Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving at Bahia de Caráquez, Ecuador

Nov 26, 2009. After an oh-dark-thirty start from San Mateo, we arrived at the 'Waiting Room' waypoint for the entry into Bahia de Caráquez at 9:45. We had to motor the whole way, as the early morning winds were non-existent.

Though we have been in and out of Bahia once, and have waypoints from several sources, we thought it prudent to pay the $30 for the Puerto Amistad pilot to take us in. We had been emailing them for several days, apprising them of our progress, so they were ready for us. They even answered us on 69 from the bar at Puerto Amistad when we called!

Carlos, the pilot, finally made it out to us at about 10:15, so we ended up going in at just before high tide. We saw 7.5 feet at the lowest, but our high tide was a fairly low high tide. (A week later, the high is more than 2 feet higher). The tide reference used here is the Ecuadorean Navy site: This corresponds also with the free tide program WxTide32, for the tide location Rio Chone.

With calm winds and seas, and Carlos aboard, our entry over the bar was uneventful. Carlos took us right to the mooring that Puerto Amistad had saved for us and helped us get tied up.

By noon we were all secured, and I was below making Pumpkin Pie! We had one can of pie filling we had brought from the U.S. But that wasn't enough for 2 pies, so I got some Ecuadorean pumpkin pieces in the market before we left PLYC, and cooked them down (an easy process, and it tastes much better than the canned stuff).

They turned out 'not bad'. It's the first time I've cooked a 'totally from scratch' Pumpkin Pie since our isolated Thanksgiving in Tobago oh-so-many-years-ago (about 1995).

Puerto Amistad had invited not only the cruisers, but a lot of local Ecuadoreans to their Thanksgiving feast. I heard they had about 120 people there--with 6 Turkeys, some Pork Loin, and a bunch of cruiser and Puerto Amistad-supplied side-dishes. Tripp and his wife gave nice 'Thank You' speeches in both English and Spanish, explaining the Thanksgiving tradition in Spanish to the Ecuadoreans.

It was great fun for us to be with a bunch of other cruisers again. Though at the end at Puerto Lucia, we did have a few cruisers there, we've REALLY missed the cruising social life. We sat with our friends from Neos, who we last saw in March 2008 in Bocas del Toro, Panama, on the Caribbean side.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

San Mateo Anchorage, Ecuador

Thursday Nov 26. We spent last night at the small open anchorage of San Mateo (S 00 57.267 W 080 48.367)

The wind was howling (~15-20 Kts, which is howling for Ecuador) and the seas were up, as we rounded the two capes and peeked at the anchorage from offshore. We could see waves breaking and only 2 fishing boats. It didn't look like much of an anchorage in the conditions. But we decided to go in and take a look anyway. We also prepared to divert to Manta, another hour further along the coast, in case we needed to.

The anchoraged turned out to be perfectly acceptable. We found a nice spot, good holding, seemed like sand, in about 25 feet, behind and slightly shoreward of the two fishing boats. What we had seen breaking from offshore was a small reef extending from the point, that gave a little extra protection to the otherwise open bay.

While the wind was blowing (afternoon and early evening), it kept our bow mostly pointed into the chop and swell. After the wind dropped, we did roll a bit whenever we were beam-on to the swell, but not too bad. By morning, both the wind and seas had dropped to nearly nothing--with just the gentle long Pacific swell left.

We left the anchorage at 4:30 am, in the dark. There were fishing boats about, but all the ones we could see were lit. We kept a good bow watch until it was sufficient daylight to see well from the cockpit (about 5:30am).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ahhh, It's Great to Be At Sea Again!!

We have had a really fun and adventurous year, visiting Chile, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, France, California, Florida, NC, SC, Georgia. Plus getting a huge amount of maintenance work done on Soggy Paws. But it sure is good to be back on board, in the water, and cruising again.

Even though we are a bit on a schedule, and the wind is light, we managed to sail for most of the day yesterday. Our light air 'Code Zero' sail is invaluable in these conditions (without having to deal with the complexities of a spinnaker). We anchored overnight at Isla Salango, using waypoints from the Ecuador Cruiser's Handbook We will stop tonight at San Mateo, and then get a very early start on Thursday morning, to be at the 'Waiting Room' for Bahia de Caraquez at 9:45am to be piloted over the bar.

