On the heels of the water tank repair came yet another water (read: life-blood)-related incident aboard FL. The watermaker was giving us fits, dropping production and showing erratic pressures (more on that below). Then, just when we thought we were done (well, we’ll never really be done with repairs – ever), a shaft seal on the sea water pump on the starboard engine failed while en route to Mazatlán. Oh, AND how about a spider mite-infested composting head (Herb) and fouled anchor rode to boot? Will the excitement never cease?
To back up a little, we installed a Spectra Watermaker back in 2007 when we were preparing da boat for the transit from the Caribbean, where she’d been in charter for about 5 years, up to San Diego. This piece of equipment is one of many that enables us to be free of civilization for extended periods of time by magically turning salt water into fresh. It’s our own little desalinization plant, if you will, and desal is hard. There are filters, hoses, and complicated mechanical parts, and the whole system is under significant pressure to push water through and remove the salt. Hence, everything must to be working beautifully to obtain the desired product.
While in San Diego, we’d “pickled” the watermaker because we weren’t using it on the dock and we generally didn’t take long enough trips where we’d need to make water. So fast forward to 2016 – we were (finally) preparing to depart on our new life. Part of the prep included a complete and very expensive overhaul of this piece of equipment to breathe new life into it and ensure we would have fresh water to consume (and sometimes even wash da boat). For nearly 6 months, it worked flawlessly. Then it started showing signs of distress about a month ago; then it stopped working altogether – just like the water tank and the sea water pump. Is 6 months the threshold for lulling cruisers into a sense of security and stability relative to boat systems? Maybe it’s time for a cruisers’ poll…
Anywho, the watermaker pressures and product flow crashed on our way to San Blas from Chacala, and Capt. Randy began digging into the potential problem based on the symptoms, contacted Spectra technical support, and we performed various tests that would help pinpoint the problem and make clear the solution. However, did I mention we’d JUST HAD IT OVERHAULED, so spare parts were limited on board (lesson learned). Sheesh! Luckily, the tenacity of the boys paid off, and after disassembling the main unit, the problem was revealed – twisted/rolled rod lip seals. It’s hard to explain, but believe us when we say, it was a great relief when we were able to remove and reinstall the seals without needing to replace them because remember, we didn’t (don’t) have any spares (yet). It took pretty much a full day in San Blas to troubleshoot, repair, and reconnect everything – then the next morning we tested, made some adjustments, and we were off and running. We made water for 10 hours on our way to Isla Isabela. Yay team!
But wait! There’s more. Herb was infested for the second time (the first was in Punta de Mita a couple months ago) by microscopic (seemingly) spider mites that enjoy feasting on decomposing plant material (in this case, our coconut-based composting medium). So, the decon began – dousing with alcohol and inspecting before using. Then, after spending a couple of lovely days with the frigates, boobies, petrels, tropic birds, and in the clear, blue water of Isla Isabela, we made our way to Mazatlán. On the way, we dumped Herb and started the cleaning process in earnest. But in the wee hours of the morning, we started getting alarm tones on the starboard engine, but because the engine compartment was covered with so much crap, we decided to wait until daylight when everyone was awake to check it. That we did, and much to our chagrin, the engine compartment was awash with sea water. The shaft seal in the sea water (cooling) pump had failed; the alarm had not. So, we limped our way into the anchorage off Old Mazatlán, which is in a very busy working harbor (downwind of the sewage treatment plant – eeeeewww!), and dropped the hook. It was late Thursday afternoon – the following day was Good Friday and everything would be shut down through the weekend. Oy. Regardless, Capt. Randy did his due diligence and located a couple of diesel shops so we would be ready to make our foray on Monday morning.
But, instead of staying in the anchorage, we’d planned to move about 7 nm north to the El Cid Marina where our buddies, Thad and Kristin were on SNL. As we were weighing anchor at about 1400 on Friday afternoon, the anchor chain (rode) would not budge. We were stuck on something much stronger than the windlass. Not the anchor, but the chain. We tried a series of maneuvers to free ourselves, but it became apparent we’d need to dive the chain – well, someone would need to dive the chain. We were in 27.5 feet of water and the water was not pretty. None of us were getting in that dark skank to free dive the problem.
Both Rand and Ry remembered seeing a diver near the dinghy dock the day before, so we went ashore and asked around. The place was pretty deserted, because remember, it was Good Friday. A most helpful, adorable little dude told us the diver, Jesus, would be back in about an hour. We were skeptical. But he was, after all, Jesus. After some time passed, our helper actually asked another dock worker to call Jesus to find out his ETA. He was coming forthwith! Yay! When Jesus arrived, he was ready and willing to help us, despite the time – now nearly 1530 on Good Friday.
So, Jesus made his way out to FL aboard his lancha (panga) in his rag-tag wetsuit, dime-store mask and snorkel, and 1930’s era gasoline-fueled hooka air compressor. He did have a regulator and nice fins, but wowee. It took him nearly 40 minutes to wrangle us free and numerous times raising and lowering the chain. By 1700, we were unchained (haha – see what I did there?), paid Jesus what he requested (equivalent to a meager $47 USD), and beelined it up to El Cid, where we submerged Herb in a tub of soapy water and did away with the mites once and for all. Yay!!
Finally, once in the marina, we made a run at the sea water pump. And being the prepared cruisers that we are, we’d purchased a new replacement pump before we left San Diego. Whew! So imagine our surprise when we opened up the box to find a shiny, new-looking pump within which the impeller seemed glued/melted to the walls and the shaft seal was wrecked – making it slightly worse than the one that had just failed. It looked as though the pump had been run dry and fried all the innards, was mistakenly returned to the box and sold as new. Bummer. But because Tom and Helen of S/V Catatude have a working (and otherwise) knowledge of Mazatlán and we could easily contact them via text, and we could pick the brains of our fellow cruisers on the morning net, we got a lead on a guy, Rafa, who owns a business in the boat yard. Not only did we not have to go back downtown, but as timing would have it, Rafa was in the marina on Monday morning! We were able to connect with him and he said he could easily rebuild the “new” pump as well as the broken one for pretty cheap AND by the following morning. Wha…what? DONE! Rand reinstalled it on Tuesday morning, checked and double checked for leaks (there were none!); we fueled up, and got on our way! Overall, we’ve been dang lucky in detecting and repairing – getting repaired – all of the things that have popped up along the way. Of course, it will be never-ending.