Thursday, March 22, 2012

The night the engine died in the Tehuantapec

"You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and gathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don't look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Trust them." -- 

-- Anne Lamott

This wind chart perfectly portrays the horror when the Tehuantapec explodes. Note that there is no wind anywhere else on the map, except the T-pec. The bright red means 70+ knot winds. 

Fortunately, we and our little armada all crossed the Gulf of Tehuantapec safely, with relatively calm seas. But the thing about "T-peckers" (what they call a Tehuantapec gale, as portrayed above -- aggressive sexual connotation intended, no doubt) is they can come on suddenly, with little warning.

And it takes 2-3 days to cross the thing.

So even if you have a safe weather prediction, you're never really "safe" until you see the shore on the other side.

 It's kinda like crossing railroad tracks. You may not see or hear any train coming, but you're not exactly going to sit down and take a nap on the rails. You get the hell over the tracks and heave a sigh of relief.

The first moonless night passed smoothly enough. And Chris caught us a 5 pound tuna in the first 24 hours. Things were going so well...

Beautiful conditions greeted us for our dreaded T-pec crossing

Night number two found us about 2/3rd of the way across the T-pec around midnight, when Chris awoke me from a fitful sleep to announce that our motor failed.

There was no wind. There was no moon. Sitting there in the black silence, interrupted only by ominous lightning strikes in the distance, Chris immediately went into master mechanic mode and began methodically taking the motor apart to diagnose the problem.

                      This is Chris at 2AM in the T-pec working on the suddenly failed engine. Note how everything is thrung about in the cabin. Our boat is usually neat and tidy. But when the engine fails in the middle of the T-pec, there is alot of throwing open hatches, tossing aside stuff looking for parts, etc.

Unfortunately at the exact moment when Chris awoke me, I was distressed to find myself with a sudden onslaught of bilateral, purulent conjunctivitis. Gunky, yellowy sludge coated both of my eyes, and my conjunctivae were blood red.

I could barely see.

Looks like it was our turn in the barrel.

I went to the sink and gently cleansed out my eyes with a wet towel as best as I could. I then called the other boats in our group on the VHF, and as the Doolittle family aboard "Jace" was the closest (a few miles away), they stepped up to the plate, changed course and headed in our direction to see what they could do to help. "Talaria" and "Stray Cat" also checked in and monitored the situation with us over the radio.

                  The family Doolittle aboard "Jace" -- left to right: Ben, Mickey, J.P. and Molly

   As "Jace" headed our way, Ben and Chris calmly discussed the mechanical puzzle over the radio, and part by part, mechanism by mechanism, different causes for the problem were investigated and ruled out.

  The cheerful red and green running lights of "Jace" popped from the darkness around 1AM.  They quietly motored a wide circle around us as we continued to try to find the problem.

Needless to say, simply their presence here in this dangerous, lonely place so far from home was an unspeakable comfort to us.

  About 3 hours later, the cause was finally found (a broken impeler, for you boat mechanics out there). Fortunately we had a back-up impeler (doesn't EVERYONE? LOL), so Chris replaced it, the motor started and we were on our way.

The next morning, I started myself on a regimen of antibiotic eye drops from our medicine chest.

  I would say that we "owe" Jace and the Doolittle family, but I know that they would simply shrug, blow it off gently and say:

"It's just what we do out here. We take care of each other."


Especially down here. We're not in Puerta Vallarta anymore. We're 10 miles from the Guatemalan border, where things should really start to get interesting.

Mexico has been wonderful. It's a fantastic training ground for the cruising life. It's so comfortable and welcoming that many cruisers never leave Mexico. But not us. It's time for us to head south to Central America.

Espiritu rests happily in the foreground (left) in the brand new Marina Chiapas

We and a small band of adventurous sailing families are heading south out of Mexico and on to El Salvador. We'll spend a few more days here in Marina Chiapas (they've been wonderful!) resting, provisioning, preparing the boat and checking out of Mexico.

And then...endele pues! (Let us go!)

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