Once Upon a Time.. In Mexico

Years ago, when I was but a lad of 24 years, I worked for a civil engineering company. They had me in Laredo, Texas overseeing a large project.

I met a young couple like myself, and we became fast friends. Fernando had a job as head of the civil works in Laredo. He had grown up in Mexico and had married an American girl Tracy. Tracy taught at the local college. A great couple.

They had friends in Monterrey who I had gotten to know so I took ten days off and drove to Monterrey with them. I stayed there and had a great time. Later we drove down to Mexico City. Again I stayed a few days enjoying the sights.

I reunited with my friends and we took a flight to Oaxaca, in South Central Mexico. On the way we met a beautiful Swiss girl named Bridget. She had a six month old baby and was heading to Oaxaca as well to stay with her boyfriends family. I stayed out of the conversation that was primarily between Tracy and Bridget.

In fact, I was polite but not too polite. She was a woman with a baby and taken. Enough said.

My friends and I did all the tourist stuff in Oaxaca, the ruins and rich history of the Zapotec Indians as well as the Mixtecs.

After a few days we bumped into Bridget. She insisted that we had to stay at her house in Puerto Angel south of Pueto Escondito. Her boy friend she guaranteed would welcome us.

We took the flight to Puerto Escondito on the west coast with Bridget. When we landed the shit hit the fan. Bridget’s boyfriend met us on the small airports tarmac with a posse of rough looking guys with pistols stuffed into their pants. Great.

The ride south twenty miles or so was horrible. Bridget’s boyfriend Carlos kept insinuating that I was having a fling with his woman. All of us protested so he kept silent.

When we go to his house it was an interesting place on the edge of a cliff high above the small horseshoe bay of Puerto Angel.

To get to the house you had to climb a hundred steps at least. Once at the house it was constructed in an open fashion with a three foot wall all around. Inside was all open except for a bathroom and two bedrooms raised about six feet off the ground. Between them was a staircase leading up to the bedrooms.

The house was swarming with “Federales” or Mexican Federal Police. Not only that, but the house was chock full of pot bales and bricks of cocaine. Oh shit, why did we come again?

To say we were unwelcome would be a huge understatement. Fernando, Tracy and I went outside briefly to discuss our situation: Grim…  We now knew we were in deep shit and highly unlikely that we would make it out alive. Bridget had disappeared into one of the bedrooms and I could hear her sobbing gently.

The only luck we had was Carlos announcing that he and the “Federales” had an important meeting and would return the next morning. He glared at me and smiled as he left. “Tene Cuidado Gringo!” he barked and left with his posse.

We had figured out the situation. They would go to drug busts and exterminate the dealers stealing everything. Carlos worked with the Federales on this deadly scam.

That didn’t leave us in a good position as Carlos had left two of his men to guard us. Of course they were armed.

Night came finally and I was at the kitchen table pondering how deep the shit was that we were stuck in. Fernando and Tracy had retreated to the bedroom opposite Bridget, who was still sobbing and hiding.

The guards stared playing cards. They were drinking “El Presidente” brandy. After a while they got bored playing with two hands and asked me to join them. The dug into one of the bails and started to smoke pipe-fulls of pot. They eventually offered me some, which I took as well as some of the brandy. For my every glass they had three. For each toke they had five. We played until three in the morning when I announced that I was too tired to continue. I stumbled up into the bedroom where Tracy and Fernando where crouched down on the bed watch the two continue their marathon.

After what seemed a second Fernando was shaking me awake with his hands over my mouth. “Jim!” “They are talking about shooting us now, get up!”. We grabbed whatever we could, a lamp, a small knife from my travel kit and waited at the top of the stairs hidden by the side walls. Bridget was sobbing more loudly as we waited.. and waited.. and waited.

Tracy check them from the open part of the bedroom and hurried over. “They are sleeping!”. I looked, they were sprawled out over the table, both of them, guns on the table along with several empty brandy bottles and  the pot pipe, pot spilled all over the table.