We have a small stuffing box leak and a very small transmission oil drip, but neither is serious and both are fixable. (The 'stuffing box' is the hole where the prop shaft goes from the engine out to the prop. It is stuffed with some magic stuff that lets the shaft turn but theoretically keeps the water out. It is always a delicate balance between 'too tight, and there's too much friction', which is bad. And 'too loose, and the water comes in', which is also bad.

Dave is happy with the engine, though a little stressed by a couple of drops of transmission oil in his clean white bilge. But he is optimistic that he can stop that. We ran the engine for about 2 full hours yesterday, and Mr Perkins sounded good.

We have a few more chores to do on our 'must do before setting out for the Galapagos' list, and we are hoping to fit in one more adventure in northern Peru, and also see a little more of Ecuador. Daughter Nicki and her significant other, Phil, are coming for a Christmas visit to Cuenca (Ecuador). And then we set out for the Galapagos around the 6th or 7th of January. Our Autografo (cruising permit) for the Galapagos is 'in process'.

Can't wait!!
At 11/25/2009 12:55 AM (utc) our position was 01°35.56'S 080°51.68'W

Customs Clearance from Puerto Lucia

The last thing we did before we left Puerto Lucia was pay our marina bill and pick up our Zarpe from the agent.

Finally the agent who handled our clearance in, and 2 extension requests, and our clearance out, got paid his $183.50 fee, plus a fee of $45 to the Port Captain for the zarpe.

After all the stories we'd previous heard about boats in Salinas overstaying their 3 month 'limit' (a limit imposed only by the Customs man in Salinas, and not elsewhere in Ecuador), and the troubles they had leaving. But we had been very proper with our paperwork (the extension letters). It turned out to be a non-issue for us.

In general, other than the cost, we are VERY VERY happy with our stay at Puerto Lucia Yacht Club. It is a top-notch facility, and we thought the cost somewhat reasonable for the level of service, just a little high for Ecuador, and for a typical cruiser's budget.
At 11/25/2009 12:55 AM (utc) our position was 01°35.56'S 080°51.68'W

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dave Sends Ignacio Aloft

I can't believe Dave sent Ignacio up the mast to re-run our spinnaker halyard.

But he had fun up there, and we managed not to drop him.

He's a really fine young man, and we are sorry to have to say goodbye.

Goodbye Ignacio!!

Soggy Paws Looking Pretty Good

We are Afloat Again

We were supposed to go in first thing in the morning, because that's when the high tide was. But we're on Ecuadorian time, so finally about 11am the lift came. We were afloat by 11:45. They didn't drop us. There is no water coming in any of the wrong places. The engine works. The bottom paint survived the lift. What more can you ask for?

Tomorrow we leave for Bahia de Caraquez. We plan to arrive there on the high tide at 11am on Thursday, just in time for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yay! Mr. Perkins Lives Again!!

After complete disassembly of the back end of the engine (to repair a leaky rear main seal), and some preventive maintenance on the ignition, Dave got it all back together again. No parts left over, either!

And better yet, we fired 'Mr. Perkins' up and he roared to life. Yay!!

The first time we tried, Dave had forgotten to switch on part of the ignition cut-out circuit, and as I listened from down below to the engine turn over and not start... my heart sank. My job was to sit down below with a hose jammed in the intake, to let cooling water flow while the engine was running. So I couldn't tell what was going on.

But once all the switches were in the right place, it started right up. We ran it for a couple of minutes while Dave checked things out. Other than needing to tighten one belt up, everything's ready for our early morning launch.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Liferaft Repacking Caper

We got our liferaft repacked for an unbelievably cheap price of $170.

Almost all boats carry a liferaft. This is a $3,000-$4,000 investment that you hope you never use. I have never even seen our liferaft, except in a brochure. Ours is a Revere Offshore 6-person raft.

