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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.
AB Inflatables Lammina 11 AL
The bad news is that after I got it out to the boat, because of the arrangement of my arch, the closeness of the hulls, and the design of the davit-system – this dinghy is very close to working in my current setup – but doesn’t. I could make it work, as is, but it would require two people to lift the damn thing – and that’s just not intelligent. There are many a time when I lift the dinghy alone.
This was heartbreaking, but could have been avoided. I’ve become fairly adept at kicking my own self in the ass. The real kicker is that I would now not be able to raise my dinghy at night. And there’s nothing more appealing than a brand-new dinghy and a brand-new Yamaha Enduro 15 – to the thieves in this part of the world. I was able to borrow a heavy chain to lock the dinghy to the mothership while I sorted out my davit issue.
AB Inflatables Lammina 11 AL
The davit issue was a real one. Even as I write this it’s not totally sorted. But we’ve made some progress and welding began on the solution already.
The solution was fairly apparent, but the devil is always, always in the details. Especially when you’re talking about welding heavy-duty stainless onto an existing structure in the hopes that it will not only lift your dinghy – but take shock loads when the dinghy is slamming around back there in bad weather. This had to be absolutely, totally correct. Overbuilt should be an understatement.
And since I’m having this done, I might as well correct another issue that was designed into the construction of the boat – a low-hanging davit system. A low hanging davit system can mean real trouble if you have a following sea and you catch a breaking wave, into your dinghy hanging on said davit system – that means the whole structure on the back of your boat get’s ripped off. You don’t just lose your dingy – you may very well lose your boat. A fairly serious concern.
I was lucky (?) in that I had an existing heavy-duty arch which I could add onto. That’s a big deal and most people don’t have this heavy-duty of an arch, especially on catamarans.
Since this needed to be 100% correct, I went into town, bought a 2×4 and cut it into two pieces. Then we mocked up what I thought would be the right solution and then I brought out the welder and other people smarter than me to help me with the solution. After an hour or so of playing with things, we came up with a rough idea of the materials needed and a sketch of the solution.
Then it was up to the welder. This guy is pretty damn good and I trust his instincts on welding and structural strength – he proved that to me when he strengthened my dinghy engine lift, my bimini support structure, and my additional seating on the rear of NOMAD. The welder made his measurements, gave me a quote, and we were off to the races. This was going to take some time and we needed to cut and weld and support and tie everything together and it couldn’t look like fit was designed by a kindergardener. It needed to look good (though I like the look of stainless on catamarans, almost without exception). Not a small job, not an inconsequential job – but we got it started.
So how did my dinghy buying go? Great. I have the dinghy that I want, it even has my boat-name on the side of it. It was delivered directly to Club Nautico, where I was anchored. I’m having a dinghy-cover made. The only issue is that I really, really opened up a bag of worms when I decided to increase the size of my dinghy. That was, though, a perfectly rational response to the problem I was presented with – an aging dinghy that had proved too small for my freediving/spearfishing/exploring/fishing.
The end-result of the dingy davit debacle is yet to be seen, but as soon as I figure it out – I’ll post up some pics and let you know how it went. I have high hopes, but these things rarely go as planned. After it’s all tied together, I’ll also take some pictures (maybe some video?) of the arch and davit system. I’ve had a couple of requests for this (sorry guys!) and will comply. Eventually.
The fiberglass and welding work was supposed to take 10 days, maximum. And before then I’d drawn sketches, figured out pricing, engaged the right guys, and paid half upfront – so they could buy the material. Staying in the marina was about $25/day and my hostel was about $15/day for a private room. Add to that the cost of eating out and the inevitable increase in consumption of alcohol that comes with wandering around CTG – and you can see how this would get expensive. It did get expensive, but it was nice to walk “home” through the plaza and see familiar faces and drink cheap beer and eat good hamburgers. Living on a boat while it is in project-mode sucks. It really, really sucks.
So when, as I suspected, the boat work ran over schedule – I decided to begin my next project without the other previous projects being completed yet. The next project was to clean the engine rooms, clean, sand, and scrape the engines, and then paint the engines and engine rooms. Not too difficult, but hot, filthy, and tedious. I enlisted the help of a local guy named Fernando, at the recommendation of a very good (and relatively new) friend in CTG – let’s call him Kyle. Kyle has some epic stories, and get’s most excited telling the ones where they ran contraband from the Bahamas to Florida, or his treasure hunting stories, or the stories about the long list of bands he did lighting and sound for. The list, printed on some very old and very yellow paper – contains all of the greats of the 70’s, 80’s and a couple from the 90’s. All of the greats, really. Kyle is an interesting, and very helpful, human being.
