As I sit here in the sunshine, having enjoyed my second round of quesadillas for lunch after a morning of beachcombing and exploring, I figured I should probably catch up on what possibly could have taken a month in terms of ‘getting ready’ once we arrived at the boat:
I love lists, so here is a rather comprehensive list of what was involved:
- Getting to know the boat
- Open every locker and storage space. Boats frequently make clever use of space throughout but that also means things get tucked away in nooks and crannies, and until we pulled everything out we had no idea what we had, what we didn’t, and what we needed
- Inventory everything on the boat and make a list of what we need. Sort said list into ‘must haves’, ‘nice to haves’, and ‘things we dream of one day having’. More on what fits into those categories later!
- Unpack our clothes, tools and supplies. This part wouldn’t really take long, as we really didn’t bring that much, but it did require finding a home for everything we’d already pulled out, together with our things, so there’s been a lot of ‘Jenga’ being played the last four weeks
- Figure out if the heads (a word used simultaneously for both the toilet itself and the bathroom) are working. Our two toilets work on the basis of sea-water being drawn in, and then the waste either being pumped out of the boat or into a holding tank. However, as we started ‘on the hard’, it meant there was no seawater nearby for our boat to take in to run the heads, nor anywhere to discharge the holding tanks. As such, we had to be mindful how we used the heads, and we had to arrange for a truck to come pump out the holding tanks. Now that we’ve ‘splashed’ and are in the water, we’re able to confirm that the proper uptake of water is happening (though, everything is still being kept in a holding tank for now…more on that in a future post)
- Figure out if the hot water heaters work. We have two hot water heaters, one on each side of the catamaran. They are either heated by the two respective engines, or by supplying electricity through a secondary shore-power connection. The issue that we faced in the boat yard was that our system is 2 paralleled 30amp circuits, but we only had one 15amp extension cord supplying the power. This means the electrical circuits are split in half for the items that draw big power like the water heater or the battery charger, and since we didn’t have a second extension cord available, we couldn’t power the water heater while we were on the hard and also charging our batteries. Basically, what would happen if we did is that we’d overdraw the electricity and effectively trip the breaker on the boat yard circuit. Once we were at the dock, the shore power provided by the marina was a 30amp circuit, so we were able to test out the water heaters one at a time (we do have a splitter to accommodate a 50amp circuit, which would allow us to run both sides at the same time, but the marina didn’t have that capacity available), and it resulted in lovely hot showers for all!
- Test our water capacity. We have two 100-gallon fresh water tanks, and the only way to really determine our consumption, and thus our need, is to use the water. Let’s take a pause here, to put things in perspective:
- In North America, most of our toilets use between 2-7 gallons per flush.
- On average, North Americans use 20 gallons of water for a 20 minute shower, and 4-6 gallons per dishwasher cycle (and hand-washing, more like 8-20 gallons).
- Add to that coffee, cooking, drinking water, washing hands and brushing teeth, and you can see how quickly we can run through water if we’re not careful. (Oh, and stopping the girls from turning the taps on and off, since they can actually reach them in the heads.)
- Test the engines. We have two 30 horsepower Yanmar engines which power the boat. The first time we inspected the engines there was some coolant pooling below one of them. Our engines are cooled by sucking seawater into a heat exchanger that transfers the heat of the engine into the sea water and then spits it back out into the ocean. You’ll notice if you’ve ever looked at a sailboat with its engine(s) running that there is water spitting out the side of the boat. Now, the interesting thing in testing one’s engines while ‘on the hard’ is that there is no seawater when sitting in the boatyard, so it requires inserting a hose into the raw water strainer. Needless to say, replicating this while the boat is out of the water requires some finesse. Thankfully, all seemed well, and the engines appeared ready for the water.
- Test the watermaker. As one can see from above, we don’t have endless water on board, so thankfully Skookum V came outfitted with a Spectra watermaker, albeit one with a relatively low output (8 gallons an hour, which requires running the motors and/or the generator on board). As we weren’t in the cleanest of harbours when we were in Puerto Penasco, we didn’t test this out until we arrived in Santa Rosalia. Thankfully, it seems to be running well, despite a small leak we’re in the process of sorting out, and we’re able to (slowly) produce water to meet our needs. The water is clear and tasty, but we still have to be mindful, as it took us 5 hours of running both engines to generate enough water to make about 40 gallons.
