May 2013 - The Year of the Cat

Back to Home ... s/v Stella Blue home ... What's New


Back to Home ... s/v Stella Blue Home ... What's New

Okay, fine, I'll update the web site. I pulled in here last summer and figured I'd be a marina rat for a while and just hang out in La Paz.
The plan was to stay in the marina for four months.

Oops. But more on that later.

This cat has been here for at least four years. (It's been four years since I arrived in Mexico.) I always keep a few cans of cat food on board in case I meet a hungry cat, so we became friends.

Over the last few years I'd only pull into Marina Palmira for a month or two every year. La Paz is a great place to transition between winter cruising down the mainland and summer cruising up the Sea of Cortez. So I'd see the cat twice a year. She always had kittens.
(It isn't easy to be a female cat on your own.)

Last year a cruiser grabbed her and took her to a vet.
So no more kittens. I'm sure that her life is better for it.

As you can see in the top picture, she always maintains a state of readiness between Defcon 2 and Defcon 3. There are dogs, there are other cats, and there are people who think it's funny to terrorize small furry animals. It took me a while to get her to trust me enough to roll over on her back and let me scratch her belly.

She has no tail, just a bump about an inch up her spine, and her differential is damaged so she walks like her wheels are out of alignment. But she can still run like heck when she has to.

Some 'expert' once told me that she was a Manx, because she didn't have a tail. Nonsense. This cat is a gray tabby that got her tail caught in a car door when she was tossed out onto the road, and managed to survive, make her way here and be personable enough to hang out around the marina restaurant and not get chased off.

One of the interesting learning experiences about Mexico is that you really *can't* get a lot of boat parts here. However, it's a heck of a lot easier than getting them further south in Central America. At least here you can get them shipped down for a relatively reasonable cost.

I had about $3000 of parts shipped down, using a freight forwarder in San Diego. It was worth it, as he consolidated about 20 different shipments into one single shipment, and moved it across the border and through customs for me without any hassles.

It was time to replace the sink drains, as they were corroding nicely. The basket itself was standard stainless steel sink drain stuff, but getting from the standard plumbing fitting to a 1 inch hose is a challenge. In the past I had hacked together brass parts from a hardware store, but it didn't drain well at all.

Forespar used to make a perfect fitting for this, but they stopped production. However, they make some replacement drain fittings that can be made to fit with some creative use of O-Rings and my handy Dremel Tool.


I painted the toe rails again, just putting a new coat over the old paint. There were some chips in the rails that went all the way down to the wood, from things banging in the wrong place.

I was rather amazed at the thickness of the varnish under the paint.
It is about 1/16" thick. The idea was to just paint over the varnish that I was so fussy about for so many years, and then someday I can just sand the paint down and go back to varnish.

However, where the chips went all the way down to the wood I needed to build up a good thick layer of varnish before painting. So this job took a couple of weeks.

By the way, the paint used was Comex "H4-12 Habano" which is a custom color that looks good to me. I'm noting the number here so I'll know where to find it again.

Click on pictures to see them full size







































So that's this update. I seem to have a total lack of motivation these days, and am actually thinking about heading back north and getting a job just to give myself a kick in the pants. Otherwise, I could sit here forever.

Got a new barbeque shipped down.
I seem to use up one of these every two years.

I barbeque a lot.



I also bought two new heavy duty Hypalon padeyes for the dinghy. This is something I should have done years ago, but kept trying other ideas.

I need to position the padeyes so that when I hang the dinghy up out of the water with the engine on, the stress works with the padeye design and also with the structure of the inflatable tubes.

I added some a few years ago, but on the outside, and they weren't placed right. The hanging harness was going to chafe through the dinghy tubes, and also was ripping the padeyes off because they weren't placed correctly.

Of course, my fancy hanging harness doesn't fit right any more, but I'll work on that.

Hanging the dinghy up is getting to be more important, because dinghies are getting stolen even in places that used to be considered safe.


Oh, yeah, I pulled everything out of the bilge and used a shop vac to get it really clean, and then scrubbed it with detergent.

