Saturday, November 24, 2007

From Parguera to Salinas

Hello faithful reader! We know some of you like to start your day by checking this blog. Well, get a big cup of coffee and settle in because this is one of those ‘catch up’ entries. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll want to read it again. You’ll say it was better than Cats! Don’t for get to comment or write to Scott or Sue. Email links on the side.

A day in Parguera - Sunday 11/18

The morning we last posted turned into a wonderful day altogether. As we were surfing the web and finishing our late morning coffee a gentleman started talking to us about our little Mac as he has the same one. He was quite the talker and started to explain to us how he has his computer set up to be both a mac and a pc and that that works very well for him in his business. He’s a dentist. Interesting as we have electronic charts that came with our paper charts but can’t use them on a mac. Anyway he was telling us about the island and where he lived etc. and told us that we could tie up our dingy at his house if we needed to. VERY friendly. We said good bye and expected to not see him again.

Near the restaurant there is a very nice book exchange. Just some large shelves sitting outside but covered in the little strip mall. Leave some take some. That’s it. As usual a lot of mysteries, suspense stuff, and sci fi. But also a hard cover of James Michner’s ‘Caribbean’. I’ve never read Michner although my mom loved him. I figure this thick tome should last me to at least Grenada!

We walked to a little grocery store in town and bought, what else, more canned meat. Whenever we can find we be buying it! Then back to the boat to drop off the computer and our purchases. Now according to our neighbor, Andrea, who has lived aboard their trawler here for the past nine years we could dingy to a power boat marina and across the street there is a very nice little marine store. OK, we’re on it.
parguera boathouses
Along the dingy ride we got a great sampling of the crazy houses people have built on pilings right on the water. The pictures don’t do these dream. . . cottages? I don’t know what to call them. . . justice. Some may be for rent and if you wanted a very cool vacation, renting one of these would be pretty sweet I would think.

We tied up at the marina and walked through and out to the street and found the marine store. Imagine everything at a BIG West Marine packed into a hot dog stand! Really kind of fun rummaging around looking for and finding some stuff we had been needing.

Now, too early to go back to Enee and we are a little hungry. . . we go back to the dingy dock and into town in search of lunch. We looked down by the water for a restaurant and there was one as part of a hotel but it was deserted and looked to chi chi for us. A little farther on there seemed to be a place on the water. . . or was that one of those houses. We started up the path but then turned around when it seemed more house-like and less restaurant-like. But, across the street was an ok seafood house and we had a big lunch and decided to call it dinner as well.

Back in the dingy we motored over to the place that was maybe house and maybe restaurant and, yes, it was a house and, yes, it was the dentist’s house! He waved us in and insisted that we come to his house and meet all his relatives and have a tour. The house is wonderful. It is built right on over the water and has 4 bedrooms, a huge kitchen, a sort of living room and then a big outside sort of room and a boat house connected! Very sweet! He offered to take us out to the reef with them on his boat but we declined and he then gave us a bottle of wine. OK, I vote these guys the nicest people on the island until I meet someone to knock them out of the top spot!

Back to Enee we prepare for tomorrow’s sail. Outboard off the dingy and back on the stern rail, dingy up on davits. All dingy ‘toys’ stored below. We got out the charts and plotted some waypoints for the 11 mile sail tomorrow. Oh and sampled the dentist’s wine!

Parguera is not much talked about among cruisers as far as I know but it is a very nice stop and we highly recommend it. If we had a dingy that we trusted more we would have gone out to one of the Cays and snorked but it looked too far for our little guy and I never really trust the engine for a long run. This is something that may have to be corrected before we go too much farther. We’ll see.

