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It’s been awhile since I’ve updated. I needed a vacation, so I took one. The vacation included a vacation from updating the site, but not from writing. Strangely enough, the vacation involved a trip back stateside – where most of my friends leave when they take vacation.
No reason for worry. All is well.
After Dan left, I took some time to regroup and then did some boatwork and then got ready for a trip back “home” – to Texas. Lauren took off for places unknown. I was alone again and it was good.
There was some organization necessary to leave the boat. Funny how something that provides so much freedom can be such an anchor when you try to leave it.
The marina here was full. There was a more expensive marina open, but I’m broke. There was the ghetto marina down the way, but that was in the ghetto – and what I have onboard I’d like to keep onboard. I could leave the boat anchored, but if we got a Cullo de Pollo (a storm with heavy winds/rain common here this time of year) my boat could drag or (more likely) another boat could drag into mine.
The solution came from somebody else. Kenny was sailing a boat that he had been the unofficial guardian of back to Panama. They were trying to sell the boat. The boat was on the market here (Colombia) for too long, and the owner – a very wealthy Frenchman – decided Panama would be better. Kenny was the guy in charge of moving this boat from Colombia to Panama. The reason this mattered to me was that the boat was effectively moored here, though technically moorings are illegal.
But sailors are an inventive bunch, and probably have less respect for rules than most.
And so, to skirt the issue of a mooring – they’d simply dropped an 800 pound anchor in the bay and tied off to that. The anchor is the best mooring I’ve ever ran across, but it was still an anchor – and therefore, if anyone cared – it was semi-legal. Of course this is Colombia and there’s the everpresent question – who gives a shit?
A fair question.
So the Frenchman’s boat sailed to Panama, leaving this massive anchor to my disposal while I returned stateside to do silly amounts of paperwork and work on taxes and deal with things and see family and watch Netflix in A/C while ordering Chinese takeout. Or Thai.
In order to nullify the risk of someone else’s boat bumping mine, or something going horribly wrong onboard without someone onboard – I left a local guy that I’d grown to trust onboard. For about $40/day, he’d spend the day cleaning, waxing, etc – and watch my boat at night, in the case of a Cullo De Pollo.
There was only a small hangup in the plan, when I went to take money out and found that neither of my credit cards nor my debit cards were working.
That tiny issue compounded further when I needed to pay for overstaying my visa at the airport. Explaining to the customs agent the irony involved in the situation – me trying to leave Colombia, and the only thing holding me here a charge levied against me for the crime of not leaving soon enough – afforded no reprieve.
I fixed it all, though luck was in play. Nothing else was interesting about the travel.
Texas was the same as I’d left it. Only the people had changed. People don’t really change though – more accurately their life situations had changed. Some of them, at least. New kids. Weddings. Moving. New relationships formed, old broken.
Back home I was greeted by a mother that was very happy that I hadn’t been abducted by a local druglord. And it was a boat-Christmas event again – a huge stack of boxes from Amazon and marine chandleries waiting next to my bed. Hot showers were an option for the first time in almost a year. Air conditioning while sleeping. But first I need food. And drink.
A good Mexican Martini and a pile of enchiladas made everything right in the world. Colombia may be Latin America, but Mexican food is something they haven’t figured out.
I’d made the mistake, on a previous return to the state of Texas, of announcing a homecoming. That led to too many people trying to squeeze in facetime to be relaxing, and those that didn’t get facetime ended up being disgruntled. This time it was quieter.
Family visited first. It’s funny that when I lived closer to them I didn’t put as much weight on seeing them. With the increase in physical distance, the time spent with family has more value. That’s a good thing.
Then I needed to move from the Houston area to the Austin area. There was a wedding, and several groups of friends that I hoped to at least have a drink or two with. My motorcycle didn’t fire up right away, which put a kink in the plans.
The battery, no doubt.
I tried charging it to no avail. It was time for a new battery.
Naturally, AGM sportbike batteries are in short supply in a town of 3,000 people. I went to a larger town, no dice. I needed to head back into downtown Houston to find the right battery in stock. So I did.
Then I was off, speeding through 100+ degree weather, in full riding gear, under a broiling sun, across the smoking pavement, riding a bike which constantly registered a temperature over 215 degrees F. A suit crammed into saddlebags, a couple changes of clothes stuffed into a backpack.
Arriving in Austin was exactly what it was supposed to be. I saw my dog. Somebody who cared opened the door. I was greeted with a comfortable, if not familiar, place to lay my head and spend my time how I would like. There were dates set for the wedding. There was a group birthday party. There were things, but not too many things.
But getting exactly what you think you want isn’t always what you actually want.
After the wedding and the birthday party and the trip to Lukenbach, Texas on the motorcycles and the deeper conversations with friend and the centering conversations with those who’d circumnavigated via sailboat – I had nothing to put effort into. Which, I’ve learned, isn’t a healthy state.
Suddenly it was time to ride the motorcycle back to the Houston area and I was leaving and it was hot and everything was unfinished and there was never enough time and too much time.
Back in the Houston area we went to a Houston Texans preseason game. Originally I thought it would be just something to occupy the time, something fun to do with Mom and the little brother. It turns out, though, that even after leaving that kind of thing so far in the rearview – beer and nachos and football is fun.
The airport was the typical struggle – too much crap and not enough space and TSA being jerks and me not having a return ticket so it appearing that I was staying in Colombia forever and them not understanding that a man can leave a country in a boat. The flights being crammed and babies crying onboard.
But it’s nice to have a good excuse to tune out the world and read.
I hit CTG about 11PM. Customs had a huge problem with me importing a Garmin GPS/radar combo, despite the large and clear markings “Yacht in Transit.” Rather than argue, I played dumb gringo and assured them I would never, ever do something so stupid again. That act is becoming my Ace in the hole. How much of it is really an act I remain unsure.
Thanks to good friends here, my dinghy was at the dock when I got there. When I got onboard the boat it was locked but the key was were it was supposed to be. The boat was clean, organized, and better than I’d left it.
I packed everything inside, did a quick check of the major systems, and before I realized it I was asleep.
The next couple of days were an attempt to get back in the swing of things. I needed to get my life, here, back in order. Cell data needed to be purchased. The fridge cleaned out. Groceries purchased. Water hauled. Aguardiente chilled. The bottom cleaned.
Having something to do, whether I did it or not, felt new. Felt good.
In the same way that seeing friends and family felt good, it was good to leave them again. I wonder if people really can grasp that. The feeling of forever leaving. And it being right.
I was heading to the Rosarios soon, a bit of sailing needed to put the world in perspective.
It’s rarely enough time. In anything. Well, anything good I suppose. Dan was leaving and it felt like too soon. We were headed back to CTG, and I wanted another week in San Bernardos. We all did. But the boring stuff we’ve named “real-life” was calling, and unfortunately we had to take the call. I have a permanent “Out Of Office” voicemail, but not everyone is on the same wavelength. Alas.