It had become pretty skanky. There were the inevitable messes coming from the engine area, and a *ton* of hair that had managed to work down in there. That has to be cleaned out or it will clog up the bilge pump at the worst possible time.

There was a lot of old penetrating oil left over from when I wrecked the propeller shaft coupling in 2009, and I am glad that it's all clean.



And I finally varnished the companionway teak.

This was the one piece of brightwork I hadn't touched since I bought the boat. Back then I just said that when I finished with the refit and didn't have any project left, I'd get around to it.

Then it just sorta became a metaphor for the boat, since the projects never really ended.

So what the heck, I spent a good couple of weeks stripping it, cleaning it, and laying down about eight coats of good Epiphanes varnish.





There are lots of little weird noises on a boat, even with you're tied to a dock. Boats creak and moan, and the rig can make little scratchy sounds when the breeze kicks up.

However, I eventually realized that a rat had climbed up the fenders and come aboard. I don't know why it picked my boat, but this was during a time when the dock was mainly empty and the few boats that were here were unoccupied while the owners were up north.
And I like to cook, so my boat smells like food.

In any case, it took me a month to catch it, and I could probably write 2000 words about the effort. It's a serious worry, because they'll chew holes where holes shouldn't be, and will chew wires and hoses and all sorts of things than can compromise the safety of the boat and crew.



Another little change I made to the boat.

I had installed a Garhauer tilting radar mount , so that the radome can be tilted when the boat is heeled over.

I've never tilted it in real conditions. The Furuno radar has a wide beam that covers 22 degrees, and the electronics do a great job of compensating for sea state.

So the tilting radar mount had never been tilted, but it *did* ride on a single stainless steel center pin. After all the bouncing and shaking I've done with this boat, the pin was wearing down and the holes in the post were getting larger.

My friend Sergio Galindo -- who has helped me out with stainless steel stuff for many years -- welded up these two braces that hold the entire thing rock solid.

So. Painting the decks. For some reason, the non-skid on my decks was wearing down to the Gel Coat, but only in the low traffic areas on the sides of the deck.

The cockpit was fine. The deck between the gates and the cockpit was fine. The foredeck around the anchor windlass was fine.

It was just the lowest traffic area that was wearing thin.

It had to be a lack of adequate surface preparation
when I put it down originally.

So, what the heck, I had a ton of paint trucked down and redid it.

It took a month, because of some unseasonable rainstorms and temperatures that lowered the dew point in the mornings.

I needed four straight days of decent weather, to lay the paint down with the right timing between coats to get chemical bonds between coats, without any rain or heavy dew settling on the fresh paint.

I must admit that I should have hired a helper, just to refill the paint trays so that I didn't have to move around with paint, and to watch me and say 'Senor, you just dripped.' The last time I did this was with a different dock setup, and it was a lot easier to work on the boat.


Oh, yeah, I blew up another Dremel tool. This is the third one in 12 years, which says something about how I have abused my Dremel tools while working on boats.

Naturally the only Dremel tool I could find was an out of production model that cost twice what a new one would cost up north.
Tacos are cheaper here, but Dremel tools definitely are not.

Like I said, there was a death in the family with a memorial service scheduled for November, so I put off projects that couldn't be interrupted until after that.

Flying back north was a real challenge.

It was tough to find a pair of shoes on the boat, but it was 40F up there and I figured I'd need them.

Since I was leaving the boat for a week, I decided to bug bomb it.

I had a serious cockroach problem that just seemed to be getting worse. There were three different species on board, from three different ports of call, and they were taking over.

I wrapped up some clothes and bedding, and tossed out any food that wasn't canned. Then I pulled down the headliner panels, pulled up all the bilge boards, opened every compartment hatch, and turned off the gas.

The bug bomb can explicitly said not to use more than one can for the number of cubic feet in my boat.

I used three. Heck, I wasn't coming back for a week and there was plenty of time for the poison to disperse.

Upon returning, of course, I spent days doing laundry and washing everything down, including the cushions. Five months later, I can say that it seems to have done the trick, thank goodness.

