Update # 19 – Fubar in Ensenada

Today was a day of site seeing, relaxation and last minute repairs in Ensenada.

Sans Souci is at the “Ensenada Marina”, along with only one other Fubar boat; Samurai, a Nordhavn 64. We felt a little isolated from the group, but when we received a call saying we could move to the Cruiseport Marina with everyone else, I had to decline. At first, I wanted to move, but we simply couldn’t find the time. During our cruise here from San Diego, we made a list of “projects” for our time in port. The list wasn’t exceptionally long, but it was plenty long enough to keep us busy.

First up on the list was to figure out the air conditioning on the boat. It’s a long story which I don’t want to bore you with, but we’ve been fiddling with the air conditioning since August. Perhaps for many reading this it sounds silly to be focused on air conditioning, but we have two good excuses.

1) My dad is along, and I want him to be comfortable. The guest staterooms on Sans Souci are low in the water. When under way we have to close the port holes, and it can get hot and stuffy.

2) Roberta and I will be cruising, after the rally, south to Costa Rica. It will be hot and sticky If we do not solve the air conditioning the trip will be ruined. We’ll still get there, but frankly speaking, we boat because it is fun to boat. The destination isn’t as important as the experience of getting there. A few years back, we spent an extremely hot summer in the south of france, with no air conditioning, and yes, perhaps this makes us wimps, but it just wasn’t that much fun.

Don’t ask me what our problem has been, because I can’t really tell you. And, I’m not pointing the finger at Nordhavn. The fact is that we had a cruising schedule we wanted to meet, and our schedule created a hard date when we needed to take delivery of the boat. We knew the air conditioning was not fully operational, and took delivery of the boat anyhow. We were headed to the Pacific NW, a place where air conditioning is an “optional feature”. My focus was on the mission critical systems, and for NW cruising, air conditioning isn’t on the list. I remember buying our first home in Seattle and asking the realtor if the home had air conditioning. “Why?” she said.

Our most recent problem has had to do with the electrical system on the boat. When the air conditioning starts up, there is a power surge that kills our generators and wreaks havoc with the electrical system on the boat. More than one technician has tried to solve our problems, each with some degree of success. We’ve been marching slowly toward the finish line, and my goal for today was only to figure out why the power requirements are so steep. Whenever we run the air conditioning, even in severely limited usage, it clobbers our electrical system.

After hours of experimenting we solved this particular problem. The air conditioning system has a feature we really didn’t understand. It’s a chilled water system. For those not familiar with chilled water systems, such as myself, it’s a really simple concept: Water is constantly circulated throughout the boat. As the water passes through the various staterooms, air is blown across a pipe holding the water, into the rooms. The system is simple, and consists of only a few basic parts. There is a chiller, actually four chillers, which can either chill the water in the “water loop” which runs around the boat, or heat it. There is a pump to move water through the loop. There are fans in the rooms (called air handlers) to blow air past the water loop into the room, and finally, there is a pump to take sea water in and use it to cool the chiller as it does its job.

Our project for the day involved turning on and off chillers, while measuring the electrical current each chiller took, and measuring the current from each of the air handlers, and trying to find the culprit that was swallowing all of the electricity. And, to my great surprise, we were rewarded for our efforts. Here’s the quick story as I understand it: Our air handlers have a “feature” which allows them to blow hot air, whether or not cold water is circulating through the loop. I don’t know the official name, but I call them heat strips. We’ve had a lot of guests on the boat. Those of you who have boats may be able to relate to this – but, guests don’t always think about the consequences when they push buttons. As the boat has been configured, a guest randomly pushing buttons on the remotes could easily trigger the heat strips. An air handler by itself doesn’t use much electricity, but an air handler with an active heat strip, can be a major current draw. Multiply this by a few staterooms and you can easily choke a generator.

This set me to thinking about how to “idiot proof” the system. I was convinced that there must be some way to fix the system such that guests couldn’t accidentally kill my electrical system. This meant spending the afternoon reading electrical manuals, and finally reprogramming all of the remotes around the boat.

This is the part of the cruising lifestyle that has surprised me most. Prior to owning a boat, I was strictly a computer guy. Mechanical things scared the heck out of me. Today, I found myself measuring current to circulating pumps, and making up spreadsheets showing current draws on different parts of the system. Dealing with electrical systems, plumbing systems, diesel engines, and other mechanical devices, has become a part of my life.

I’m saying this poorly, so allow me to start over. In the old days, I thought all one had to do to be a great captain was to be able to park a boat. As time marches on, I’m discovering that if you really want to cruise long distances in your boat, you need to develop a lot more skills than just being able to back a boat into a tight parking place. Yesterday when the shore power was doing funny things, I had my multi-meter out. Today I was talking amps and volts all day. We also had some “mechanical projects” today. We removed a door to fix some rubber stripping that was falling out. We (actually Jeff) replaced a water pump on a generator that had failed. I’m not claiming I’m any good at any of these things. My only point is that people underestimate the complexity of running one of these boats, and the number of different systems and skill sets required. Boating can be trickier than it looks…

OK. Enough of the boring stuff, now back to the Fubar discussion…

My only Fubar-ish activity today was to participate in a meeting of all the Fubar captains. We discussed the major passage which begins early tomorrow morning. We will be running 290 miles non-stop making this the longest run of the entire rally. This is a serious run, and one which will require 35 to 45 hours for most of the boats. Some of the crews have never run around the clock.

