Thursday, 23 March 2017

Isla Mujeres

So we had our fingers crossed that the trip from Roatan to Mexico would not be as eventful as the one to Roatan. Looking at the weather we had good wind, the first day quite strong but the next perfect and that's exactly how it worked out. 

The trip to Mexico took us just under 48 hours and we sailed most of the way the gearbox behaved perfectly and we tied up at Marina Paraiso ready for a beer! It's not the cheapest Marina in the world but John needed to go back to England to attend the funeral of a very dear friend of ours. It was touch and go whether we would manage it but sailing in on the 21st we managed to check in, carry out the temporary importation of the boat, book a flight and get him to Cancun airport in time to attend the funeral in Wales on the 23rd. We were both glad that at least one of us had the chance to say goodbye and celebrate her life. Sometimes it's hard being so far away from the UK. We could not have managed it without the help of the 'mordida', which is the system here whereby you grease the palms of the officials to make things happen! In doing this we ensured that the health inspector, the food inspector and immigration and the Port Captain all came to the Marina, looked at the boat.....checked yes there was a boat, told us not to eat anything we had bought into the country unless it was on the boat, sign in a couple of places and we were legal! Chepo the dockmaster at the Marina was very efficient at getting it organised.

Typically as John was flying back to the UK he had to arrive when Storm Doris was arriving too! It had its advantages as with a 70 mph tail wind the flight was very early, the downside was it took the pilot three goes to land the plane in Manchester.....bicycle clips all round I think!! John had booked a car for the six days he was in the U.K. however when he arrived at the Car Rental office a smug guy on the other side of the counter made the mistake of telling John ' sorry Sir due to the adverse weather conditions we do not have a car for you' . Mistake!. John's reply ' I have a contract with you to supply a car what are you going to do about it?'  ' Well sorry the only car we have is a nine seater mini bus' Yes... you've guessed it that's what he took, arriving at the Crematorium in Wales just in time!
The weather here in Isla Mujeres was not great wind wise, a strong Northerly set in for a couple of days causing the waves to chop and slap the side of the hull all day and night. Not conducive to a good nights sleep but I had it easy, the guys out in the anchorage were dragging anchors all night and that is no fun!

As it turned out I was not short of company, a lot of old friends were here too. Mike and Jean from Tomorrow's Dawn, who we had not seen since Trinidad, Richard and Kay from Atalanta who we last saw in Surinam as well as Vlad and Carmen from Inti and the crew of Genesis III, were all here. I really like this Island and Mexico in general, it's laid back and good value, an example three tacos and two beers for 85 pesos ( £3.70)! The Island is awash with golf carts that you can hire for around 700 pesos for the day, it's a good way to see the Island though it's pretty flat terrain here so walking is not so bad. Provisioning is easy with Chedraui, an excellent supermarket with just about everything you could want,ten minutes walk away. Not unsurprisingly there quite a lot of Cubans here and a few Cuban restaurants, they always seem to have good music on and it's a good way to spend an afternoon. There is also a bar close called the Soggy Peso, this has dynamite margaritas, one is quite enough, two and you really are playing with fire! The view from the beach at sunset here is lovely.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Roatan Repairs

So having arrived safely at Fantasy Island we had to find out what exactly had happened to our gearbox? If it had done 40 hours I would be surprised, we have sailed to most of our destinations since its installation and last year we spent a lot of time in the one place. Lots of theories were put forward, perhaps the prop hit something causing the splines on the the gearbox shaft to shear? We dove down the prop was in tact not a problem John took out the gearbox and we discovered what the problem was.... sad to say, our error. When we changed the gearbox we did not change the damper plate, two reasons really we had difficulty sourcing one in Colombia and the old one 'looked' OK. Clearly it wasn't and it had sheared the splines on the gearbox shaft.. damn ! 
So we were back to sourcing parts initially we thought it might be a new gearbox and damper plate and John ordered one but as luck would have it the guy we bought it from contacted us to say that the box he had to send out to us had been part of a recall by ZF so he did not have one! He did however put us onto a really good guy in Seattle who rebuilds gearboxes, John spoke to him on the net and on the phone and it was agreed he would build a new shaft for us complete with bearings and John would fit it. John gave him a blow by blow of how he intended to split the gearbox and fit the new shaft and Mike in Seattle said sounds good to me and shipped us a box of goodies with everything we would need to get the job sorted. Shipping to Roatan is not easy and not cheap, the safest way is to ship to Rasxpress in Florida and with the right wording on the label it finds itself at Rasxpress in Roatan a few days later! There you get stung for 30% duty! 

We did have one piece of luck though, whilst searching for our gearbox, John stumbled upon someone selling the exact heat exchanger we needed, brand new and for a mere £400! This might sound a lot but it was a steal, we had been expecting to pay over £2000 for it. Perkins do not support the 4154 engine anymore so I guess this part was just lying collecting dust and the guy on eBay just wanted shot of it. We hummed and ahhed but we both figured it was too good an opportunity to miss even with shipping(£50) it was a we bit the bullet and bought it. This meant of course that once all the parts arrived John was faced with the prospect of many days down in the engine room fitting all these parts, not one he was looking forward to! I could tell he wasn't as in the days waiting for the parts to arrive I would be woken up in the middle of the night to John dreaming and screwing bolts in my arm and muttering about pipes, jubilee clips and o rings! The sooner this job was done the better.....