Monday 11/19

Off at first light! A beautiful morning. We can easily see the buoys that led us in here and we use them to lead us back to a waypoint that led us to the buoys. From here we sail (motor sail of course) a zig zag course to a little bay near a Gilligan’s Island. This used to be a ‘party’ island and I guess because it looks something like the panorama of the Gilligan’s Island on TV AND because there was guy who hung out there that looked like Bob Denver, the island took on this name. It has this name on the charts as well. Now it is a park and manned by park rangers. You can visit by ferry.

scotts new tool
We anchored very near the ferry dock on the mainland and just had a boat day. I tried once again to do some more bottom cleaning but the water here, for some reason, was very murky and my efforts were pretty useless.

We listened to the Off Shore Weather on the SSB and tried to decide the best time to leave for either Ponce or Coffin Island just a little south east of Ponce. We like these early morning departures. We thought since our run was a little longer (16 miles) that maybe we could leave at midnight or so, use the night lee of the island, and arrive very early in the morning. Trade winds were predicted to be lighter on Tuesday than on Monday night though so we vote for sleep, up at 4 and away we go.

Tuesday 11/19

Well, not quite. The first waypoint is right between two shoals with breaking waves on them. While it is certainly plenty wide and deep, and certainly the charts and waypoints do not lie. . . we have another cup of coffee and wait until we can see the breakers. Probably not necessary but it just depends on your comfort level. An hour wait isn’t going to change our sailing conditions much anyway.
puerto reefs

We’re off. No problem navigating through the shoals and we turn due east. Now, when we are underway we are both consciously and subconsciously checking boat systems. The sound of the diesel, temperature, oil pressure, the look of the rigging, conditions of sails (yeah all up!) and once in a while the voltage! Ack! It should be in charging mode with the engine at 1500 rpm at around 13.8 volts and it is at 12! Slow down. That could mean the belt is broken and the alternator isn’t turning at all. I look in the engine room and the belt is fine. Alternator is turning as it should. Oh great. One of those problems involving those little invisible “electrons” then.

We shut down anything electrical . . . oh wait we don’t have anything that works on electricity....HA! Just depth sounder and GPS and they don’t use much electricity. Another good reason to not have refrigeration. So we are ok for now but will need to put in for repairs at Ponce. That’s supposed to be a good place to find everything and anything you need. In the meantime I read up on alternators and regulators in Nigel Calder’s book (my maintenance bible). It’s one of those two machines that is the problem or my favorite. . . A LOOSE WIRE. I wish.

The alternator is pretty simple in principle. You spin a magnet near a pile of wire and you will generate a current. (Thanks here to Michael Faraday). Even better than spinning a bar magnet is to spin an electromagnet. This way if you can control the current to the magnet you can control the output of the alternator. It is these field windings in the alternator that the regulator regulates!

We had a great motor sail. All sails up and a little engine to help us power through the waves. We drop sails and motor slowly into the Ponce Fishing and Yacht Club fuel dock. We top off our diesel and decide to take a slip with them for $50 a night. We figure this way we can have electricity from the dock while I take things apart. This town also has a Sam’s Club so we hope to rent a car and schlep cases of canned food on board and this will be easier at a pier rather than anchored out. Fine. Except all the docks are 220 volts. No electricity for me! Wah!!!!!!

OK then I better get to work on the problem. I was actually kind of excited to have an electrical problem to work on. Those are always more interesting to me since everything that is broken looks the same as when it is working. Here’s my first test...turn on the key and see if the alternator is magnetic. Does it attract a screwdriver? It does! This already probably points to the regulator! I try the same test with the regulator unplugged put a jumper from the +12 volts to the field windings. Yep, also magnetic. For the final test we keep the jumper in and start the engine and watch the voltage. is climbing up. So it IS the regulator and not the alternator. This violates everything I know about boat projects as the alternator is the more expensive item and you almost always need THAT one.