So Fernando and I were in the engine rooms. The process of making the engine rooms habitable wasn’t easy, but it was straightforward. We were repairing 15 years of abuse and trying to prevent any additional corrosion.
Here was the process:
- Clean the engine rooms in their entirety. Removing all water, all oil, all diesel, all dirt and grime.
- Scrape and peel the cheap soundproofing off of the bulkhead on the engine rooms, which was falling apart and causing a mess in the engine rooms.
- Clean the engine rooms again.
- Degrease the engines. (Simple Green, mineral spirits and gasoline)
- Scrape the peeling paint off of the engines.
- Pick and scrape and sand as much rust off of the engines as we could.
- Clean the engine rooms again.
- Apply another coat of Simple Green.
- Apply a coat of Ospho – a phosphoric acid compound that converts rust.
- Sand, pick, and scrape again.
- Clean the engine rooms again.
- Apply another coat of Ospho.
- Apply High-Heat Rustoleum to the engines in three coats, about twenty minutes apart.
Mind you, this was done on two engines. There were five days spent covered in grime and sweat, in cramped quarters, in tortuous heat, and without much of a break. There were plenty of harsh chemicals, and even some acid. It wasn’t fun. In fact, the only time I’ve sweated nearly as much was the time I spent in Iraq – walking around the desert with 100 pounds of gear and body armor. Regardless of how much water I drank, I simply couldn’t stay hydrated. In short – it sucked.
It took two of us five full days to clean, prep and paint the engines. In fact, it took so long that I ended up taking the boat back to Club Nautico without the engines being painted – but they were fully prepped.
So I was back in the anchorage in Club Nautico with most of the heavy-lifting done. What was supposed to take 10 days (giving a 3 day margin for error) took 15 days. And even then we weren’t finished.
The reason I was moored at said ratty marina (which was perfectly safe and reasonably priced): I was having my bimini fiberglassed, some deck-rot repaired, and having some welding done to add seating to the deck area. We took the bimini off in Club Nautico, so they could make a mold.
Removing Lagoon 380 bimini
NOMAD Sans Bimini
Previously on NOMAD the bimini was cloth. Cloth biminis are OK, but they have more than a couple of downsides. They chafe, they wear out, they get holes, they don’t retain their waterproofness, etc. And Sunbrella, the stuff we use to cover biminis is very expensive material. So when my cloth bimini started to go, I did some math and thought about how much I hate replacing things – and decided to splurge a bit and have it fiberglassed – which is a near-permanent solution when done correctly. The beauty of this is that I had complete say over what was done. So I was able to install a hatch so that I stand and put my head through the bimini to navigate if I needed to. I was also able to have the bimini constructed with a lip on it – so now I have a rainwater catch-system up 24/7. That’s a very, very important improvement. I could go into the details, but I’ll just show pictures and tell you that there were a million tiny things that we hadn’t quite thought of that came up along the way – despite having some pretty experienced and sharp people on the job.
Lagoon 380 fiberglass bimini
Lagoon 380 fiberglass bimini water catching spout
Lagoon 380 bimini water catching lip
Lagoon 380 bimini hatch
The deck rot wasn’t too serious, but did need to be repaired quickly. Deck rot is what happens when water gets in between the sandwich of fiberglass (it’s two pieces of fiberglass with a balsa core), from which the boat is constructed. In my case, the culprit was an improperly installed snap that a previous owner had installed on the deck. The snap allowed water to penetrate the fiberglass sandwich, and that caused the balsa core to rot. That made the deck soft and spongy, which is a problem. The longer you leave it, the worse the problem. I noticed it in San Blas but opted to leave it to CTG – where I could have a pro tackle the job. It’s another straightforward but tedious process. This was in a part of my deck that got a lot of traffic, so it needed to be done correctly and needed to look good.
Here’s what we did:
- Guessed how extensive the area of rot was by what was soft underfoot.
- Figured out how to cut the deck out (top or bottom) to make it look good and hide any lines that would be a result of cutting through the deck.
- Cut the top part of the deck out.
- Scraped the rotted core out.
- Used epoxy to completely fill the void.
- Replaced the cut-out and finished it so that it looked good. Really good.