Life rafts are required to be 'serviced' every few years. You take it to a certified facility, they open it up, blow it up, make sure it still holds air, and change out the perishable supplies. In the U.S., it's a big deal, and costs a lot of money, between the labor rates and the regulations as to what the can and can't do.

But all 'overseas' repackings are not created equal either. A friend in Panama had theirs done and it cost them about $1200 (!!). So we were pretty careful in asking questions about what the costs were before we took our raft in for servicing. At most places, there is a fixed price for the repacking, and then a price for each item that might be changed out. It is wise to not just compare the fixed price, but also look at the supplies price list. There can sometimes be a huge markup on the supplies.

There are 4 companies that we found that said they could do it in Guayaquil (the big city a 2 hour bus ride away). All of them are certified by some well-known liferaft company, NONE of them are certified by our manufacturer (Revere). Dave finally settled on Parfi Engineering and Inspectors

Jofrey Parfi, the owners son, speaks great English, and offered to pick us up from the bus station and take us to his facility. One of our requirements was that they allow us to watch them open it up, blow it up, and repack it. Another was that we could choose what 'disposables' actually got replaced. Another was good English, so we could communicate easily with the personnel. A final requirement was the ability to vacuum seal the bag when they repacked it.

A Parfi Technician Inspects our Hard Case

We teamed up with fellow cruisers Steve and Josie from the British vessel Elysian, and took the 9am CLP bus from La Libertad. It was no trouble 'checking' our 75-lb liferaft in the bus's cargo bin. On arrival in Guayaquil, there was a guy with a cart waiting, and for $1 he carted the two rafts out to the pickup point. 5 minutes later, Jofrey drove up in his truck, and picked us up.

Within a few minutes, we were in their warehouse facility and opening up the rafts.

They inflated the raft with their compressor, rather than 'using up' our inflation bottle. Then they have to leave it inflated for 30 minutes and check the pressure, to make sure it holds air. While doing that, they inspect all the perishables, which in our case was batteries, water packages, and flares. We opted to replace the batteries and water packages and NOT replace the flares, which are very expensive. Our experience at New Years Eve, firing off old expired flares, was that even those 10 years out of date worked well. We also have an extra supply of flares in our 'ditch bag'.

We got to get in the raft and check it out, and notice where all the accessories were and how they worked. It seems like a very well-built raft, much bigger and heavier-built than our friends' raft. It comes with a waterproof instruction sheet, telling you what you need to do in the first few minutes of your adventure.

It turns out that the inflation/inspection was the EASY part. Getting the deflated raft back IN the package was what took all the time.

They had to re-fold ours about 4 times to get it in a small enough package. Then they put these big straps around it, and squished the crap out of it.

Then they had to put it in the vacuum bag, seal that up, and pump the air out of it (using an industrial vaccum cleaner!) And into the Revere bag and then back into the hard case.

We had to go run some errands, and so didn't get to watch them do the final couple of steps on our raft. But it took them a total of 5 hours to complete the inspection, get the raft sealed up, and finish the paperwork.

We are very satisfied with what Parfi did for us, and would recommend them to others who want to repack their raft before making the big jump.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Painting the Scrollwork

One of the last things to do to finish our 'beautification' is to paint the scrollwork on the trailboards (those black things on the bow). That was my job.

We couldn't find gold paint, so we used silver instead. I hand-painted with a small paintbrush. It looked pretty good when we finished. The silver paint matches our grey canvas pretty well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yahoo! Bottom Painting is Done!

We put on 4 coats of bottom paint (plus some extras at the waterline and leading edges) in 2 days. Now we let it dry. We have a launch appointment for early Monday morning.

Today we take our 75-lb liferaft by bus to Guayaquil to get it serviced. More on this adventure tomorrow!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Epoxying Is Done, Getting Ready to Bottom Paint

Well, all umpteen coats of epoxy are done on the bottom. We purposely used different colors as we applied layers. It makes it easy to see where you've missed a spot.

We've been white, red, blue, black, and now cammo-green.

Today we have them come lift us and move the blocks and stands around, so we can epoxy the places where they were. We're giving the epoxy time to dry really hard, and on Monday and Tuesday we'll put 4 coats of bottom paint on.