Now to find a new regulator (I know, I should already have one on board. Leave me alone!). I want to call Balmar, the makers of the alternator, because they make a regulator that I had before on Catalina Enee. No problem just need a phone or internet. The yacht club claims to have internet but it doesn’t work. We walk around the little bay we are in searching for a phone. We find many. We find many without receivers and many that don’t work. Finally we find one with a receiver AND a dial tone and call Balmer in Washington state (50 cents for the first two minutes). The nice man at Balmar (I’ve dealt with them before and they are always very helpful) suggested I look for a fuse to the regulator before I go buying a new one. Good point! We stopped for a little lunch and then back to the mother ship.

There is no fuse in line with the regulator and this is a bad installation because the diagram shows that there should be one. Maybe that was part of the problem? Now that I have seen the voltage come up I figure I can force the charging of the batteries by self regulation (!). If you make a direct connection from the +12 to the field you just will have runaway voltage (GREAT band name) and maybe go back in time. I figure a little load in that line would make it more under control. I tried wiring a 12 volt bulb in series with the field but that was apparently too high a resistance as the voltage barely made it above 12.2 volts. So I went back to the direct short and controlled the voltage with how fast I turned the engine (the faster you spin the magnet the more voltage/current you cause). At just above idle I could make the voltage be about 14 volts. Perfect. I’ll need a better solution when we go cruising though because the engine will not be at idle. Tomorrow I’ll look for some small resistances at a Radio Shack or where ever. I’d like to try to put some 5 or 10 ohm resistors in line there to make a good combination for charging with the engine at about 1500 - 2000 rpm. Should be fun and then that invention will be my backup regulator. . . so THERE. For now I just have a switch wired from +12 to the field so I can stop the charging when I want. This has to be turned off when we turn the engine off as well as it will always draw current.

We are done for today though. We decide to try to get a car first thing in the morning, find internet (then I can make calls on Skype), find the West Marine, shop for food and some other items, keep a look out for a free kitten, and make ready to get out of here on Thursday.

enee marina or free
By the way we are in a marina! This hasn’t happened since Nassau in March!!! We also hate it. Too confining. Boat can’t turn into the wind. Too many lights. Not right. But, it will serve us well if we get the car and a bunch of provisions. We are looking to lay 6 months worth of basic provisions on board and then buy eggs, bread, fruit and veggies along the way. We really should be making our own bread but that’s a project for another day.

Wednesday 11/20

Is it possible to make really great decisions and still have everything go to hell?


Today our main goal was to either get a new regulator for the boat or to get one ordered. To that end we planned to rent a car, check to see if there was one available in San Juan West Marine and if so, drive there. If not we would use the car to find internet in town and use Skype to make calls and order the part. While we had the car we could stock up on cases lots of stuff at Sam’s Club or at another place nearby. Perfect.

The first thing that happened is that the car rental couldn’t come out to get us until 10 AM and then we either had to have the car back by 4 today or then keep it and bring it back on Friday as they would be closed for Thanksgiving. Hmmm...doesn’t give us much time but we can still use it to run around and get stuff. Let’s face it the only two reasons we have paid for a slip is to have electricity (that already didn’t work out) and to make it easy to schlep cases of food. So we decide to still take the car to make this day productive. No point in keeping it until friday though as everything will be closed on Thursday anyway. At 9 AM I decide to walk the half mile over to the one working pay phone we know about to call San Juan to see if they have the part. That way when the car comes we’ll know to drive there right away or not. Smart. I call the number and get a recording. In Spanish. No idea but I’m guessing they’re closed. OK, we’re not going to San Juan. We’ll just have a leisurely day with a car and explore Ponce, find internet, and then go to the case lot stores. Still a productive day.

At 10:30 and no car we asked the office to call the car place for us. Yeah, they were about to leave to come get us. Right. We tell them to forget it. By the time we go back to their office, fill out forms and all we are only going to get 3 or 4 hours of use out of our ‘daily’ rental. Fine.