While up north I bought a new laptop and an Iridium satellite phone. Both of these items would have cost me dearly to have shipped down, but carrying them with me on a plane is no big deal.

The Iridium is incredibly expensive, and the service is as well. However, it's just for emergencies, so I can make a phone call if I hit a whale or something. I can also use it to download text/GIF weather forecasts into my laptop when I'm in areas that don't offer any other way to do it.


Since the headliner was down for the cockroach eradication project, it must made sense to clean and paint the main cabin. I'd already done the V Berth, but that was easy.

It was in pretty sorry shape after ten years of abuse, and I had to cover the interior with plastic and use TSP to get a good clean surface.

I painted with Comex "J5-01 Pavo" a custom mix color that looks fine.


Since the headliner was down I had to remove all the lighting fixtures mounted there, so I polished them.

Everything metal on the boat has become pretty seriously corroded. It mainly happened the winter of 2011, when I anchored off Santiago for months. Manzanillo is just a few miles away, and is a huge industrial center with a huge coal fired electrical plant. That winter we experienced a heavy fog marine layer every day, which combined with the smoke to create a corrosive fog. Yuck. I believe that the plant is being converted to natural gas, and will need to check on that.

What else did I do?

Oh, the watermaker. Quality had been getting worse and worse over the 18 months before I pulled in here, so I had a new membrane shipped down. I actually let it sit, without using it or flushing it, for a couple of months, because it didn't matter.

It was incredibly interesting to note that when I started it up, before swapping the membrane, I actually had great water quality. It was a lower PPM count than I'd seen in a year. Yet, according to every expert and all the manufacturers, I should have destroyed the old membrane with biological contamination.

Hmm. Who knows. The same experts said that my new membrane had a limited shelf life, so I installed it. The resulting quality was three times better than when I installed the system new, which is interesting. I wonder if I didn't have a bad membrane in when it was new.

Note the little sponge in the picture. In the process of taking the system out and reinstalling it, I must have stressed one little fitting. It leaks about one drop every five minutes, and trying to take the system out and tighten up that connection has just too much risk of messing it up worse. So I'll live with it.


Oh, yeah. I've been carrying some hunks of fiberglass around on the boat for the last few years, and decided to make pads to go under my stanchion bases. I should have done this in the first place, back when I replaced the stanchion bases. If you look at that page, you'll understand why I really thought they wouldn't leak. But, they are the only things that do. It's mainly because people use them as handles, without understanding the leverage involved when you pull as hard as you can on the top of the stanchion. Oh well. I'll sand these things down in my spare time, and eventually paint them, and then eventually install them.


At the end of February, I really was ready to take off and go sailing over to the mainland. I knew it would be a short winter over there, but wanted to get contact lenses and glasses. I've wasted more money than you can believe trying to get contacts and glasses in La Paz, but know a good doctor on the mainland who actually understands what's going on with my eyes. I wear contacts *and* glasses, and really can't see well.
I don't think you need to be licensed to open up an optical shop here.

Anyway, as I mentioned at the start of this page, I went around the corner to wait for the right weather window and popped my back out, so returned to La Paz to work on that and let it heal. It took about six weeks.


During that little shakedown cruise I was amazed at the things that stopped working while I sat at the dock for seven months.

The most annoying was the cockpit remote for my Icom radio.
That's actually an essential piece of equipment.

While waiting for my back to work itself back, I had another one shipped down from the U.S.

That's the second cockpit mike that's failed in the last 8 years.

Sheesh. This time I took the new one apart and put some dielectric silicone over the internal cable connection. That's the part that has failed every time.

Another cruiser actually had an old one that still worked, although the cable was pretty well shot. It was in bad shape but worked, and he just gave it to me. I reinforced the cable connection with some Ancor heat shrink, so I have a spare.

