Apr 19

Victory in San Carlos, Mexico

Tag: boat work,trips,victoriesjonny5waldman @ 2:56 am

Matt and I spent last week in San Carlos, Mexico, readying Syzygy for shipment. It was a week full of victories and discoveries and very satisfying moments, in which our labors appeared to have paid off.

We flew to Phoenix on Friday night, and then hussled over to the Tufesa bus station, to catch an overnight bus down to San Carlos. At midnight I gave Matt a pack of Mentos, and wished him a happy 30th birthday – what better place to celebrate than on an uncomfortable plastic chair beneath fluorescent lights in a shady part of Phoenix? We rolled into Nogales at 6am, and I laughed as yet again, after all these trips to Mexico, we got green lights at the border. All these trips, and never searched; while in the States, airport security takes my toothpaste because the tube exceeds 3 ounces.

Our first day began with minor victories:
-Syzygy was present and floating, with only 2lbs of caked bird shit on her solar panels. Even her hull was clean.
-The engine’s oil was oily, as it should be, which was good news, since we thought maybe the oil cooler was leaking. It also started right up, purring along. Phew!

There was only one small defeat: Rafael, the cushion guy, hadn’t left our cushions on the boat for us. I called him, and he agreed to meet us the next day.

We went to bed excited about being back on the boat, optimistic about the week ahead. Since we lacked cushions, we slept on wood, with a pile of towels/clothes beneath us. Also, since we didn’t close the hatches, a small army of mosquitos (who knew they lived in the Sonoran desert?) invaded our quarters, and vexed us all night. I woke up in the V berth with bug bites all over my knuckles; Matt woke up in the quarter berth with bug bites all over his face, like some pimple-faced teenager.

The next day, with the tides in our favor, we were able to escape from the marina, and take Syzygy sailing in light winds, in beautiful green water. She sailed great.

Another victory: the packing gland (the seal around the propeller shaft) didn’t leak one drop. Here’s to Jon for fixing it well last time.

Then began the fixing… Matt and I replaced the cruddy/clogged drain hose in the the propane locker, and rebuilt both of our manual bilge pumps.Screens in the hatches kept our quarters bug free, but since Rafael never showed up, we slept on wood yet again.

The next morning, I climbed up the mast with a measuring tape and calipers, and we spent an hour measuring our rigging (here’s hoping we measured correctly) and inspecting parts like the tangs and spreader tips.

Another victory: we successfully assembled, inflated, and rowed the dinghy (which we’ve named Cabron) across the marina, giddy as 10 year olds. I disassembled and serviced the bearings in a couple of blocks (pulleys), such that they run very smoothly. Two down, 40 to go.I also called Rafael and left a message; I told him I was contemplating kidnapping his firstborn son in return for our cushions.

We started the next day with business, filling out the paperwork required for trucking Syzygy up to San Francisco while at the same time trying to keep my eyes from popping out of my head on account of the very big bill I’d be footing. Note: if there’s any problem with Customs, I’m blaming Jon, because his passport is expired.

I called Rafael again; he said he’d meet us at 3pm. I crossed my fingers, and we returned to the boat.

We spent the rest of the day removing the dodger and bimini frame, and lashing them to the deck; removing the solar panels and stowing them below deck; and spraying WD-40 on all of our old turnbuckles, hoping to loosen them just enough so that we could remove our old rigging when the time came.

3pm came and went, and Rafael never showed up, so we slept on wood, yet again.

We started the next day early and worked until midnight. First, Matt labeled all of the blocks and lines, so that when we disassembled everything we’d know what was what. We disconnected the wiring at the bottom of the mast, pulled off the mast boot (the waterproof rubber seal around the base of the mast on deck), and detached the table in the salon, which is bolted to the mast.

And then, just before leaving the marina, Rafael showed up and forked over… half of our cushions. (Jon: you’re right, I love the color you picked.)

Then, gear stowed, we went sailing around the peninsula, to the marina where Syzygy would be pulled out and put on a truck. With more wind, and some swells, we were getting some spray across the bow; perhaps we’d jumped the gun and removed the real mast boot a bit early. I quickly made an improv mast boot out of my towel, which worked pretty well.