The way back to Cartagena from San Bernardos is against the wind and waves. There’s also a daily/nightly wind pattern in San Bernardos (and a very similar one in CTG) this time of year. The wind typically begins picking up mid afternoon, and typically from the North. It can climb from 8-10 knots to 20 or more until later in the evening – usually peaking around 10 or 11PM. At that point it begins to slow down again, and (usually) by midnight or 1AM it’s back to almost nothing. Motoring against 20 knots of wind isn’t something I planned on doing – so we picked up our anchor in San Bernardos about midnight.
With the anchor up, I dropped back offshore and made a very conservative curve around the barrier reef to open water. Once out of the lee of the islands – we took a 5 foot sea on the nose, with about 5 knots of wind. The wind was dying, but it had already worked the seas up a bit. With both engines on, and not a shred of sail up – we were motoring about 5 knots. 50 miles is a long way at 5 knots…
Lauren and Dan crashed – I was solo again on the Caribe, in the middle of the night – just my electronics casting a dim glow in the cockpit and only the rumbling of the diesels to occasionally drown out the sound of the waves breaking over the bow. NOMAD settled into a rhythm, and before I knew it – we were back in the Southern portion of the Rosarios.
Anytime I have to sail (or motor) through an island chain or reef at night – it increases the pucker-factor. The SOP is to slow down to a crawl, and pretend like my life depends on following the previous GPS track (if I didn’t have a previous track, I wouldn’t do it) – all while paying very close attention to the sounds of the ocean. You can usually hear a reef break before you can see it at night, unless there’s a full moon.
So we crawled through the Rosarios.
Once we got back into open water, the wind moved to a more favorable angle. I raised the main, let out the genoa, and turned off one engine – all without stepping on, or waking Dan.
The sky started to turn pink, then orange, and then it was dawn and Dan started stirring. He took the wheel while I napped, and an hour later I woke up to guide us into the bay in CTG.
I really do love this city. But the itch gets stronger everyday. The feel of miles vanishing beneath the keels of NOMAD is one that I almost don’t remember. Still, there’s much work to be done. There are systems to install, engines to repaint, things to fix, and things to improve. And here I know the right people to help with the various projects – so it’s far more efficient to do most of that work here.
So coming back to CTG is bittersweet.
We arrived, squeezed into the anchorage, and shut everything down. I was beaten – a full day of diving followed by a full night of navigating took it out of me. So I told Dan and Lauren they were welcome to use the dingy, but that I needed sleep. I went below, Dan and Lauren went to explore Cartagena again. Dan’s got a sense of humor, so you should Google that hotel in the last picture.
Conversing with saints…
The infamous Hotel Caribe
And then it was evening, I was awake, and Dan and Lauren and I ate dinner and had drinks and talked. Dan left mid morning the next day and then my life returned to being governed by boat-projects.
We’d finally had some success spearfishing in Colombia. The Rosarios didn’t produce much for me, but it was starting to seem like the San Bernardos might be the ticket. Here we were able to land plenty of food-fish, and saw some fish that we could be proud of. If we were lucky – we might get another chance at those fish in the latter category.
This was our last day in these islands. Puffer Dan was on a schedule. He’s all responsible and stuff. And despite hating being on a schedule, I’m more than happy to make exceptions when friends come and visit. Especially one that enjoys shooting and eating fish. Or ones that look good in bikinis. Dan falls into the first group – but unfortunately not the second. Alas.
I was a little foggy, but not bad, at 6:30 when I crawled out of my bunk. The coffee was on and our morning smoothie was in the blender. That’s a nice way to wake up in paradise. I took a look around and smiled and started going through the gear we needed to bring.
We had the coffee, had our smoothies, packed our gear, and then headed with Payllo to make the daily gas run at the most populated island (people per square meter) on the face of the Earth. True story. At this island there are indeed many people. And there are fish-pens. The last part is cooler to me.
In these fish-pens there are fish that the locals have caught and are raising. They raise them and then either a) sell them to outsiders or b) have a big party and eat a big grouper/snapper/shark. In these pens was proof that there were good fish around. Of course, the fact that all of these fish had been caught is also proof that these guys are hardcore fishermen. With their nets and traps and lines – they catch a lot of fish.
On the ride out I got suited up again. Payllo wanted to know where we wanted to go. There was apparently another spot that we could try, but it would be closer to the island. I’m of the belief that the best fishing is the furthest from the humans. The honest truth is we manage to screw up the environment in many different ways, so getting away from that is the key.
We dropped the “anchor” (a large rock tied to several lengths of ancient rope) in the same spot as the day before. I flipped in, loaded my gun, dropped the flashers, and kicked off into the blue. Today I was looking for The Ledge.
The Ledge is where the “shallow” (50-60 ft) area drops off into The Abyss (? ft). The Ledge exists in most good reef spearfishing spots and all good bluewater spearfishing spots. Though, often, in bluewater spearfishing spots – The Ledge is several hundred feet under the water.
I kicked and kicked and kicked. Eventually the hazy light-blue of the bottom faded into a deeper darker blue. Here small schools of baitfish were hanging midway in the water column. This was The Ledge. I dove to 55 feet. There I saw The Ledge. The issue was it was another 30 feet to the top of The Ledge. To get to the bottom of The Ledge, I’d need to be pushing 100 feet, freediving. That’s pretty damn deep. All of my freediving, recently, was restricted to 50 feet.
I dove and dove, but wasn’t comfortable pushing it that deep. If I’d been diving with some deeper divers or some certified freedivers – this story might have been different. Needless to say, The Ledge was big enough to hold fish, it was deep enough to hold fish, but it was too deep to get to without pushing my luck. With that realization I decided I’d hang around it and dive around it – hoping to bump into something pelagic with the same ideas I had about ledges near bluewater.
I had three fish in the bottom of the boat and a fourth on my spear, most from the area around The Ledge – when Puffer Dan swam up to me, blocked my way back to the boat, and shared some very important information with me. He said, “the vis here sucks.”
I think I told him to move, but I may have just ignored him. You see – we were on the deep side of The Ledge. We were in 200 foot of water or more. Dan couldn’t see the bottom, so he thought the visibility was bad. What he hadn’t grasped was that even if the visibility was 199 feet – he would only see blue when he looked down, here.
Dan was convinced the visibility sucked though, and in a few minutes I noticed him in the boat. Then Lauren joined him. Then I joined them both and we moved on. Of course the other spot we were going to was 500 feet away, with the same visibility.
Here I switched to exploring. I wasn’t finding much life here, but Dan managed to spear one of my favorite fish. I swam around for a bit and managed to get a decent Cero Mackerel to come into the flashers, then I chased him and pinned him to the bottom with my spearshaft. When I got back to the boat, I decided that was it for this spot.
In the boat I was greeted with a pleasant surprise – Puffer Dan had expanded his target species (from puffers) to include Rainbow Runner. I love Rainbow Runner. Love. They have a pink and firm meat. Something between the red of tuna and the white of wahoo. Closer to wahoo, but firmer. Very tasty. I learned later that Dan shot the Rainbow Runner, then brought it back to the boat and asked Payllo if it was a good fish before I got to the boat. Luckily for all of us, it wasn’t just a good fish – it was a great fish.