So, yeah, I've been getting up every morning at dawn and feeding the cat. She has her own little bowl that says 'GATA.'
I really am going to get out of here soon, and she'll be upset about that. Heck, she sits up by the oficina every morning and waits for me. The funny thing is that these days she doesn't dive into the food, but gives it a sniff and then comes back at me for another scratch behind the ears. Of course, in summer, when all the sunbirds are gone and there's nothing to eat but the dumpster and the scraps that the marina folks toss in a bowl, she'll miss me.

So why haven't I updated the web site in months? Because I really don't have anything to say!

A few weeks ago a friend who's currently in the South Pacific emailed me and said
'I hope you're not wasting away in Margaritaville' and I had to reply:

"I am indeed 'wasting away in Margaritaville' and have no problem with it. It's just a phase. I pulled back into La Paz last summer and decided to hang out at the marina for the summer and work on the boat. After three years of hard use
(sailing or on the hook 9-10 months of the year) and having just spent 7 months without touching a dock, Stella Blue was looking tired. I planned to spend the summer working on things and doing maintenance on important systems and thus had about 3K of parts and paint forwarded down. Then a memorial for a family member was scheduled for November to give everyone time to get there. I waited to repaint the non-skid until I returned, and then the weather didn't cooperate.
It rained (weird) and the morning dew didn't give me a decent window of four 'paint days' in a row.
Eventually I got that done, but it took a month. (Nothing wrong with the original non-skid product,
but I think I didn't get fussy enough with surface prep in a couple of places.)

Then, when ready to go, I suppressed a sneeze while eating an omelet and blew egg so deep into my sinuses that I couldn't dislodge it even with endless saline rinses. If that sounds disgusting, you don't know the half of it. I basically had to let it rot and dissolve, which gave me 'cadaver breath' for a week and put me on a serious antibiotic program.
(The good news is, the medical cost was only $13US.) The next time I have to sneeze with a mouthful of food
and no cloth napkin in reach I'm just going to make 'post modern art' on the wall. <VBG>

Right. So by then it was January. Northers were in full swing, so I was looking for a mellow weather window that allowed sailing but didn't involve single-handing for 3 days in 25plus knots. I'd done a lot of work on the boat with sails and running rigging, and wanted mellow breezes to discover where I'd messed up putting it back together.
That did actually turn out to be wise, because when I finally took off sailing I discovered a few crossed lines and misled halyards, and that stuff can be fixed easily in 10-12 knots but becomes a big problem in 20 or more.

So anyway, I made it over to Muertos and was waiting out another Norther, and just as the window looked right I got up at 2 a.m. for a drink of water, coughed and popped my back out. It was a really loud pop and I fell down. So I spent the good breeze time learning how to stand up again, and then the forecast was for three days of dead calm followed by another heavy norther. Since I was still hauling myself around the boat with sail ties lashed to the handholds,
I decided to go back to La Paz and find a good chiropractor.

Two years ago, I discovered that that little 12V TV that I wired into the boat has a USB interface that can play AVI movies, so I've become something of a film study student. I've watched the top 100 funniest movies, the top 100 SF movies, the top 10 SF TV series, the top 100 classic movies, and have gone a bit overboard with it. I could easily just sit here for the rest of my life, or until I run out of money. But, as I said, it's just a phase.

Mexico can indeed be a trap. One can get so comfortable cruising around that one can lose track of all the cruising homework done before leaving home. (Of course, my boat is my home, but you know what I mean...) The other trap, frankly, is wear and tear on the boat. For example, my anchor chain is really in bad shape. That's what happens after three years on the hook dragging it though sand with every tide change and wind shift. The interesting thing is that the damage is in the middle, so swapping end-for-end won't do me any good. When I dropped the hook for the first time after 7 months in a marina I lost about 1.5 cups of rust around the windlass. Bummer. You can't get good quality *anything* here unless you're willing to pay double, and even then you'll probably get something that didn't pass inspection up north and was sold down here. To the best of my knowledge experienced folks truck new chain down from up north.
So after spending 8 years getting the boat ready, I probably will need to do an expensive 'minor refit' before leaving Mexico, unless I leave this year. And frankly, that ain't gonna happen."

And that sums up the last six to ten months...

But here are some pictures: