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Sunday, January 30, 2011

1/30/2011 - January's almost gone

We've had a very pleasant, laid-back couple of days.

Lulu got back from Idaho on Thursday. It was overcast and sort of cool as it had been the day before. But somehow, coming from Idaho, she didn't even seem to notice. On Friday, we met up with our friends Doug and Jody on the Westsail 32 El Gitano. We had last seen them in Eureka way back in early September. Doug and Jody, along with Lulu and I and Lee from W32 Patience all had breakfast at The Dock Restaurant at Marina de La Paz. It was sort of a mini Westsail Rendezvous. Friday was actually kind of cool, very cloudy and even spit a few drops of rain.

But the sun came back out yesterday and it was warm again today. Yesterday we dinghied into town and then just wandered down the malecon for a couple of hours. When we were here in '02, on our first afternoon out, we stopped at a little open-air place for a beer. It was mid-afternoon and hot. We were about the only whackos out walking. Everyone else was having a siesta. When we stopped for the beer, it became obvious pretty quickly that they weren't really open (closed for siesta), but they smilingly served us anyway. We've been looking for that place since we got back. I thought I had found the spot, even though it didn't look quite like I remembered it. So yesterday, we decided to stop in. It's now a little open-air seafood place so we had fish tacos and a couple of cervezas and whiled away a couple hours. There was one other gringo couple there for a little bit but usually it was just and the Paceñeros (that's what the locals are called). It was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon. And, everything was good and reasonable so we'll be going back. We're pretty sure it's the same place we remembered although probably under different ownership.

Today we went to town again. There was supposed to be an open-air market, advertised as being "just like in Old Mexico" "like they have in Mexico City or Guadalajara". It was sponsored by one of the local political candidates (Estela Ponce). There were some food booths and lots of handmade jewelry booths, some dancers, music and quite a few people. But that was about it. We each had a sausage on a bun (chorizo en un bolete). It was pretty good but, unlike the loaded-down hot dogs you buy from the street vendors, these had almost nothing on them. Just some watery sauce that was very good but didn't do much to keep these treats from being about as dry as dust. Needless to say, we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Needed something to re-moisten our mouths.

Yesterday, when we were at the store, I bought a 6 volt lantern battery for our anchor light. It was alkaline and was spendy, a little over $9 USD. Well, last night, when I installed it, it wouldn't work. I checked the voltage and it was 0.00. That means that something wasn't connected inside, otherwise there would be at least some voltage. So, one of our missions today was to return it and try to get them to exchange it for another. Returns in Mexico, we've been told, are generally not as easy as in estados unidos except for places like Home Depot and maybe Wal-Mart. So I wasn't sure what to expect. I was mostly worried about being understood. So this morning, I worked with my dictionary and Google Translate to come up with everything I wanted to say. Basically I wanted to say that I bought the battery yesterday. I took it back to my boat and put it in a light. It didn't work. I checked it with my meter and it showed zero volts. It's no good and I would like to exchange it for another. It is too expensive to just ignore. Not trusting myself to remember all this, I wrote it down and practiced along the way to the store. BTW, the store in question was Aramburo, a small local grocery store (at least I guess it's local, it's certainly not a biggie like Ley or Chedraui). When we got to the store I went up to the service counter and started my spiel. I got through the first line about buying the battery yesterday and it not working and then I was ad-libbing from there on out. Must've been understood, though, as they very graciously exchanged the bad battery for another. I had brought my multimeter along just in case so I took the opportunity to show them that the returned battery had 0.00 volts and the new one had 6.12 volts. I think the key to the successful transaction was my attempt to speak Spanish and the fact that I only wanted an exchange, not a refund. We had both expected the worst, which would have been for them to refer us to the manufacturer, but instead we had a pleasant and satisfying experience.

As to the transmission and water pump fixes: We had considered getting hauled out and doing a couple of other things while we were on the hard fixing the engine and tranny. However, we really don't need to do any bottom work yet so, rather than haul out or fix things at anchor (which would leave us powerless in the event of another anchor-dragging episode again), we've decided to check into a marina while we do the work. That way we'll be secured to the dock (no chance of dragging that way) and will have plenty of water and electricity to do other projects like clean the boat again. Probably do a bit of brightwork work as well. So, as soon as the rebuild kit for the water pump arrives (supposedly Tuesday according to UPS' tracking) we'll start looking at getting in to a marina for a month or so. We'd prefer Marina de La Paz since it's so centrally-located, but they usually don't have any openings so we may go to Palmira or even back to Costa Baja.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

1/25/2011 - Catching up

It's been 4 days since I updated this blog. So, what's been going on that's kept me so busy? Actually, most time that I don't update the blog it has less to do with being busy than it has to do with not having anything blog-worthy to write about. However, if I wait few days, while I still may not have anything particularly interesting to say, at least I'll have more of it

Restaurant customer #1: "Geez! The food here is just awful!"
Restaurant customer #2: "Yeah, and such small servings."

So, last time I wrote I was suspended between a mooring ball and my secondary anchor, and my transmission, although back on board with a new seal, had not yet been installed. That was early in the morning on Friday, January 21st.

Friday, January 21st: It took me the better part of the middle of the day but I eventually got the transmission reinstalled and tested. The only place I feared a leak, did, indeed, leak. The transmission bolts directly to the bell housing on the engine. There is no gasket between these surfaces. They are machined faces that, I guess, are just supposed to mate together seamlessly. Well, okay, but...
Against my better judgement, I put the transmission back together without making any kind of gasket. If that's the way Westerbeke thinks it should be done, who am I to question it? I was having a bit of a time trying to get the driven shaft in the transmission mated up with the engine so that the whole thing would slide together. I had the two faces close enough to get the 10 bolts started so I figured I'd just use those to pull the two together. Things were going okay until I was almost done and then the gears bound up so that I couldn't turn the shaft in neutral, nor could I operate the Fwd-N-Rev lever. So, I backed the bolts out and decided to try again. At this point I'm thinking, "y'know, if I have to remove the transmission again anyway, why don't I just put a bead of Permatex Form-A-Gasket on the face? Just in case". I even happened to actually have some Permatex on board. But, as I was pulling the transmission back, something kind of clicked into place. I then tried sliding it forward towards the engine and it slid all the way home slicker'n snot. If you've ever installed an air-cooled VW engine onto it's transaxle, you know the feeling. You fight with it and fight with it and then suddenly, for no really apparent reason, it just slides home with barely a push. Such a nice feeling. And, if you think that I'm going to take the transmission back off after that, just to put some goop on that is, after all, optional, think again, mister.

So, I got her back together and all bolted up. Before connecting the prop shaft back up, I fired up the engine and let her run awhile. Tried shifting from neutral to forward to neutral to reverse to neutral, etc. Everything was going fine. Didn't see any oil getting past the new seal, either. Shut her down and reconnected the prop shaft. Now I know I'm supposed to go through a whole alignment procedure when I do this but I didn't. The first reason was that I hadn't moved the engine a single micron and, since things seemed to be aligned just fine before (I assumed), they're probably equally well-aligned now. I know it's not great reasoning but still, that's what I told myself. The second reason I didn't do the alignment is that I have what's called a "shaft saver" between my transmission flange and my propshaft flange. This is simply a non-metallic (rubber or something very much like it) donut that's designed to a.) reduce some of the vibration, and b.) shear apart in case something stops the prop. In this capacity it's kind of like a fuse. It sacrifices it's life to save your engine and transmission. The reason this makes it hard to do an alignment is that, during the alignment you have to remove the shaft saver. If I do that, I can't bring my propshaft forward far enough to meet the transmission so that I can check the alignment of the flanges. What you're supposed to do in this case is have a special metal insert that replaces the shaft saver during alignments. I don't have one. How about just doing the alignment with the shaft saver in place? Well, first, that would be wrong. But wrongness aside, since the first step in the alignment is to lay a straight edge across the edges of the transmission flange and the propshaft flange to check for bore alignment, both flanges must be exactly the same diameter. Unfortunately for me, my shaft saver is bigger around than either of them and sits smack dab between 'em. So, can you see why I skipped the alignment step and banked on "everything being OK now because it was before"?

After I shut the engine down, I felt under the transmission to see if the seam between the tranny and the bell housing was leaking. Yes, it was definitely oily down there. Crappage!

Although I need to get over to town and find some new fine-threaded coupling bolts, for now I just reattached the shaft coupling flange using the old bolts, including the one I boogered up with the chisel. By now it was getting on towards evening so I knocked off.

Oh, and by the way, while running the engine I found that my raw water pump is leaking. It has 2 seals, one to keep the sea water from leaking out of the volute and another to keep lube oil from leaking out past the shaft. There's an air gap between so that, should the water seal leak, the water will just drain into the bilge rather than possibly getting past the oil seal and, thence, into the engine. I plan to buy a replacement water pump and then rebuild this one as a spare. Any guesses what the water pump is going to run? Anyone? How about in excess of US$525.00. And that's in the States and w/o shipping. No telling what it's going to set us back here. But, replacing the engine would be in excess of US$8000.00, so I guess this has to be looked at as insurance. Not cheap insurance, but insurance nevertheless.

Saturday, January 22: First item of business today was to move the boat off the mooring ball and get her back on the Rocna anchor again. I must say that the Bruce anchor with it's 50' of 3/8" chain and 40' of 5/8" nylon rode held the boat in position tenaciously. But, I'll still feel better back on the Rocna with all chain.

