Not Always Happy Hour – Year 2

Last year around this time we posted “It’s Not Always Happy Hour”, which outlined some of the issues we had experienced during our first year of cruising. Well, for those of you who are interested in the “Bad and the Ugly”, here’s a summary of what went wrong in year 2.

By far the most distressing (and most expensive) issue was the leak to our “dripless stuffing box” that occurred when we were in Costa Rica. To make matters worse, the only way to repair the seal was to haul the boat completely out of the water and the nearest marina with facilities capable of doing this were over 160 miles away. Fortunately, we were able to nurse our way that 160+ miles by “McGyvering” the seal with a hose clamp then had the boat hauled and repaired at Quepos Marina. Plus, since the boat was out of the water (which is the most expensive part of these types of repairs), we had them put a new coat of anti-fouling paint on the bottom. All told, we were “on the hard” for a week and the haul out, seal repair and paint totaled $2,900 of which the seal was only $90! Funny enough, the Marina manager suggested that we carry a spare but what good would that be if you have to haul the boat to repair it and you can get a new one via FedEx or DHL in two days.

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The second most trying issue we’ve had is with our mainsail. It’s a furling main and we’ve had trouble with it jamming in the mast slot ever since we purchased the boat. And, given the number of miles (over 6,000 miles and counting) and the number of times we have furled and unfurled that sail, sometimes in very rough conditions, the leach (aft) of the sail got progressively worn to the point where it was spotted with holes and we had to have it repaired in Panama City. Unfortunately, the only “sail repair” facility in Panama City was more of a canvas repair person and the $450 repair only lasted until just outside Cartagena, where a squall tore the poor thing to pieces. Fortunately, Cartagena did have a “real” sail repair person and he was able to patch large panels to the leach of the sail, for $600, that have lasted so far – although the sail looks like a quilt, has terrible sail shape, and still jams in the mast slot. Bottom line is we’ve spent almost $1,000 repairing our old mainsail and it’s time for a new one, which is big bucks (we’re talking thousands). I guess we’ll start looking into it in the US Virgin Islands since all the top sailmakers have facilities there.

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We’ve also had a couple of issues with the headsail or genoa. The big one was the loop at the top of the sail that attaches it to the furling system broke while we were under sail with our friends Paul and Jean during a celebration sail after coming through the Panama Canal. It was Audrey’s birthday and since we had spent days on the hook in Panama City then motoring through the canal, we thought we’d go for a quick sail to Isla Naranja before Paul and Jean had to fly back to California. Well, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise since Shelter Bay Marina, where we were staying, actually had a sailmaker that replaced the loop and put a patch on a small hole that we found in the sail. In hindsight, I wish we had him check the mainsail while we were there as he probably would have seen what a poor repair job we had done by the canvas guy in Panama City. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.

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Besides the stuffing box and the sails, the other major issue we had was with the windlass, which is the electric motor used to raise and lower our oversized anchor and all-chain rode. This may well have been the most trying issue for us if it hadn’t occurred just outside Cartagena (during the same squall that ripped the mainsail) since it would have meant I’d have to continually raise and lower the 65 lb anchor and 150+ feet of chain plus rode by hand. But, since it happened enroute to Cartagena, where we thought we could get it repaired, and we knew our next stops were at marinas in Santa Marta and Aruba, it’s rating is a little lower on this priority scale.

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Still, I did have the raise and lower the anchor by hand a couple of times in Cartagena since the holding was so poor and we nearly got hit by other boats 4 times!!! And, although we had the windlass motor rebuilt in Cartagena, it only worked twice (raising the anchor once to reset then again to leave) before it crapped out completely. Luckily for me, we were on a dock in Santa Marta. But, I did have to anchor the boat by hand in Aruba twice at two in the morning before raising it again to go into the marina where I installed the new one that we had shipped from the US. All told, with the rebuild in Cartagena and the purchase of the new one and ancillary parts (wiring, terminal posts, etc), the windlass replacement cost over $3000. Good thing the labor, by yours truly, was dirt cheap!!! I mean, what’s the cost of a few bottles of rum, vodka, tequila, wine and beer compared to a half-decent marine technician..:-)

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Speaking of being on the dock in Santa Marta and Aruba, all told we’d been on a dock for over 4 months which also meant we hadn’t used our dinghy and outboard in that time. This is fine for the inflatable dinghy but, for those of you who know engines, not so good for an outboard engine that has been operating in salt water for 2 years. In other words, when we tried it in Aruba just before leaving for Bonaire, it was not too happy and just wouldn’t start. I tried all the quick fixes but it was still a no-go so we got a pair of local mechanics to take a look. I swear these guys could have rebuilt that engine blindfolded because in the time it took me to explain the problem to them, they had already taken off the carburetor and had it halfway rebuilt! They cleaned it up and put a couple of new spark plugs in and it was running in less time than it took me to drink a beer while watching them. Man, those guys were awesome.

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Unfortunately, after they left and we were at anchor, I discovered that the engine’s water cooling system was starting to clog (probably with salt that had crystallized from the water) and overheating the engine. We’ve had this issue before and the fix is simply to use a needle or paper clip to clear the blockage when it occurs until all of the debris has cleared. In the past this had only taken a few uses to clear but this time it kept recurring and was still happening when we got to Bonaire so I decided on more drastic measures. I started using a small drill bit to clear the blockage and that worked for a short period but, just my luck, it broke off inside the engine. Well, I’m sure you can imagine the language that came out of my mouth since it happened when we were in town and we had to row back to the mothership. My only thought was now we are really screwed and will need to get a replacement or at least have it rebuilt. However, the gods must have been smiling because after the engine (and I) cooled down, I cleaned out the artery with a smaller needle and gave it a few whacks and “lo and behold” the small piece of drill bit poked it’s head out for the taking. Needless to say, I’ll never do that again. The upside is the stuck drill bit seems to have helped clear the debris because the motor seems to be operating fine — for now — but maybe I’ll get that looked at in the USVI as well.

