Monday, April 03, 2017

First few days in La Paz - Ouch!

[Kyle]We stayed in Caleta Lobos exactly four times as long as was necessary to get the full feel for the place. Actually, it was six because the mediocre cell phone signal we had been so excited about on the first day mysteriously vanished. The flies were driving us crazy and I was so bored I was actually going around the boat looking for stuff to fix. What the hell?

A couple of days before we could get a marina reservation, we repositioned to the anchorage in La Paz, where there was much more to do and see. Anchored along with us was unusually high concentration of derelict trimarans. One was cream colored with a peeling red boot stripe. A closer look through the binoculars revealed a handful of pelicans standing guard on deck. Also, the boot stripe turned out not to be peeling. It was the only part of the red topsides that wasn’t covered by cream-colored guano. Eeewwww!

Hints of what awaits us ashore - La Paz is a good size city with a population of 1/4 million and a large exPat & cruising/boating community.

Beyond that was the busy malecón, with its strolling tourists and its outdoor restaurants spilling thumping music into the bay. Most entertaining for me was the pangueros. By entertaining, I mean it in the narrow sense that they occupied my attention and gave me something to do as opposed to being fun and enjoyable.

Most of the pangueros in the area seem to overnight at one of the nearby marinas. In the morning, many of them reposition to the beach to pick up passengers for fishing or tours. In the afternoon, when they’re done, they drop everyone off and then go to the marinas for the night. Along the way, they pass through the anchorage.

A little digression: México has for the most part been great (amazingly wonderful, in fact). It’s beautiful, warm and dry and the people especially have been very nice everywhere we have been. So far, there have been only two things about it that I consistently don’t like. I’ll save the second one for a future post when it bubbles up to the surface (No, it’s not the water. That wasn’t a hint). The first is that, for some reason, unlike almost anywhere else in the world that we’ve been so far, there seems to be no social convention whatsoever making it unacceptable to throw a wake. There’s always going to be that one jerk that ignores the No Wake signs because the world obviously revolves around him, but for the most part, the boater’s social custom is that it’s considered rude, dangerous, and unnecessary to throw wakes in anchorages, marinas and work areas. In Mexico, to be fair, it seems less that they’re trying to be rude and more that it just never enters their minds that there’s a two or three foot wave streaming back from each side of their boat.

Such as it is with the pangas. Every morning at sunrise, a stream of them come around the corner from the marinas and take a shortcut to the beach right through the anchorage. Begonia seemed to be one of the boats near their imaginary line, so we were often passed within inches by pangas at full speed. A few times, they were so close that I was worried they would cut our anchor bridle. Sometimes, when we were inside, we’d hear the noise of a distant propeller. It would suddenly get louder and WHAM; stuff would fall off of the shelves. Among the pangueros, there seems to be a particular machismo to weaving their way by as close and as fast as possible, as if they are all training for some sort of Olympic panga competition instead of wrecking people’s homes.

I discovered through trial and error that if I stood on deck in a clearly visible spot and gave them the stink eye (friendly waves didn’t work, nor did aggressive gestures), they all passed a little further off and most would even slow down. It seems to me that this means they must know they’re being naughty. I couldn’t stand baking in the sun all day, so I took to going out when I spotted one coming around the corner. That seemed to give us about 70% relief. Every now and then, I’d get surprised though, like the time some kid came by close enough for me to have leaned out and dope-slapped him on the forehead, which he deserved because the whole time, he was looking down at his PHONE! This place is giving me the heebie-jeebies. Luckily, tourists will only pay to see stuff in the daytime, so we were safe at night.

I was SO looking forward to getting away from the pangas and into a marina.

Eventually it was time to move into the marina.. that was a little stressful, though. The currents in the harbor are strong, so we were to arrive at slack water. We called ahead to verify the space was ready (empty) and requested deckhands to be there to assist. The slip we were assigned required a lot of tight manoeuvring, which I was really hoping not to have to do since our port transmission was not functional from the helm. Maryanne lay on top of the engine wearing an intercom headset acting as a remote shift lever, which meant we lost our best, most experienced line handler until the last shift into neutral.

