water is crystal clear, the waves lap against the shore after having washed across a reef that protects the bay, the French women all go topless (Yes, ladies I do appreciate looking at God's artwork, Thank you very much. As I once heard, you can enjoy an art gallery without touching the paintings.) Sunday morning shortly after sunrise I had a lovely beach walk with a gorgeous brunette, big eyes, lovely smile. There were just the two of us on the whole beach. Perhaps I shouldn't tell you she is only 8 years old and has adopted me as Grandfather.

Another interesting thing I have seen are the washing machines. The washing machines here are a little smaller than in the US. I have seen them strapped on the back of a motorcycle being carried home. The rider has one hand on the handlebars and one hand trying to hold up the washing machine. Several times I have seen them outside peoples homes. The washing machine is there, the water is in the machine but there is no electricity to the house. So, they are basically using the machine as a large tub. But, I am sure that they have high hopes that someday electricity will come to their village. Parts of the island have new concrete electrical posts so there is an overall plan.

Monday, December 26, 2011

I Do Work Sometimes

I just wanted you to know that I actually work sometimes. The day before yesterday I cut a 20ft. line, attached it to an old float and then attached it to a block of cement that was 15ft. under the water. Viola: a new mooring buoy. Yesterday I got very busy and did the same thing with four more floats. The total work time was at least three hours over the two days. Whew, I am exhausted.

Today I helped the landlord replace a brake line on an old truck. That took all of about an hour. But don't worry; I rested the remainder of the day. Besides, there was a rainstorm that came through and I used the fresh water to mop the floor inside the boat.