Our last days in Bahia Caraquez, Ecuador. Aldebaran is at the end of the rainbow (on the far right)!
The engine alarm on our sailboat Aldebaran went off as we went around the rivermouth of Bahia Caraquez, in just 7 feet of water: Brrrreeeehhhhh!!!!! One glance at the engine gauges showed me it was overheating. What?!?
I shut down the engine. It was a terrible spot to be adrift: downwind just 200 yards was the beach with little waves, and to boot, the tide would start dropping soon.
Luckily the pilot boat was assisting us to exit the bay. In this situation we would normally have to quickly drop the anchor in the water and then evaluate the engine. However, our pilot boat jumped to action, and they put a tow line on our bow.
Pilot boat assisting our departure… how embarrassing!
They were slowly towing us out, — what an absurd start to our passage across the Pacific!! Especially after a month straight of hard work on the boat!!
Inside the engine room, things were sizzling hot, but I realized it wasn’t a major problem. The coolant tube we had replaced in Bahia Caraquez – from rusting aluminum to a new stainless steel pipe – was vibrating and had wiggled loose the connection with the hose clamps. I re-connected the clamps.
Once we were underway the dolphins followed us into deeper water
We had lost a gallon of coolant, which I proceeded to replace. To prevent further vibration I stuffed a piece of car tire next to the stainless tube, and made a mental note to repair it properly once we were in the Galapagos. We were now underway again.
Dominic saying goodbye to the last sight of land
It was “Land’s Last Hold” on Aldebaran. Leaving the comforts of port is hard! It is the great pull that keeps sailors stuck in the marina – delaying departure because “the boat is not ready” or 1001 reasons of civilization.
Societal pressures are often the hardest: family, bills, career expectations. Once you come to terms with those, then it is a process of saying, “Ok. Even though there a million things left on my list – the boats’s basic seaworthiness is sound. – It is time to go.”
Thankfully, we had our crew member Dominic aboard with us for the passage to Galapagos. He was at the start of a two week vacation. Were it not for his schedule, it would have been harder to leave on time!
Dominic cleaning anchor chain after departure… The river water makes the chain super grimy, which stinks up the cabin if stowed uncleaned.
Indeed, until the 11th hour we were grabbing last minute wine cases and picking up sewing repairs. Ecuador is pretty affordable, and we knew we’d be spending the next year in the very expensive archipelago of French Polynesia. This motivated us, in this last month of prep, to hire a lot of skilled labor for boat projects, and pack the boat to the brim with provisions.
Read about our year’s provisioning in the last post…
MUST DOS TO LEAVE PORT
When we left California we had two duffel bags of boat parts that we hadn’t had time to install. But the hurricane season was approaching, and we had to head south. We left March 2015 despite the pile of unfinished business.
Certainly there are “must-do” projects for boat seaworthiness, which you shouldn’t leave port without before a major cruise? In my opinion, 4 items are essential:
- The Hull must be 100% sound, including thru hulls. Zero leaks below waterline.
- Anchor system is super solid, with 2-3 backup anchors and rodes.
- Standing rigging has been entirely replaced (its working life is 10 yrs)
- The Engine is perfect and you have spares for all pumps, belts, and filters.
Frankly, just about everything else can be done underway.
“WE’LL DO THAT IN PANAMA…”
For all the remaining tidbits, we kept saying, “we’ll do that in Panama.” We planned to stop there at the end of our first year (2015).
Turned out that Panama had too much lightning and rain for our taste, specially since we were cruising in the rainy season looking for south swell (May-Oct). So we stopped in Nicaragua instead, but facilities in Playa Gigante were limited.
Hence Ecuador became our holy grail for projects. I wish I had three months to do all the projects we needed, but visiting family and friends back home in California was important. So I had to squeezd everything into one month.
PROJECTS IN ECUADOR
Our starboard net blew out at the start of the trip (Sea of Cortez) and our Mexican seamstress wasn’t able to build a new one. So we’ve been sporting the black shrimper net as backup on that side. Finally both blue nets are back in action! The trick was removing an existing net and using it as a template for the new one- and finding a qualified guy. Our seamstress in Bahia Caraquez was Luis, he’s phenomenal and super affordable.
Luis the seamstress also built us the following:
New shoe rack from an old sail
BBQ cover, LifeRing cover, mainsail cover repairs, Outboard cover.
Folding Bicycle & trainer bag
Dominic & Sabby cleaning our former shade cover ‘juan’ so Luis, the seamstress, could transform it into new water-resistant bags for our bike & trainer!
The only downside with Luis is that he is very busy; so we had to employ another seamstress to re-upholster our interior cushions and crew bunks (sorely in need of new fabric…)
New upholstery for beds and cushions
Wacho was our mechanic and savior in Bahia Caraquez. He not only worked on the engine with precision, he also helped manage the careening effort and design/build the new cockpit roof. This guy could figure out anything! He helped us with:
- Engine alignment
- Engine painting
- New SS coolant tube
- Rebuilt the big manual bilge pump
The manual bilge pump required some metal fabrication.
Wacho was the head honcho, and we hired two guys to help on the day of. Read all about it in our previous post.
New Cockpit Roof
Agapito was our fiberglasser, I hired him for 8 days. Read all about the new roof in our previous post.
Our oven stopped working early 2016 in Nicaragua. Also the stove burners fell apart, and needed servicing.
Oven back in business thanks to Ramon!
A nice fellow named Ramon exchanged a mercury switch (ordered from the US) to get the oven working again. Unfortunately there was another problem and now it’s quite hard to regulate oven temp but at least it works.
Ramon with 6 Kind Bars: one for each of his children.
Socio the welder is a great guy, yet another example of a humble yet dialed family business in Bahia Caraquez.
Besides the stainless steel pot holders for the stove , he built the custom jackstands for our careening effort (which are foldable, so can fit inside our boat for future use) and replaced our exhaust flex tube, which was leaking. That was the second time in three years it broke, so Wacho helped us align it better.
Our windows needed replacement. We made new glass and plexiglass in Bahia Caraquez, but the frames are old aluminum and are breaking in places. I’m still working on them!
The carpenter helped us with the following tasks:
- 3 new hatch latches were installed
- New halyard cleats made
- New wood support along the solar panel rail
This was our greatest failure in Bahia Caraquez. While we visited California we hired Ariosto to paint the decks (who was convincing about his experience) but he ended up using the wrong product- which made the deck very slippery, and bubbly! (His idea of “paint” was Gel Coat). Bad idea! Next time I’m only hiring work that I am able to supervise personally. How foolish of me. Now we have to re-do the deck while in the Galapagos. Bummer!!!
The deck paint after the erroneous application of gel coat. We’re going to have to fix it in the Galapagos.
In the balance of things, Bahia Caraquez treated us very well in the project front. The local “marina” called Puerto Amistad, is not a facility with “turn key” marine repairs at all– you have to speak Spanish and find specialists that may not be familiar with boating — but when you do find them it’s worth the while. Now Aldebaran is stronger and safer than ever.
The heavy rain in the foothills starting in February brings a ton of vegetation and trash (and apparently very large snakes!) on the river… time to leave!
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