Here and Back Again

No question about it, this has been a tough week aboard the good ship Azimuth.

We started with heads down focus on our midway maintenance punch list. Other members of the Panama Posse had reported dirty diesel sources up the coast and we knew it was time to change our fuel filters too. We installed a computer fan to increase ventilation around the engine, added a freshwater flush to our water maker, and took care of a few other bits and bobs.

The funny thing about engine maintenance is that it usually requires breaking the system on the way to improving it. In order to swap a filter, air is introduced to the fuel system and the engine will not start until all bubbles are removed. This removal step is called bleeding the engine. Our Perkins 4-107 has four main bleed screws that can be opened to expel air with the fuel lift pump. The remaining air is pushed out via the injectors by circulating fuel while attempting to start the engine. The engine typically starts on three out of four cylinders. This process is straightforward and a bit maddening – scurrying around loosening, tightening, and revving the engine while fuel and air spurts from the bleed screws. After a few hours, we heard the blessed sound of the engine starting, tightened up the injector screws, and let it run for a bit.

We then headed to the Huatulco airport with a cardboard sign in hand – Azimuth Coastal Cruises pickup for Carla Murphy. Carla was my race skipper in New York, acts as our float plan emergency coordinator, and is one of my biggest sailing mentors. She pulls people into this sport like a Venus flytrap (minus any negative consequences for those of us who get snatched). We headed back to the boat and unpacked the hodgepodge of items she brought from the US – the unanimous favorite is the “cat dancer” toy she gifted Cypress, although the alternator temperature sensor and dark chocolate are much appreciated too. We walked to dinner, talked through route planning and the remaining to-dos, and headed to sleep excited for the adventure ahead.

The next two days were a three-ring circus focused on getting our zarpe paperwork to exit Mexico. Looking back, it was a comedy of errors as we shuffled from the marina to port captain to immigration and tracked down the correct papers and stamps. We bonded with three other sailors who were struggling through the process alongside, and my Spanish is decidedly improved by this exercise. After about twelve hours we were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then we were told we couldn’t finish the process for a few more hours. That difference would mean missing the port captain’s office hours and would snowball into missing the high tide needed to exit the marina and the weather window for the Tehuantepec crossing.

I recall being so frustrated and nervous that our weather window would soon slam shut. Amidst all that, we were feet from the beach and a break for shrimp tacos. We love to share the fun moments, but challenges are inevitable on a trip this big. We’re grateful we had someone to lean on this week.

I doubled back to the port captains office to explain our situation, and they thankfully agreed to stay open late to accommodate the backlog at immigration. With the proper stamped documents in hand, we dashed back to the boat to meet the official who would physically clear us out of the country. In a blur, we were out to sea and sighing with relief.

Unfortunately, our bliss didn’t last long. We smelled diesel, cut the engine, unfurled the jib, and emptied a lazarette to investigate. After some sleuthing, Scott spotted a leak and tracked it to a hairline crack in a metal fuel line between an injector and pump.

We can jerry-rig many things at sea, but a high-pressure specialty piece of metal ain’t one. It was so disappointing to turn this boat around, but we knew we couldn’t face the Tehuantepec Bay firing on only three cylinders. We anchored for the night, took a swim as the full moon rose, and had long conversations over dinner about this speed bump.

The next morning we arranged a tow into the marina from a tour panga. We knew of several boats who had run aground in the channel and were relieved when glided back into our former slip without much excitement. Jose the security guard introduced us to a mechanic who had a new pipe fabricated before the sun set that day.

We hip-tied to the panga for assistance back into the marina. Across a language barrier, Azimuth steered and the panga provided the power to get in.

Back in Baja, we met two couples who had untied the docklines to go cruising after retiring. They were navigating the same hassles and excitements as we were and took us under their proverbial wings. One night over a shared meal, one of the couples told stories of building a house together when they were our age. Towards the end of the story, one of them said “you have so much more in you than you think.”

All told, we lost 6 days and $600. I scraped together my high school Spanish skills to coordinate a tow and exit and entry to a foreign country by private vessel. We met new friends while playing the waiting game and made new memories with Carla after the isolation of COVID. We drank beers in the park and spotted a bird none of us had seen before. Even the bad stuff isn’t so bad, as long as you can catch a break.

When we sailed out the Golden Gate Bridge and kept going, we signed up for anything that comes at us along the way. This extreme self-reliance is rewarding and exhausting. A hairline crack in a fuel pipe can halt us, but our gumption keeps us moving. The kindness of the people we meet along the way might just be the wind we sail on.

Thanks to Carla for joining and we look forward to more time on the water in the Atlantic!

Published by Ash

Knitter, sailor, and sewist on the move from San Francisco to the Chesapeake Bay aboard a 36' sailboat named Azimuth.

5 thoughts on “Here and Back Again

  1. Ashley,
    That was a great update! Onward Team!
    So are you stargazing, like sailors have done since there’s been, well, sailors?
    Fair seas and wind


  2. Love your attitude and ability to hear the music when confronting an obstacle, much like the rising tide. You never know how tough you are until you have no other option! Happy sails xo


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