While warming up the engine, I stowed all the various crap I have on deck so I'd have an unobstructed path to the foredeck. Then I got down in the dingy and untied both my lines from the mooring ball. I was just emerging from the cabin with my lifejacket (just in case) when Lee stopped by. He was kayaking over to El Mogote to see what was going on and stopped by to see how I was doing. He offered to help with my reanchoring and I said, "you bet I'd like a hand." Wasn't much to it. Just motor slowly forward while retrieving the Bruce anchor, then move to the chosen spot, drop the Rocna and start backing up. Once the Rocna bites into the bottom, increase the reverse RPMs a bit to see if it's truly dug in. If we're not going anywhere, increase the revs some more. Repeat until you're dead sure that the anchor is holding you tightly in place. Once it was, I thanked Lee for his help and he paddled off to El Mogote.

So, I'm sitting there, looking around and pondering the situation. I finally decided that I really didn't like my new spot very well. While I don't think I was actually in the main channel, I was pretty darn close to it. And while I was far enough away from the municipal pier for boats docking there to maneuver, I could definitely stand to be a little further away. I knew these things would work to keep me awake at night so I moved the boat again. Not far, but far enough to give me a little peace of mind.

Once things were secured again, I stuck my head in the engine compartment to turn the raw water off (don't need the leaky pump seal filling the bilge) and noticed an unwelcome pair of streaks on the deck aft of the transmission. The seal had failed. We have had some vibration when the engine is put in gear and the RPMs are low. This has been going on for quite awhile. I had attributed it to the idle speed on the engine being too low, and, indeed it is lower now than it was when I set it in Newport several eons ago. Now, though, I'm putting 2 and 2 together and thinking that maybe, the vibration and the leaking seal are connected. Let's see now, how many years did I work with motors and pumps that were connected together via shafts, gearboxes, etc.? What a dope! So the question now is, what's causing the vibration? Misalignment? Maybe although it started long before the transmission was ever removed. Bent shaft? Geez! I hope not. Can't think of anything that's happened since we've owned the boat that would have bent the shaft. Some unbalanced component? Unlikely since everything's the same as it always was and I don't see any chunks of metal missing from anything. Bad transmission output bearings? Now that's a possibility. There might have been a teeny little bit of play in the output shaft when I took the transmission out. But it wasn't enough to amount to anything, right?

You say you worked with pumps and motors for how long again?

When Kenny returned my transmission the other day after replacing the seal, he pointed out how the shaft didn't wiggle anymore and he was right, it didn't wiggle. But that means that he noted that it had wiggled before. So, even he noticed it. Oh well, of the various things that could cause the vibration, bad bearings in the tranny is the easiest to fix.

But here's the weird part (although it probably won't seem weird at all once the cause is figured out). Check out this photo:

Let's get oriented. At the bottom of the photo is the back end of the transmission case. Then you can see a tiny little length of output shaft and then the flange (shiny piece with 3 hex head nuts showing). The red circular thing is the shaft saver and then the "once was blue" piece is the propshaft flange and then the propshaft itself. The seal that was replaced is in the transmission. Any oil leaking past it should be flung out between the transmission case and the output shaft flange. But it's not. The streaks show that the leaking oil is surfacing between the aft side of the shaft saver and the face of the propshaft flange. And, indeed, I found oil dripping off the end of the transmission output shaft when I removed the shaft saver. I'm not even sure how that's possible.

Anyway, after I closed the engine compartment up so I wouldn't have to tax my brain thinking about this mystery, I headed ashore to get a few supplies, fill my gas cans, and take a much-needed shower.

Sunday, January 23rd: A guy can only do mechanic work for just so long before he needs a break. So I declared today "Ropeyarn Sunday". This is an old Navy term. I'm not sure Ropeyarn Sunday necessarily happened on Sunday but I think it mostly did. This was a day when sailors weren't required to do "real" work but weren't supposed to just sit idle either. This was the day that one would do his laundry and mend his clothes. I took the meaning a little further and made this the day to clean up all the untidy rope ends that I saw all over the boat. The worst was the 3-strand nylon line I used as an anchor snubber. I had never seized the end of that one at all, not even with electrician's tape. And it was downright "embaraskin" to have on board. So I gathered up all the lines I could find on deck that had untidy ends, put some music on, and sat down in the cockpit with my needle, palm, thread and knife. Within a couple hours things were looking much tidier.

There are probably still plenty of lines hanging in the lazarette that need tending to but I'll save them for another ropeyarn Sunday someday.

Monday, January 24th: Today I didn't do jack as I woke up feeling crappy and pretty much felt crappy all day. Finally started feeling a little better by evening. I basically spent the whole day in bed reading.

Tuesday (today), January 25th: Woke up feeling much better. After breakfast I decided to see if I could narrow down what the likely cause of the driveline vibration is. The final verdict is that, while not completely sure, I'm pretty sure it's a bad bearing(s) in the transmission. The little bit of play is definitely there. Now I have to decide how I want to handle it. I could remove the tranny again and take it in to get fixed. That would, once again, leave me at anchor without a motor. I also need to get and install the new water pump which will also put the engine out of commission for a short time. A short time, that is, if nothing goes wrong. Right now, I'm thinking that the best move would be to order and get the water pump and then have the boat hauled while I install the water pump and have the transmission rebuilt. In the meantime, we can put together a list of various other projects that are more easily accomplished in the yard so we can make the best use of our time. Probably wouldn't hurt to put on some new bottom paint. And I have a couple of thru-hulls in the head that are no longer in use and I'd like to have removed and the holes glassed over. This could probably take us through February and then we could splash back down in March, enjoy (or at least experience) Carneval, and then start island-hopping our way north into the Sea. Yeah, that sounds like a good plan. Wonder what's wrong with it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

1/21/2011 - Newly Salted Interview

Livia from s/v Esrtellita 5.01b is the brains behind the Interview With a Cruiser website that, hopefully some of you have linked to using the gizmo on the right hand side of this blog. Ever responsive to the requests of her readrs, she's started a new site with interviews with cruisers who are just getting started. The site is called Newly Salted and she asked if we'd like to contribute. Yeah, like I'm going to pass up a chance to blather on and on about stuff. So, here's a sneak preview of our "Newly Salted" interview.

We are Stephen and Lulu Yoder. We sail a 1976 Westsail 28 which we've named Siempre Sabado ("Always Saturday" in Spanish) to celebrate what was our favorite day of the week during the years that we had to work for a living. We are now retired and can do pretty much whatever we want each day, just like we used to on Saturdays. Our hailing port is Silverton, Oregon, USA although there are no navigable waters anywhere close to Silverton. It's more an homage to the place we lived, worked, and raised our children for 25 years. A nice little town. We have only just started our cruising life, having only been away from our former home port of Newport, Oregon since Late July, 2010. Since then we have cruised down the coasts of Oregon and California and the Pacific coast of Baja California. We are currently anchored in La Paz, BCS, Mexico. Please feel free to follow our blog at www.yodersafloat.blogspot.com. We welcome e-mails as well as comments (using the "comments" feature on the blog). Our e-mail address can be found on our website.

Rather than collaborate on answering these questions, we have decided to answer them independently and then post both answers.

1.) Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
Stephen: I wouldn't put off the start of a cruise to get it but I'm wishing now that I had a wind generator to supplement our solar cells. Unless you have a really good way of pointing your solar panels at the sun, at the right angle and can adjust it many times a day, you just can't get what they're capable of putting out. And, at anchor, since the boat keeps swinging around, keeping the panels oriented for the best return all the time is pretty much impossible. On the other hand, the wind does seem to blow a lot.

Lulu: Not Me... I'm very happy with our boat as is. Of course I'm not the one that knows about all of the stuff that's available. Maybe that's good.

2.) What do you miss about living on land?
Lulu: Summer in the Silverton Hills, spending my days outside in the yard and surrounding woods.

Stephen: Nothing really. Oh, maybe my woodworking tools and my shop once in awhile, but only so I can make stuff for the boat. Granted, it's only been 6 months but I honestly don't really miss anything about living on land.

3.) In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Stephen: Before we actually started our cruise, we lived on the boat, without a car, for a year. Basically cruising without going anywhere (some would argue we've been in La Paz long enough to qualify for that description again). The hardest transition during the living aboard time and the actual cruising time was pretty much the same: Our living space shrunk from 5 acres to 28'. Huge transition and difficult although we try to keep it as easy as we can by trying to keep each others' needs in mind. The other tough transition is getting used to how long it takes to get the most mundane things done. Grocery shopping that used to take us a couple hours (including driving to the store and back home again) now takes all day. And we still have to go back the next day to get the stuff we couldn't carry the first day. And, since we've been in Mexico, there's also the difficulty of just finding what you're looking for and not being sure whether or not it even exists here.

Lulu: Being anxious a lot. Not scared so much as not having the experience to know what is likely to happen in many circumstances and therefore being anxious in anticipation.

4.) How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
Lulu: We didn't have much... A 2 week trip on a friends boat and bringing our own boat from Anacortes, WA to Newport ,OR. It wasn't a lot but it was enough to keep it from being a scary "unknown".

Stephen: Basically, we didn't. Okay, that's not entirely true. We went on a trip with friends, on their sailboat, from Astoria, Oregon to Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. That was pretty much it. After that, we brought Siempre Sabado down the coast from Anacortes, Washington where we purchased her, to Newport, Oregon where we home-ported her. The ocean portion of that trip took two and a half days of round-the-clock motoring. We didn't feel confident enough yet to sail the boat at that point. We lucked out and had a reasonably easy time of it, aside from the multitude of fuel filter changes that had to be made. Saltier folks than us (it didn't take much to qualify) kept trying to get us to do a shakedown cruise before we left Newport. Just head straight out into the Pacific for 3 days and then sail back to get an idea of what works, what doesn't and how we and the boat would handle stuff. But I always figured that, if I was sailing for 6 days, I certainly didn't want to end up back in Newport. I'd rather gain 6 days of southing. And what's the difference what port you pull back into if the boat is everything you have? Also, in hindsight, I'm afraid that if we had done a shakedown as recommended, and had the kind of weather we experienced when we finally left Newport, we may not have continued on with our cruising plans.