So when I saw this, I was a happy dude. We had Cero Mackerel, Rainbow Runner, and Ocean Trigger for food. Meaning we could cut up an epic sushi lunch, and then cook an epic fish dinner. And we did.
Back onboard, I left Dan to butcher the fish while I took about 50 pounds of fish over to our friends at the hostel. I was greeted warmly and though the travelers didn’t care, the locals were really excited and the hostel owners started feeding me beer again.
When I came back to the boat I used a very dull knife to attempt to cut up sushi. Dan inhaled the sushi like a Hoover while I tried to savor it. Having fresh sushi, on the back of my boat, anchored over a reef in crystal clear turquoise water anchored off of some remote Colombian islands is something worth remembering.
There were some rumors about a cockfight on the inhabited island. I share no particular love for chickens, beside loving to eat them – so I was excited about seeing it. When in Rome, right? Dan even more excited when he learned that you could buy a cock, fight it, and then make money if it won. He was in. I was excited about the whole thing, hoping to have another genuine Colombian experience.
About this time, my friend Kenny sailed in from the Rosarios. He came up next to us, we chatted quickly and he went off to anchor.
Kenny dropping by…
Naturally, there was a mixup in dates and times on the cockfight. Likely a combination of alcohol consumption and a language barrier. And as we learned that we wouldn’t get to see a cockfight, my dreams of titling a post “Dan’s Cock” faded. It was certainly a disappointment.
This, of course, opened up our afternoon. With some time, Dan was able to do some work on deck-cleaning (he’d sprayed suntan lotion on the decks and stained them), I was able to scrape the bottom (my guy in Cartagena screwed the pooch on this one), and Lauren worked on the wood. I did a quick once-over on the rigging and gear and then we went over to talk with Kenny.
Kenny learned we had cake onboard, so he came over and had desert, while we ate gnocchi and marinara and parmesan-encrusted chicken. There were a couple of good stories shared, we talked about the rich that owned property here and the obvious ties to the obvious business the rich were obviously associated with here in Colombia. Then I needed to take a nap – the way back was against wind and waves all night – as I moved my condoamaran back to Cartagena. Kenny left and took a few pounds of filets back with him.
An hour and a half later I crawled back out of my bunk, got stuff under control, and pulled our anchor. We were heading back to Cartagena. Dan was heading home. I was going to be up all night. We were all happy, but we all wanted way more time there.
Very little of that was on my mind, though. I was busy hoping for a smooth, issue-free ride back to Cartagena – against wind and waves that were predicted to be un poco fuerte.
Dan cleans fish
We gave our guide some fish. Then I took some fish over to our friends at the hostel. They were happy to trade the fish for beer. I was happy to trade the fish for beer. Win-win, I reckon. With this trade, I’d finally accomplished a pretty massive achievement onboard – trading fish (which I usually have plenty of) for beer (which I’m usually out of).
Ceviche and Puffer Dan’s battle wounds
Back onboard I whipped up some ceviche, which Puffer Dan quickly began shoveling into his mouth. Lauren made an angelfood cake, with whipped cream frosting, topped with fresh strawberries. I could lie to you and tell you we weren’t eating like Kings and a Queen – but that would be a lie. The above pic shows how bad loading Dan’s speargun was wrecking his stomach…
Ceviche, con mango
That night we went back to the hostel and had a couple of drinks, then came back to NOMAD – where Lauren crashed and Dan and I sat up talking and solving the world’s problems, while we attempted to find the bottom of a bottle of Colombian rum.
Puffer Dan and the Rum
But we didn’t get too crazy.
Tomorrow we had another spearfishing date with our guy Payllo, but this time an hour earlier. And it was open season on any edible fish – the hostel wanted as much fish as we could give them. And I was bringing my flashers and Dan was bringing his floatline.
We would be ready in case some of the larger underwater species made an appearance.
Finally off shift…
Puffer Dan in the captain’s chair
I napped. When I woke up the sails were slack again, and we were only two miles out. I grabbed the wheel from Puffer Dan, and within an hour we had dropped the anchor in a sandy patch over a reef in crystal clear water. That’s not a bad way to start one’s day.
I jumped in to check the anchor. Or really to check the reef, but I used the correct excuse. The reef right underneath the boat was vibrant. No 50 pound Black Grouper came up to greet me, but there were fish and there was life and the coral wasn’t dead. The anchor was fine, but I knew that before I got in.
I kicked around a bit, exploring our new parking spot – then Dan jumped in and I went below to grab a few hours of shut-eye. Beautiful place or not, nobody likes a grumpy captain. As an aside – Dan took alot of selfies on this trip. I think that’s funny, so I’m going to use his selfies to illustrate. I hope you enjoy Dan’s obsession with selfies as much as I do.
Puffer Dan relaxing after his brief stint as captain
By that evening, I was rested again and Dan and I decided to do some exploring while Lauren started cooking. We found some interesting things, and went tried to find the end of a couple of underwater ledges – looking for places fish might be hanging. We explored some mangrove swamps, and found a hostel.
Exploring San Bernardos, Colombia
Eventually we headed back, ate dinner, drank some rum, and went to bed.
Puffer Dan and I were interested in spearfishing. The catch, here, is that it’s the Caribe. The Caribe just isn’t a spot for huge fish, though sometimes you bump into them by chance. There’s another catch at places like this – the locals really hammer the fish population. They eat anything that moves underwater. But we were willing to work for it, and we hoped that would make up for any inherent lacking of fish.
We went out that morning. By 11AM we were done. Very few fish, lots of work. Plenty to see – just nothing worth shooting. Certainly nothing worth writing about. A quick nap and then we headed to find a local that a buddy told us about. We needed a guide – local knowledge is always the key to good fishing, but it’s not something people share openly.
We found our guide, he wanted to go out the next morning. We agreed, 8AM was kickoff. Then we went over to the hostel. The hostel is in the middle of the water, and is run by three cool guys – who all enjoy their party. One is Colombian, one is from Kentucky, the final is from Sweden (I think?). Anyways, we were warmly welcomed.
The second story of said hostel…
Puffer Dan and Captain Ron at the hostel
The good life
We drank there and I started a conversation with a guy working on his outboard motor. We hit it off, he told me there was good fishing in the area – and suggested we go into the mangroves at night looking for pargo (snapper). I thought that sounded interesting, so we planned on it. I felt alright about night diving in a mangrove swamp with spearguns mostly because our guide’s name was Jesus.
Dan, Lauren and I went back to the boat and had a snack, then we returned for our night dive. Naturally our guide, Jesus, was a little late. We got out there eventually, jumped in, and started kicking around looking for edible fish. I ran into a couple of small barracuda, then a couple of small snapper. Then a couple of large pufferfish. Then I heard Dan shoot.
My involuntary reaction was to begin shaking my head, underwater – though nobody was there to see it. I had a feeling Dan got excited and pulled the trigger on that puffer. I wasn’t wrong. When I got over there I shined the light on Dan’s quarry – said a few choice words to Dan and then left him to figure out his mess.