I tried to plan our approach so that we needed as few gear changes as possible. We almost made it. We got Begonia lined up and stopped one spot too early. Before we could get moving again, the current pushed us up against the side of the boat there as if we had been intending to raft up to them instead of pull into the next slip. A quick-moving dockhand and I managed to keep us from touching by holding Begonia off with our hands and then walking our palms along to get her into the slip. Whew! It made me look like it was my first time driving the boat, but at least we were safely tied up. When the commotion died down, I looked up and saw from where all of the pangas had come. There was a long line of them parallel parked ahead of us. Every one of them was going to have to pass right by us on the way out. Groan. At least they shouldn’t be up to speed by then.

Apart from the panga situation, Marina de La Paz is great. It is the center of an active local cruising community. The staff are all really nice and helpful and the place is well maintained. The best part is the water. Both waters, actually. The water in which the boats float is full of a huge variety of tropical fish, all just milling around in the clear water. It’s amazing! Believe it or not, the best snorkeling we have had in México is walking the dock from Begonia to the office. The marina’s a giant aquarium.

The other water is the dock water that comes out of the hose. It’s supplied by the marina’s own desalination plant. It’s clean and potable and comes included in the slip fee, which means we can wash the salt off the boat and then fill our tanks without having to pay some poor guy to lug jugs of purified water to us.

While we were mostly busy with chores, we DID thankfully get to see a little of the tourist side of La Paz

A lot of people come to La Paz on holiday so they can take a trip to the islands. We’ve already been to the islands, so being in a marina meant one thing: jobs. As soon as the last line was tied, Maryanne grabbed a handful of lists and we started chipping away at all of the jobs that needed doing before we left.

Some were a lot easier than expected. We left our propane cylinder at the office and a local cab driver took it and the others to be refilled. The full tanks were all back in a couple of hours. It was similar with the laundry. We could do it ourselves or, for an extra ten pesos per load (50¢), they would take it from us, babysit it while it’s being done and return it to us in a neatly folded stack later that afternoon. That left us free to get further down our respective lists.

Maryanne went into town to try to chase up transmission parts while I made a couple of trips to the nearest gas station with a dock cart full of jerry cans for diesel, much to the amusement of the attendant. We topped it off with a meal out, where I’d managed to knock Maryanne’s beer bottle onto the floor before she’d even had her first sip. Our poor waiter took the subsequent clean-up in stride, although he seemed to be upset about the needless loss of perfectly good beer. We managed to recover after that and had a pretty good evening.

Just after sunrise the next morning, I heard the first panga leaving and instinctively looked out the window to watch it approach. The current was really moving past Begonia and I remember thinking these guys must be pretty good to be able to deal with that every day.

Three seconds later, there was a BANG! as he hit us hard. Maryanne was closest to the door and went outside to find him speeding up and trying to get out of view around the corner. She yelled at him, which made him stop. {Maryanne: He probably didn't expect we'd be up at 6:30 in the morning, and even I'm amazed I was} He kept saying the current was strong, the current was strong. It’s hard to tell with my limited Spanish, but he seemed to have a hint of a “What’s the big deal?” tone in his voice. He said he was late and left.

