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APRIL 22, 2006

​Jacaranda Passage Notes #7: Zihua to PV/Engine Trouble

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Bad Transmission!
Bad Engine!
Bad Dingy (Bad Chuck)!

The last note left off in Zihuatanejo with the boys heading back to the states and our departure a few days later north to Puerto Vallarta to meet up with our friend Trish from San Diego. After doing our last minute shopping, pulling the stern anchor up and scrubbing all the algae and barnacles off the line (we did this with mask and snorkel every couple of days just to try and stay ahead of the growth; friends found seahorses clinging to theirs!), loading the dingy on deck and then scrubbing the anchor chain link by link we finally departed mid afternoon. We had been in Zihuatanejo almost a full month! 

The winds were light and the seas were a bit sloppy as we began the 400+ mile trip north, against the wind that normally blows following the contours of the coast. We motored along only to find the seas continuing to get lumpier as we moved further from Z-town. About 7 hours out we noticed the transmission began to slip. At this time we were motoring into seas that were 2-3 feet with an occasional larger swell with no wind. We immediately slowed the boat down and changed plans to divert to Caleta de Campos so I could crawl back on top of the engine and try to adjust the transmission. Our friends on PERSISTENCE, who left about 4 hours after we did, caught up to us at about 2 a.m. and stayed along side until we limped into this little anchorage. By this time the transmission was slipping big time and was extremely hot. After the engine cooled down I adjusted the clutch and changed the transmission oil. The oil smelled burnt and was full of clutch plate material.

Early the next morning we got underway to Maruata, the closest anchorage about 45 miles further west. Once again we saw lots of turtles floating on the surface (the beach at Maruata is a nesting place for sea turtles). As we arrived in the small anchorage, Linda noticed a large fish bait ball just ahead of us on the surface so she tossed out the lure. Bingo! Immediately it was hit and she was dragging a large jack crevelle alongside the boat. Instead of releasing it (not good eating for our tastes), we flagged a nearby panga (Mexican open boat) that was returning to town and asked the fishermen if they wanted the fish (they find them delicious). Tossing the fish into their boat brought smiles all around and a big Gracias. We only stopped for a few hours to check the transmission (which now seemed to be working fine), transfer fuel from jugs into the tank, take a shower and have lunch. Maruata looked like an interesting place with a tiny village, enramadas on the beach (shade palapas for horses) and not much else.

We departed at 3 p.m. for the next destination, Manzanillo, 78 miles up the track. About 10 p.m. we noticed the transmission beginning to slip so we throttled back and the engine died. We got it started again but for the next 12 hours we fought the engine stalling. At one point, just 15 miles off the entrance to Manzanillo Bay, we drifted around without power for a couple of hours with our headsail up in a ½ knot current and 3 knots of breeze. We finally limped into the bay to the small calm cove of Las Hadas, anchoring in front of the white Moorish resort where the movie 10 was filmed (Bo Derek & Dudley Moore) and next to Kiwi friends on VISION. The following day I adjusted the transmission again and began work on the engine to diagnose the problem. It appeared as if the engine was being starved for fuel yet it would start up shortly after stalling, at times with no power. 

Early the following day we motored 6 miles west across adjacent Santiago Bay to Carrizal, the tiny but gorgeous northernmost anchorage on the bay. We usually carry the inflated dinghy on the deck when we go short distances but today we were towing it since the day was so calm. The engine ran fine at ½ throttle but as we were approaching the anchorage I looked back and noticed .No Dingy!!!!!!! We immediately did a 180 and started to retrace our track back using the binoculars to spot the bad dingy. We called our friends on AT LAST who were still anchored in Las Hadas and Mike jumped into his dingy to look for it from his end. We searched for a few hours with no luck. Imagine our relief when finally Mike radioed us to say he had found it!! Some fisherman had towed it ashore around Punta Santiago after seeing it floating alone and unidentified in the middle of the bay. We were overjoyed and gave the fisherman a reward for their rescue. Who tied the dingy on the transom? --- Bad Chuck! (Linda adds: In between my prayers to find the dingy, one thought went through my head: Thank God it wasnt me that tied it!!!) .

Finally arriving in Carrizal early afternoon, it reminded us of anchorages in the Channel Islands. The small narrow cove was edged with high cliffs and had a small rocky beach at the head. Linda did some snorkeling along the western wall and reported lots of beautiful fish and some live coral.

We left at 5 a.m. the next morning for Tenacatita, 48 miles NW. We tried running the engine much harder than before and found that it hiccupped a few times, only stalling when we throttled back to anchor. We made it to Tenacatita by 1 p.m. and shortly afterwards the wind came up to blow 20+ knots for the rest of the afternoon. Our friends on ENDEAVOR left 4 hours after us and had a rough go of the last 10 miles, wishing that they had got going earlier. We were glad to be safely anchored and enjoying a cold drink as the wind generator took over keeping the batteries charged up.