I can see where some people might think I should have helped Dan get his shit together. After all it was very dark, it was unfamiliar territory, I have a lot more experience in the water, etc. But I’ve been sailing/diving/spearfishing with Dan in more than one country – and in those countries he fails in fish ID. So much so that his nickname when we were in the Bahamas was Puffer Dan. It seems that the oversize heads of pufferfish are a very attractive target to Dan. Whatever country or ocean he might be in. His nickname became official on this trip.
So I left Dan and kept diving. I scoured the rest of the mangroves, then came back. Naturally Dan was still struggling with his pufferfish. Eventually he got his shit together, and we moved to a different spot. There I jumped in again and got to kicking around. I watched a Tilefish move through my light beam, saw a couple juvenile snapper, and then heard Dan shoot again.
Again, involuntarily, I shook my head and started toward Dan. With very little to show for my diving thus far – I jumped back in the dinghy to find Puffer Dan and see what foolish fish let him close enough. He came up and told me he had no idea what it was, but that it was probably a Mangrove Snapper. Mangrove Snapper is a tasty fish, so I was happy and hopeful. It took Dan 10 minutes to get the fish out of the mangrove roots – and when he did I began yelling at him again. It wasn’t a Mangrove Snapper. It wasn’t any kind of snapper. He’d just put two words together “Mangrove” and “Snapper” because we were in a mangrove swamp and he knew we were looking for snapper. This f*cking guy.
I called our mangrove-night-diving-spearfishing-fail and explained to Dan that he wasn’t allowed to pull the trigger anymore, fairly harshly. What a dummy. To be fair – spearfishing at night in murky water in a mangrove swamp doesn’t make fish-ID easy. And to be fair – I actually enjoyed the dive, it was cool and slightly creepy. Nothing I’d done before, but something I’d do again.
So we dropped off Jesus and headed back to the mothership. We all felt like having Jesus with us on a spearfishing expedition should be better luck.
Before leaving for the mangrove-night-diving-spearfishing-fail, I’d dropped my green LED fish light in the water – as a homing beacon. When we arrived at NOMAD there was a veritable underwater zoo around the light. Several schools of baitfish were visible on the surface, and it got cooler when we got in. I turned on the lights on my arch, and with those lights and the underwater LED green light (and our dive lights) – we were able to see quite a bit under the boat. There were schools of baitfish and squid, and if you were sneaky – you could find the predator fish on the edge of the light. Nothing huge though.
I crept around the edge of the light for a half hour, where I found a medium-sized Barracuda patrolling. We had exactly zero fish onboard, so he was fair game. I dropped to the bottom, turned off my light, and waited a bit – then turned the dive light back on and sure enough, he’d come back toward me to investigate. For his curiosity I gave him a piece of steel, and then the game was on. He went apeshit.
Barracuda aren’t really “dangerous.” It’s just that they have lots of teeth and get very agitated when you shoot them. I learned that night how tough it can be to keep a light on an agitated Barracuda while pulling it in and not getting tangled in your line and not getting bitten. I did, though, eventually get him in and put him away. I dove a bit more – looking for lobster and crab and octopus. I found none, so I cleaned our fish and cooked our first fish dinner of the trip – at 11PM.
Then we crashed. We had another spearfishing trip, starting at 8AM the next day.
Colombia (Caribe) overview
Here’s a closer view of Baru and the Rosarios….
Isla Baru and Rosarios, Colombia
And, finally, here are the Bernardos. There are some rumors of fish at the Bernardos. I hope they’re true.
San Bernardos, Colombia
Eventually we packed it up in Baru and headed back to CTG. We decided to leave fairly early, though it was only 20 miles. Of course, the wind and wave predictions were completely off. When we made it out of the bay, we were forcefed 15 knots of wind on the nose, and 8 foot slop – with short period waves (also on the nose).
Lauren made pancakes that morning, and ate way too many – a rookie move when you’re heading out into the ocean. Fifteen minutes into the trip back to CTG she wasn’t feeling well. These are learning experiences, she was learning. The trip should have taken three hours or so, but it took four – with both engines wide open. I wanted to push the engines a bit anyways – it’s good to run them hot a little every so often.
I didn’t mind the ride at all, given some of the crap I’ve pushed through – this was gradeschool recess. Hardly a test. But we did have some waves break over the bow, and I didn’t have a chance to raise a sail until we’d made the turn back into the bay in CTG. Once back, I found a spot close to Club Nautico and dropped the anchor. One of my neighbors came out on deck to yell at me and tell me that Club Nautico would tell me I was too close – which was crap. Club Nautico only cares that you pay an outrageous fee to dock your dinghy there (I’ve managed to skirt around that too). What my neighbor was really trying to do, was to get me to move – but he was going about it in a particularly chickenshit fashion, by trying to make it seem like someone else cared where I anchored. I’m long past letting crazy old sailors tell me where to drop my anchor, I smiled, waved and yelled back “We’ll see.” He wasn’t happy having his bluff called, but I cracked an anchor beer and forgot about him.
Then I got sick again. Same thing, but not as bad. Fever, chills, aches, and a really upset stomach. A couple of days after that I was alright again, but now the boat projects were pressing. My nice clean engine rooms now had saildrive oil in them and a small amount of engine oil in them… Honestly, most sailors would just wipe it up (or not) and carry on. a little oil in the engine room is par for the course. I couldn’t handle the oil in there though, so I cleaned it all up, pulled the offending parts and began replacing O-rings and oil-seals.
About 9PM the other night we were greeted with a little Cullo de Pollo (a squall). Nothing too crazy on this one, but we saw about 30 knots of sustained wind, some gusts higher, and a bit of rain. We’d dropped my oversize anchor and more than enough chain in the right position, so we held. But other boats were dragging anchor all around us. I admit to smiling a little as I watched the drama unfold – my neighbor who was unhappy with my anchoring earlier, now realized that he had many more problems as other boats (but not NOMAD) were dragging anchor towards him. I just had a drink and sat in the captain’s chair and watched until I got bored. Then The Sopranos called me and I went below to answer that call.
I have a buddy, his name is Dan. He decided to come visit. He likes to spearfish. He’s a good friend, one of my best – so I’m allowed to say mean things about him. Males of our species are funny that way, we usually say mean stuff to each other as a way of showing how much we care. Anyways.
Dan showed up yesterday. I was running around organizing bottom cleaning, saltwater pump rebuilds, and finding O-rings when he showed up. I grabbed him at the dinghy dock and took him and his plethora of boat-parts out to NOMAD. Whenever someone comes and visits – it’s a boat-Christmas. He changed clothes and I took him on a mini boat-parts-search through Cartagena. Then we grabbed food. After lunch, Dan promptly fell asleep in the middle of our workspace and didn’t move until dark. Very considerate.
After Dan’s all-day nap, in the middle of my workspace, as I slaved and sweated and bled and cursed to get the boat ready to go, so Dan could get some spearfishing in while he was here – we went into town. For some reason Dan had a ton of energy, and I was beat. Lauren had coffee three different times yesterday – so they were chipper. I was looking for a way to get back to the boat and get some sleep. We ate, then grabbed beers and walked and talked and explored a little.
Eventually we headed back to the boat. On the boat, we poured drinks – but I didn’t even socialize. I just took the drink downstairs, finished it, and then fell asleep. A good night’s sleep was needed.