We sailed into the San Carlos marina in perfect conditions, with a stiff breeze off our port.

We tied up at the dock for half an hour, then got hauled out and moved over to the workyard, beneath a tall crane and beside another boat on a truck, all wrapped up in plastic, ready for shipping. In a few more days, that’s what Syzygy would look like…


At the workyard that evening, we set to work in a fury.

We removed the boom and vang, and stowed the jib and mainsail. We unreeved all of the lines (pulled them through various pulleys), and tied them to the mast, and went to bed when we lacked the energy to do anything else.

Early the next morning, we worked like madmen to prepare the mast for removal, so that we wouldn’t have to pay for many hours of labor at $150/hr — the fee for mast removal. (I’d heard a horror story of sorts, of a mast that became welded to the hull, such that it took 2 days to remove it… at, yes, $150/hour. Ouch.) We spent an hour fiddling with needlenose pliers and vice grips, wrestling with the rusty old cotter pins in the turnbuckles, and finally disconnected the 4 lower shrouds, the 2 intermediate shrouds, and the baby stay, leaving only the forestay, backstay, and uppers holding the mast up. Then we unwired the antenna from the backstay, unbolted the furler from the forestay (a task and a half), and struggled to get the spinnaker pole off of the mast, since the quick release mechanism had locked up.

Just as we finished, five guys from the workyard climbed aboard, looped a thick rope around the mast, and turned on the crane’s winch. Slowly, the line rose up to the spreaders, and held the mast firmly. They removed the upper stays, while one of the guys went to the bow (to removed and then hold the forestay, and prevent the furler from bending), and another went to the stern (to remove and then hold the backstay, and prevent the antenna insulators from bending), and another guy went below deck to guide the mast up and out of the cabin. And then, just like that, the mast was up in the air, dangling from the crane, no longer part of Syzygy. Slowly, they lowered the mast to the ground, and propped it up, horizontally, on two stands beside the boat, and walked away. Total time: 25 minutes, close to record time.

We spent the rest of the day removing the rigging from the mast (four of the clevis pins were rusted/welded to the tangs, requiring the assistance of others and the use of a grinder), drilling holes in the keel and rudder (to drain water which had gotten in there — we’ll repair the holes in San Francisco), removing the spreaders, and grinding away the crack in the keel from which the water entered. Of course, I also called Rafael, and pleaded, in my best Spanish, for him to bring us our friggin’ cushions.The next day, we removed the bow pulpit, which required unwiring the nav lights that feed through the poles, as well as removing the backing plates that hold the bow pulpit in place. This, in turn, required crawling in the chain locker to access the backing plates (which had rusted almost all the way through), and grinding away the heads of the bolts on the 2 rear poles, because we didn’t have the time or energy to dismantle the cabinets in the V berth so that we could access the backing plates. (Alas, there’s a job waiting for us when the boat gets up to San Francisco.) We cut off the old crappy lifelines with a grinder (which was very satisfying), and then loosened the radar arch, dealt with the wires that run through it, and lowered it to the cockpit. We took all the instruments off the top of the mast, then wrapped it up (w/backstay and forestay still on) with lines and rags and plastic, like a big, long, $30,000 Christmas present.

That night, our work almost done, we gobbled up some fish tacos and tossed back a few beers at the Captain’s Club, and talked shop with captain Bob, an American expat/badass-sailor/amazing-old-fella who lives on a similar Valiant 40. We told him we felt like we’d learned so much about our boat just by taking it apart, and that everything — except for getting our cushions from Rafael — was pretty much working out for us.

We spent our last day in San Carlos lashing/stowing/packing/cleaning everything else up, and realized that exhaustion was creeping up on us. We’d been in San Carlos exactly one week, and been working so constantly that it was hard to recall what jobs we completed only a few hours before, let alone a few days before. I was amazed at how much we’d gotten done; how desperately we needed an off-day; and how we just barely pulled this whole thing off. I was looking forward to returning home, and even to the bus ride back to Phoenix, and the comfort of soft, reclining seats.

Speaking of which, on that last day in Mexico, just as were were headed to town to get some tacos, Rafael showed up. He delivered a few more of — but not all of — our cushions. What a cabron.

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