From Tenacatita we left again at 5 a.m. for Chamela 28 miles to the NW arriving about 10:30 a.m. with the engine running strong but once more stalling as we approached the anchorage. By this time we had it down. charge into the anchorage at full speed (we called it the Captain Ron approach after the movie) and when we picked a spot to anchor throttled back expecting the engine to stall and we would glide into the desired stop with main up in case we need a little extra power to maneuver. Not so great for backing down to set the anchor but it seemed to work just fine as we never did drag.

Chamela is a great spot; we spent 4 days there waiting for the strong NW winds to die down and feeling a bit better about getting closer to Banderas Bay 99 miles away to meet Trish in Puerto Vallarta. While in Chamela we met a Polish guy named Janusz who used to be a successful architect in Chicago. The story goes something like this: While driving between job sites he got a cell phone call from an irate wealthy client complaining about a custom Italian chandelier just delivered from Milan. He got so angry at the whole scene that he threw his cell phone out the window, drove to the airport and headed to Mexico. Ending up in Chamela he kept telling his office he would be back next week. Next week turned into 3 years. Now Janusz is married to a local woman and has a beautiful little girl. He has a small palapa restaurant on the beach and is trying to start a service for the cruisers that stop at Chamela. He would call the fleet on the radio in the morning to let them know what he was making that evening. One night he made a fantastic eastern European hamburger plate with hot polish mash potatoes (a recipe from his mother). Another evening he made a great fish dinner for about 20 folks. The next night he made Pirogues (eastern European dumplings filled with cheese and potatoes). A wonderful surprise to have these great eastern European meals served in a tiny town, on the beach in Mexico. Janusz is a great guy and the yachties are lucky to have him in Chamela.

A 24-hour weather window was being forecast by Weather Guru Don for the Tuesday evening-Wednesday time frame. A one day window is very short and difficult to call but Don constantly amazes us with his accuracy. It had been pretty drafty for the past week and that evening we counted 25 boats all waiting to get the jump around windy Punta Corrientes. A group of 8 boats (including us) left Tuesday evening with the rest of the boats leaving very early Wed. morning. The trip north was excellent with calm seas and a light wind from the north. For 5 hours we had very thick fog that kept us glued to the radar screen. The boats were spread out but we did have 3 boats within a few miles of us all night. At one time one boat was only a few boat lengths away until we asked them to please move further away while passing! The engine ran perfectly at about ¾ throttle and we did not touch it again until we slowed down to anchor in La Cruz in Banderas Bay. As soon as we throttled down to anchor - you guessed it - it died. So the next day we made arrangements to move into a slip in Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta where we would be able to begin the repair work. We also made arrangements with two friends from boats already in the marina to standby with their dingies to act as little tugboats to get us in the slip. As soon as we throttled back after our approach - we knew it - the engine died, then started back up with no power. Thankfully Alex from MAITAI ROA and David from ELYSIUM pushed us into the slip. We should have done a Captain Ron! (He drives into the slip at full throttle driving over the end of the slip with people scattering every which way )

Marina life means plenty of fresh water, unlimited electricity, flat calm and an excellent British mechanic called Teapot Tony. He stopped by the next day and said he thought it was the fuel injection pump. Plus he said he had a shop in town that specialized in injector pumps. So we spent the next few days doing projects, removing the pump and socializing with other yachties in the marina. Trish arrived loaded down (90lbs) with boat parts, 4 months of mail, food and special treats for the both of us. Plus she carried a huge box containing a watermaker pump that needed to be swapped out. Customs let her through with only a short chat and no duty required. Yeah Trish Many Thanks!

Linda and Trish did lots of the sights in PV and one day took a panga (large open boat) to Yelapa, a small village across the bay with no roads or cars (some burros and horses). Another evening they did an Art Walk seeing a number of galleries that were open in the evenings. Linda stayed with Trish in her hotel room enjoying the air conditioning and hot showers (hot showers - whats that?) plus getting lots of time together. I used this time to tear into a number of projects that had been on our to do list while joining Trish and Linda for dinner and a few nights in the hotel.

Its about 10-12 degrees cooler here in PV than in Z-town but because we are in the marina, most of the breeze is blocked and it feels much hotter. I also think the large condos surrounding the marina radiate the heat. We have resorted to the sensible Mexican way of life of taking a siesta for a couple of the hottest hours in the afternoon with fans generating a little air movement . Boy, how are we going to make it up in the Baja in the summer?

We should have the injector pump repaired in a few days and most of the items crossed off the work list. Hopefully the engine will be happy with the rebuilt pump. If all goes according to plans we should be headed north towards Mazatlan soon and then across the Sea of Cortez to the Baja side.



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