5.) How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?
Stephen: I can only tell you what worked well for us, and it was more of an accident than a plan. We had originally intended to leave Newport in 2009. However, as our departure date neared we still had a lot of items on our to-do list in spite of working 12-hour days to try to get everything done. Also, doing all the stuff on the list had pretty much depleted our savings. So, we decided to winter over in Newport, get the rest of the list done at a more reasonable pace and save some money. The upshot of this was that we got to get used to living on a 28' sailboat, in usually-crappy weather, without a car. But also without the added stress of big seas, round-the-clock watches, and new places. Consequently, by the time we actually took off, living on the boat and living without a car were just what we did. No big deal. This made it much easier to deal with all the new stressors that actually untying the dock lines brought forth.

Lulu: Just decide what steps you need to take and get started. Stephen really did all of the planning and I helped with the actual projects.

6.) Tell me your favorite thing about your boat.
Lulu: I feel safe and cozy at anchor and cruising.

Stephen: You mean besides the fact that she's the prettiest, saltiest looking thing in the harbor? My favorite thing about Siempre Sabado is that she's a Westsail with all that includes. The most important thing it includes is the amazing feeling of safety she gives us. We got tossed around a lot in Oregon and Northern California. It was very uncomfortable, But neither of us were ever scared that the boat couldn't handle it. We've talked about it so this is not just me putting words in Lulu's mouth. We had complete confidence in the boat to get us there safely. She's also small enough that you don't have to be worried about being tossed across the cabin in rough seas. You just can't get tossed very far.

7.) Tell me the least favorite thing about your boat.
Stephen: She's so SMALL! It would really be nice to have enough room to entertain another couple comfortably, or have the occasional overnight guest, or just to have enough room so that both of us could be doing something that requires moving around the cabin at the same time. And, of course, who couldn't use more storage? At this point in our cruising/liveaboard life, I can't think of much of anything else I'd want to store, even if we had a bigger boat. I'd just like to be able to store what we have in a more organized manner.

Lulu: Not enough room to accommodate family for more than a day sail. We used to have lots of room for visitors and I miss that.

8.) What did you do to make your dream a reality?
Lulu: Stephen has been reading about and planning this for years and has acted financially towards making this work for us. Once that was in order we just had to accept parting with all of our stuff and did all of the many things that that entails.

Stephen: We stayed out of debt as much as possible so we could save the money to buy our boat outright rather than finance it. Of course, this is why we ended up with a smaller boat, because it's what we could afford. Aside from that we both stuck with our jobs over the long haul so we could qualify for retirement and then cut out as many expenses as possible (sold our house, cars, no storage unit, etc.) so that our retirement income would be able to meet our expenses. I guess we basically burned our bridges so we didn't have much choice except to turn the dream into reality.

9.) With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
Stephen: Heavily-built for that safe, secure feeling. I would look for a larger boat, but not much larger. Maybe 32 to 34 feet, no larger. A pilothouse would really be nice a lot of the time. An actual u-shaped galley area. Simple electrical/plumbing/navigation/communication infrastructure. I like the simplicity, room, design and overall class of a Westsail 32. Since they don't come with pilot houses, I'd want a very strong removable canvas enclosure for the cockpit area. And, although not my first choices, I certainly wouldn't turn down a Fisher 34 or a Gulf 32 (though I'm partial to double-enders). For me, it's about safety, security, livability and aesthetics. How fast it sails or how high it points are secondary. That's why they make diesel engines. Oh yeah, and access to the engine without infringing on the living area. Kudos go, once again, to Westsail.

Lulu: Once again, Stephen is the one who has studied all of the choices and particulars. I feel like he did a great job. Siempre Sabado is small but very well equipped and comfortable for us.

10.) What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Lulu: What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle? It's hard to get used to being such a rookie. In my former life I had become pretty good at most of the things I needed to do. As a cruiser I have a lot to learn and I'm not real good at some of the new things I'm learning to do, yet.

Stephen: If you had it to do over again, would you? In a heartbeat! So far, there's really nothing about this lifestyle that I don't like. Sure, there are uncomfortable (sometimes VERY uncomfortable) passages, but there are also really nice magical passages. I've liked pretty much everywhere we've been so far, at least for awhile. Now that we're finally in the warm weather we were seeking, every day is so sweet, even the days that all we do is go get groceries and mule them back to the boat. I feel healthier, I've lost weight, I'm more relaxed, and I have more fun, more often. Yes, we're still novices, mere beginners. Will I be singing a different tune in a year or two? Who knows? But I kinda doubt it.

1/21/2011 - This is getting to be a drag. Or is it?

4:30 AM

Geez, I'm glad I went to bed early last night because I certainly got up early this morning. Like 1:00 AM. I was sleeping when a weird sound woke me up. Couldn't identify it so I went up on deck wearing just my sleeping shorts (a pair of sweatpant shorts that I inherited from Lucas when he outgrew them at about 13). It was blowing pretty good and kinda cool-ish. I looked around, checked the anchor , looked around again and, not really seeing anything, went back to bed. I was just warming back up and starting to drift off when I heard it again. This time, being more awake, I thought it sounded like the anchor chain rubbing on the bobstay (the wire cable that runs from the end of the bowsprit down to the bow of the boat at about the waterline). I went up, this time with a t-shirt too, and checked. Sure enough, because of our angle to the anchor line, I didn't have enough chain out so the snubber could keep the chain slack. So I let enough chain out for it to go slack and figured everything was jake.

But as I'm standing there looking around I'm thinking "Are we closer to those boats over there than we were before?". Sure looked like it but it's really hard to tell sometimes. Until you've been in an anchorage where the boats move around due to current and wind, you have no idea how hard it is to tell for sure if you are in the same position relative to the other boats or not. So, I figured I'd fire up the GPS and check what it had to say. Well, it showed us way further south and way further east than I thought we should be. Was it just because I had so much rode out? Or were we dragging? Or were they dragging?

Now I figured I was going to be outside awhile so I went back below and put on long pants, slippers and a lightweight jacket. I then sat up on the bow for the longest time trying to decide if we were dragging or not. And, if we were dragging, what was I going to do about it with no engine? And is that big power boat north of us getting closer? If he was, then he was dragging, too. Or maybe, he was the only one who was dragging. Or maybe he wasn't. Geez-O-Pete! At least there was a full moon to help see by but it was still no piece of cake to figure out what was going on.

Finally, as I got closer and closer to a neighboring boat, I decided that, yes I am dragging. If I was going to deploy another anchor, I needed to do it pretty soon if I was going to have enough room to let out a decent amount of scope and still not hit the other boat.

Now, just dropping another anchor probably isn't the right thing to do. Ideally you would motor up to your anchor, pulling it in at the same time and then simply re-anchor. But, I had no motor. The next best thing would be to load a spare anchor (a "kedge") in the dinghy, and head out to where you want to drop it (the anchor is obviously still connected to the boat by it's rode). Then drop it, head back to the boat and start pulling in the slack in the kedge's rode to, hopefully, set the anchor, and then pull the boat to a less "bump-likely" position. I could have, and probably should have done just that. But, for some reason I didn't. Instead I simply dropped the spare anchor (a Bruce) and, as the boat drifted away from it, I let out scope until I had about a 4:1 ratio. Then I took in on the primary anchor and let out more scope on the secondary. Then I waited. And watched.

After awhile it looked like we might still be dragging. The GPS certainly said we were. So I played with various combinations of rode length on the two anchors and then waited and watched some more. Eventually, I spied a staionary target that confirmed we were moving south, albeit VERY slowly. The target I spied was someone's mooring ball.

Now, this gave me an idea. I've been anchored here for a week and I have yet to see a boat on that mooring ball. So, what if I were to tie up to it, at least until I get the transmission back in so I can re-anchor properly? So, I grabbed a boat hook and waited for us to drift down onto the mooring ball. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. What the heck? Are we no longer dragging?

At this point I'm not willing to take a chance. So I let out some more line on the Bruce anchor and pulled up the Rocna (primary) anchor. Now it looked like we were going to drift to the east of the ball and I didn't want to miss grabbing it. So, armed with a long line and a boathook, I jumped in the dinghy and motored over. Once there I grabbed the ball with the hook and then tied the line to it. Then I fed line out as I motored back over to the boat. Back on the foredeck, I fed the line through a hawsepipe and then started pulling it in which pulled us towards the mooring ball. The anchor is still down and apparently biting into the bottom as I can't get us all the way to the ball. But that's OK because the anchor is holding us from going south and the mooring ball won't let us go north so we're pretty nicely suspended between the two. So, now everything's cool but I'm still going topside every 10 minutes or so just to make sure.

So now, what's the deal? What's with all the dragging? Why do I seem to be the only one dragging? And, isn't the Rocna supposed to be the end-all be-all of solid holding? It's always held us great before. What the heck's going on?

