A Day in the Life of a BMW

BMW? Huh? On Sailing on Snug Harbor? What gives? Don’t think cars, think Boat Maintenance Worker, the role the captain commonly finds himself in.

Today was typical. The captain got up early to go to the fuel dock and fill Snug Harbor’s diesel tanks (all 150 gallons – and you thought putting 20 gallons in your SUV was painful). Pulled up to only fuel dock on the estuary to see “closed indefinitely for maintenance”. So the Captain checked for other fuel docks. There is one on the other side of Alameda, but the water is only 6 feet deep. There is one in Berkeley that only sells “green diesel” made from plants, but the channel to get there is only 4 feet deep. What to do to slake Snug Harbor’s thirst without running its 8 foot deep keel into the Bay bottom? The Captain figured get some crew and try to make it into, and out of, the Alameda fuel dock at high tide. He checked with crew and they had a better idea – go all the way to San Francisco to get fuel where the water us plenty deep and use it as an excuse to go sailing. That is now the new plan for next week.

Next it was on to teak, the bane of all sailors. Boats used to be made of wood, that had to be painted or varnished. Unfortunately, when they starting making boats out fiberglass, which are infinitely easier to care for, the marketing dudes and dudettes, figured that the boat buyers wouldn’t cough up for plastic boats unless they had a good dose of teak slathered on. Accordingly, we BMW’s spend way too much time tending to teak rather than actually sailing. Now the Captain is no dummy, so he got a boat with no exterior teak to take care of – except for the cockpit grates that came with the boat. The captain refuses to varnish exterior teak so he oils it, which is really easy, but needs to be done every 4 months. He has applied lean manufacturing concepts and can get it done now in under two hours!

Teak deck production line:

After the teak was done it was time to vacuum the cooling fins on the compressor for the refrigerator. The only problem is the compressor is in the lazzarette (under the port helm seat). The lazzarette is quite deep and used to store all kinds of items: life jackets, snorkle gear, engine oil, anchor lines, awnings and assorted sailing gear. This all comes out, and then the Captain, all 6’4″, goes in with a vacuum cleaner. Its a tight fit:

See those hooks? They are used to hang a storage bag in the lazzerette. I hate those hooks!

The day was rounded out with a few other tasks, installing a “balun” for the SSB antenna (anyone know what that means?), cleaning raw water strainers, cleaning the vented loop for the diesel exhaust, and finally taking ceiling out of the aft stateroom to inspect, clean and oil the steering cables.

So next time you are sailing with the Captain on Snug Harbor and he is just steering and smiling, you now have some perspective on the BMW part of boat ownership. Fortunately, the Captain likes both.

Going to Mexico

As time grows shorter to Snug Harbor’s Oct 6 departure date, the Captains punch list keeps getting longer.  There are a seemingly endless number of tasks necessary to get ready to head out the Golden Gate and turn left. Some of the tasks:

  • Get my insurance policy coverage increased to cover Mexico.
  • Get another insurance policy issued by a Mexican company.
  • Get fishing licenses for everyone that will be on board – Mexican law requires that everyone on a boat that has fishing gear, regardless of whether anyone is fishing have a fishing license. Last time I think we caught three keepers total for a cost in fishing licenses of ~ $165 per fish!
  • Get an import permit for Snug Harbor – fortunately I have one of these already from the last trip – without an Import Permit you are at risk of getting the boat impounded and sinking into an expensive and unpredictable morass with south of the border bureaucracy.
  • Get a written survey of the boat for the insurance company.
  • At the last minute get a written survey of the mast and rigging for the insurance company, because my insurance company didn’t bother to ask when they requested the original survey.
  • Lots of preventative maintenance – go over the diesel engine with a mechanic which generates a long list of actions for the Captain, service the diesel, service the outboard, service the winches, service the windlasses, service the furling boom, treat the teak, get the life raft recertified, get the EPIRB emergency beacon serviced and recertified (whenever you hear recertified just think of a task that costs almost, but not quite, enough to justify  buying a new one), haul the boat and get the bottom painted with fresh anti-fouling, replace the fancy folding propelor, etc., etc.
  • Just as you think the punch list is shrinking, the mainsail rips, and you get to demount the sail,  take it to the local sail maker and reinstall it after it is fixed.
  • Fix the things that break – heh its a boat – it is in a constant state of breaking.
  • Provision the boat for the 1,500 mile trip to LaPaz.
  • Put on spares and tools for all of the things you can think of that might break and would be really tough to live without.
  • Get a slip in San Diego – this is the worst – there are 100+ transient boats massing there waiting for the end of hurricane season (Nov 1) before heading to Mexico. I had a reservation, but the marina just cancelled it because they have no room.  You would think the captain would stress about all the other stuff listed above (actually he likes doing it) or sailing 1,500 miles offshore in the middle of nowhere, but arriving somewhere far away with no where to park for the night is the only thing he really worries about.

But don’t get me wrong, the captain loves every minute of it, and the experiences to be had and memories to be made on a cruise to Mexico, with lots of friends coming and going are fantastic.


Snug Harbor is now back in Alameda and the captain has had some time to reflect on his travels to La Paz and  back.