Deck Rot Repair
Finally, the other thing that was being tackled was some additional seating on the back side of NOMAD. I wanted another seating area for parties and for when we sailed. The truth is that if you’re sailing, everyone wants to hang out outside. I’m running around trimming sails and tightening lines and checking fishing poles – and whoever else is onboard is typically relaxing on the back deck. That’s fine, but that puts them directly in my path when I’m moving from one side of the boat to the other. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you’re in a hurry (for instance: tacking) – it’s a massive pain in the ass and adds a little friction to what should be a fun and enjoyable day sailing. I chose to remedy this by removing the rear lifelines, and welding a structure that extended out over my davit system with a bench-seat. Anyone sitting/laying/relaxing there is completely out of the way. And now I can fit more than 28 people onboard for a party 🙂
Lagoon 380 Additional Seating
There were a myriad of concerns in this process, but the end-goal was straightforward: tie all of the stainless structure at the rear of the boat together to add strength as well as seating. We didn’t get it right the first time, but we got close. Here’s a picture of the new structure, the seat itself was made from Starboard and attached to the stainless tubing with (wait for it…) zipties. I could have attached it with stainless fittings, but the truth about stainless is that it rusts in the marine environment. So I opted to go with plastic zipties and replace them every couple of years. Cheap, easy, and they don’t rust. The mistake we made is that we opted to use a piece of stainless tubing in place of the old lifelines, but this created a footrest for the bench that was uncomfortably high. So, after all was said and done, I had to take NOMAD back to the ratty marina and have the stainless cut off, moved down, and re-welded. Not the way I would have preferred to do things, but you don’t always get it right the first time.
That’s a small taste of the work going on on NOMAD right now. Just a taste. In the next few posts I’ll outline the projects completed and the projects left to be completed. The goal, right now, is to have NOMAD ready to cross the Pacific when she leaves port in Cartagena. No doubt, things will go wrong between CTG and my next port in The Pacific. No doubt. But I’ll be much more and better prepared and there will be fewer things falling apart around me. The value of doing less boat work, of having less moments of panic when things break, and of being confident in one’s yacht, cant’ be overstated.
The voyage across the Pacific isn’t one to be taken lightly and, if I can slow the monetary hemorrhaging that is boat ownership, it will take a couple of years.
At the resort we all started drinking the good stuff. I was into Johnny Walker Black Label at the time, so a few of those went down the hatch. By the time we actually arrived at our room I was half drunk and the pool was calling. A quick change a phone call to get my laundry started, and I was in the swim-up bar drinking.
To give you an idea of how strange that night got, I remember waking up to my roomie (Lilly) asking me what I was doing. When I came to, I was packing my clothes. Lilly told me, calmly, that we were there for a wedding – that I should go back to sleep. I did, all was well again in the world.
I woke up the next morning and wasn’t quite feeling like getting out of bed. So I didn’t. I laid in a very, very comfortable bed and watched movies and read until my room service got there. Best decision I made on the trip – trying out the room service. Everyone else was out at the pool before lunch drinking and getting sunburned. I viewed this as a rookie mistake. I rested, ate, relaxed.
At 2PM I was out at the pool, drink in hand. Several people were already plastered, which was certainly the goal, but it was a little early. They weren’t going to make it to dinner. I was right about that, we carried them upstairs a couple of hours before dinner. But me? I was great. Late starts allow late nights. The sun and alcohol and swim-up bars take their toll quickly, count on it.
Everything blurred together. But we managed to get a diving/fishing trip booked. Then I began being harassed by the local female population. You see, winter was ending in The States. That means very few people are: in shape, tanned, and have sun-bleached hair. And there is, apparently, something about the man-bun. According to my research in Costa Rica, girls really like the man-bun. Really like it.
As time progressed I found out about a flip-cup competition. Among many participants from many states and a couple of countries – I found myself placing second. Which is to say that I had to drink all of the alcohol the winner did, but I got no prize.
There was dinner. Then we went to resort-bar-thing. Then we went to a resort-club-thing.
We did this for a few days – drinking, eating, relaxing. Then we had a fishing/diving trip booked. Fun stuff. We caught what they were calling Spanish Mackerel. It wasn’t what I call Spanish Mackerel, but it was delicious. Sashimi on the boat was lunch. We did a bit of diving, but the water was cold, dark, and full of particulate. And our guides were fisherman, meaning they didn’t know any decent diving spots. After a few jellyfish stings, we abandoned diving and took to drinking and bullshitting and pulling lines with lures on them.
Fish for Sashimi
Then we were back at the resort and the resort chef was cooking our fish. I could get used to this. Coming from 30 second cold showers, waking up in a pool of my own sweat, and generally having to work twice as hard to do anything onboard NOMAD – this resort stuff was fun and easy.
The fish was excellent and we had enough that the guys from the wedding party went recruiting to find some talent to help us consume our meal. Then it was pool volleyball, flip cup, and more shenanigans.
Suddenly it was time for the wedding. I had no clothes, the bride-to-be had brought them for me from the States. I had no shoes. I had no socks. I had only board shorts and flip-flops and hair conditioner; the necessities. Although, I was running low on hair conditioner because my roomie, Lilly, had found out how good it was and was making a daily habit of stealing it and then telling me she had stolen it.