The weather isn’t cooperating right now. I really want to head to the Bernardos, so does Dan. The trip down will be something like 45 miles. No problem. But Dan only has a few days down here, and we have to get back. Sailing on a schedule again…
Right now it looks like I’ll sacrifice a night’s sleep to get NOMAD down to the Bernardos. I actually like sailing at night. It’s nice every once in a while. The plan, right now, is to do all of our last-minute stuff (shopping, water, fuel) today and then organize the boat for a night-exit. We’ll leave about midnight, and head out into the sloppy stuff – hoping to get there just a bit after daylight.
That really isn’t impressive, or worth writing about. The thing that’s going to be interesting is getting back. We’re on a schedule, and that means that if this weather pattern holds (a strong North wind/wave combo) – we’ll be motoring against strong wind and waves on the way back. Not fun and tough on the boat. That means I can only plan on 4 knots, too – which means that trip will take 12 hours on the way back. Lame.
All that said, it feels good to get moving again. If the Bernardos do have fish, we’ll find them – and I’ll finally eat some fresh fish again. Finally… If not, this will just be another boatwork interlude. Either way, we’re moving and we’ll be diving soon.
On that note, it’s likely that I won’t have service there – so there may not be a post for a few days. Stay tuned as I work that out.
The motorsail to Cholon was uneventful. It took a couple of hours, and I played with the sails – but we never really had enough wind. And we were loaded down. That many people – with enough food and water to support them, is quite a bit of weight.
As we pulled into Cholon on Thursday afternoon, the party was already in full swing – though it was going to get much bigger as the weekend progressed. The deeper water, at the entrance, is closer to the boats/tiki huts – so we passed only a couple of feet in front of a bunch of powerboats with Colombian girls dancing on the bows. Though the party wasn’t for us, I couldn’t have asked for a better welcoming committee.
I wasn’t ready to get into full-blown party mode quite yet. So we anchored a mile or so into the bay, but we could still hear girls screaming and music blaring. We had a couple of beers and practiced different ways to jump off the boat. Mani (my Colombian buddy) presented me with a great bottle of Colombian rum, to say thanks for me helping him in the Rosarios – and letting him and the girls jump onboard for the weekend. He teared up a little, then we killed the bottle.
The next morning we saw Kenny’s Formosa (Makai) sail into the bay. He pulled up alongside NOMAD and we had a quick chat as we drank our coffee – me reclining on the back deck of NOMAD, him steering Makai. Then he moved on, anchoring even further from the craziness. Later in the day, we headed over to the party – there we made a few friends and learned how quickly the Colombian guys migrate to blonde girls in bikinis. The girls handled it well, but if I were female – I’d dye my hair a different color rather than put up with the harassment. A couple of times Mani and I had to, politely and with smiles, step in.
Back onboard we continued our own small party until the wee hours of the morning. We all crashed heavily and slept well – a day full of rum in the sun will do that to you. The next day we woke up very early and moved NOMAD into the middle of what would be a giant, rum-fueled, mess of boats and bikinis. We were the first ones there, dropped anchor, dove the anchor, and then proceeded to start our breakfast.
Things picking up…
By 9AM things were picking up. The Colombian powerboats were moving in, all working very hard to play music louder than the others. We just sat on my back deck and watched it happen. By noon things were getting a little nuts, and I had vowed to not have a sip of alcohol before 2PM. I knew the folly of starting early when you’re in the middle of a party like this. So Kenny and I escaped – we went to look for a converted Bertram 31 (converted from inboards to outboards). We both love the Bertram hulls, and we both love when they’ve been converted to outboards – they’re fast, stable, and efficient… We didn’t find the boat.
More people showing up…
When I got back onboard NOMAD it was near lunch. We ate a bite, and then shortly the party really started. We put our music into the mix and soon everyone was dancing with a beer in hand. Boats kept piling in. All day and all night we partied. We were invited on other people’s boats, we made friends, we swam, we danced, and we made a Hell of a day of it. A bunch of fun, with a bunch of people, who know how to party.
Winding down in Cholon
The next day was a little rough. The party had wound down, the only evidence of it was scattered around NOMAD in the form of beer cans, glasses, and sunscreen stains on the decks. But the real kicker is that I’d become horribly ill. Some kind of stomach bug had me and it wasn’t fun. Mani was leaving with the Swedes, and it was all I could do to come upstairs and see them off. My whole body hurt, and I couldn’t keep anything down. Add to that a fever and a hangover the like of which most have never seen… I was hurting.
I spent the day curled up below decks sweating and shivering and trying to keep (at least) water down. Toward the end of the day I gave up and took a couple of drugs – which helped me keep food down and reduced my fever and aches. Of course, that’s when Lauren got sick. This continued for two days. We just laid around and sweated and complained and occasionally we’d hear the other crawl out from their respective cave, grab some water, and head back down. We were a pretty miserable crew, but we managed to move NOMAD out of the center of the party into a more tranquil area of Cholon Bay.
I came to the conclusion that this sickness was some sort of party-karma. Something to punish us for having a better time than everyone else in the world that day. I’m still not feeling 100%, so I can’t say “it was worth it” – but I can say that we had a great time, and it was well deserved.
Now, though, it’s back to reality and boatwork. Let’s see how that feels.
These pictures were actually taken at night. Just the other night. It looks like daylight because there are two LED lightstrips in each engine compartment (they are those glowing strips in the lower pics) that light up the engine rooms very well. That’s a big deal when you’re rocking and rolling at night and trying to tighten an alternator belt…
Lagoon 380 Engine Room LED lighting
Modern cruising boats have a remarkable amount of electronic gadgets onboard. It could certainly be argued that there are too many. You need pumps, and alarms and lights and navigation equipment. There’s no easy way around it – you’ll want/need most of these things, and if they’re onboard, they better work. You can’t afford to have a bilge pump not working if you’re holed – for an extreme example. And your autopilot, GPS, wind and depth are pretty important too. Don’t forget your radar, your VHF and the host of other electric nonsense. It’s staggering, really.
Here’s what I’ve done so far:
- wired in four additional 1100 GPH automatic bilge pumps (two in the engine rooms, one in each hull). If holed, I need to be able to make it to somewhere safe, and have at least one bilge pump in all but the front crash lockers.
- wired in two LED worklights over the dingy davits (handy at night when you’re working/drinking/cooking/cleaning fish on the back deck)
- replaced and rewired my main A/C electrical panel
- replaced and rewired my main D/C electrical panel
- rewired all of the major systems (with the correct wiring)
- replaced all navigation lights
Left to do:
- add LED’s to cabinets
- fix remote windlass switch
- fix wind gauge
- wire in two 75W solar panels, one on the outside of each hull (total solar 710W)
- wire in a saltwater washdown pump
- wire in an LED spreader light
- decide on radar (this is an expensive and tough decision)
Here’s a picture of the old AC/DC panel.
Old Panel – Lagoon 380
Here is a pic of the new panels, the additional bilge pump switches, and my water-tank gauge. I went with a Paneltronics panel, WEMA gauges, and a pretty standard bilge pump switch from Rule.