Well, I have a few theories. My main theory is that I never really was dragging to start with. Not tonight and not a couple nights ago either. When I thought I was a few nights ago, it was based on looking at the GPS and seeing that I was 94' from the anchor but only had about 75' of rode out. Seems like a no brainer except: 1.) I'm not sure how much rode I had out. The 75' was based on what I thought I remembered. I didn't look at the chain markings when I started letting more out. AND, 2.) that theory was based on where I thought my anchor was. I created the anchor waypoint after we were anchored. I made an educated guess based on what the track looked like. Could I have been 20 to 30 feet off? Easily. So, it's possible that I wasn't dragging at all and letting out more rode the other night just made me even less likely to drag.

As to tonight, all that rode that I let out a couple nights ago may have come back to bite me. I originally thought I had let out 100' but, later I looked and it was actually 140'. With a depth of 5.5 meters (about 17 feet), I had a scope of 8:1. That's a lot of swinging room. I doubt that the other boats are using that much as 7:1 is considered more than enough for nylon and 5:1 for chain. So, it's conceivable that I was a lot closer to the other boats because I had a lot larger swinging radius. Once I started reeling in chain, then I probably did drag but up until then, maybe not. And I'm having a hard time trusting the GPS since it shows that we're still moving to the southwest when I can look around and know that we haven't moved at all since tying up to the mooring ball.

Right now, the current and the wind are both coming from the north. The Bruce anchor is apparently holding us just fine because the mooring ball is still south of where it's attached to the boat. If we were dragging, we'd be dragging south (the forces are from the north) and both the anchor AND the mooring ball would be north of their attachment points, not one north and one south like they are now. So the anchor is holding. Probably was all along. But you can't take chances and you have to go with the best information you've got at the time.

I bet you can guess what my first priority job is (later) today. That's right, reinstall the transmission so I can weigh anchor, cut loose of the mooring ball and re-anchor in a new spot.

What a night.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1/19/2011 - Kind of a drag

While I'm sitting here watching a movie (Exodus, 1960, Paul Newman & Eva Marie Saint, kind of boring) I'm listening to the wind howl. It's coming out of the SE which is pretty unusual. I decide to go out and make sure we're still staying put. I fired up the GPS and then went and checked various stuff out while it was acquiring satellites. The tidal current was very strong. The flood was almost over but the current was strong enough to keep us facing into it (North, more or less). The wind was blowing us north as well. So that meant we were headed north but our anchor was back behind us. In other words, we weren't facing the anchor like we usually do.

Anyway, I go back and check the GPS and we seem to be a bit further away from the anchor than we had been. Of course, we were headed a different direction, but still the anchor was something like 94' from our position. And, since I only had about 75' of rode out, apparently we were dragging. I waited a little longer to get a better GPS picture but it just confirmed my suspicions. Of course, right now I have no motor. Well, I have a motor but w/o the transmission it's pretty useless. I do have the dinghy tied alongside if I need to move in an emergency. So, I pulled in the anchor chain far enough to untie the snubber and then let a bunch more out. Once I had 100' in the water, I tied the snubber on and added another 10' or so. Been watching the GPS and we now seem to be staying put. The water was 5.6 meters deep so, at 110' (33 meters) I have roughly 6:1 now. I think what happened was that the high tide resulted in less scope, obviously, and then the wind from the SE swung the boat around dislodging the anchor. And, with the inadequate scope, it couldn't reset itself. Should be good now but suddenly I'm not tired so I'll be up for a little while watching it.

You might have to click on the picture to get the bigger version to follow, but here's what we're looking at on the GPS:

See the little anchor symbol under the "0073"? That's about where our anchor was originally. The little black dotted lines show our track. The dark bunch of squiggles to the SW of our anchor basically shows how we just swung back and forth at the end of our tether. When I first went and checked things tonight, we were located at the dark mass of dots just below the N24°09.600' parallel. We still looked to be sort of staying put but we were definitely further from the anchor than we had been. When I went back and checked again, we had wandered up to the next grouping of dots and were headed further north. At that point I let out more chain and the boat came to a stop and started swinging back and forth on its new tether. The point that it stopped moving away from the anchor is where the track makes a sharp turn to the NW just above the N24°09.610' label. The white arrow is pointing to the symbol for our boat.

I don't think I'm the only one who dragged because there are several boats that are still pretty much the same distance from me as before although I'm definitely further away from some others.

So it goes.

1/19/2011 - Another typical day in La Paz

After I cleaned up after breakfast, I loaded up the transmission and the laundry and headed ashore. I dropped the laundry off and, although she said it'd be done by 4:00 I told her to hold it until tomorrow as I don't really want to go back over today. Then I schlepped my backpack full of transmission (about a 40 lb. load) up to Revolución entre Rosales y Allende* to look for Universal Diesel. I found it, but it looks like someone's house. And there was a locked gate across the front. And there was a large barking dog inside the gate. What was I thinking? This isn't Estados Unidoa. This is Mexico. Things are done differently here. How long will it take me to get that? And why, you may ask, didn't I call first? It's not like I didn't have a phone number. Well, think about it, I call up a shop where the person who answers very likely will speak no English. Then I try to convey to him, in my piss-poor Spanish, what it is I need. He asks me a bunch of questions that I can't understand and ultimately we're at an impasse. So, I just went to the shop instead and figured we'd be able to reach some happy middle ground better in person. But, as I said, the shop was closed, at least to me. So what do I do? I called them. As expected, Josue didn't speak any English. And even though I know that pretty much any diesel mechanic could change an oil seal on pretty much anything, as soon as I said "transmisión" he balked. Basically I think he said that he doesn't work on transmissions but he knows someone who does and he gave me the number. I called the number and it was disconnected or not working for some other reason. Now what?

Having no idea what to do I started towards Lopez Marine. This is the marine supply store that most of the cruisers swear by. It helps that the proprietor, Hamish, is completely fluent in English. I fegured he should be able to at least steer me in the right direction. I hadn't gone more than 1/2 block when my phone started ringing. I answered it and the guy on the other end spoke a little English. He's a Mexican guy named Kenny (huh?) and is apparently a friend of Josue from Universal Diesel. Josue called Kenny and gave him my number. The upshot was that Kenny could do the work. Great, where are you? Well, he was at the Abaroa boatyard down near Marina de La Paz so I said I'd see him in about 10 minutes. When I got there I asked one guy if he knew Kenny. Nope. So I called him again and he said he'd meet me at the front gate. In just a couple minutes this friendly looking middle aged Mexican guy comes out and greets me. It was Kenny. He then introduced me to his friend, Alejandro (I think). They asked about the transmission and where my boat was. I explained that it was anchored out. Kenny translated for Alejandro saying that the boat was "en la agua". Alejandro looked a little downhearted until I said, "Pero, el transmisión esta aquí." and I fished it out of my pack.

They looked it over, asked a few questions (like "what's wrong with it?") and then Kenny said he could fix it. He's working on a boat in the yard right now (cute little full-keel double-ender owned by a guy named Sven). He goes home for lunch at 3:00 and would get a new seal then. He'd have the transmission ready for me tomorrow at Abaroa after 3:00. I'm to find him at Sven's boat. On the way out I stopped and talked to the Texans from s/v Pandora (they were behind us at Costa Baja for a little while) who are there working on their blistered bottom. When Harley heard we had Kenny on the job he said that he had wanted Kenny to work on his boat because he has a good reputation but the management at Abaroa nixed it. They apparently have pretty arbitrary reasons for what they will and won't allow. So, I felt pretty good after that endorsement. Hopefully I'll get my tranny back tomorrow all fixed, for not too many pesos and everything will be jake.

Then I went to Ahumburro to get cilantro and meat to make Caldo de Res (beef soup). I didn't find any pre-packaged meat that I particularly wanted so I asked for "un kilo, mas o menos, de esto" and pointed to a pile of meat. What the meat is is anybody's guess. It was obviously beef but beyond that, who knows? It looks like they just cut meat away from the femur for instance and piled it up. No bones. Well, I figure that when I got the sales slip it would tell. It does, sort of. It says "carne para cocer" Cooking meat. Well, that narrows it down. Oh well, cut up and cooked in caldo de res it won't much matter what it is.

Now, about Caldo de Res. "Beef soup" just doesn't tell the story. This is the richest beef stew you ever had a spoonful of. I got the recipe originally from an article on pressure cooking in Passagemaker magazine. The guy who wrote the article had a couple of unbelievably good recipes but the caldo de res and the pressure cooker pot roast were my two favorites. I wish I knew his name so I could give credit where credit is due but I've long since lost the original article. Anyway, this being your lucky day, I'm going to share the Caldo recipe with you. Ready?

Caldo de Res
3 lbs beef (mas o menos) cut into 1" squares. You can use boneless chuck roast, top round, cross rib, carne para cocer, or any other cheap cut of beef you happen to find. Pressure cooking will tenderize it so no worries there.
3 cans beef broth or enough bouillon to make 4 cups
1 can peeled diced tomatoes
1 can pinto or black beans
1/3 C worcestershire sauce
1 pkg taco seasoning
1/2 onion, medium, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 or 3 carrots, sliced
1 t cayenne or red pepper flakes
1/4 C chopped cilantro
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 C red wine
salt and pepper

garnishes: sour cream, salsa or hot sauce, avocado

--Add 1/3 of the beef broth to the pressure cooker (use meat rack). Add the meat cubes, 1/3 of the taco seasoning, 2T of the worcestershire sauce, and salt & pepper to taste
--Bring cooker to operating pressure and then cook at pressure for 30 minutes. Depressurize and remove the meat rack.
--Add remaining beef broth, tomatoes, remaining worcestershire sauce, wine, onion, garlic, celery, carrots, cayenne or red pepper flakes, and cilantro
--Bring back up to pressure and cook 2-3 minutes.
--Depressurize. Return to stove with lid on but w/o the weight. Simmer on low heat. If a steady stream of steam begin to escape, remove lid, stir and lower heat. Replace lid and continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
--Add beans and simmer an additional 20 minutes.
--Served topped with your choice of the garnishes mentioned above. Accompany with warm tortillas for dipping.