I was supposed to make a speech. I had no idea what I was going to say. But I’d been using it as leverage to try to get the groom, down to Colombia post-wedding. I thought if I threatened enough embarrassment, I’d get the green-light (from his bride-to-be) to have him down for a week of foolishness. It kinda worked, but I didn’t have a speech and it was wedding time.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t have socks and only 30 minutes before the wedding did I actually possess the clothing I was supposed to wear. Still no socks, but I borrowed some from my roomie. No practice, no mind-numbing rehearsal dinner, and a legitimate open-bar. This is how weddings are supposed to be. We were all winging it, and that’s how you have a wedding where nothing goes wrong – you don’t make it complex and you don’t choreograph it. If no one knows exactly what they are supposed to do, nobody can screw it up.
Now that I’ve seen a wedding done right, let’s riff on that.
The wedding was quick. We were taking shots until we actually walked down the isle and I had a couple mini-bar bottles of Red Label, for emergencies, tucked into my tux. Pictures were taken, a very quick speech was given, vows were exchanged, and we went back to drinking and celebrating. I can’t tell you what a relief that kind of wedding is, after sitting through twenty or so long, drawn out celebrations in overly elaborate churches or sweating profusely under a pecan tree. Why don’t we just party and call that a wedding and have everyone happy?
So, here are a Nomad’s wedding tips – I know you’re dying for them:
The priest/preacher can be quick – he has plenty of time to convert and preach his silliness on Sundays. There is no need for extravagance, save that money and do something worthwhile with it – like travel, start a business, change your life. I promise that having an expensive wedding won’t make you less likely to get divorced. Statistics tell you it actually works the opposite. So if you have a big, elaborate wedding, where everyone is sitting around uncomfortably for your special day – there are just going to be that many more people who witness your wedding turn into a divorce. Destination weddings are cool, and if you arrange it to have people there for a couple of days beforehand, everyone gets to know each other before the wedding – which makes it much more enjoyable. There needs to be an open bar – not having an open bar is like saying, “Please kill a weekend, spend a bunch of money on clothing, and drive/fly to come and hang out with a couple of your friends and a bunch of people you don’t know for too long. PS – I’m not going to even buy you a drink.” Don’t be those people. Small, quick, short, and then get back to why everyone is there: a celebration of a life-event.
Back to the story: we did the wedding, there were speeches, there was even some singing. Then we began removing clothing (it was very, very hot) and started dancing. Then we jumped in the pool. Then it became public knowledge that I was wearing green socks with my tux. Then it all got blurry for everyone and we went dancing at the resort-club-thing.
Post-Wedding Pool Fun
The next morning was another one of the usual: room-service, in the A/C, in the comfy bed until the afternoon.
After the wedding I was getting The Itch. It was time to get back to my boat. I missed her. Time to start boat work again. Time to wander around CTG with some cold beer and people-watch. Time to be back on the water. After a hellish travel day, I was back. And Disneyland and Amanda were still in CTG, despite threatening to leave for Panama, so that’s where I stayed my first night back. It was great coming back to familiar faces.
The boom swing
The bow flip
The bow flip 2
The side dive
The sugar scoop backflip
The sugar scoop backflip 2
The arch swing
The arch swing 2
The sugar scoop springboard dive
The sugar scoop springboard dive 2
The sugar scoop front flip
The sugar scoop front flip 2
After the research, we went for a dive. Nobody saw anything crazy, until the end of the dive where I saw a really nice Dog Snapper. Naturally he was on to me, and managed to escape with only a scare.
Post-dive we were all on the same page – let’s get to Cartagena.
So the next morning we woke up early, pulled up the dingy, and took off. The wind was very fickle and I quickly gave up resetting the sails every few minutes – choosing to drop sail and motor the remaining 20 miles. Pulling into Cartagena was cool.
Boca Chica Cartagena
Boca Chica again
NOMAD in CTG
To really grasp the impact it had on me and the crew – you have to consider that I hadn’t had S/V NOMAD anywhere near civilization during my entire time aboard. But now, I was motoring right into the middle of a fairly modern, historic, and friendly South American city. It was awesome and we were all really happy to be there.
There was about an hour of motoring once we got into the bay, to get to the area that we wanted to drop anchor. We were in no hurry, so I settled into the captain’s chair, watched the AIS, and fiddled with the autopilot to keep me entertained while I chose music to fit the mood.
Once close to Club Nautico (our anchorage), we putted around looking for a spot close to the dinghy dock. We dropped anchor in one spot, but eventually moved. Then at the second spot we dropped anchor we were a little close to a neighbor, but not close enough to bump. So I called it – we were officially in Cartagena.
Anchor Beer Cartagena
Now, we’d been saving beers for our traditional anchor-beer. In fact, our last three beers had been off limits since San Blas. The fact that they actually survived until Cartagena is a miracle, but they did – and an anchor beer has never tasted so good. Nor has it been so earned, on S/V NOMAD. The crew all did their jobs. The captain managed to not sink the boat. And we actually arrived where we wanted to, without having to stop and ask for directions. That’s a win in my book.