Our chance had come. Bridget rushed over “Go! Now!”. We grabbed our stuff and ran out the door down the many many stairs. It was dawn.  First light had streaked the sky and creatures began to stir. We made it into the small town of Puerto Angel. Now we were faced with another problem. Carlos was coming back any minute with his deadly posse and if he found us we were done. Carlos owned the town, he was “El Jefe Grande”. We walked about frantic about what to do.

After five minutes or so I spied a taxi in a yard. I banged on the front door and yelled if the taxi was available. “Go Away!” the reply came. I came back with “Twenty American Tip plus fare for ride right now” in my half baked Spanish. At that time $20 in Mexico was a good amount of money. He appeared in the doorway tugging on his shirt and off we went. We were shitting in our pants the whole way thinking Carlos would see us on the way back from his ambush. We never saw him. The taxi dropped us off at the airport where we made reservations for the first flight at seven thirty. It was now six thirty.

We killed the hour drinking beer on the beach at Puerto Escondito feeling damn good. I can’t explain the feeling of relief we had, incredible.

We left that place amazed we were still breathing and wondering about the fate of the Swiss beauty Bridget.

Years passed and a friend of Tracy’s went to Puerto Angel. She recounted seeing a blond foreign woman living there. Bridget? I can’t imagine she managed all those years but life is a strange trip sometimes..

 

 

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Back to it

It’s been a while, I have to apologize to those few that read this blog. I have been in India getting my twin daughters through their last year in high school. It’s not called “high school” in India, but “PUC” or Pre-University College. That is for grades eleven and twelve.

It’s a challenge as the schools all suck, and the teachers, well they suck too, most of them. India is not a place for my daughters who question everything and love to argue points in the class with the instructor. That’s a big no-no in India and I’ve had to ask them to hold it in knowing the deal.

They are going to James Madison University in the fall so they can ask whatever they want there. I would like to teach them sailing. A Dad can hope, right?

I’m back to my projects and I’ve made a decision. I’m going to sell the Eastward Ho most likely and focus on the Falmouth Cutter. The Eastward Ho is a great boat for a couple cruising on a budget or a single person. But it’s not a FC22…

I’ve been spending time on the FC getting a list of things to do together and starting to work on her again. What a boat. Every time I look at her I’m amazed that someone really built the perfect small boat. It’s really not that small even. When I’m inside it’s very roomy and has everything that I need. My previous boat was 36′ and I sailed many times on her by myself. My friends complained that she wasn’t big enough, why didn’t I buy a 40′?

Now I have a boat that’s perfect and I can sail myself anywhere I want in perfect comfort. I’ll let my friends buy the 40 footer and invite me on for day sails. I’ll follow along in my FC for longer journeys.

Here is a list of my projects before I can launch her:

  1. Brightwork renewed
  2. Sails cleaned and repaired. I have a Sailrite sewing machine so I will do this myself.
  3. Interior white surfaces painted and woodwork varnished.
  4. Deck boxes installed with new propane gas regulater and solenoid
  5. New gas line to stove
  6. Re-assemble interior after I replaced the chainplates. Chainplates are in so now I have to go over everything, refinish it and re-install it
  7. Re-commision stove & oven. Clean and test.
  8. Re-wire stern light, engine cables, and solar cables. Solar panel has been re-wired and is ready to be mounted on the boomkin.
  9. Order and re-cut closed cell foam cushions for the salon.Covers are ready.
  10. Clean off the dried carpet glue from the interior hull where carpet was. Replace with mildew resistant liner from Sailrite.
  11. Clean and re-commision marine toilet. It’s located under a board in the V-Berth.
  12. New V-Berth cushions. Again I will sew these myself with my sewing machine.
  13. Install running rigging, or at least understand how it all goes together.
  14. Re-bed my SL Hi-Low manual windlass. I did this last year but the marine glue failed on my joints where I glued the teak together. Ouch.
  15. I don’t like my seacock valves. They are some sort of plastic and it seems to me that they could be snapped off if I got a little too excited at sea. I prefer bronze.
  16. Finish rebuilding rudder/cheek assembly.