Finally with all the parts here John set about the task in hand. It took him about five days of blood sweat and tears but we now have a working engine, a gear box that works and a propellor that turns. Hurray! 
We have hired a car whilst here in Roatan, it is a very pretty Island with many reefs and stunning views. Here at Fantasy Island there are three monkeys that share the Island with us and they cause havoc on many occasions. The answer is leave nothing in the cockpit and lock up at night. Since we have been here they have thrown one yachties barbecue grill in the water, emptied the water tank of another, as well as helping themselves to bananas and any food and drink that they can get their hands on. We have only lost a tub of nuts which we foolishly left in the cockpit, that was before we knew better! They are naughty but they are not nasty and they certainly seem to like John. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Roatan Rescue!

We finally left Providencia on New Years Day. The weather window looked good and we had decided that as there had been a pirate attack on a yacht on the Seas by the Nicaraguan and Honduran border we would not stop overnight there as previously planned. This area around the Gorda Banks is becoming a bit of a hotspot and whilst no one has been injured yet the trauma of being boarded and losing all our electrics, radios and nav equipment was not something we wanted to risk. In giving this area a wide berth we would be adding a few more hours onto the trip but better safe than sorry. 
The first twenty four hours went by without a hitch we got some good sailing in but soon the wind died and we were forced to start Dorothy up (our Perkins engine). Unfortunately under five knots of wind is not enough for a sail! After five hours of motoring we were getting used to the drone of the engine and after carrying out an engine check John settled down in the cockpit for a doze. Everything was going well......or so it seemed. From nowhere a high pitched squeal like a banshee resounded from the engine room and John was woken from his slumbers by me shouting 'WTF is that?' I turned off the engine quickly and we both looked at one another ....' What now?' 
We turned the engine on again put her in gear only for the same dreadful sound to emanate from the engine. It was the gearbox.....the same gearbox that could only have forty hours on it if that....what had gone wrong? At first we were concerned that perhaps this would mean we would have no power, no power would mean no nav lights, no navigation equipment and limited communications, but we were lucky, we still had neutral so we still had the capacity to charge our batteries. Once we had decided what the problem was the question was....what next? Well we are a sailing vessel so we would sail....the only problem we had there was the small issue of no wind. We would just have to wait til there was some! 
In the mean time we phoned our insurance company on the Iridium Go just to forewarn them that there was the possibility that at some point we might need a tow and to ask their advice about where would be the best spot to make for. They would call us back in the morning. We then contacted John's daughters to ask them to contact Falmouth Coastguard just to inform them of the situation, we were in no danger but they needed to know we were out there and our exact position. Sarah did a grand job sorting that out and Falmouth Coastguard rung us back to confirm our position and to give us a number we could call them on unfortunately just as the coastguard was relaying the number to us the satellite signal went down! There was nothing more we could do other than sail, albeit very slowly, through the night. We were 90 miles away from Guanaja but unsure wether we would be able to get help there. All the information we had read seemed to indicate that Roatan was a better destination and somewhere we could access help more successfully. 
I had previously been talking to Debbie and Steve from Fantasy Island about the possibility of a berth over the new year but the weather window put pay to that but I had their e mail address so decided to contact them and ask their advice about where might be our best option to head for. They were great! Debbie got back to me almost immediately saying that as far as she knew our options would be limited in Guanaja but if we could make it to Roatan there was the possibility they could arrange a tow to the Marina. This sounded by far the most positive suggestion so far. The Insurance Company had got back to us to tell us they had no idea about where would be the best place to go to if the boat should need work doing in Honduras so it looked like it was left to us to figure it out. We decided to head to Roatan some 130 miles away from where we lost power. It was frustrating for five or six hours we wallowed about averaging between one and two knots with the sun blazing overhead fun! Then overnight the wind picked up and we were back to five knots this should have been good news but we really did not want to arrive in Roatan in the dark.....the entrance to French Cay means negotiating your way through two reefs ....not a good idea.
We were able to keep in contact with Debbie and Steve throughout the 36 hours or so it took us to complete the 130 or so miles and 'would you Adam and Eve it!' ....we ended up having to slow ourselves down so that we arrived in daylight! 
Steve had arranged for a small flotilla of 2/3 dinghies to come out and with Steve having jumped on  board to help us navigate we were able to slowly make it through the reefs. With one dinghy tied up either side they took us to our slip where there was a small gathering of yachties to help us tie up and welcome us finally to Roatan ..... quite a trip! 

The fun did not stop there though. Falmouth Coastguard very kindly contacted the Honduran Authorities to ask them to look out for us. So there we were enjoying a beer and recounting our adventures to the neighbours when the Honduran Coastguard made an appearance tieing up alongside us, six armed officers with two sniffer dogs and dog handlers all wanting to join in the fun! We were fortunate, Otto, a very helpful Guatemalan yachtie, was able to translate our story to them and they were happy. After the dogs had been through every locker and found nothing the dog handlers even asked if they could plant some contraband on the boat so the dogs could have a practice! We were happy to oblige. But wait....who should then turn up at the slip to join the party but the Port Captain from Coxen Hole wanting to know why we had not checked in there on the way in?! Otto did his stuff for a second time, he knew our story better than us now, and once our passports, our boat and us had had our photos taken for a third time he was on his way. It had been quite a day! Now to find out just what the problem is......
One last observation our efforts to tell Falmouth Coastguard that we had arrived safe and well were frustrating. We phoned three or four times, each time we got a different person on the other end of the phone claiming they knew nothing about our original call, they had no call log and left us wondering just what would have happened if we were in trouble. It seemed to us that there is a flaw in this centralised call centre system. I appreciate that this problem probably would not have occurred if the original satellite link had not dropped out but I'm sure this is not unusual and to have no log of calls seems a bit bizarre. John eventually e mailed them outlining our experience and suggesting that perhaps their systems need reviewing needless to say there was no response!