Things happen quickly in Cartagena. You make friends quickly. You find your way around quickly. People try to get your money quickly. Everything is fast, unless it comes to boat work or paperwork – in that case, it’s still manana-time.
So it wasn’t a huge surprise when we went ashore, found the main party street, found the main party hostel, had our first Colombian beer, paid for the dinghy dock access, went shopping, and checked into the country – all in the first two hours.
First Colombian Beer
Enter the Disney’s
On the way back to the marina I saw a familiar face chatting streetside. We’d first met Nick and Andrea Disney (whose name I didn’t remember at the time) at Australia Day in San Blas. My buddy Rob had a group of people over for drinks the night before, and Nick and Amanda were part of that group. We’d met briefly, seen each other at the party – and then Nick and Andrea had sold us some rum (they needed American Dollars, I needed rum). Fancy seeing them here, huh?
The introductions were short, I was tired and hoping to get back to the boat ASAP. But there was an invite for a beer aboard their boat, which was docked at the marina. We said yes, and thus began one of my favorite cruising friendships to date. Many a sweaty Cartagena night was spent with these fine folks.
The A Team
Of course the beers onboard Disneyland (our nickname for the Disney’s boat) led to some beers at a local bar. This bar had a pretty awesome band. We all enjoyed the music, the beer, and being in an actual bar. At this bar, we met Kevin and Pollo Brown. Kevin had a boat in the anchorage, Pollo Brown was the substitute guitarist. We enjoyed it so much that we felt it the next morning.
The next day we were being lazy. Nobody felt like doing much so we didn’t. I settled into a series on the computer and drank cold drinks to fend off the sweltering heat. We cooked a tiny bit, just enough that we wouldn’t starve.
About 3 PM Kevin rowed by and asked if he could use my kitchen to cook food for his birthday party (which was that night). I said yes. He took off again. About an hour later Amanda came back to the mothership with interesting news: there was a party onboard S/V NOMAD very soon. This was news to me.
When I inquired who was throwing the party on my boat, and what the occasion was, it was apparent that there had been a bit of miscommunication. In that miscommunication, the entire anchorage had been invited to Kevin’s birthday party – on my boat.
No problem. I rallied. The party was kicking off at 5 PM. It was 4. I had some work to do. I started hiding valuables, setting up cushions, and putting dirty clothes where they were supposed to be. Unfortunately I had to pause Deadwood.
About 5 PM people started showing up. By 7 PM there were 15 people onboard, most of which I didn’t know. Kevin showed up about 8 PM (late to his own party, on my boat) with two Israeli friends and started cooking hummus, pita bread, etc. At this point Pollo Brown and one of his friends showed up. Suddenly there were 22 people onboard, and the dinghies kept coming in. We had a date at a bar at 11PM, though.
Fiesta in CTG
Just one more…
There was a boatwide warning about 10 PM that we’d be leaving the boat (meaning the party needed to go elsewhere). By 11 PM it was more “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Even then, dinghies kept showing up for the party.
So we shut down the party, went to the bar, and watched some more music. We had so much fun, again, that we felt it the next day.
We’d accomplished alot in our first two days in Cartagena, including meeting half of the anchorage.
Clearing stuff up
Some quick notes, based on some recent feedback:
- I use “and” and “but” to start sentences often. I do it because I like to. I realize it’s not technically correct. But if we all only did things that were technically correct, it would be a very boring world. And I’m going to keep using “and” to start sentences (see what I did there?). And if you don’t like it, I’m sure there’s another sailor out there that writes more boring, technically correct stories. Find that guy/girl and read their stories to go to sleep 🙂
- I do know how to spell (despite evidence to the contrary). But writing takes time, editing takes more time, and posting takes even more time. That is to say, this all takes time away from sweating and bleeding in my engine rooms, which is where I should be right now. Please overlook the spelling errors, they are not intentional.
- I use punctuation incorrectly. That is (usually) purposeful. See bullet point number one regarding my general feelings about technically correct writing. Hint: it’s boring and lacks style.
- I often use fragments. I often use run-ons. Those are also done on purpose. See bullet point number one regarding my feelings about technically correct writing. Hint: it’s boring and lacks style.
- Cartagena is a very long word. I am tired of typing it. I now use CTG, which makes sense because it’s the airport abbreviation. I hope that doesn’t kill your buzz.