So there you have it.

Here are a few shots of the rudder assembly which is about done. I fabricated a small piece of wood to fit between the cheeks to prevent the rudder from lifting off it’s pintles in rough seas. There is also a bolt with washer that fits in one of the pintles as well.

 

 

 

A Sailboat or Therapy?

Years ago before the end of my first marriage, I asked my then wife “I want to buy a bigger boat”. I had been sailing a Seaward Fox. A nineteen foot daysailor that I had sailed in every nook and cranny that New Jersey had. From Lakes to the Hudson to Barnegat Bay I sailed that boat.

But, it had a very small cuddy cabin. Great to shove thing into but not much else. I thought that an appropriate upgrade would be to a Seaward 23 with Carbon Fiber mast.

So, I posed the question. The response startled me. “Sure, why not? Go ahead!” she replied. I was shocked into silence. Ok then….

I ordered the boat and got the financing in order ready to go. The boat cost about 25K brand new with all the trimmings. I didn’t really know much about what was out there in that range but at the time it seemed like a great choice.

Two months later the easy going attitude of my wife revealed itself. We were having severe difficulties in the marriage. I was unhappy, she was unhappy.

So, one night after dinner she announced she was leaving. Just like that. In fact the dinner plates were still warm and wine was still half filled in her glass. She just up and grabbed a pre-packed bag and said “I’m out of here, see ya!”. Stunned, I watched her drive down the street and out of my life. I finished the wine in silence, deep in thought.

Afterwards I was in a funk as bank statements started rolling in revealing numerous payments for furniture, apartment deposit, rent etc. etc. This was the days before online banking so you had to wait six weeks after the month to get the statement or go to the bank.

This all had me in a deep funk, except for one thing. The boat. The boat became the focal point of my  salvation. I was going to sail that boat everywhere and live on the damn thing (at least on the weekends). The wind on my face and the sound of the hull slicing through the water was going to be music to my damaged soul.

I drove down to Washington DC where my boat was ready to be picked up. I hooked it up to my truck and took off north on I-95.

At the first toll station the attendant looked at the boat and said to me “Wow, that’s a beautiful boat!”, I looked back at him and said “It was that or years of therapy!”.  I figured the boat was a better deal..

So, the boat pulled me through and made me a happy guy. I’m happiest on the water. The farther away from civilization the better. In fact I’m happiest when I’m so far away that the thought of regular life has disappeared, leaving just me, the moment, the wind and the waves.

After a lifetime of working, saving, investing etc. etc.  I now realize it’s an illusion. It’s not real life. Most of it is meaningless. When the final moment comes will I look back and think of the happy moments I had in Corporate America? The great barbecues I went to in suburban New Jersey? Or will I relive the awesome adventures I had, or lament the ones that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do?

It’s a cliche, but a true one. Carpe Diem. If any young people are out there reading this go for it. Learn to sail, learn to be independent and capable. Life is not lived looking at Facebook or Instagram.

 

In a previous post I mentioned S/V Leaf, a modest 25 footer crusing down island. The crew young and living life according to their rules. They did it, you can do it.

Just remember, when life looks dark, get a sailboat and wash your soul with the wind, the waves and your new found freedom!

 

Zach and the Story of Leaf

Three years ago my brother and I took my then boat, a Dufour 36, to the Bahamas. On the way we saw every boat imaginable. Here are two of my favorite stories of cruising on the cheap.

I first saw Zach and his dog on their Drascomb Lugger 22 on the ICW a bit north of Beaufort, SC. He was hunched over the tiller with an old army  jacket and hood. I couldn’t see his face. He didn’t move at all but the boat seemed to glide in the right direction. A small 5HP 4Stroke was powering it. A surplus canvas army tent was draped over the boom, providing shelter at night when he was anchored.

We passed the boat, both waving in the friendly manner that sailors have and continued on. We docked that night at a marina in Beaufort, South Carolina. A friendly coastal town with moss hanging from the oak trees. Pure Southern and lovely.

After securing the Dufour for the night. The Drascomb  pulls up in front of us to refuel the small outboard. I couldn’t resist. I went and said hello to the pilot of the Drascomb. His name was Zach, and he was traveling to the keys for the winter. He had started out in the Chesapeake somewhere and was heading south. It was December and it was cold, especially at night. Zach didn’t complain one bit. He and his dog lived a free life, avoiding binding responsibilities like mates and jobs and enjoyed his freedom. Zach gifted us charts of the ICW and shifted his boat to the anchoring field next to the Marina.

After that night we saw Zach several times as we made our way down the ICW to Savannah for Christmas. Christmas eve we stayed at the Westin hotel on the river opposite Savannah. They had a very lovely dock with reasonable fees. Included in the fees was use of everything the hotel had. Which was quite a lot, including a golf course and day spa a well as a heated pool and Jacuzzi overlooking the river.

After checking in we spied Zach in a cove next to the hotel. We wound up hanging with Zach there for a few days. He joined us in using the hotel to the fullest (he was an honorary crew member after all).

The last we saw Zach and his dog was on our way to Georgia. Never heard from him again. Curious, I googled the Drascomb and saw that he had listed his boat for sale, one adventure finished and another beginning.

The next story involves a Catalina 25 poptop, a dog, and a young couple. I first saw them sailing out of Nassau on the way to the Exhumas. We passed them quickly and I wondered about them. Young couple with a big white dog headed south. Most of the other boats were large Catalinas, Cats etc., so to see them was a curiosity.

They hop scotched with us all the way down to Georgetown. I got to know them a bit. Aussie girl, super cute and her American boyfriend. He was very friendly and they were headed to St. Thomas. The boat, a Catalina 25 poptop can now be bought for 3K or so in almost any Marina.

They laughed about the boat but said it served them well. They didn’t have a lot of money but they had loads of heart, love and courage.  The boat’s name was “Leaf”. I’ll always remember them.

I watched them and thought back to when I was 23, trying to get a job, save money and god knows what else. Wasting my youth on trying to crack the corporate nut.

My father always told me as I got older “Get a job and fight to keep it!!” . That was his mantra.

I wished my father, as well meaning as he was, to have told me “Get a hot girl, a sailboat and head down island!”

I didn’t know that dreams like that could be had for a few thousand. I didn’t know much at the time.

My lesson? It’s all possible with not much money. Determination and a small bit of courage will thwart the naysayers and send you on your way.

Once you’ve opened your heart and the courage flows, life will take a new course.

 

 

Falmouth Cutter 22

The Falmouth Cutter 22 is a legend. What can be done with such a small boat is amazing. I concur with my fellow FC22 Owner Stormy of http://www.artofhookie.org in that it is really a work of art.

Everything has been thought of. Space utilization is insanely good. On my boat each locker has a brass ventilation grill to inhibit mold growth.

Water and chain lockers are placed next to the keel, the cockpit benches are large but the well is small to minimize swamping.

I don’t even have a problem with the headroom. I’m 6’2″ the headroom is 5’11”. I don’t have to scrunch too much. It’s within reason.

If I have a complaint about the boat it is that there is too much teak woodwork. When I bought my boat the teak was a mess. I dutifully sanded it all down and put LeTonkinoise on it. Of course it’s worn off but recoating it is very fast since it doesn’t peel or flake. It wears away. The new coats seem to blend in with the old and you can’t tell really that it’s not all been sanded down.