We then decide to walk toward the case lot store just to look at it but also because to look for the marine/hardware store that is supposedly near that. Off we go carrying our apparently made-of-lead computer. Wow, is it hot. . . and far! We find the case lot store but the ‘marine’ store remains a mystery. We decide to just keep walking and even if town is far we can always cab back. As we bravely march through the heat we notice on our map that the marina gave us that we are not even close to anything like civilization. Not to scale? I’ll say! Now what? No point in THAT far of a walk. Far in the distance we can see little tiny cars going over an overpass and according to the map that would put us about half way to town and we’ve already walked a couple of miles. Forget it!

On the way back to Enee we DO manage to call our mail place in Florida and put them on the job of ordering the part from West Marine. We’ll get in maybe a week from Saturday in Salinas. Nothing left to do but go back to Enee and jerry-rig the wiring so that I can be charging the batteries in some controllable way. I better make something that will last 10 days or so too! I’ve learned that by controlling the current to the field I can control the current output of the alternator. It is sensitive though. A resistance of 20-30 ohms is way too much and 1 or 2 is way too small. I was hoping to find some 5-10 ohm resistors and connect them in clever ways to make a variety of resistances for varying conditions of the batteries and of rpms of the engine. Well, I’ll think of something.

So I don’t have any official resistors but wire itself has some resistance. Usually you deal with such short runs of wire that you consider the resistance zero but what if I used entire reels of wire. . . ? I’m excited to try my new experiment. I hooked two entire spools of #22 wire end to end and that was close but didn’t allow much variation. Then I thought of the seizing wire I had just bought at the flea market in Luperon. I wonder what it’s resistive characteristics are? I have about 12 feet of the stuff and the resistance of the entire length is about 10 ohms! Perfect because that means that half of it would have a resistance of 5 ohms and so forth. Moreover it is not insulated so that I can make sort of a slide wire variable resistor by just picking off the length I need for the conditions at hand.
Here’s the finished product! If Balmar sells a ‘smart regulator’ I’m calling this a dumb-ass regulator but I’m pretty proud of it all the same. The switch on the side allows me to shut it off altogether when the engine is off or when I’m adjusting where to put the clip. As you can see I’ve wrapped the wire around and around a piece of starboard. Tomorrow we are off to Coffin Island just a few miles south-east of Ponce. There is supposed to be excellent snorking there and walks to take ashore. That will be our Thanksgiving this year.

I guess I’m thankful to George Ohm, a german high school physics teacher in the 1800’s who figured out this business of resistance, voltage, and current. Not too many high school guys succeeded in getting a Law of physics and a unit of measure named after them. Ohm’s Law and the Ohm as the unit of resistance. Atta way George!

Still, I sure do miss my sister’s Thanksgiving Day feast. Maybe we can catch a Thanksgiving Day fish along the way tomorrow.


Thursday 11/22/07 Thanksgiving

Well, our string of unfortunate decisions continues. We leave our $50 a night slip which after 2 nights provided us with nothing but “free” water, really bright lights and loud music. It is 0445 and we have decided to head to Salinas and forget the island. It is only about 20 miles and in the early morning we should be able to avoid the 20-25 knot easterly trades that are predicted. After about an hour we are getting severely headed by the east wind. We keep falling off to the south but even with the engine on we are down to sailing about 3 knots at 130-135 degrees instead of 90. I know, it’s a sailboat just tack it. But if we are out here too long we’ll be in even higher winds and seas. This is very different from the early morning benign conditions we have become used to. Well, one thing about sailing to weather*, it makes it real easy to turn around and go back to where you started which is what we do.

Now we anchor outside the yacht club and decide to just wait for a better day. We already know that there is nothing for us on shore so we don’t even bother with the dingy. What we did get from shore was really loud latin fact it sounded like dueling DJ’s that started around 3 in the afternoon. Good news though they were done at 2 in the morning! What a day. Happy Thanks-Freaking-Giving!

The killer was that about an hour after we anchored the wind completely shut down! Nothing. Go back out? Go to the Island? Forget it. Today’s die has been cast and we’ll stay put and wait for a, what? A change in luck perhaps.