- Make sure the solar panels and wind generator are working. Since we’re likely to be spending the vast majority of our time not connected to shore power (as no one runs an extension cord from the land to a boat sitting on an anchor), we have to find ways of generating power each day. We can generate electricity by running the engines, which in turn charges our batteries, but we also have less impactful ways of harnessing the elements:
- We have three NB Solar panels on board, which are about 185 watts each; and
- an Eclectic Energy D400 wind generator that is mounted off the back transom of the boat, and allows us to capture energy from the wind.
As we have just spent our first night at anchor, we are only just starting to test this system. In the five hours we had between arriving yesterday and bedtime we used 30 amp hours, and by morning we were down about 67 amp hours. Now, since the sun has come up and is hitting the solar panels, and the wind generator is spinning with the small amount of breeze we have today, we’ve generated about 25 amp hours to put back into the system. We’ve basically determined that we’ll likely be net down about 20 to 30 amp hours a day keeping up with our energy needs…lights, fridge, freezer, starter batteries for the engines, electric flushes for the heads and charging any devices (phones, ipads, laptops, navigational electronics etc). Now, the amount of amp hours you can run through depends on the size and capacity of the battery bank. Our battery bank is made up of 3 220 amp hour AGM batteries. As it isn’t advisable to run these below 50% of their capacity, that means we have about 330 amp hours to use before we are running them lower than we want. So, at 10-20 amp hours a day beyond the capability of our solar panels and wind generator, that means we need to be either running our engines (not advisable, as it is bad for them to run simply for the purpose of charging batteries) or our onboard generator eventually to charge them. But, let me tell you, it isn’t fun to sit with a running generator for long periods of time, nor is it polite to fellow inhabitants of the anchorage…so instead of waiting 10 days and then running the engines/generator for a day or two straight, it likely makes sense for us to run the generator for a little while each day to keep up with our needs. It all definitely leads to Stu and I watching girls like hawks, as they’re still grasping the concept that we can’t just leave lights on all the time, no matter how fun it is to turn them on and off.
- Make sure Fridge and freezer are working. Well, this can only be done by using it and seeing whether everything stays cool enough, too cold or generally melts. It’s taken some tinkering, but I think we have the system relatively well dialed for our current temperatures. Keep in mind, the hotter it is outside and in the water, the harder the fridge and freezer have to work to stay cool. Also, we aren’t talking about your run of the mill fridge from home. Think more the size of that bar fridge your parents bought you in university.
2. Prepare the boat
- Install the safety netting. You’ve likely caught glimpses in our photos of the netting we have on the sides of the boat. Those that visited our home in Whistler may actually recall that our three-storey-high deck also had this same netting to deal with the non-conforming railing (and having small humans). We toyed with whether we’d actually put this up or not, because ultimately, you don’t want that weather-worn, sun-damaged, poorly installed netting to be the thing preventing a man over board (or MOB as us cool cats call it). Rather, you want everyone on board (including the kids) to be properly trained to be properly life-jacketed or harnessed at all required times, and to navigate movement on the board in a way that should minimize a tumble to the water. But, as the prior owner had a crew member with a dog and already had the netting stowed away inside AND as I hope the netting will help prevent the tumble of favourite toys, stuffies or electronics off the boat, I thought it couldn’t hurt to install the less-than-aesthetically pleasing netting. I hadn’t accounted for the fact it would take three false starts and two days to get it sorted out and tied on. Extra thanks to our pal Nathan on SV Allegra for gifting us with four packages of Para cord for actually attaching the netting to the lifelines.
- Install and test the Iridium Go. Per an earlier post, we are able to stay connected to the world via a satellite connection when we’re out of cell phone range. The system we elected to go with is the Iridium Go through PredictWind. But, it wasn’t just a ‘plug and play’ type affair. Rather, the antennae for the system had to be installed on top of our bimini (the roof that covers us when we’re in the cockpit), and then wired into the boat properly to meet with the receiver placed inside. But, since Stu is an electronics wiz, he had this sorted in no time (like, half a day).
- Inflate and clean the dinghy. For cruisers, the dinghy is like our car. It is how we get off the boat and get to shore, and how we travel shorter distances. Stu didn’t have the opportunity to look at it much when he came down in October, so we were a little nervous whether the one on board would actually keep afloat. Thankfully, she holds air (at least for a few days at a time), and the (rather insanely heavy) 20 hp Tohatsu outboard seems to work (after a little servicing and cleaning of the carborator).