Obviously you can play with the recipe. I used dried beans instead of canned. Soaked them overnight and then put them in to cook with the meat on the first run and then omitted the last 10 minute simmer. But don't screw around with the wine or worcestershire sauce, they're key.

This stuff is so good and so rich. I had it for dinner tonight and there's enough left over for several more dinners. Accompanied mine with a couple slabs of Lee's homemade bread. I bet it tasted good.


Yeah, that's right. I couldn't taste it!!! You see, I had a cold coming on and Monday night it decided to go Nuke-Yoo-Ler, like W used to say. By this morning, I had lost my sense of smell and my sense of taste. Happens every time I have a cold. But I make food anyway hoping that something will sneak past my cold-induced sense censors, But NOOOOOOOOOO. I suspect I got this cold from Omero, our shuttle driver from Costa Baja. I also suspect this will be far from the last one I get as long as we're around large population centers. The habit of coughing or sneezing into the crook of ones elbow doesn't seem to have caught on here yet. So, when the mouth does get covered, it gets covered with a hand. And these nice folks do love to shake hands. Waddyagonnado? I doubt that I'll carry around my little personal bottle of hand sanitizer. That just seems so, I don't know, so gringo I guess. No, I'll just weather the storm knowing that I'll always have you to whine at and complain to. Thanks for being there for me.

*This is often what passes for an address here. They tell you what street it's on (Revolución) and then what cross streets it's in between (Rosales and Allende). There are house numbers but they don't seem to be used much and I have yet to see one on a house.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

1/18/2011 - The glamour of the cruising life

One of my main jobs while Lulu is in Idaho is to get the rear oil seal in the transmission, which has been leaking since before Port San Luis, CA, fixed. And then to clean up the slick, oily mess that the engine compartment has become as a result of the leak.

Here I am modeling the latest in cruise wear. The smart ensemble (pronounced "on-som") consists of tailored overalls designed by C. Arhart which are worn sans shirt for that rugged "it's 80 degrees here" look. Topping everything off is a natty little ball cap made with authentic looking faux sweat stains. Footwear is optional and, in fact, was not worn during this fashion shoot.

I got started on this project yesterday. The first thing to do was to get access to the engine compartment. This is where Westsail 28s and most Westsail 32s outshine much of the competition. The engine lives under the cockpit sole (floor) and is accessible via a door behind the companionway ladder. But, it's also accessible by removing the entire sole. Check it out:

Is that sweet access or what? The wooden thing on the right hand side of the photo is the door between the engine room and the living spaces. By being able to open up the sole this way, not only do I get unparalleled access but it also keeps the project out of the saloon. A common complaint on boats is that, when engine work is being done, it completely disrupts normal life on the boat. Not so with this set-up.

OK, you see the silver-colored shaft just left of center? And you see the ribbed housing just to the right of the shaft coupling? That's the transmission and that's what needs to be pulled so I can get the old seal and probably the old bearings, removed and new ones installed. The first step is to remove the 4 bolts holding the blue coupling to the red spacer between the coupling and the transmission. Can I say "tranny" instead of transmission from here on out? I'm not crazy about the word (too much like "veggies"), but it's a lot easier to type it. Okay? Okay, thanks, I owe you one.

Anyway, once I found the right size wrench and figured out how to brace the coupler so it wouldn't turn, I attacked. WHOA! Those babies are tight! If I'd had a cheater that would fit over my wrench, it would have helped, but I didn't. Oh, and I had to use an open end wrench because the inboard side of the bolt head is too close to the coupler to allow the use of a socket or box-end wrench. So, finally, though I hate to do it, I finally had to resort to clamping a vise-grip plier on the bolt head and then gently putting my weight on it (I stood on the vise grip). This broke the bolts free and I was able to undo them the rest of the way with the open end wrench. All, that is, except one. There's always one that won't play nice. ALWAYS! Repeated attempts at using the vise-grip to bust it loose just resulted in rounding off the bolt head. Other than using heat, and I don't have a torch, the only other old wastewater operator/VW mechanic trick I know is to take a cold chisel and use it to put a little divot in the side of the bolt head and then drive the chisel against the divot, with a large hammer, hopefully causing the bolt to turn a bit. Once it's loose, vise-grips will finish the job.

Well, I had a large hammer, but I couldn't find any cold chisels anywhere on the boat. Boy, did this seem like a good time to call it a day. I cleaned up my tools and switched out of my stunning mechanic garb and into shorts and a t-shirt and headed to town to get a cold chisel.

Before leaving, I consulted my copy of "Spanish For Cruisers" to find out how to say "cold chisel" in español. According to SFC, the word was "cortafrio". Cut cold? Cold cut? Oh, well, cortafrio it is. I fired up the dinghy and headed ashore. On the way I stopped by Lee's boat, s/v Patience to apprise him of my progress so far.

Lee had several cold chisels he offered to loan me but I needed to have one on board anyway so I continued on in.

I had checked the listings on the Club Cruceros website so I'd know where some hardware stores (ferreterias) besides Ace were. There were 2 on opposite corners of Avenida 16 de Septiembre and Serdan. Perfecto. That's where I headed. I went into the first one and confidently asked for a cortafrio. Didn't seem to ring any bells. How about a cold chisel? No idea what I was talking about. After a few back and forths, the young guy behind the counter decided that it must be "American" and they don't carry any "American" tools. Suggested I go to Ace. Uh, okay...

I headed across the street to the other store. Again I asked for a cortafrio. Again, no idea what I was talking about. I said "cold chisel" and they sort of seemed to understand which meant they didn't really understand at all. I know because I do the same thing to them. Finally, I said it was for cortando metal (cutting metal) and I pantomimed smacking a chisel with a hammer. Oh! Now they seemed to get it. One of the guys indicated I should follow him into the back room. We came to a workbench and on it was nice large cold chisel. It looked like it was one they use because it had been sharpened on a grinder and the head was beginning to mushroom from hammer blows. No matter, he offered to sell it to me. I'll take it. It was a whole 38 pesos or just slightly over $3.00. Cool.

After all that I certainly felt I deserved a vaso sencillo (single scoop bowl) of yogurth de limon (lime frozen yogurt, but I'm guessing you already had that one figured out).

Headed back to the boat for the evening.

This morning, I got up ready to tackle the tranny again. It takes me awhile to get going in the morning, though. First I have to check e-mail and then visit a number of websites while I drink my first cup of coffee. Once that's done, I make breakfast. Today it was egg/cheese/bacon breakfast burritos. Maybe another cuppa joe. After the dishes are done and my teeth are brushed and I can't come up with any other good reasons to not get started, I get started. Today that happened about 10:30 even though I got up at 7:30.

I descended into the engine compartment armed with my new cold chisel and a big honkin' hammer. But first I tried the vise-grips again. I had been soaking things in WD-40 overnight so who knows? Well, no joy. Vise-grip slipped right off. So I got down to it with the hammer and chisel. First I cut a little slot on the bolt head and then I drove the chisel against the side of the slot in such a way as to put pressure on the bolt to turn counterclockwise. I whopped it and whopped it. Finally, the chisel just broke through the slot leaving nothing to push against. Move over a few millimeters and try again. Well, I whopped it a bunch of times and was just about resigned to it not working when I thought I might have noticed an almost imperceptible movement. Had I? Whop it some more. And some more. THERE! That time it definitely moved a little. A couple more whops and it was obviously turning. I traded the chisel for the vise-grips and finished extracting the bolt. I was then able to slide the prop shaft back about two inches.

Okay, but that was just step one. I still had to remove the allen-head bolts and nuts from the other side of the red spacer. Fortunately, these gave me no trouble at all. Once the spacer was out I had about 3" of clearance between the transmission and the prop shaft.

Now I just had to remove 8 more allen-head bolts that held the transmission to the bell housing on the engine itself. Once again, it went pretty well until I was almost done. There are 2 bolts at the top of the housing that are too close to whatever is behind the to allow even the short end of the allen wrench to get on them. No worries, I have one of those sets that have a hexagonal ball on one end so you can kind of attack allen heads from an angle. Jammed that baby in the bolt head, put the little cheater pipe on it and pulled. SNAP! The ball end was no longer attached to the wrench but instead was firmly lodged in the bolt head. Well, crappage! There was no way that there was enough room around the bolt head to put a vise-grip on it so I had to figure out how to extract the little ball. I poked at it with a tiny little punch and, miraculously, it moved. It didn't move out, mid you, it just sort of wobbled in place, but it wasn't tight and that was a good thing. Maybe if I had a magnet... The only magnet I could find was one that came out of an old hard disk drive. The magnets in those things are VERY strong. Unfortunately, because of it's shape I couldn't get it close enough to the bolt head to have any influence. I called Lee on the VHF and he said that, yeah, he had several magnets. So I headed over and borrowed a couple of likely-looking candidates. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the first one I tried actually worked. HOT DOG!

Now I needed to get another ball-end wrench because otherwise there was no way to get an allen wrench into the top two bolts. Or was there?

I have several allen wrench sets so I found another 6 mm wrench and figured maybe I could cut the end off so it'd be short enough to do the job. I pulled my handy little clamp-on vise out (first time I've used it) and clamped the wrench in place. Then I opened up my saw satchel and pulled out a hacksaw and started sawing. Well, I got nowhere fast. The saw blade was probably dull and the wrench was probably hardened. Whatever, I just sort of skidded over the wrench with the saw. Ok, no worries, that's what the Dremel tool is for. I chucked up a reinforced cut-off wheel and started making sparks. In less than a minute I had a custom allen wrench.