So you’re telling me it’s okay to just bumper-car your way out whenever the current is strong? I don’t think so. Instead of going slowly and crabbing into it, he gunned it and tried to power out of it when it set him sideways, which meant he was going fast when he hit us, which meant he hit hard when he hit us. {Maryanne: The marina slip we were allocated severely restricted the panga access in a particularly strong and difficult area of current. The marina must have understood they were partly to blame as they promptly rearranged boats and moved us back a little. Since this was our first time in La Paz, and our first night in that slip, we didn't understand the danger we were in until it was too late, but the marina really should have kept that space clear for the pangas access.}

The Pangas have a narrow channel and a wicked current to deal with - one found himself caught and powered up to escape, only to crash into us.. resulting in a loud bang and a 14" crack in our hull to resolve

We were hoping he had just made a lot of noise when he hit (fiberglass is a lot stronger than it looks), but when we looked at the impact point, we found a fourteen-inch crack surrounded by yellow paint. Begonia has a cored hull made of two layers of fiberglass separated by high density foam. He cracked the outer layer and dented the foam, but didn’t breach the hull. This was not bad but it was not good either. We were supposed to be heading offshore within a week and now we had the extra job of coordinating the repair. We were really hoping we wouldn’t need to be hauled out.

We got lucky in one respect. Most pangas are white with blue trim and have little registration numbers at their bows. This guy was driving one of two yellow pangas at the marina and the whole side was painted with the company’s web address. Before the guy even made it to the beach, Maryanne had already fired off an email to his boss.

As soon as the business opened a couple of hours later, we received a response. They apologized and promised to pay for any repairs as soon as they could be made. The marina also immediately shuffled away another boat and moved us a little further away from the Pangas (but still really close to their exit line) - at least we'd be further from both the bottleneck and the worst of the current.

By the end of the day the fleet manager and a representative from their insurance company had all come to look at the damage and reassure us that they would get us fixed as soon as possible. The marina recommended a good fiberglass guy, which many other boaters seconded. Introductions were made and he said he could start work the next day. A haulout wouldn’t be necessary, he just needed the use of our dinghy for access. Brilliant!

All of this was happening as a layer on top of everything we were originally planning to do. Maryanne started hiking all over town running errands, which she finished with a cab ride back. I decided to pre-dismantle our port transmission in anticipation of receiving the replacement parts. Our backup computer screen had recently failed, and although Maryanne managed to fix it with spares we had on board, the fix only lasted two days before the screen totally gave out - so she was back and forth with a repair center too.

In the morning, a woman from the insurance company came by and gave me half of the repair estimate in cash from her purse. Maryanne found a rental car for $4US and she was gone! She had a car for 36 hours for less than the cost of a cab ride to the store. Every couple of hours, I would get a text from Maryanne telling me to meet her in the parking lot with a couple of dock carts. We’d get the stuff on the boat and she’d be gone again for more.

Several times a day, I saw pangas get caught in the current, hit the throttle and then miss Begonia by inches. A couple of them going the other way actually hit other pangas on the way in. Oh, I was liking our spot less and less. When Rafael, the fiberglass guy started working, he was right in the line of fire. At least he was at eye level with them and was able to give them the local Spanish version of, “Hey, I’m working here!”

Once I had the transmission apart and in pieces on the salon table, I realized it wasn’t as broken as I had thought. I carefully reconstructed all of the bits of broken metal I had fished out of the transmission until I was sure there were no stray chunks to jam anything up. From the look of it, I was pretty sure I could repair it with what we had aboard. Not only that, but it looked like it would be much stouter than the original design. I decided to give it a go.

Maryanne came home from her last (of the day) store run and we only had minutes to dump everything inside before heading to our first cruising club get-together: dollar microbrews. We met lots of the other boaters and were able to get and give some good tips about various destinations and aspects of the life. It wasn’t until late in the evening that I finally had time to tell Maryanne that Rafael had finished the whole repair plus another couple of jobs I added in for him. All that was left was the final polish. I also had the pleasure of telling her that the port transmission was completely fixed, tested and verified. Begonia was back to the way she was before the thing failed. {Maryanne: Despite the constant stream of jobs, we've managed to socialise and relax in the the evenings. Additionally our visit to La Paz fortuitously coincided with the annual cruiser organized Boat Festival. So we've bee wine tasting, eating out with other cruisers we may well see in the Marquesas, and I've even attended a few seminars - Mexican cooking and Pressure Cookers. While the preparation for departure, and extensive job lists seems overwhelming at time, we have not been all work at all.}.