New A/C D/C Panel, bilge pump switches, water level gauge
Behind the scenes…
Sails, rigging, etc.
Surprisingly, this is an area that I haven’t had to pay much attention too. There have been a few small things, but overall – my sails and rigging are in good shape. I do sail a fair amount, it’s just that sails aren’t mechanical/electrical and thus aren’t as prone to failure. The real enemy here is saltwater in furling systems/winches and (most importantly) sail degradation by the sun. The next real “investment” here will be a downwind sail – I’m hoping to get into a roller-furling Code Zero style sail that I can leave on my bowsprit semi-permanently. Naturally, those are very expensive. Same story, different day I reckon.
- mainsail luff repair
- minor gennaker patch
- rigging tensioning
- replacement of lazy jacks, rerunning them to spreaders
- replacing batten cars on sail track
Plumbing is another one of those skills you have to understand to cruise around. Not in great depth, but a little.
Here’s what I’m up to:
- fixing the watermaker (I hope)
- improving the connections, etc of the watermaker
- rewiring the watermaker (maybe this is electrical)
- saltwater foot pump at kitchen sink
- plumb saltwater washdown and run hose to fish-cleaning table
- finish rainwater collection on new bimini (see previous post)
I’ve had to do more than a couple of things that involved welding. So far:
- replaced rear lifelines with stainless tubing to support side-solar panels
- strengthened bimini supports with additional stainless tubing
- increased seating on the back of NOMAD (see previous post)
- strengthen my dinghy-engine lift (it’s an intelligent idea but was built very lightly, which was unintelligent)
- new dinghy davit system (see previous post)
Carpentry, cushions, etc:
- replaced cushions on captain’s chair
- backrest made for new seating
- dinghy cover made
- stackpack alteration
- shade enclosure for rear seating area
- Eisenglass for cockpit (for bad weather)
I need a spot to store tools and other commonly used items without having to tear apart my boat. Especially when things break at night, shorthanded, or when I’m underway. Pulling up cushions with greasy hands is dumb. So I decided to convert my chart table to drawers to solve this issue. So far, so good – though I have to make some minor modifications to get it the way I want it. Check it.
My new tool chest
I needed a couple of new wooden panels created to replace the old ones (around the electrical panels), where there was a hodgepodge of equipment thrown by previous owners.
Finally, for my ground tackle I had to make some decisions. In the South Pacific, there are many anchorages that are very deep. Assuming a 3:1 rode/depth ratio (in 10M of water, I only use 30M chain – the minimum) – if I’m anchoring in 30M of water (common), I need, minimally, 90M of chain… Right now I have 45 meters of 3/8″ chain. The usual advice is to simply increase that 45M to 80-90M.
But that’s not ideal. It puts a crapload of weight in the front of NOMAD. Catamarans are super weight-sensitive. My girl is already on the heavy-side. So that additional weight is a problem. After thinking, talking, researching – I’ve decided that I’m going to run 5/16″ chain (smaller, lighter) in Hi-Test (from ACCO). This chain weighs quite a bit less, and is stronger than the 3/8″ BBB from ACCO. As a plus, it’s also cheaper. Better and cheaper really don’t go hand-in-hand, but in this case I kinda got away with it. I say “kinda” because that change in chain-size means I have to replace my gypsy on my windlass, which costs money.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a solid start. I would say it represents the majority of the work I need done, but I am remarkably adept at creating more work for myself. I hope to be done in the next month or two, considering what I’m able to actually procure in CTG. From there, I’ll just sail and fix things along the way. This is a couple of months of mostly working, and not mostly playing. A couple of months of living in a boat that’s a project, but is supposed to be mi casa. It’s stressful to live with your boat like this:
Living in a project…
Hopefully this shows the amount of actual work that’s involved in preparing for this kind of voyage. It’s not for the faint of heart or light of wallet. The question – is it all necessary? – is a good one. The thing is – there’s nothing in the South Pacific. Once you start heading West, from Panama – you’re out there on your own. You have to make do with what you have onboard and hope it works. So, getting this work done now – hopefully – will provide me with more cruising and less boatwork in the future. Hopefully.
Upon rereading this, I realized I used the word “hope” more than I usually do. That’s another good indication of what cruising and boat maintenance can be like. Lot’s of “I hope” and “hopefully.” Alas.
Lagoon 380 Dinghy Davit System
Lagoon 380 Dinghy Davit System
Lagoon 380 Dinghy Tiedown
It’s far, far more secure and stable than it’s ever been – though it took some noodling (and I chafed through my dinghy cover in a couple of places as I tried to solve this little riddle). Onward, to the subject at hand.
I get asked this question frequently. It seems that since I’m doing boatwork, improving and repairing systems – people want to know if I still think I got a good deal. To be honest, it’s a dumb question. We’re supposed to be a little more politically correct and never admit that there are dumb questions – but I’ve largely given up on political correctness. The question in question doesn’t seem dumb, if you’re the person asking it. It seems like an intelligent question. Especially for those people out there dreaming about a boat or in the market for one. And I would love to help. If there were a way to give an accurate answer, I’d do it.
The question presupposes some kind of boat-market-omnipotence. I can’t (nor can anyone else) know of every boat for sale in the world. I also can’t tell what every seller would actually take for their boat. I also can’t tell the actual condition of the boat in question, even if there is a very descriptive online ad. Add to that large differences in gear and outfitting on every boat – and you can see why it’s next to impossible to accurately compare these kinds of boats. Especially when you don’t keep track of the market 24/7. The best person to ask would be a boat broker, but they rarely speak plainly about deals – good or bad. I would use a broker again, but relying on them for “good deal / bad deal” isn’t intelligent. And even they wouldn’t know until after they’d purchased the boat and sailed/cruised/repaired it. And by the time they’d done that, the market would have changed again…
The truth is, the point is absolutely moot. I have this boat. I’m not selling this boat. I’m not buying another boat. And I have absolutely no way, based on the current information and my available time to determine if there is a better deal out there. Even if there is/was a better deal out there, it would make no difference to me – so my time is much, much better spent figuring out what else I need to buy/fix/install/maintain/learn, so that I can get my ass to the South Pacific.
On the other hand, I can say this: I was very ignorant getting into this. I have learned a ton. I don’t know if I would have purchased this boat if I knew then what I knew now. But with all things: motorcycles, dogs, girlfriends, trucks, real estate, etc – you often change your mind after you’ve lived with your decision. So – you live and you learn, and it’s only through the screwups that we really learn, me thinks.
Not to say this boat was a screwup. Though the previous owner did hide quite a bit from me, that I never would have let slip – were I looking now. But that’s pretty common too – some kind of minor/major deceit from a seller to the buyer. Thinking about it now, I’ve only ever heard complaining about previous owners. So, even if I were to have purchased a different boat – it’s highly likely that I would have uncovered some fairly serious issues as I sailed and repaired and maintained said boat.