- Test the outboard motor. Many thanks to our friend Colin from SV Angela Lee for his Calgary-farmer-strength in helping Stu heave the outboard onto the dock so Stu could service it and make it run. She’s a beast, but she’ll do for now.
- Pump out the holding tanks. See above part relating to the heads. Getting the truck to us for pumping out the holding tanks was more difficult than one would think, as we missed it two days in a row before we managed to flag it down in the yard!
- Troubleshoot excess friction on headsail furler. When Stu was in Penasco in October for the survey of the boat he noted that the headsail (the sail at the front of the boat) was hard to pull out and put away, and there appeared to be an excess of friction in trying to do so. We’ve been working on this since, and had our friends on SV Alegria and SV Totem pitch in, but so far we’ve not determined the cause, save for a slightly too-large furling line and some excess friction at the drum at the top, with a cause still-to-be-determined. Thankfully, it still unfurls and sails…not that we’ve had enough wind to sail yet!
- Install jacklines. I will write a separate post dedicated to safety on the boat, and how we manage it, but one of the items common to most sailboats when they go on passages, especially if they do overnights, are jacklines. These are lines that run from the front to the back of the boat, unhindered by anything else, where we can clip a tether to. The other end of the tether is attached to our lifejackets (and in the case of the girls, we also have climbing harnesses we use from time to time).
- Set up Rasberry Pi. I will let Stu explain this, as I’m still wrapping my head around it J, so his post is to come.
- Obtain Mexican liability insurance. Those from home in British Columbia are used to our VERY expensive vehicle insurance. Well, boat insurance is worse. And has way too many exceptions and rules. But, in addition to the insurance we have paid through the nose for, Mexico requires its own separate Mexican liability policy for pleasure craft as well. Thankfully, this only runs about $300-350 a year, so it won’t break the bank, but we did still need to get it organized and sorted.
3. Provision the boat
- Groceries: There are loads of books, articles and blog posts about what is needed for groceries on a boat. But, of course, it all entirely depends on where you are, what you eat, where you’re going and far you plan to be away from the next grocery store. Also, you have to be able to store said food somewhere on board, in a way that it lasts, doesn’t invite bugs or rodents (weevils, anyone?!), and that is relatively accessible (if it is packed under four bins, then you’ll never go for it. Between Stu and I, I think we did about 6-8 major trips to three main stores: Bodega (a cheap version of Walmart), Sam’s Club (like Costco) and Ley (run of the mill grocery store). Some of those trips were done with the help of boat yard friends or their cars, and some were done using taxis to transport us back to the boatyard. I’m happy to write more about this in a separate post if anyone is interested, but suffice to say, we have many staples, and we’re working out how to ration and deal with our fresh food stores. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, the girls are eating at least twice what they did at home – all that fresh air! Since this is our first time out at anchor, without a grocery store in sight, we’re getting our first chance to see how our planning has panned out.
- Supplies: Cooking, cleaning, laundry….basically think of many of the things you use on a day to day basis, and we had to get it or augment it. But, the nice thing is, since we’re living in a MUCH smaller space, with way less storage, and way less ‘complicated’ lives, we also don’t need as much (one of the main reasons we’re doing this, and something I’ll get into later)
- Diesel: While there is a fuel dock in Penasco, we’d been told the quality of the diesel was less than excellent, so thankfully our friend Colin was able to hook us up with a borrowed car to fill portable tanks to bring back to the boat. It isn’t uncommon for many cruisers to have to spend days lugging tanks to random places, filling them and then lugging them back to their dinghies and out to their boats, so we’re very thankful we have not had to do that yet. $1.43 per litre
- Propane: Huge thank you to our friends Mike and Katie of SV Alegria for the use of their car and directions from Dave and Marla of SV Cavu as to where we could fill our propane tanks. $0.91 per litre
- Water: When we were on the hard in Astilleros Cabrales, we were able to call for a potable water truck to come to us to fill our water tanks, which is what we relied on until we got our water maker up and running in Santa Rosalia. $14.66 for about 100 gallons.