- On the shipwreck thing – there was a bit of drama following that whole ordeal. I’m opting to stay out of it, by not publishing it. That said, I did receive a couple of negative notes. To be clear: I received no financial compensation for helping. I asked for none, expected none, and that’s the way most sailors would treat other sailors. My crew and I helped because it was the right thing to do. But I did receive a gift from Hank, consisting of four blocks. I’m really happy with that gift as it gives me something to remember Hank and the shipwreck by.
- Here’s the official story regarding the shipwreck: The boat was a 2007 Beneteau OCEANIS 523. Hank was a very experienced sailor who knew his location to be 15 miles off the reef, who reduced sail, set the alarm and had a quick nap (it was night, he was singlehanding). The current pushed the yacht to shore. The yacht went right over the reef, keel and all, and fell onto its starboard side, sustaining most of the damage above the waterline. Eventually, post salvage, they floated the yacht off of the reef, repaired some holes and towed it back to where it sits today: Isla Linton. Special thanks to Rob (and Laurie, of course) for clearing up what was a murky situation and for looking after Hank.
So. With all that cleared up, I hope to be able to get back to regularly scheduled programming. Which is to say there’s still a (relatively) young, dumb gringo stumbling around CTG. And he’s still making bad decisions, then writing about them, purely for your entertainment.
7.9 Knots …
Long story short, shortly after I went back to bed from this shift – just when I was starting to feel like we were going to make it to Colombia without any more issues: I was woken up by a familiar person with a familiar sentence: the dinghy is down (again). My brain wasn’t quite working, so what would have typically been a long string of profanity turned into: what, really?
I was sure that the Spectra rig I’d tied had either: a) come untied or b) chaffed through. I saw those being potential issues so I tied safety knots and arranged things to protect the Spectra from chafe. The Spectra didn’t fail. It was the damn chain that was holding my dinghy up. Let me repeat that – the chain failed. This isn’t anchor chain, it’s not rated for 25 tons of shock-load, but it is chain. It should be fine for this limited application. Apparently not.
At this point we were close to shore and I was completely done fighting this fight. It was a stupid fight. We dropped the dinghy from the davits and towed it. Clearly, among the variety of other things that I need to replace, rethink, and fix in Cartagena – my dinghy-carrying rig is on that list. After all of this, I’m considering heavy-duty Spectra as my material: it’s lightweight, has incredible strength, and is very simple to tie/untie/secure.
After this last minor failure – I took another hour nap and then came up and took control for our final approach into the Colombian islands: the Rosarios. We eased in under power at about 9 AM, perfect timing. We navigated around a couple shallow reefs and watched our anchor drop in 15 foot of crystal clear water, and we were the only yacht in sight.
After some inspection of the dinghy and the dinghy engine we decided we could get to shore – we wanted to get a feel for this place. We went in search of a fruit plate, egg arepa and a drink. $10 US for this, at a resort. I have a feeling Colombia and I are going to get along famously.
When we got back it was finally after 11AM, which is our time-rule for drinking onboard. We had been saving two ice-cold Balboa beers for our “Anchor Beers” here. Saving two ice cold beers for more than a week onboard S/V NOMAD is a record, surely. So Luke and I had our anchor beers – in another set of beautiful islands, in another country. And we earned these.
The rest of the day we spent relaxing in calm, blue water. It is beautiful in the Rosarios, but very different from Panama. The coast is desert (ish), and this being a tourist-type area – everything is nicer. There’s some pride in the country here.
Hopefully this “rain” shit stays away for a while – I won’t miss it. Right now, Panama seems like a fraction of the country that Colombia is – but this is pretty early in my relationship with it, and I haven’t seen much of it yet. All that said, the people seem prettier, nicer and I can’t complain about the prices and the landscape. And Cartagena is well known for quality boat-labor; which makes me happy just thinking about it.
Fingers crossed, I hope this country-relationship is a gratifying one.
Eventually we got the system set up, got a launcha with some water alongside, and filled my tanks. Next was a shopping run. Luke and I went in and grabbed what we could. There were no tomatoes – which is a deal-killer.
After a quick conversation it appeared that there may be tomatoes within a half hour. So we got back to the dinghy, loaded the diesel, gas, propane and groceries onto NOMAD and I went back for tomatoes. Thankfully there were some.
We managed to get out of Nargana early. So we sailed to the West Cocos in search of decent freediving and spearfishing. Immediately after dropping the anchor, we were accosted by the local Kuna. He wanted to know what we wanted – I told him nothing. He was legitimately stumped and left us paddling and talking to himself.
Though tired, we rallied for an evening dive. The reef here was very alive. The fish life was fair, but the visibility was mediocre. I saw a couple of nice snapper but they were doing the typical nice snapper thing: running. Regardless of how much time I spent on the bottom – they weren’t interested.
Luke planted a spear in a tasty Ocean Triggerfish. Amanda found a very large Channel Clinging Crab. I hunted down the crab and managed to land him. A real giant. Then I went back on the snapper hunt. I found one more snapper as the sun was going down but when I was hanging on the bottom waiting for him to get curious – another, larger, Channel Clinging Crab came out from under a coral formation and started waving his tasty claws at me.
It’s always a rough day when you forget where you’re at in the food chain. I try to keep that in mind when playing with things that are larger than me (or just deadly). This crab lost sight of where he was in the food chain – at least momentarily. And when he came out swinging those tasty claws – he got the shaft.
With two of these crabs and a triggerfish, waning light, and an exhausted crew – we headed back. It was actually getting a little cold too. Back onboard we de-geared and began cooking. The crabs were so damn big we couldn’t figure out how to cook them. We ended up boiling their claws/legs in the pressure cooker – and grilling their bodies. Then we were stuck the next dilemma – how to get the meat out of those massive claws?
More Giant Crabs
My last tangle with these crabs ended with us using ViceGrip pliers to crush the claws. But the pliers had just been cleaned, so they had a bit of oil on them and that leaves a distinct taste in one’s mouth. So we tried a few different things, all of which helped us get crab meat all over the inside of S/V NOMAD. We were stuffed, and we had crab leftover.
That night the wind picked up and the anchorage became almost untenable. No fun sleeping like that. We moved ASAP in the morning. We motored to Green Island, where we tucked in behind the island – very close. There was virtually no wind and absolutely no rocking. Luke was pressing to leave that evening – but there was plenty to do and we all needed rest. Passages are better when everyone is rested, there’s some food pre-cooked, and all mechanical/electrical/rigging has a quick once-over.
Green Island Sunset
So we did a bit of work that afternoon, then went to the island where we had our final beach-fire-night in San Blas. It was a completely still night – we could see the reflection of everything on the water, as if it was painted on. Absolutely stunning.
The next morning Amanda was ill. That’s a horrible way to start a passage, but today was the day. I’d planned to be motorsailing most of the way, with wind in our face, waves on the beam, and current on the beam. It wasn’t going to be easy sailing – but this was certainly the best weather we’d seen for this trip for more than a month. At least the waves were less than 10 feet.
Having not made this passage, I did some worst-case planning. I didn’t want to motor the whole way, and I suspected that without the motor I’d be running between 4 and 5 knots. Which left us with an open-ocean sail between 36-48 hours. Mostly pounding. That meant that we needed to leave in the evening if we wanted to arrive in the morning. I’m not entering a foreign, unfamiliar port in the dark – so an evening departure it was.
Amanda turned from ill to very ill. I considered putting off our departure to see if she would recover, but all signs pointed to a stomach bug. Nothing serious, just very uncomfortable. So Luke and I pulled anchor in the fading light and wove our way out of the San Blas reefs for the final time.
As the sun went down over the San Blas Islands – S/V NOMAD was beating through the seas at a bit over 7 knots. It was bittersweet, beautiful, and exciting. I hate goodbyes, but they’re a very real part of this lifestyle.
When we arrived, we met the owner of the fiberglass hull on the reef. Let’s call him Hank. Hank was standing knee-deep in a mixture of diesel, hydraulic fluid, and saltwater on the inside of what was only a few days before his pride and joy (and life savings). It was now a stripped and wrecked hulk. The only evidence of what a beautiful boat it had been was sitting at the bottom of his hull under a putrid mix of liquids.
Rachele inside the wreck
Hank introduced himself as “The Idiot That Wrecked His Boat.” Never mind that he’d been sailing for over 40 years without ever putting a boat on the reef. Right now, he was the owner of a shipwreck, and since he was single handing he was uninsured. And though I didn’t agree with the way he introduced himself (it can happen to anyone, in an instant) – the truth is: his situation had dramatically changed and he couldn’t undo what had been done.
We needed to get underway, though – so pity and introductions weren’t really on the menu. We were here to pull a 150 HP Yanmar and a giant Onan genset out of the wreck. Unfortunately the boom and most of the rigging had been stripped by the Kuna. That was making the job of lifting a 900 + pound engine out of a boat, which was tilted at 45 degrees and covered in diesel fuel – very difficult. There was nothing above us to attach block and tackle to. And we certainly couldn’t lift the engine/genset out by hand.
The solution was entirely Hank’s. He wasn’t a spring chicken, but the way he jumped around the boat, climbed across lines, and generally kicked ass was really impressive. Moving with a sense of purpose and good, quick decision making are both things I really enjoy working around. Hank is a very impressive human being.
The beginning of the spiderweb
We needed something to lift with. So Hank wove a spiderweb of lines around the remaining standing rigging, then created tension with other lines, then attached block and tackle to that. Here’s what I’m talking about.