And guess what. It did the job. Within a few more minutes, the tranny was out and sitting on deck, ready for the next chapter.

Now I need to find a machine shop or transmission shop to remove/replace the rear seal and, as long as they're at it, the rear main bearing.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

1/13/2011 - My first solo

It wasn't much in the big scheme of things, but I took the boat out single-handed for the first time today. Since Lulu is in Idaho and our time at Marina Costa Baja was up, it seemed like the right time to give it a go. I had offers of help but I really wanted to do this on my own.

Leaving the dock, which is usually so traumatic for us, couldn't have been much easier, at least in theory. We were tied on an end-tie and the wind was blowing the boat away from the dock. That meant that all I had to do was untie the lines, let the wind blow me out far enough that I'd mss the boat in front of me (s/v Gypsy), put the engine in forward and go. Sounds like a piece of cake, right?

Well, almost. See, it's great to say "all I had to do was untie the lines, let the wind blow me out far enough", but in reality, I had to untie the bow line and the stern line almost simultaneously or else one end of the boat or the other would drift away from the dock before I had a chance to get back on board. For a brief few seconds I considered asking a dockmate for help but I decided that I needed to figure this out. First, I ran the stern line from the boat, around the cleat and then back to the boat so I could control it from on board. Then, since the tidal current was running water past the boat, I essentially had steerage so I turned the rudder so it forced the bow into the dock. As soon as there was slack in the bow line, I quickly untied it and scrambled aboard before the wind could overcome the rudder, which it did. Now the wind was forcing the bow out into the fairway. Perfect. I pulled in the stern line and the wind started pushing the stern away from the dock. Then I just put the engine in gear and happily motored out.

I used the autopilot on the short trip down into La Paz so I wouldn't be tied to the tiller and could look around and assess things as they happened. When I got near where I wanted to anchor, I took over helmsman duties.

I had the anchor all ready to go so there'd be no hang-ups when I released it. I motored slowly through the area I where I planned to anchor looking for a spot that would give me plenty of swinging room and not infringe on someone else's room. I had the tiller fixed ammiships with bungee cords and slowed the boat to see what she would do on her own. Well, without the anchor to hold her into the wind, the wind just started pushing the bow off to starboard. That's not how I had it planned as I lay in bed last night going over stuff. I put her back in gear, took over the helm and made another circuit. I just didn't like what I saw as far as room. Might have looked different with two of us aboard but, this being my first solo anchoring maneuver, I decided to pick another spot. I headed north to where the boats were much sparser and found what looked like a good spot. I maneuvered into position, bungeed the tiller amidships, put the engine in neutral and headed forward. I dropped the anchor along with enough chain for a scope of 3:1 which I knew from experience here, would hold the boat. Then I trundled back to the cockpit, took control of the tiller, put the engine in revers slowly, and started backing down. We weren't going in quite the direction I wanted so I had the tiller hard over. All of a sudden, the tiler was yanked out of my hands and the boat swerved way over. The anchor had definitely dug in. As the boat settled into its new position, I went forward and let out a bit more chain, bringing the scope to 4:1. Then I went back to the cockpit and added a few more RPMs to the engine to really set the anchor. I watched the GPS as well as neighboring boats to see if I was dragging. Didn't appear to be but just to be sure I added a little more chain for the recommended 5:1 scope and backed down harder. Still not moving. Increase the RPMs some more. Still not moving. I believe were are well and truly dug in. I added the nylon snubber*, secured the engine and we were all set.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the dinghy ready for shore excursions, setting up the anchor light, stuffing rags in various places below to stop the noises associated with a rolly anchorage, etc. Oh, there were also a few minutes spent reading and napping in the late afternoon sun as well.

Marina Costa Baja was really nice. REALLY nice! But, truth be told, I'm actually glad to be anchored again. Here I am in my own little world and since we're back in town, I feel more connected to La Paz. Mostly, though, I'm really glad that my first solo endeavor didn't end up in a blog about crashing into another boat, going aground, etc. Those would probably be fun stories to read but not to live.

Tomorrow I'll find out just how long the dinghy ride ashore is since I need propane badly. And this time, I'm going to just sit there after I drop off my bottle and wait for Lupe to bring it back. The only time it'll be out of my sight is when it's actually in Lupe's possession.

Hasta mañana.

*snubber: If the anchor chain is left taut from the windlass all the way to the anchor, every time the boat lurches it creates huge snapping stresses on the chain and the windlass. It's also very noisy. Enter, the snubber. This is simply a piece of 3-strand nylon line that runs from a cleat on the foredeck, through a hawse hole and then down to the anchor chain where it's tied on with a rolling hitch. The snubber is drawn taut and the chain between the knot and the windlass is allowed to go slack. Now the lurching forces are taken up by the stretchy nylon line which actually has a higher breaking strength then the anchor chain. So why use chain at all? Anchors, in order to work right, need to lay on the bottom. The boat needs to be pulling at them horizontally, not vertically. The weight of the chain helps keep that pull horizontal as it takes a lot of force to pick up 60 or 70 feet or more of chain. Also, nylon line is subject to wear from rubbing on stuff underwater. Chain has it beat there.

so, hasta mañana, otra vez.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1/12/2011 - Mi vida aburrida

Warning, what follows is a drawn out account of a simple trip to the grocery store. If you were looking for tales of derring-do on the high seas, you might want to try www.tales_of_derring-do_on_the_high_seas.com instead. You've been warned.

Since I decided to stay at Costa Baja another day, I decided it would be a good day to go grocery shopping. So I made up a list. I knew I wanted some lettuce and tomatoes for salad but that's about all I knew of for sure. So I started thinking about what I wanted to eat. Largely due to the influence of Reid and Soanya (1000days.net), I decided I wanted to make rice and beans. Looked up a couple recipes on the internet and decided to get some dried beans for future use and some canned ones for immediate use. Also some onions, more garlic, and, if I could find it, a couple cans of chili.

I caught the 12:10 shuttle a Marina Costa Baja. This was one of his long runs that he makes out to the Soriana Market three times a day. Since he goes right by the Chedraui supermercado I asked Omero (our driver), "¿Puedo bajar cerca de Chedraui?" He assured me that yes, I could get off near Chedraui. Further, as we drove along, we talked a little. He knows possibly less English than I do Spanish but we managed to make ourselves understood. The upshot was that he told me that as long as I could be out in front of Chedraui at 1:20, he could give me a ride back as well. This is not a regular stop so he was really doing me a favor.

Omero dropped me off and I headed in. I dropped my pack off at the bus station-type lockers, grabbed a second cart (since a señora had snagged the cart I left sitting while I was stashing my pack) and got to work. First stop: produce department.

At about 29¢(US) per pound, I just can't pass up fresh pineapples. So, even though it wasn't on the list, I grabbed one. Next some tomatoes, a head of lettuce, garlic, a few onions... At this point, for some reason I reached down for my wallet. Maybe I was going to check that I had enough cash on hand before I got carried away. Whatever the reason, I reached down and MY WALLET WASN'T THERE! WTF? Amazingly, my first reaction wasn't "somene kyped my wallet". Matter of fact, that thought never entered my mind. Within just a few seconds I remembered that I had left my wallet on the boat. See, sometimes when I go up to take a shower, I like to leave my wallet on the boat just so it's not just sitting there in my pants pocket with my pants hanging outside the shower out of my sight. And, this is not a Mexico thing. I've always felt this way ever since we started using public showers. Anyway, the wallet was safely stashed on the boat where no one could get it. Well crappage! So I start putting everything back, retrieve my pack and head for the door. Needless to say, I was at my rendezvous spot with plenty of time to spare.

When Omero picked me up, I related my sad story. He took me back out to Costa Baja and told me that, if I got back to the shuttle stop in 20 minutes he'd take me back to Chedraui. I wasn't sure how that was going to work for him since his next run was not one of his long Soriana runs, but I said "OK". I hurried down to the boat, grabbed my money and headed back up.

While I waited for Omero's return I started loking at the schedule to see how he was going to do this. Chedraui is way out of the way if he's not going to Soriana and he has a schedule to keep. But then I saw it. This was the run that included his lunch break. he was going to drop me off on his way home for lunch. However, we had to stop by the downtown bus depot first to check for passengers. The bus depot is the normal drop-off and pick-up spot for folks going to or coming from Costa Baja. Unfortunately, there were about 4 or 5 people who expected a ride back out to CB. If there weren't, Omero gets a regular lunch break, but if there are people there, he as to take them back to CB before breaking for lunch. Mind you, his lunch break isn't extended to cover this, he just has to eat faster. And, now there was no way he could take me back to the store. I'd have to walk or catch a taxi. He did tell me to be sitting on the corner outside Chedraui at 1:45 if I wanted a ride back. I agreed and we parted ways.

I started walking the store. We do this all the time. But it is a very long ways away and I didn't really have all that much time to spare if I wanted a ride back, which, since my pack would be full and heavy, I definitely did. I passed up the first couple of taxis due primarily to my innate cheapitude but finally I asked a driver how much to Chedraui.

"Cincuenta" (50 pesos)

"Viente" (20 pesos)

"Cuarenta. No mas barato. (40 pesos, no cheaper)

Fishing into my pocket I pull out change that amounts to about 36 pesos and a couple of centavos. I hold it out.

"Is this close enough?"

