December 23, 2014
If you are following our progress on the “FindmeSpot” web site, it may look like we are parked in the mud – but it’s not so! There is a relatively new marina here in Puerto Madero, right on the border of Mexico and Guatemala, and it doesn’t appear on Google maps. If you switch to satellite view, we will be shown still afloat.
We made our passage across the notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec yesterday and the day before. We were pretty sure, according to all available forecasts, that we had a “weather window” for the crossing, but part of it turned out to be downright exciting – mainly in the area call Bahia Ventuoso (Windy Bay – who would have guessed). We started, based on the “weather window” to go straight across, but late in the afternoon the barometer dropped and the wind shifted, so it seemed more prudent to take the “one foot on the beach” alternative route. By 9:00pm or so we had 25 to 30 knots of wind, and lulled by the “window” we had not tied in a reef before it was too dark and rough to make working on deck an attractive proposition. There was a lesson!
With the rail buried under water, we fought out way towards the beach at the head of the Gulf, discovering every leak on the boat, losing one of our five-gallon jerry jugs of water over the side, flipping the cooler on the foredeck (but not losing it!), donating the 2×4 under the dinghy to the sea, and generally getting ourselves soaked in spray and breaking waves. We stood watches of one hour on, two hours off through the night, getting used to finding salt crystals in our clothing, hair and ears. It was warm, though, and all we soaked were shorts and t-shirts. The two hours off failed to be that restful, having to move around the boat hanging like monkeys from the grab rails, bouncing off of hard objects and generally being shaken up like coconuts in a clothes dryer. There are still some technicolor bruises on display, Birgit winning the prize for the most spectacular and artistic.
By morning we were in the lee of the land, and the seas calmed down. What we had experienced was the normal “drainage” – the cool air in the mountains flooding down through the low isthmus of Tehuantepec towards the warmer sea. It’s a phenomenon that occurs almost every night, although in this case it was augmented by pressure differences across the isthmus. No big deal compared to a real Tehuantepec gale.
The next bit of excitement was that, despite Birgit having pumped the bilge at the end of her watch, I found it totally full – some 40 gallons of water – an hour later at the end of mine! “What the hell!” I thought. I pumped the water out, and to my complete shock and horror, it immediately – within 30 seconds – filled right up again. It was an “OMG” moment.
It turned out, after some investigation, that we were experiencing an effect of the problem of exceeding hull speed. “Hull speed” may seem like a rather abstract concept: it relates to the rate at which displacement hulls can travel through the water without climbing their own bow wave. But what was happening to us was that we were travelling, in the flat seas and strong wind, so fast (8,7 knots through the water at one point) that Serafina had begun to “squat” – her stern being much deeper in the water than normal. That put the outlet for the bilge pump almost a foot under water – and when the bilge pump finished pumping, it siphoned water back through the hose. Bad news!
Fortunately, the manual bilge pump has a check-valve in the line. A few minutes of energetic pumping cleared the bilge, broke the siphon, and all was really, really well once again. This issue will deserve some further thought. At a minimum, we will clear the bilges when we are sailing very hard by using the manual pump, but maybe installation of some kind of check valve in the line for the electric pump will be required.
The second night of the passage was like a reward for getting through the first one. We had a soft, warm breeze, the seas were calm, glowing dolphins cavorted around the boat, and life seemed very, very good.
We were interested to see more fishing boats than we have seen at any point on the trip. For the four hours of my watch, there were always ten or twelve large trawlers visible, which must have meant that at least fifty or sixty were working that portion of the coast – shrimpers, mainly out of Salina Cruz. But they were well lit, the radar had no trouble picking them up in the flat seas, and the passage went smoothly and quietly, quite a contrast to the night before. Oh, and we had tied in a double reef at sunset.
So now we are snug in the new marina in Puerto Madero, making plans for a modest Christmas holiday, hosing salt off the boat and doing the same for ourselves in the lovely, clean marina showers. We may spend Christmas Eve and day in Tapachula, a pleasant small town about 15 miles away – with its own rum distillery!
We’ll head south, for Costa Rica, possibly with a stop in Nicaragua, on the 27th.
So, for all our readers and friends and loved ones, Best Wishes for the holidays! Birgit found a small piñata, which is hanging in the cabin, and Hannah produced a sweet string of small LED lights from her camping/biking trip. We are not out of ice, cold beer, rum or water, and we’ll make as chicken molé tonight. Not a hard life.