* Sailing to weather means trying to go up wind

Friday 11/23/07

We sleep in and even get a call in to our weather god, Chris Parker on the SSB. He says today and tomorrow will be ok for easting but Sunday to Wednesday not so much. We decide to make a little sail to the Cayo Isla De Muertos about 8 miles south-east of Ponce. We’ll spend the day snorking, exploring the island and then leave again around 3 AM and make for Salinas. Coming down to the island should give us more of an angle to Salinas anyway.

coffin island
And a fine sail it was! Full sail and no engine. We made a brisk trip to the island. The island is beautiful and uninhabited except for the rangers who live there. Tough life that! The water is like it was in the Bahamas. I can see the anchor as it splashes down in white sand.

We have a little breakfast and rig the dingy to go ashore. Of course the motor is acting up and we barely make it the 100 yards to shore. Well, there’s my little project when we’re done exploring! We walked the short distance to the east side of the island. What a view. From the west side we can see all the way back to Cabo Rojo light house that we rounded way back when be first left Boqueron! We begin walk/climb the mile long path to the peak of this island where the old light house is but the mosquitoes had a different idea. That had lunch in mind. Had we known we would have worn long pants and shirts etc. but this walk isn’t going to happen in swim suits!

OK, will dingy at least take us back to the mother ship?

NO. We have to paddle.

Back at Enee I do what I’ve done 1000 times with this crappy engine. I take off the carburator (which I can now do blindfolded in 8 foot seas), take it apart and stick a little bristle from a whisk broom in that little hole that allows fuel to go from the bowl in to the mixing chamber. Back together and once again it is ‘fixed’. I think I need to drain the fuel out every time I bring the engine back on board. What a pain.

But, we now can look for snorking spots and explore by dingy which we do. We take the dingy a little north to a beach and snork from there. No great coral but some grass covered rocks under which are some interesting little fish.

So bottom cleaning is in order (Enee’s!) and that is more productive now that we can see what we’re doing in the crystal clear water. Reading and napping are on the agenda too. This is a great anchorage. We can probably see 60 miles or more of Puerto Rican coastline from here. Backed by the pretty mountains and the ever present clouds. This is my idea of anchoring. Marinas are BAD.

Saturday 11/24/07

Up at 3 AM and away we go. A beautiful night with clear skys and a full moon. We motor and main due north to be able to make a long run to the south east. That worked! Full sail and we are making 5+ knots. We do love these early morning sails. We are into Salinas around 7:30 AM! Nice. Anchor down and we already see several boats we recognize from Luperon! You can’t get away from this group! Already looks like we can get lots done here before moving on again. More in a day or so as we explore Salinas.


Anonymous said...

You should disconnect the fuel hose on your dingy motor and let it run until all of the fuel runs out and the motor kills. In fact, if you can estimate your fuel need, you can disconnect your fuel hose in route before you get to your destination.

Marker Dave

Rich P said...

Unlike Marker Dave, I don't have one frigging bit of advice for you. I don't know squat about ANY of this (which I've mentioned many times!) and for that reason know that I could never do what you are doing. I"d only be successful if I had enough money to afford a permanent captain, and then I'd probably end up in a "Dead Calm" type situation. Great reading, though! And guess what, I might even buy your book, since one of the reviewers said a non-sailor would find it interesting. Non-sailor. That's me!

And the Bears won today in overtime! Yay!

Brian said...

Criminny - I went to your blog site and a James Michner novel broke out. I'm suprised you didn't start out with the formation of the islands themselves. I used to read those too when my mom was done with them back in the day.

Anonymous said...

After you've read Michner's "Caribbean" you will look at every native and wonder if there is a cannibal in his family tree.

Terry from colder and colder Michigan.

Darley said...

Great explanation about resistors. Thanks for the picture. This example could come in very useful someday if I find myself in a similar situation. Perhaps you could put it in the 2nd Edition of your book? BTW, your book had a nice review in the December edition of Sail magazine!