He looks at it and says "Sí" and off we go.

Arriving at Chedraui, I repeat the first three sentences of paragraph 3 above. Now it's time to look for some ham hocks to flavor the beans I'm going to make. Buying meat here is an adventure as it usually isn't cuts we're familiar with. Also, seems like everything is packaged in, what to me seem like very small units. Anyway, I'm looking for ham hocks and not really finding what I need. I finally find something that sort of has that bony/fatty/slightly meaty look that ham hocks have. It's called "manitas de cerdo". Not ringing any bells but I figure, what the heck, it's just for flavoring and the price was right at about US85¢ a pound, so I grabbed a package. Okay, now to find some canned beans and canned chili. You know how in the US the canned beans cover huge long expanses of shelf space? The biggest difficulty is deciding which, among the multitude of choices (ranch style, Boston baked, BBQ, light red kidney, dark red kidney, made with molasses, original recipe, etc, etc, etc) to buy. Well, not so in Mexico. At least not so at the Chedraui on Abasolo in La Paz. The canned bean section took up about 3' of shelf space, maybe 3 shelves high. And the section didn't just include beans. I didn't see any chili although I did see "chili beans" which are definitely NOT the same thing. I found a large (maybe 20 oz. or so) can of red kidney beans and grabbed it. However, when I ran the numbers through my calculator, they looked a bit expensive. So I ran the can under one of those bar code scanners and it turned out the price that I was looking at was for something else. I WISH it had been for the beans! That stupid 20 oz. can was going to cost the equivalent of over US$5.00! NO FREAKIN' WAY was I going to pay five bucks for something that should have been about 50¢. So, i headed over to the huge dried bean section and grabbed a 1.1 lb bag of black beans (US$0.63) and a 2.2 lb. bag of pinto beans (US$1.04). Believe I'll just fire up the pressure cooker and save myself a ton of money. And eat better to boot. When in Mexico....

When Omero dropped me off back at the boat, I told him that we'd be leaving Costa Baja tomorrow. Not La Paz, just Costa Baja. Then I handed him an envelope containing a tip to cover our entire month's stay. We haven't tipped him once since we've been here and he never seemed to expect it or treat us any differently as a result. I shook his hand and thanked him for his friendly service. He assured me that if he ever sees us out walking to Chedraui or Soriana, he'd always stop and give us a ride, "no problem".

Back at the boat, I unpacked and stowed the groceries, cut up the pineapple ala Lulu and got ready to start soaking the beans. But first I really should check the propane level in our only tank (at least until Jay and Judy on s/v Wind Raven get here with our spare that we bought to replace the one that was ripped off). Guess what. No, the tank isn't empty but if I plan to have coffee and breakfast in the morning, I won't be cooking any beans tonight. Or anything else for that matter. Oh well, I polished off half of that pineapple while I was writing this.

Oh, and I looked up "manitas" in the dictionary. All I found was "handyman" or "hands". Huh? Hey, wait a freaking minute. Now I can see it. Manitas de cerdo are pigs' feet (looks like they're specifically the front feet or maybe just from a small pig) that have been run through a bandsaw lengthwise so they're about 5/8" thick. I also saw pigs' feet that I recognized that had been run through the saw crossways and were thicker, maybe an inch. So, manitas de cerdo would translate very loosely as "small pig's feet" I guess. Whatever. They'll season up the beans quite nicely.

Monday, January 10, 2011

1/10/2011 - Composting revisited

Warning, poo talk ahead:

For those keeping score:

We last dumped our composter on 11/14/10. Obviously the pee bucket has been dumped many times since then but the composter itself was dumped in mid-November. We then used it daily (2 adults) until we arrived in La Paz, BCS on 12/8/10, just under a week shy of a month. It still had at least another week or so of capacity but, since shoreside facilities were available, we chose to use them and let the compost "cook" for awhile before emptying.

Today, after sitting with only the occasional stir but with no new deposits for a month, I decided it was time to dump it.

It was totally non-objectionable. The smell was a strong organic smell. Not unpleasant but not like the smell of newly-turned soil in a garden either. Better than the smell of many fertilizers, though. The consistency was fairly dry and looked mostly like the coir we use as a drying/organic component. There was NOTHING recognizable in the bucket. No paper and no poo. The only fly in the ointment was that the stirrer on the AirHead does not reach the bottom of the bucket so there was a layer about 1-1/2" deep that had to be stirred up with a stick in order to loosen it enough to dump out. This layer was wetter than the stuff above and looked about the color and consistency of wet coffee grounds. It wasn't gross at all but just having to stop and stir meant that it was a little harder to dump and keep everything in the trash bag. The little bit that spilled was easily wiped up with a paper towel or swept up with a mini-broom. I left a little bit in the bottom to act as seed for the next batch.

So, in the best of all possible worlds, we would use our composter for a month and then let it rest while using shore facilities for a month before dumping. You don't need a full month of resting time but, if possible, it's ideal.

And, although obviously I did wash my hands afterwards, I didn't have that "ooh-ick, must wash hands before touching anything" feeling that I always had after pumping out our holding tank.

Aren't you glad you asked?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

1/9/2011 - Projects

One of my primary jobs while Lulu is helping her Mom in Idaho was to clean out the "garage". The garage is what we call the area that is normally referred to as a quarter berth on the boat. This is a tunnel about 26" high and 32" wide at the opening but tapering down to only a little over a foot wide at the far end which is maybe 6' from the opening. The narrow end, towards the stern shares a common bulkhead with the lazarette (the other "garage"). The port wall is the hull of the boat and the starboard is the wall separating the engine room from the interior of the boat. The open end is at the nav station. Why do we call it the garage? Well, take a look:

Just like a real garage, no place to park the car.

In order to clean this area, everything in it needs to be removed and put somewhere else. That's why I waited to do it until I was the only one onboard. There's just no place to put this much stuff except where we normally live. Lulu did the same thing to the v-berth recently and I spent my day in town to give her the space she needed.

So, anyway, I yarded all this junk out. In the process I was keeping an eye out for stuff that was pretty much useless to us and could be discarded. Two of the things I found while I was in there were a bunch of hanks of 3/4" manila line to make rope fenders out of. Although we did make some before, we still had material to make more. I also found the rungs for the port ratlines which I had removed to modify way back in August.

I put the starboard ones back up in Charleston, Oregon but still hadn't put the port side up. I figured that, rather than stuffing these two things back in the garage, I'd solve the problem by completing the projects.

So, yesterday I sat on the dock (to keep all the fibers off the boat) and made 3 more rope fenders. The first one took me a little over 2-1/2 hours, and the next two took 2 hours each. By the time I'd finished these three, I had a couple of blisters on my fingers from the rough manila line. I still have enough rope to make four more fenders before it's all gone. Maybe I can convince Lisa on s/v Gypsy to take a hunk of line so she can practice making a fender herself. Then I'd only have three more to do. Unless I could convince her that she really should have 2 rope fenders.

Today I hit the ratline project.

When I lashed the ratlines on last time, I had a problem with them slipping when I would really reef on the lashing of a higher one while standing on a lower one. In other words, while I was pulling a lashing tight, and you have to pull them REALLY tight, I would be exerting downward pressure on the rung I was standing on. Much more pressure than the rung is ever likely to see from normal use. Not surprisingly, the rung would slip down and I would have to re-lash it. The culprit is the bare wires that I'm lashing to.

They're slippery. If I had all my standing rigging wormed, parceled and served, there'd be plenty of friction to hold the rung in place. Probably.

The "serving", the final wrap, would leave a nice nubbly surface to lash the rungs to. But alas, that's a LOT of work and it's also not particularly good for stainless steel rigging which needs oxygen to keep from corroding (works great on galvanized wire, though).

So, I figured I'd hit a happy medium and wrap the area that the rung would contact with friction tape. Which I did. However, I think it actually made the rungs more slip-prone. The glue on the tape isn't all that sticky and it seemed to provide a nice oozy path for things to slide on. So, since I can't install the rungs from the top down, I guess I'll just have to bite the bullet and know that at least half of them will have to be re-lashed. I can't even come up with a good temporary lashing that I could use until I was finished with the upper rungs. Whatever I do, it has to hold my weight as well as the force exerted when I reef down on the lashings above during installation. So, I just have to do every lashing like it's the final one and then resign myself to the fact that some of them aren't.

The worst part of cleaning the garage was that, other than the rope and the ratline rungs, everything had to go back in. Oh, there's stuff we no longer need/want, but I can't just throw it away. I believe that I heard on the VHF the other day that there's a swap meet the third Sunday of every month. That would be this coming Sunday. Now if I can just keep from dragging any new treasures home...

Friday, January 7, 2011

1/7/2011 - Our plans, such as they are...

We kept getting asked what our plans are. When are we leaving La Paz? Are we heading "across" to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, etc? Or, as an anonymous commenter asked on our blog the other day: "Now that you're no longer cruising, are you going to live on the boat or buy a house?" The only answers to these questions that we can be sure of adhering to is "I don't know" and "Maybe".

The standard observance about cruisers' schedules (by cruisers) is that they're firmly cast in Jello (or sand). In other words, there's generally nothing firm about them. We're no different.

Originally we had planned to be in the Puerto Vallarta area for the winter because we'd always read and heard that the weather and water are much warmer there and that it can get uncomfortably cool in Baja in the winter. Those plans went by the wayside when we found out that Lulu's brother had a chance to snag a condo in La Paz for Christmas. So we decided to stay here through Christmas and maybe move over to the mainland after the holidays. Since then, a situation arose requiring Lulu to fly to Idaho to help her Mom move into a new apartment. She won't be back here until around the end of January, so, other than to move from Marina Costa Baja to the anchorage about mid-month, I'm not going anywhere until she gets back.