I’ve entertained thoughts of selling my FC22 since I have twin daughters entering college who have said they want to sail. I’m sure they would be into a two week xmas break in the Bahamas, why not? My FC22 doesn’t have a shower but does have a marine head in the forward compartment with a curtain for privacy. Good enough for me but two daughters? And no shower?

So I thought I would go slightly larger with something with a  head and shower as well as one cabin for privacy for them.

However, now I’m thinking that maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I love the FC22. It has a trailer and I have a F250 Powerstroke diesel to pull it happily along. No Marina storage charges. Hurricanes? No problem. In fact I can take the mast down myself with the tabernacle. All I need is a boat launch. I’ve had many trailer sailors in the 20+ range and have towed and launched them at a wide variety of ramps. By myself.

So I think I’ll hold off for a while on doing anything and focus on the Eastward Ho. I’m not going to do anything major to the EH, just a wash, rinse and some sanding on the limited brightwork. This boat goes into the local lake and I’ll use if there for teaching, fishing and partying. I may give it a go and tow it to FL and then sail it to the Dry Tortugas and back. Always wanted to do that. I will then be in a better position to really critique the EH.

The FC22 will go into my barn so I can focus on the interior refit so that next winter I can take it to the Bahamas for four or five months. The FC with a draft of 3.5′ would allow me to get into a lot of great places that longer drafts can’t get into. This trip I would love to do Andros and the Ragged Islands/Jumentos.

Stormy made a great point is a recent blog post. He aid that one of the most important things to him in a boat is a full keel and transom hung rudder. I concur. I had a Dufour 36 with the usual Spade Rudder and fin Keel. Although I never had a problem it was always on my mind, the crab pot not seen wrapping itself around my prop. A log wacking my rudder.

With a full keel these problems are mitigated.

 

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The Economics of Failure

In lieu of any real work being done on the Eastward Ho (since I am in India till the end of this month), I thought I would analyse the economics if the boat doesn’t turn out to be doable.

I bought the boat for 3K. So here is the breakdown if I sell it off part by part…

  1. Lead Keel 3000lb at scrap rate of .60 c per pound  $1800
  2. Sails good condition $500
  3. Winches, handrails and other various items $500
  4. Spars $600
  5. Bukh DV20 diesel   $1500
  6. Pulpit, pushpits etc $100
  7. Tiller Pilot $500

That’s about what I would consider saleable. So, that adds up to $5500.

Subtract $200 for diesel (to pick up the boat) and one night hotel, that gives a positive of $2300.

So worst case scenario the boat is scrap I will be in the plus side a little bit.

Even if I kept the nice little diesel it would make a great power generation station for my log house in rural Virginia. Just add a dynamo and radiator and voila diesel power generation!

I think a lot of older boats are worth much more in scrap than their sale price. There is an old Bristol Corsair in my marina with a 3000lb lead keel. The marina took the boat from the owner for non-payment of slip fees. I’ll try to get it from the marina owner for a few hundred and the breakdown is much the same as the Eastward Ho. A few days in labor for 5K.. This boat has a nice Unversal Diesel in good condition, very saleable.

As the economy worsens and people walk away from these old full lead keel boats there is money to be made on them..

Just a few thoughts..

 

 

Sailing and Cruising on the Cheap!

This is an experiment. I am curious about sailing on the cheap. I’ve sailed on the expensive for may years. $800 dollar a month boat payments, $2,000 a year insurance payments, $5,000 a year yard storage payments and the list goes on.

Let’s add in all the gear that a new sailboat requires….