This boat was beneficial for me for several reasons, but the largest is the amount of trial-by-fire experience I’ve gained. I can diagnose and fix problems on the fly that most boat owners can’t. I’ve learned specs, how to (and the importance of) actually measuring things. I can handle mechanical, plumbing, carpentry and electrical issues – all without freaking out. I can tell you the right solution to an SSB grounding problem, or fill your refrigeration system with the right freon (which I have onboard), or plumb and wire a wash down pump, or fix most problems on simple diesel engines. Want to talk electricity management? Water makers? I know where to buy the right gear and know how to decide what the right gear is. I still get stumped from time to time, but I know who to ask. I still screwup, but I fix those screwups. Overall, this confidence in and understanding of my onboard systems is super-important – especially considering what isn’t in the South Pacific (see: civilization). As far as purchasing a Lagoon 380 being a good decision? I don’t know. I’d love to sail faster, but I’d hate to have any more sensitivity to weight or give up any space. I’d love to have more waterline, but with more boat you have more expense as you upgrade/repair. I’m satisfied, usually, with the Lagoon 380. It’s the most popular sailing catamaran in the history of sailing catamarans. That says something.
There’s also an immense amount of gear that I would have purchased and installed regardless of the boat I purchased. And because I (arguably) paid less than market value on this particular boat, I was able to customize it and make it fit me without spending too much more than necessary.
There’s the argument that if I had bought a different boat, I may have had to replace less. That’s probably true, but then I’d be living with the mechanical/electrical decisions of another human with different goals. My boat is a reflection of the things I value and the way I want to live – which is the way it should be. And everything I replace is now new, meaning (in theory) it will be a while before I have to replace it again.
An example of the difference in priorities between boat owners is that I have a small marine diesel generator onboard that rarely works. But it’s wired and plumbed and sometimes it works. Most guys think that’s a problem when my genset doesn’t work. But most guys need a generator to supply their energy needs. It’s not a huge problem to me, because I installed a bunch of solar, with the correct wiring, on an arch that doesn’t get shaded and it all runs to an MPPT controller. The vast majority of my energy needs (like 99%) are supplied by the solar – which doesn’t burn diesel, doesn’t eat impellers, doesn’t overheat, and doesn’t make noise. It starts every morning when the sun comes up without me having to even leave my bed. I don’t “need” a generator. But another owner would probably have replaced this one, and passed on that cost to me – the buyer.
Here’s another example: Maybe another owner would have put a wind-generator onboard. They’re ugly, loud, and dangerous. They shade your solar. Oh, and they’re expensive. You can put up a ton more solar for the cost of a single POS wind-generator. It’s not pleasant having a yacht pull into your quiet, tranquil, anchorage with one of those noisy wind-generators. Or God forbid, two of those wind-generators. But sellers buy them, and then try to pass on the costs to buyers.
Did I get a good deal? I have absolutely no way of knowing that. If really pressed, I’d say that it’s close enough to a good deal that I don’t feel robbed. I’d also admit that if I had been more patient and more knowledgeable, I probably could have purchased something with a higher market value without putting in much more money. But if we all wait until we have all of the knowledge and we wait for the perfect deal… Well, we die. NOW has a monetary value too.
Because I know some people are going to be unhappy with this answer, allow me to explain this another way, outside of monetary or perceived value. Simply to illustrate how this “did you get a good deal” question serves to add no value. Here goes.
Most of the people who ask me this have a wife/husband. If asked by married man whether I got a good deal on my boat, I would respond with, “Did you get a good deal on your wife?”
Maybe there is a better wife for you out there. Maybe there’s one that works out more, or is a hellcat in the sack. Or younger. Maybe your better deal won Miss Alabama when she was 23. Maybe you’d even be able to stand your mother in law if you got a better deal. Maybe there’s one out there that can cook a mean lasagna. Maybe the best deal would have been the daughter of some oil tycoon and had a whole fleet of boats that she was just waiting to bequeath to someone. Someone like you.
Or maybe it’s a moot point. Because until you divorce this one (see: sell your boat), you’re not going to get another one. And we can all agree that divorce (selling your boat) is a messy and costly process. And the truth is – it’s really hard to know who you actually married (see: the shape of the boat you bought) without dating for a long time. The facades can take a while to break down.
In the boat world, you don’t get to date for two years before make the big decision. You’re lucky if you get a month. You may buy sight-unseen. You may only get to see your potential match once.
This kind of boat, for this kind of journey, is a long-term relationship. You buy the boat, then you fix/outfit it, then you go on your journey. You have to put in (too much) time, money, blood, sweat, and tears. And when you get to the point that you’ve purchased the boat – what is or is not a good deal makes absolutely no difference. In 90% of circumstances you’re stuck with what you have.
So, before you go and ask someone if they got a good deal on a boat… Think about whether you got a good deal on your significant other. Or if your kids are the “right” kids.
Afterall, maybe there’s a better deal out there. If only you’d waited and watched the market…
Lagoon 380 Rear Arch View
Lagoon 380 Arch Attachments
The dinghy engine lift is a handy contraption that I use very frequently, it’s attached to the upper part of the arch on my starboard side. It makes removing the outboard a one-person job and I don’t have to stress about dropping my outboard in the water. That’s a real concern in a rocky anchorage, shorthanded. And I love my outboard, so I’d likely be pretty unhappy if it went swimming. The lift swings out, I drop the block and tackle and then raise it and drop the outboard on the outboard holder-thing (the white piece of starboard).
Dinghy Engine LIft
Then there’s the fish-cleaning table, which is attached about belly-height on the portside of my arch. It folds out and is really solid – solid enough that I often attach a vise to it when I’m working. People have used it as a diving board, but that’s dumb. It’s in rough shape now as we’ve been working on other things and not worrying much about cosmetics. Check it.
Folding Fish Cleaning Table
Fish Cleaning Table Foldout
Lagoon 380 Rear Seating
Moving on, the rear seating. If anyone actually wants measurements, I can make that happen. Just lemme know. The first thing we did was remove the upper and lower lifelines off of the rear. The we moved the lower lifeline down a bit and made it a single stainless tube. Next, we decided on the height of the seating platform (also stainless tubing) and then figured out how to tie it all in. The goal was to tie the seating platform to the arch and the old davit system. We accomplished this, and I have to say I really like it. The seat is Starboard, which is a PITA to work with, but is solid and great in a marine environment. Finally we added cushions for both the lower lifelines and backrest of the seat, which in effect gives me two seating platforms with cushioned backrests.
Lagoon 380 Seating Rearview
Lagoon 380 rear seating
Old davits, new seating attachment
I would change two things about this design – I would slope the seat upward as it goes forward to create a natural incline keep everyone in the back of the seat. I would also hang the Starboard over the metal tubing on the bottom of the seat about two inches, giving a bit more seating surface area.
Lagoon 380 Davit System
The davits that come with the Lagoon 380 are, in my opinion, sub-par. They aren’t as strong as they could be, and they leave the dinghy relatively low over the water. To be fair, they do work – they just don’t work as well as they could. In addition, because of the way they hang between the hulls, you’re restricted in dinghy-length to what can fit between the hulls.
I fixed these problems with the new davits, but I didn’t tackle this project by choice. I tackled it after finding my new dinghy a little too long for the previous davit system. A matter of an inch or two.