- Orders from Amazon and West Marine. One of the reasons folks really like the boatyard at Cabrales (aside from the incomparable owner Salvadore Cabrales III and his oh-so-fashionable Father), is the fact it is so close to the border with Arizona. For American cruisers this means easy access to Phoenix and Tuscon and all the shopping one could want, American Amazon, and cheap shipping to a gas station just across the border. For us Canadians who cannot cross the land border, it’s a bit less ideal; however, cruisers tend to be amazing and generous people, and we were able to have things shipped to the gas station in Lukeville, Arizona, which were picked up for us by friends! So, we were able to sort out a few things that we couldn’t source in Mexico or hadn’t brought with us such as some tools, specific boat equipment and parts for our Raspberry Pi. I realize now I should have taken the opportunity to order some of the foodstuffs we use lots of but are difficult to get here in the Baja (nutritional yeast and cashews, anyone?).
- Update safety equipment. One of the things we needed to order from across the Border was a new battery for our EPIRB, which is an emergency position indicating radio beacon, which we would use to transmit an emergency signal in the event of an emergency (like the boat sinking). We had other items we needed as well, but those will have to be dealt with at a later time, as it turns out one can’t ship flares across the Border.
- Laundry and showers. Remember what I said above about water? Well, I didn’t even mention laundry. No, we do not have a washing machine on board (or a dishwasher, for that matter). So, we either rely on laundrettes, laundromats or washing facilities in marinas. We were able to get a couple loads done at a local laundrette (where they washed and dried and folded for us) at the start of our time in the boat yard, which was needed to deal with all the linens on board…and a toilet training two year old. Once we moved over to the marina it had ‘free’ laundry (ie. Paid for in our very, very inexpensive fees to the marina), so we did as much as we could before leaving the dock. Eventually the day will come where we use a bucket, suds and a toilet plunger…but I’m waiting as long as possible before starting that routine.
4. ‘Splash’ the boat. This is where the amazing travel lift in the Cabrales boat yard picks up the boat, moves to the launching bay and slowly lowers it into the water; however, this couldn’t be done at just any time. The tides go up and down quite significantly in Penasco, and at the lowest tide there is no water in the launching bay, so we had to wait for a high enough tide to accommodate the draft (how deep the bottom part of our boat goes under the water) plus some extra for ‘cushion’. Our draft is about 3 foot 6 inches, which is quite shallow as far as boats go (common for a catamaran), but we still had to wait for the right day. Then a Norther blew through and we decided we didn’t want to launch the boat with 30 knots of wind blowing us straight back into the boat yard.
5. Test sail/anchor. We had a lovely day on the water with our friends from SV Alegria and SV Angela Lee. There was absolutely no wind, but we threw the sails up anyway, to be sure everything was working. We also dropped the anchor and sat just off the beach enjoying a happy hour to celebrate it all. Check.
6. Watch for a weather window. See previous post on this one.
7. Get our Tourist Visa. As Canadians, we can be in Mexico for 180 consecutive days on a tourist visa. The border crossing we came through on our way down from Arizona is in a zone where they don’t really fuss about visas, or checking passports or much of anything (save for not allowing Canadians to travel back the other way, as experienced by Stu in October). What this meant is we did not have a stamp on our passports, nor the required tourist visas, so we knew we’d need to travel back up to the border (a couple hours round-trip drive) to get them before departing Pensasco. Thankfully, this gave us an extra month, meaning we have until July to figure out how to extend those visas for longer.
8. ‘Check out’ with Port Captain. Most ‘official’ ports around the world have a Port Captain. And, if not a Port Captain, they have some sort of official with whom cruisers will ‘check in’ and ‘check out’ when they come and go from a harbour. In some places it is a matter of courtesy, and in others a formal requirement. In Penasco it involved going to their office, conveniently located close to both the boat yard and marina, bringing all our boat paperwork, passports and visas (including evidence of our boat registration and insurance), having them review it, take copies, stamp it and give their blessing for our departure. Keep in mind, the day you want to depart (ie. Weather window) doesn’t always line up with the hours and days the Port Captain’s office is open – we were lucky this time!
I’m sure I’ve missed things in here, but as this is (once again) getting quite long, I’ll leave it for now.
A reminder as well, if anyone would like to reach us you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and when we’re away from cell service, you can text us at +881652431419. Otherwise, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger always work well!