We couldn't get black bottom paint (our preferred color). I kind of liked the red, but I think we'll end up blue. Dave says he read that was the best color to keep from getting sunk by whales.

While the Stewart Yacht Services guys have been applying the epoxy, Dave has been putting the engine back together...bell housing on, the flywheel, pressure plate, transmission, and shaft coupling. He also worked on our starter, which has been a little cranky when trying to start the engine when it was hot.

Dave is also responsible for painting all the underwater bronze bits.

We have had Ignacio working on more varnishing, and he's now painting the 'trailboards'... the wooden (black) trim pieces on the bow, and our second spinnaker pole. (Note the Gator hat we brought back from the U.S. for him). We couldn't find any polyurethane paint at the local Ace Hardware, so we're using enamel. It should hold up for a couple of years.

And I have been working on finances... trying to get everything set so our financial lives will run pretty much on autopilot next year. We WILL be able to get internet in some places in French Polynesia, but it will be slow and expensive, and I don't want to have to spend all my shore time sitting at a computer.

I've also been provisioning... I've made 3 $250 trips to the grocery store so far. We generally spend $300-$400/month on groceries, and I'm trying to buy a year's worth of groceries!! Of course we won't be able to really carry a year's worth, so it's strategically buying and then carefully stowing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Finally We Start Epoxying the Bottom

We have finally started putting the first coat of epoxy on the bottom today. It took George's guys 2 days to get the waterline right (to Dave's satisfaction), and then another day to finish prepping around the new waterline.

It was raining this morning when we woke up, and we were kinda bummed. But it was just the typical Ecuadorean mist, and it cleared up by mid-morning. They started laying the first coat of epoxy on around noon. It doesn't look like we'll get a second coat on today, but at least we've begun!

While the Stewart Yacht Services guys have been working on the bottom, we've been doing other things, including putting the new name on.

Notice our Paws!!

We used to design, order, and ship our custom vinyl lettering. I don't know if it is the cheapest place on the internet, but their interactive lettering tool sure was easy to use, and it was all waiting for us when we arrived in the States. Putting on the vinyl lettering is a cinch, too.

We have finally finished unpacking all the stuff we brought back with us.

Dave has already mounted the new swim ladder with brackets we brought back. And he's started working on putting the engine back together.

And then there's the socializing--several new boats are in the marina, so we've been trading boat visits and discussing boat projects and Ecuadorean travel. Eight of us got together and shared $2 taxi rides over to Pizza Express in Salinas for two-fer pizzas and beer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

$460 Later... no Immigration Problems

With a lot of hustling and the help of a sympathetic 'External Relations' official, we managed to secure a 6-month Visa to stay in Ecuador.

It is unheard-of to get this done in one day. But when we explained what happened to the official--that we unexpectedly only had 5 days left on our visa, and 4 of those days were weekends or holidays, she went 'above and beyond' to get our application processed and signed all in the same day.

To make it happen, we changed our flight to Guayaquil from 11am to 8am (at a cost of $45 each), stashed our luggage at the airport in Guayaquil ($4/bag), and took a taxi straight from the airport to the government building. Fortunately, (a) We had a very clearly documented procedure that another cruiser did a couple of months before (See here) (b) We had our laptop with ALL of our documentation (c) There was a mall across the street with a passport photo place, copy centers, etc. (d) We had enough cash with us to cover the expense of the visas (e) We got a very nice, competent, and sympathetic official to help us out.

We had finished all the process... photos, copies, waiting in the queue at the MREE office, reviewing the paperwork with the official... by noon. She told us to come back at 4:30 and she *hoped* to have it completed for us (it requires an upper-level official to sign). We got back to their office at 4pm, and it was done.

The only thing we hadn't counted on was the 'registration' issue. We have to register the visa at another office. We managed to get there before they closed down, but the official told Dave that we needed some more stuff (some of the same stuff that we needed for the application). So we just waved it off--we have 30 days to register the visa.

The bus station was a mad house last night... it was Friday afternoon on a 4-day weekend. We did get tickets on the 5:30 'directo' bus to La Libertad/Salinas, though. And by 8pm were back on Soggy Paws.