So that will give me all of January to watch the weather. I've been checking weather for here and Puerto Vallarta every morning for a week or two now. It might be true that the water temperature is more conducive to swimming but the air temperatures have been virtually the same. The largest difference I've seen so far was a whole 5 degree spread and La Paz was still in the 70s that day. So, so far I haven't seen any huge reason to cross the Sea just yet. It definitely hasn't been "uncomfortably cool" here yet.

At this point, the only thing that I'm fairly sure of is that we plan to spend our summer in the northern Sea of Cortez and our spring getting there. Next fall we'll head back down the sea and maybe spend next winter on the mainland. But then again, maybe not.

Everybody has their own style. Some folks want to almost never touch land, others like to get places, spend a few days and then move on. Some want to see how many places they can get to in a season and others aren't satisfied with just ticking off places in Mexico, they need to venture further and soon. To all of these folks, I say "Enjoy!" Our style, at least so far, is that we like to get to a place and then, if we like it, stay long enough to really get a feel for the place. We love La Paz. And, it's a fairly large place that we have barely scratched the surface of. One of my goals while Lulu is in Idaho is to branch out further afield. I want to ride the colectivos to wherever they go. Colectivos are little converted school buses (usually) that move folks around the city for a flat fare of, I believe, 8 pesos. One thing I want to see is how close I can get to the airport on a colectivo versus hiring a cab. There's also a ton of places where we want to eat while we're here and, since we can't afford to and don't want to eat out every night, this is going to take some time.

So, when are we leaving La Paz? When there's a reason to, I guess. So far no place else is calling us so we're good here until we get bored or the weather turns to crap or the islands call out to us or...

Next January or the one after that we'll be asked the question, "So, when are you going to leave Puerto Vallarta?" Or, Chamela? Zihuatanejo? Barra de Navidad? San Blas? or maybe, La Paz? Rest assured that we'll get to all these places but we'll get there in our own good time. And once we get there, we'll stay awhile, thank you very much.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

1/4/2011 - Lulu's ear & Mexican health care

Lulu had a small sore spot on top of her ear that was likely caused by too much sun before she got religious about the sunscreen. Some fellow cruisers recommended Dr. Tuschman here in La Paz. We went to his office without an appointment yesterday morning. He wasn't in yet but a phone call by his receptionist affirmed that we should return in about an hour, which we did. Like all doctors, he wasn't super punctual but we only waited an extra 20 minutes or so. We've waited longer than that in the States when we DID have an appointment. The office and examining rooms were super clean. Lulu showed Dr. T the spot that concerned her. He asked a few historical questions (when did it start? has it grown? any known allergies? etc.) First, since it was so small, he suggested removing it now rather than waiting to see if it was going to get bigger. Then he told her the options: freeze it off, burn it off, cut it off (micro-surgery). She asked the pros and cons of each and the prices.

Freeze it off: might have to come back later for a second freeze. 800 pesos
Burn it off: will leave a small scar. 700 pesos
Micro-surgery: will leave the smallest scar of the three options. 1500 pesos

All three prices included the consultation.

Armed with such practical knowledge, she opted to have it burned off. He administered a local anesthetic and then, seconds later he was done. He put a teensy little band aid on and we were out of there. Paid the receptionist on the way out and we were done.

Compare this to the same thing stateside where insurance companies rule:
-We didn't fill out ANY paperwork. In spite of this being the first visit, we didn't have to fill out a bunch of medical history and insurance forms. Anything the doctor needed to know, he just asked. The question of HOW we would pay was never even brought up.
-Everything was done in one visit: consult and procedure. My experience in the states is that there would be at least 3 visits if we were a first time patient: consultation, procedure, follow-up. Each would have cost whatever the base rate is for an office visit and then any work that was done would be heaped on top.
-And finally, 700 pesos is about $56.00. Take a look at your last insurance statements for some simple procedure and compare.

We're happy to report that our first encounter with the Mexican health care system was everything we were led to believe it would be.

1/4/2011 - Plot holders

Okay, I know what you're probably thinking: "Holy crap! The guy goes off on a sailing adventure to Mexico, he hasn't written anything since New Year's Eve and the best he can come up with is a blog about POT HOLDERS???? And he can't even spell it right in the title??? WTF??? I don't care if Lulu did crochet them, they're still POT HOLDERS!" Pretty close to what's going through your mind? Well, who could blame you? Oh ye of little faith.

No, I didn't misspell "pot holder". I meant "plot holder". These nifty little crocheted gizmos are actually protective sleeves for our Christmas present to each other:

We bought ourselves Kindle e-readers. We save room on board by keeping our music collection on an iPod, our movies on several mini hard drives and now, our books on the Kindles. Although I'd read about e-readers, I wasn't really convinced at first. As an inveterate reader, I just couldn't imagine giving up the feel of reading an actual printed book. And besides, with so many books available for trade at every cruisers' lounge or marina laundry room we'll ever happen across, why would I want to have to buy e-books, even if they are a fraction of the cost of a new "real" book?

Well, first off, we still have books on board and probably always will. There are certain reference books that are not available for the Kindle and others that I just feel better being able to leaf through. If I'm working on my engine, I want the full-size drawings readily available, not some reduced size one that keeps jumping to a screen saver if I don't hit a button with my greasy paws once in awhile. Also, we have lots of books on board that we haven't read that we either brought from home or got in the aforementioned cruisers' book exchanges. Most of these are adventure/crime/mystery/serial killer type books that I would not bother replacing unless it was for free.

We have 2 bookshelves like this as well as another one over my bunk and then more books stowed in several other places around the boat. Lots of books but no room for any more. That represents a lot of storage space taken up as well as a lot of weight. As we work our way through these throwaway books, we likely won't replace them but will rather move the keeper books from the more inaccessible areas out to the main bookshelves, freeing up some storage space elsewhere.

Here are some of the things that helped us make a decision to buy e-readers and specifically Kindle e-readers:

- Depending on size, you can store something like 2500 books on one. To give you some perspective, here's the cruisers' exchange book case at Costa Baja Marina:

A quick count tells me that there are about 50 books per shelf. There are 7 shelves so we're looking at about 350 books. It would take 7 book cases this size to hold what 1 Kindle can hold. That means that if you have an electronic version of a book you love, you no longer have to get rid of it when you're finished reading it. You can also load up on books that you think you may like to read someday.

- Amazon maintains a file of all the books you purchase through them. Run out of space on your Kindle? No problem. Just dump some of your books knowing that you can go back to Amazon and reload them at a later date if you want.

- The Kindle has 2 on-board libraries. Oftentimes I'll be reading a book and come across a word that I'm unfamiliar with. If I'm laying in bed reading, it's unlikely that I'll get up to go get the dictionary to look the word up. Matter of fact, no matter if I'm in bed or not, if I'm comfortable, I'll probably skip dragging the dictionary out and just hope I sort of get the meaning of the word by the context in which it's used. On the Kindle I can just run the cursor down to the word and the definition pops right up. Hit the "back" button and it disappears and I'm back to my book.

-The Kindle is really easy to read. The screen can be read comfortably even in direct sunlight and the type size can be made any size I might happen to find comfortable. It's extremely lightweight and small (less than 1/2 the size of your laptop monitor and only about 3/8" thick). Page turning is done by clicking a button on either side of the screen.

- When you finish reading, you just shut her down. Next time you open it up, you're taken right back to where you left off.

- There is a ton of free stuff available for the Kindle as well as all the other brands of e-readers. Anything in the public domain which has been put into either a Kindle (.azw) format or a PDF format is generally available for free right from Amazon. Saturday morning, it being a bit cool and blustery here, I spent a few hours downloading books from Amazon's collection of freebies. There were something like 12,000 titles available. I downloaded around 120 of them. The authors included such venerable old-timers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, H.G. Wells, L. Frank Baum, Max Brand, Lewis Carroll, Joseph Conrad, James Fennimore Cooper, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. A lot of the books by these authors I've long wanted to read but I wasn't sure that I would like them enough to shell out money for hard copies. Not to mention the space they'd take up. Now I can try them out as well as have their entire collections if it turns out I like them. I took about 5 lbs of books off the boat the other day: Count of Monte Christo, Three Musketeers, The Man in The Iron Mask, and Moby Dick. Then I downloaded the electronic versions for free. Besides the old-time authors, there are frequently books by contemporary authors offered for free for a limited time. There are several blogs that track these offers and let us know about them. Granted, the authors are often unknown but even Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and John Grisham had to start sometime. Who knows what I may happen across?

- It's small and easy to take with me. Yesterday while Lulu was at the doctor's office getting a little growth burned off her ear*, I was in the waiting room happily trekking through the African plains with Alan Quatermain and company as they searched for the fabled King Soloman's Mine.

- You can even download games (Solitaire, Sudoku, Scrabble, to name a few) to while away your hours.

Why did I choose Amazon's Kindle over the other e-readers available? Well, first of, it's all very confusing when you start comparing specs. But, I figured that Amazon is, like, the biggest book distributor in the universe so whatever I was looking for was more than likely going to be available through them. My only other criteria was that it be able to read and store PDF files, which it can. The new wifi (non 3G) version was also very attractively priced.

For a much more thought-out review of e-readers, see Greg & Jill Deselynski's report.

So, there you have it. And, as an added bonus, in a pinch we could use the protective sleeves Lulu crocheted for the Kindles as POT holders.

*About Lulu's ear: see the next blog.