  1. Canvas. Yes, overlooked and not discussed. Kinda like a few other things when I was growing up.. A good dodger will run $2500. Bimini $2,000. Covers, connectors etc. just add a few more $1,000.
  2. Ground tackle. Another think about it later topic. Minimum two anchors, one has to have a Rocna (IMHO), and a secondary anchor. Also a lunch anchor plus rhode is a must.
  3. Autohelm. A giant expense and serious pain the ass. On my Dufour 36 I installed it myself. I spent a lot of time going to the fabricators for the installation plates that I designed and installed. also the wiring, the installation of the fluxgate compass, etc. Plus this unit cost me $2,500 bucks. Ouch. Needed though in a big way. I cruised the Bahamas using it and was happy every day.

So, a new boat is exciting and all, but I’ve done that and gone there and back. The boat was sold a few years ago as I wasn’t using it and the $400 a month yard charges were adding up. Also, even though the boat is sitting on the hard, it needs maintenance. Woodwork needs oil, decks washed, covered etc. Mold problems and moisture buildup in the cabin etc.

I’ve since bought a Falmouth Cutter 22 on a trailer. At the time it seemed like the ideal choice. However, 1.5 years later it’s been a ton of work. Not only that I dropped it off at a boatyard in Oriental to have new lifelines installed, tabernacle and grab rails all around. That took them A DAMN YEAR!!!

Meanwhile while at the yard my finished teak wore away, moisture got into the boat from a leaking deckbox bolt and caused all the painted surfaces in the boat to get surface mold. Not the end of the world as I cleaned it all off and am planning on repainting them as well as refinishing all the interior woodwork.

Anyway I’ve spent at least 10K on the FC22 getting her back to a reasonable condition. There is a lot left to do however. And here is where is gets interesting.

I decided to purchase a bargain basement Eastward ho 24. This boat is a heavy displacement full keel “Motorsailor”. They come sloop or cutter rig. The boat that I bought has a factory bowsprit so it’s meant to be a cutter, although it’s missing the inner forestay and was being used with a 130 Genoa instead.

The boat price was $2,950. That includes almost everything you will need to go cruising. I’m not saying you will sail to Tahiti like this, but basically the boat is good enough to sail the Bahamas and Florida without problem as equipped.

The experiment is can I get this boat cleaned up and cruise ready for a total of $5,000? The major factors are the engine. A raw water cooled Westerbeke 20HP 2 cylinder motor. Rather simple but hasn’t run in years (the boat was on the hard for the last three years).

The motor will need fluids, filters, diesel tank cleaning, fuel line replacement etc. When it’s up and running I will ascertain if it needs rebuilt injectors/injection pump.

This boat needs canvas as well. Fortunately, at the Marina at Smith Mountain Lake where I will be keeping her (while not cruising) there are maybe forty derelict boats just floating there ready to sink. Many have nice Bimini frames and canvas. So, I’ll see if I can salvage some of those. I’ve already obtained a lot of things from the floating wrecks (they are ready to be hauled and destroyed) that will aid me in my “cheap” cruising goal.

I think with today’s market there is no need to spend too much on a boat. The prices have fallen drastically. A great boat in great condition will still demand a good price. But there are so many “older” classics that are almost free it’s amazing. Granted no one wants to spend money on a wreck with no return. But, for 5K I think that it will be worth it.

Not only that, I can park the Falmouth Cutter 22 in the barn and give her the attention she deserves without “rushing” it. Meanwhile I’ll have a sturdy little motorsailor to take me to the Bahamas in the winter.

One comment about motorsailing. When I cruised to the Bahamas from Oriental, I used the engine every day. All day on the ICW and most days in the Bahamas. Why? Myself and lots of other cruisers(especially those with families) would wait for the “weather window” between fronts to take the next hop. One french family from Montreal told me that they would wait for the winds to be less than 15 knots and the seas to be under four feet before going.

This means that most hops will most likely be under power as the wind will be very mild. The moral of the story is have a good engine and use it! I don’t mind. I’m getting older and I don’t have to have the rail buried and eat beans everyday.

A few photos of the Falmouth Cutter 22 followed by the Eastward Ho 24.

Tell me what you think!

Falmouth Cutter 22

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Eastward Ho 24

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