The new system is better, stronger, higher, and it extends far enough over the rear of NOMAD that the dinghy does not come up between the hulls. That, in turn, allows you to put whatever length dinghy you want on the davits. Winning.
Again, the goal here was to tie the davit system into the existing stainless structures to make them all stronger. We succeeded. Of course it needed to be very, very strong as it is inevitable that I’ll end up smashing through rough seas with the dinghy on these davits…
Triangles are very strong shapes. We used them effectively to stabilize the davits both up and down, and left and right. Even when the dinghy (with the outboard on it) is swinging back and forth on the davits, it creates no movement on the davits themselves. In fact, you can now stand in the dinghy – a thing I wouldn’t have dared to do with the old system.
There are three main supports on each side of the davit system, and a top bar between each side. The long bar that extends at an angle downward actually connects to the remnants of my old davit system. It provides vertical and horizontal stabilization and is the thing that really tied the whole system together. Here’s a repeat pic, but it helps.
Lagoon 380 Seating Rearview
The only issue that I have with this system now is that I have to raise the dinghy very high, and tie it down very well to keep it from rocking when we catch a beam wave. This is more an issue of me being a bit lazy than it is a design flaw. All-in-all, I think the metalwork is done. And done well. Overall I can think of no downside, except that it wasn’t cheap and that it added weight. Alas, everything is a compromise. There are two things I would improve aesthetically too, but that’s for a later date.
Lagoon 380 Fuel Tank Inspection Port
In the next post I’ll outline all of the work I’ve done on the engines. Let me just say – they’re completely overhauled and are, in many ways, as good as new. They crank up, cold, without even making a complete revolution. For older diesel engines, this is great.
I kept having problems. With fuel. Over the last few months I’ve flushed the tanks twice, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Every once in a while, usually when I’m pulling into a crowded anchorage, I’d lose an engine due to a clog in the fuel lines. My fuel filters were fine, and I have an additional electric fuel pump that helps move plenty of fuel – so it was a matter of fairly large crud blocking my intake lines (inside my tanks).
There are two fixes for this: 1) flush the tanks again and hope for the best 2) pull the tanks out, cut them open, clean them, and then weld an inspection port on the top of them so I can clean them and never, ever have to remove them again.
Being of the mindset that I would rather do things once and do them right, I chose what was behind door number two. This presented plenty of problems and some additional expense, but it was the right decision – of that I am completely sure.
The first step was getting the fuel out of the tanks. This isn’t fun, but we did it with a small 12V pump. Then we had to get the damn tanks out. Lagoon did an excellent job here, they made it very simple (compared to almost any other boat) to remove the fuel tanks. We had only to disconnect some hoses, remove a door and some paneling, and then do some angle-magic with the tanks to remove them. That is, though, where I stop giving Lagoon credit on the fuel tanks.
Lagoon 380 Fuel Tank Removal
ALL MARINE FUEL TANKS SHOULD HAVE (LARGE) INSPECTION PORTS. That’s a fact. I can’t understand, for the life of me, why anyone would make a marine fuel tank without a large inspection port allowing the user to see and clean the inside of the tank WITHOUT REMOVING THE FUEL TANKS.
We pulled the tanks and cleaned up the area around/under them.
Then the fun started. I needed to find the baffles (divisions in the tanks that keep the fuel from sloshing when you’re bouncing around at sea), and then center a large cutout over the baffle(s). Come to find out there is only one baffle in the tank, which is almost centered. I then needed to decide how large the cutout would need to be.
Of note here – you shouldn’t create any kind of inspection port with corners on it. Sharp corners are a point of failure and a point where the tanks will leak. A 2” radius corner is the minimum. So I created a template from some stiff paper, then centered it on the baffles on the tanks, then outlined it with a marker.
Then I taped the line I needed to cut with blue masking tape. This is almost mandatory for an amateur (like me) to keep straight lines. With this complete I drilled a hole near the line, and started cutting with a jigsaw. I broke one blade very quickly, but managed to do all of the other cutting without breaking another blade.
Lagoon 380 Fuel Tank Inspection Port
With the first tank cut open, I was very happy I made the decision to do this. Here’s what the inside of your diesel tanks should never look like. Incidentally, this is also what the inside of my diesel tanks looked like. Not cool and not my fault – but definitely my problem. 15 years of abuse led to this.
Lagoon 380 Fuel Tank Cutout
The next step is filing down the sides of the cutout so you don’t have to take a trip to the emergency room after cleaning the tanks. Next, we washed, scrubbed, and sanded the inside of the tanks until they shone. We literally polished them. It was nasty work that hurt one’s back, but we did it and did it well.
Then, with both tanks out, with both cutouts complete, and with both of them clean, we designed the inspection port. The top plate of the inspection port needed to screw down tightly, with a gasket to prevent leaking. That means we needed to weld a lip on the tank itself, then drill and tap some holes in said lip, then find and cut the gasket, etc.
Since I had plenty to do and I haven’t learned welding yet – I farmed this out. My welding guy is good. Really good. And though not cheap, he’s remarkably fair in his prices. Compared to anybody in The States – he is a bargain. I felt confident in his abilities so I sent the tanks home with him when he was done with my davit system.
He screwed the pooch on this one though. I guess you can’t expect perfection, but this was a disappointment.
I got the tanks back a little later than planned, that matters because I’m paying to keep the boat at a marina that I hate, staying on a friend’s boat, and my boat isn’t secure at this spot. But we got the tanks back.
When I got them back, I clearly asked if they had been cleaned inside. I was told they had. I asked the gent to open the inspection ports and show me. This is where everything went to shit. We used aluminum screws to prevent galvanic corrosion (something I’ll never do again, rather I’ll use stainless screws and coat them with a compound that prevents galvanic corrosion). The aluminum screws began falling apart. Before we had both tanks open we had four screws that were completely unusable.
The issue wasn’t really the screws though. The issue was the crappy job of drilling/tapping the top plate, the gasket, and the tanks. The holes just weren’t aligned. I called the welder, I wasn’t happy. He apologized and told me he was rushing to get them to me on time.
I was pissed, but that wasn’t helping so I settled in to the tedious task of retapping 40 different holes in the tanks. Of course, I’d never tapped a hole – but trial-by-fire has always worked for me and this was no exception. Then, of course, the tanks weren’t clean on the inside – so we cleaned them again. Then we had to install them. I had crew coming in the next day, so there was schedule pressure – but we got it done before 9PM, at which point we ate and immediately fell asleep.
The finished product wasn’t pretty, but it is very sturdy and very functional. The tanks can now be inspected, cleaned, and re-sealed all by removing a single floor panel (and the inspection port). In the future, this will be a quick job. Truthfully, though, I doubt I will have to clean the tanks again – I’m religious about using a Baja filter and the tanks are very, very clean right now.
Lagoon 380Fuel Tanks w/Inspection Port
Long story short? We (me and a couple specialists) kicked ass. The boat is in better shape than it’s ever been. I’m ready for a vacation. And I promise to update more when I’m not neck-deep in boat projects and treading water.
Until then, salud.