Climbing the mast
With this in place, Hank and I squeezed in a quick “what went wrong” discussion while pulling the engine off of it’s mounts. The girls on One World were flying around the deck attaching lines and troubleshooting the rigging we were using to create lift. The entire day went by with no real breaks – except the occasional water/cracker/cigarette break. I watched Hank, he ate and drank very little and took no breaks. He was bleeding from several places, and you could see the weight of the situation in the wrinkles on his face. We had so much ahead of us, it was hard to look back – but we all believed that was probably good for Hank.
Toward the end of the day we managed to get the engine out of the boat. From there we lowered it into a dinghy. We all clapped and celebrated. We’d done it. And regardless of the situation, you really do have to take time to celebrate any victory you have.
The thing we hadn’t quite figured out was how to get the dinghy, loaded past it’s limits, to S/V One World – through more than a mile of scattered/shallow reef. Shit. Ariel and I decided to take the engine/dingy back, towed behind my dinghy. We made it 50 feet. Then we started hauling everything over the shallow stuff. We lifted the engine/dinghy, walked feet, dropped it, got the second dinghy, pulled it 3 feet – and started over again. For two hours. Complete physical exhaustion at the end of an exhausting day. The girls on One World had been at it for longer than us. Hank had spent every waking moment since the wreck doing this kind of work. I’ve worked pretty hard under pretty rough conditions, but this took the cake.
Eventually we made it out of the reef maze. Then we made it to One World. Then we needed to lift the damn engine on deck. Then we needed food and drink and rest. So we cooked on NOMAD while One World provided steaks. A small win at the end of a grueling day.
The following morning we started on the genset. We were all convinced it would be much easier and lighter than the engine. We couldn’t have been more wrong. After a breakfast, Ariel snipped at Luke and my hair.
Haircuts on the sugar scoops
Then we all met at the shipwreck and started working. First Hank disconnected the genset inside the yacht. Then we all rewove the spiderweb, so we could attempt to lift the genset out of the yacht, into the dingy. This took all day. We needed to rerig, reposition, and retention over and over.
Re-weaving the web
Getting ready to lift
But we got it out. Then it was the same story – how the Hell do we get this back to One World, over the reef?
Getting it onboard
Long story short – we did it. Eventually.
Then we went to a little birthday party on the beach. Everyone was leaving by the time we showed up exhausted, hungry, and ready to blow off a bit of steam. We drank and snacked. We met some people. Then we brought a small party back to S/V NOMAD where I cooked and then we ate and drank. I actually was the first to leave my own party, retiring to my cabin and immediately falling asleep.
The Last Day
The third and final day we spent at the wreck, my crew went back and pulled off a couple pieces of deck hardware and other things that I could use on NOMAD. The other thing I was interested in was the plethora of super high-quality 100% stainless hose clamps. Sounds stupid, but I’m so sick of crappy hose clamps – nice hose clamps seem like a real luxury.
Once Hank showed up, we began pulling apart his folding prop. Our fears were realized though, when we found we needed a special tool to finish the job. But, since we didn’t care about the rest of the boat – it was easy enough to just pop out the prop shaft and take the whole damn shaft out. Of course that meant that we needed to take off the rudder. And so I crawled into the diesel-filled wreck and started pulling off bolts from very heavy pieces of metal over my head.
If that last sentence made you pause, good. That kind of stuff isn’t good practice. I was being pretty careful in there, knowing that heavy pieces of unsecured metal above you is a precarious situation. But there was a point where someone else wiggled a piece of that metal and it all came crashing down. A sizable chunk caught me in the face, but I escaped with all of my teeth intact and only a busted lip.
That was the official end of the salvage operation for me – everyone was tired and was making mistakes. Mistakes are dangerous. And we needed water. And we were already supposed to be in Colombia.
So we threw in the towel and headed back to NOMAD. There we began getting our life back together and started a half-day of recovery. Lisa dropped by unexpectedly, and then was gone as quickly as she came. Then, the following morning we pulled anchor and left Hank and the girls on One World. We’d managed to do the big stuff – salvage the genset and motor. We’d all learned alot. We’d all worked hard. We’d all established some positive sailing karma. We’d all been impressed with Hank. We’d all been impressed with Ariel and Rachel.
Cleaning up, post-salvage op
When we were leaving Hank dropped four very nice blocks in my dinghy. For a guy who’d just lost everything – it’s hard to explain how impressed I was that he was giving what little he had away. I wanted to refuse the gift. But Hank hadn’t been sleeping. We’d been bleeding and working together for the three days. We’d shared some pretty rough moments. We’d shared some grim laughter and some real heartbreak. After all of that, I can’t imagine handing back a gift.
A look back
But as we motored out of The Hot Tub, I couldn’t help a feeling of wanting to do more.