We also got another treat: The boat has a name! Of course Begonia has a name, but the decal is in a hard to read font and it’s almost always hidden behind the dinghy where nobody can see it. We had a sign guy come and now we have the name in big, clear letters on each side. That’s something we’re glad to have that we have been putting off for way too long.

On Maryanne’s second day with the car, I got to join her for her trips around town. I’m really grateful to her for doing it, because it is not my thing. Transmission repair isn’t either, but provisioning seems to be a perfect storm of many bad things: spending lots of money, carrying a lot of heavy stuff and bringing it aboard, where it weighs us down and takes up space we never seem to have. Add to that México’s penchant for controlling busy intersections with chaotic four-way stops and you have a recipe for a stressful day.

The only bright spot, and a really bright one at that, was our lunchtime stop at what is reputedly not only the best taco place in La Paz, but in all of Baha, Taco Fish. It was wonderful. It was clean. The staff was really friendly. The tacos were delicious and we filled up for $6US.

We decided to divide and conquer for the rest of the day. Maryanne left me at home to stow and be there in case Rafael needed anything. She headed back to the stores.

Prepping the dingy for life-boat mode, our new boat-graphics, working on the mass of paperwork required both to exit Mexico and arrive in the Marquesas (along with setting up a new computer and printer), and a time for fun at a Mexican cooking demo

When she got back, we found a place for everything as best we could. Begonia is so heavy. Since we’ve provisioned enough of some items to last us for eight or nine months, including everything non-perishable that we will need for at least two, the interior of the boat is even fuller than it was when we left Panamá. The water, propane and diesel is also tippity-top. We’re sitting three inches lower in the water than when we got here.

Even though we were both exhausted from all of the jobs, we were determined to act like we were on holiday on the walk home from returning the car. We found a Greek restaurant with good reviews and decided to head there for dinner. On the way, we passed by a Spanish place (Sitges) with no obvious clientele, but a nice-looking menu. We decided to give it a try and we are so glad we did. We were led to a table in a hidden courtyard by a roaring fireplace, where we were brought item after item of exquisite deliciousness. It was a bit more than Taco Fish, but it was a happy find all the same. We topped it off with ice creams and had an amble home along the malecón. There’s more work to be done, but it was nice to finally be able to take a break and enjoy ourselves for a couple of hours, especially knowing Begonia’s fully functional again.


Mommy dearest said...

Wow. That was certainly enlightening! I read on FB that you had a crash but didn't know what really happened. It all sounds crazy busy to me, and I know that when Maryanne is working Jobs Lists, there is little let-up. Therefore, I was delighted to read about the more relaxing aspects of your stay in LaPaz. Balance is everything.
You are all fixed now and provisioned. Now if only your packages from here would reach you. I am sick to see no delivery confirmations yet. I've been checking every day. Your boating friends were apparently right--USPS service to Mexico sucks.
Many stateside are following you and asking about you. All seem amazed by your exploits and challenges. As far as I can tell, no one can figure out how to leave comments so all my friends comment to me instead.
You are always close in my thoughts and heart.
P.s. Your pictures didn't seem to load in this blog entry. I'll try again tomorrow. Perhaps they are handled by USPS.

JD said...

Very sorry to hear that the Panga hit you guys. It was certainly not expected and unfortunate. The remarkable thing that I greatly admire in you guys is your resilience, pragmatism, and your ability to think and adapt quickly. The other thing I have always marveled at is how well you both collaborate and work together. I'm sure it doesn't come without a lot of hard work. I hope you write one day about the ingredients for the success that you both have experienced over the past 10+ years-- I'm sure it would be helpful to many. I wish you safe travels and following seas as you set out in a new direction. I don't often post on your blog, but please know that this is one of my favorite escapes and I look forward to every post. -- safe travels, JD