Rallys, as one might expect, have different personalities. My only previous rally experience was the Nordhavn cross Atlantic rally in 2004. Just as with this rally, prior to each leg, there is a captain’s meeting, at which the coming run is discussed. I remember the Captain’s meetings as intense and somewhat intimidating. Everything was planned down to the last detail. For this rally, things are much looser. The focus seems to be on what happens when you arrive, rather than the journey itself. On the Nordhavn rally, we planned out when we would leave, who was in our group, how we would communicate, and when we would communicate. It felt like a military operation. By comparison at the Fubar captain’s meeting tonight, things were much looser. When Bruce (our rally chair) was asked “When do we depart” his answer was: “Back up from when you want to arrive, decide what speed you want to run at, and you will have your departure time.” This is an absolutely correct answer to the question, but it left me feeling differently than I did on the Nordhavn rally. The boats aren’t being broken into “groupings” with team leaders. There was a question tonight about radio roll calls, and I’m not sure Bruce really understood the question. He responded that he really didn’t believe they were necessary. On the Nordhavn rally it was a big deal to know where every boat was, at least once per day.

In a way it isn’t fair to compare the two rallys. On the Atlantic crossing we were planning for 10 day passages across the Atlantic Ocean. Here we are discussing a 40 hour passage fairly close to land. My concern was primarily for those in the room for whom this was their first overnight passage. I happened to be speaking with one captain who mentioned that his longest cruise was across a lake. I expect he was understating his experience, but I also could tell this was a big event in his life. I don’t know how many of the boats are making their first overnight ocean passage, and I can’t tell you what the optimal format is for a rally. But, I can tell you that I personally miss the rigid discipline of the Nordhavn rally. Different strokes for different folks, as they say…

Some of this feeling is perhaps the differences in cruising in a rally with 18 boats, and a rally with 53 boats. On the Nordhavn rally we split the group into two sub-groupings of nine boats. This rally hasn’t split us to smaller groups. There is a Nordhavn group, and ostensibly I am its leader, but we’ve never met as a group, and aren’t traveling together.

Actually, the worst news of the day came when I asked Jeff, one of our crew here on Sans Souci, about Turtle Bay. Some of you may have gotten my blog from a few days ago where I sent out amazing pictures of blue skies and crystal blue water, taken by a friend who traversed this same route just last week. That vision of paradise has yet to emerge. Ensenada seems a nice city, but it has been cool since we have been here, and overcast. I want the Jimmy Buffet experience, and thought that we’d find it in Turtle Bay. Jeff burst my bubble by saying that the pretty beaches, great fishing, blue water, etc didn’t really start until south of Turtle Bay. I’m hoping he is wrong. I want to find a beach to anchor off of, with warm water, where I can drop the tenders, get out the scuba gear, and relax in the sun.

Before I close, I need to correct a couple of things from my report yesterday.

1) Several people have written me to report that the Coral Marina, just north of Ensenada, has a normal fuel dock. I had sent out a picture of a boat being fueled via 55 gallon drums. I checked on this today, and there is indeed a fuel dock at Coral. My friend who went through here recently must not have discovered it. I asked Bruce why we weren’t fueling at it, and he said that we are using it to fuel part of the fleet, but that they had one fuel pump not working, and couldn’t fuel the boats fast enough.

2) I sent out a picture of the 28’ non-Fubar boat next to mine, which had been headed to Guatemala and turned back. I spoke to the guy again today, and he was actually headed for Nicaragua! I had thought him “eccentric” when I spoke with him last night, but today I discovered that he was an interesting guy. He has a business in Nicaragua, and was serious about getting there. I asked what he would do now, and about fell off my chair at his response. He said he was going to ship his boat via Dockwise to Costa Rica and then work his way north to Nicaragua. In my mind I was thinking “This is a 28 foot craft of dubious seaworthiness, why would you pay a fortune to put it on a freighter to Costa Rica?” I struggled to find a politically correct way to ask this, and gave up and just asked the question. “What else is there to do with the money?” he responded. I then tried to sell him on getting a full displacement trawler and twisted his arm to check out the various rally boats. We wound up talking for a while about Nicaragua, and my fears of cruising there. We’ll be there in February, and my current plan is to give it a wide berth. More on this when I have more time.

This blog update is already overly long, and I have to get to sleep for our 6am departure tomorrow. Assuming I can get an internet connection, I will be reporting in from at sea.

Thank you!

Ken Williams Sans Souci, Nordhavn68.com

PS If you are new to the blog, and want to catch up on prior blog entries, visit http://www.kensblog.com/, and click on BLOG on the menu.

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