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OK, so those were the critical and/or big buck items that occurred in year 2. Along with these there have been lots of smaller repairs and replacements that are just a regular part of this cruising life. These include a new starter battery (you may recall that we replaced all of our house bank in Mexico), new freshwater pump, new hydraulic strut and mounting bracket on the freezer, new furling line block, and a new shower box along with all the routine maintenance like oil changes, bottom cleaning and zinc replacements.

If you’ve read our posts on a regular basis (which we hope you do) you know that we try to convey the positive side of our cruising life in almost every post. However, for those of you who are considering this life or just living vicariously through us, with these types of issues we’ve outlined here and the stresses of inclement weather and long passages, it’s definitely not always happy hour…

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The Homecoming

By the time most of you read this we’ll be back to our Caribbean paradise in Aruba after six hectic, wonderful weeks visiting family and friends in the Toronto area and Detroit. Now, before you read this and see that we forgot to mention you OR curse us for not getting a chance to see you, we’d like to apologize in advance. We thought six weeks was a long time and that we’d get to see everyone and do everything on our hit list. We figured we’d see family and friends, hit the marine stores, go camping (yes camping), stay in a hotel for a while, and do a few touristy things. But, as we soon discovered, there just wasn’t enough time. So, what did we do in all that time?

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First, we had the crazy Planes, Trains and Automobiles adventure of getting to Toronto via Curacao, Miami and Philadelphia!!! Huh…WTF??? Yeah, that’s what we say now. But, it seemed reasonable when we were making our travel plans. You see, we had enough points on American to get flights from Curacao to Toronto and, since we booked in March and had lots of time, we didn’t see getting to Curacao as a problem. The hitch was the only flight we could get with our points had an 8-hour stop in Miami and an overnight and full day in Philadelphia. But, we’re on a budget so we made our reservations from Curacao and didn’t think about it for a few months.

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Well, if you’ve been following this blog, you know the story. In short, we got stuck in Santa Marta, Colombia for six weeks waiting for a weather window then got beat up getting to Aruba and decided to park there for a few months. This meant we had to fly from Aruba to Curacao to get our two-stop flight to Toronto, which normally is no problem as they have regular flights almost every hour.

However, it seems like normal no longer applies to us because our flight from Curacao to Miami was the first flight of the day and that meant we had to fly to Curacao the night before and stay in a hotel. All of a sudden, that “cheap” flight to Toronto is no longer cheap as we now have two nights in hotels along with all the taxi fares, meals and alcohol (and you know how that goes…). But, what’s done is done so we made the best of it and had a great time in all three places.

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We finally got to Toronto then had a whirlwind six weeks that we couldn’t possibly summarize in this blog. We will however hit a few highlights since, after being away for so long, seeing our family and friends was such a wonderful experience that we want to share it and let everyone know how much it meant to us.

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Where do we begin? How about with our “newest” family members – Nia, Colton and Roshad. Nia is our 1-year old “great” niece (are we old enough to be great anythings?) and daughter to our nephew Jermaine. We were so happy to meet her for the first time, and be able to attend her Disney-themed birthday party. Yes, just picture Audrey and I at a Minnie Mouse party!!!

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Next is Colton, our “great” nephew, the son of our nephew Ryan. Colton is not really “new” as we met him when he was a newborn but he’s now an energetic 5-year old that we got to see while his military dad hosted guests of the Brantford Air Show on the Canadian Air Force Hercules transport plane where he serves as one of its technicians.

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Finally, we got to meet our nephew Roshad, son to my sister Wendy and her husband Roger. Roshad is an active 14-year old who plays many sports and hopes to take on the football world one day.

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The other VIP’s that we got to see were our mothers. My mother was visiting from St. Kitts and Audrey’s mother lives in Oakville, just outside Toronto and it was really wonderful to spend some quality time with both of them.

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This is not in any particular order and we don’t have pictures of everyone but we were also ecstatic to spend time with all of our immediate family members including brothers and brothers-in-law, sisters and sisters-in-law, as well as nephews, nieces, cousins, etc. Here’s just a sample of the many gatherings we enjoyed.

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Besides visiting and staying with family, we were like gypsies living out of our luggage and staying with or visiting some of our closest friends, who all welcomed us with open arms and, in most cases, open liquor cabinets!!! You know who you are but here’s a few pics…

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Besides seeing family and friends we did manage a few touristy things, including a Lenny Kravitz concert; a visit to the Canadian National Exhibition; a sailing weekend on two of our friends boats; a short stay at a very quaint inn in the Muskokas; a production of the award-winning play Kinky Boots; the Brantford Air Show; and a road trip to Detroit/Birmingham, Michigan where we saw some spectacular street graffiti/murals, visited the Motown Museum (which we highly recommend), and even saw Henry Ford’s house (not bad for a GM guy).

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We even managed a road trip to Kingston to see our California-based, close friends Ken and Sheri who did the Baja-Ha-Ha sailing rally from San Diego to Cabo at the same time as us on their boat Cake.

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Before we sign off, we’d like to say a special thanks to Jerry and Mary for the long-term loan of our special friend Elmo, who’s brand shall go unmentioned. All of our visits and road-trips would have been much more challenging without Elmo.

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Finally, we’d like to say one last thanks to everyone. We have a great life sailing in exotic locations but it’s so much better when you compliment it by spending time with family and friends. You all made us feel like the Homecoming King and Queen and we look forward to seeing you all again soon!

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