Since the last post snug Harbor completed its trip back to San Francisco without drama. Winds were light and motoring the last leg north was easy. We left San Diego at 10 on a Friday morning, motored 24/7 and pulled into Snug Harbor’s slip in Alameda at 4 Monday morning. 

We saw a lot of whales on this last leg. On an early morning watch Charley saw an Orca going nuts – jumping out of the water – doing flips – quite a thrilling commotion. Later on that day we saw spouts galore – probably a hundred or so – as we passed a large pod of whales.

Seventeen friends joined Snug Harbor over the course of the cruise. Three of them came more than once. Eight had also been on Snug Harbor during the 2011/12 cruise. Without the participation of all these great friends the trip would not have been possible or any where near as much fun as otherwise. The captain greatly apreciates the efforts made by so many friends to join him and crew on Snug Harbor.

The Mexico cruise covered 3,400 nautical miles – equal to 4,000 statute miles. The majority of time underway we were under power and we put about 500 hours on the diesel. We had pretty good breezes when we came down the Baja coast and had two separate days where we made 150 miles a day without using the engine at all. 

We anchored out for 48 nights total. The solar cells and wind generator took care of all our power needs for all except a couple of overcast days.

We had our share of equipment breakdowns – watermaker leaking like crazy – tearing the just repaired mainsail – breaking the boom furler and travelor one dark and windy night – steering cables coming loose – autopilot coming loose of its mounts – spinnaker halyard getting lost at the top of the mast – vacuum leaks in the aft head. We were generally able to effect repairs, often at sea or in the middle of no where, which was a great source of satisfaction to the captain.

The best part of the trip, after the time with friends and family, were the ever friendly Mexicans. Having learned a little spanish and being able to communicate a bit in their language was most rewarding.

La Paz and the Sea of Cortez were particularly to the captan’s liking. La Paz for its cooler climate and not being a tourist town overrun with gringos. It was cool ever night and we never suffered for the lack of air conditioning. The Sea of Cortez for its clear water, abundant sea life and spectacular anchorages with lots of room and good holding. 

Because of all the motoring and his advancing years, the captain pondered going to the Dark Side and converting to a power boat. After much thought, the Captain concluded sailing was too much fun to give up, particularly on San Francisco Bay, and made a command decision to do nothing.

Will Snug Harbor return again to Mexico? Certainly not for the winter of 2016/17. If health and a sufficient number of friends are still interested, then maybe 2017/18.

Midnight Watch

It is Friday and the Captain has the midnight to 3 am watch. A good time to reflect on the last couple of days of good fortune. 

You may be thinking “The midnight watch – ycch!”.  It is not like that at all. It is beautiful out here. The winds are light, sea state pretty calm and Snug Harbor is knocking off the miles at an easy lope. Catalina Island is in the rear view mirror. It is clear and I can see the lights of southern Califirnia reflected off the scattered cloud cover. We have the full enclosure up so the cockpit is dry and quite pleasant. Fleece pants and a light jacket and one is toasty. We are 20 miles offshore and have the luxury of cell and internet coverage. Not too much shipping traffic so there are minimal “dodge em” activities to worry about. A good time to update the blog.

Snug Harbor is running parallel to the shipping lanes toward Santa Barbara. Just before we get to Anacapa Island, we will jog to the right to cross the shipping lanes as quickly as possible – it takes an hour as the lanes are about 5 miles across – and then jog left to continue our journey north.

Since the Mexican Navy hailed us Wednesday morning at Cedros Island  we have had near perfect conditions for going north – calm seas and, for much of the time, a good slant on the wind that allows us to motor sail – increasing our speed, comfort and gas mileage. We arrived in San Diego at 0800 hours Friday morning and enjoyed a rain storm that helped dispense with 900 miles of salt spray. 

We cleared customs, refueled, went to a deli to get breakfast burritos and some sandwiches and headed back out by 1000 hours. Except for some scattered squalls and rain the forecast looks excellent for the trip north. We even expect southerly breezes for a good part of the trip, which will allow us to get a lot of motorsailing in. We plan to arrive in Alameda sometime Monday.

The rain from a passing cold front made for great clouds all day – a joy to take in from our perch offshore.

Sunset over Catalina Island  

“Poco Valero”

Shortly after I sent the last post we heard a boat calling another boat on the radio in spanish. We couldn’t quite make it out the name: “poco” something. “Poco” means little in spanish. We heard it  again and and I thought maybe the call was for a boat named “little whale”.  Then I looked up and saw a mexican navy gun boat headed for Snug Harbor at full speed. Then it dawned on me – “Poco Valero”, which is spanish for “little sailboat” – they want Snug Harbor!

I responded on the VHF radio. They wanted to know the name of our boat, the captain’s name, number of crew, where we left from and where were headed to. 

After I provided all the info they wished us a nice day and sped off. Just a friendly bunch of Navy guys doing their job…..

Highs and Lows

Since my last post we had a really awful 6 hours at night banging into short steep waves making only slow progress and burning more precious diesel. We were feeling pretty low. However at 0430 hours the wind and oncoming swell both abated and veered to one side. Charley was on watch and he set the jib and Snug Harbor took off – motor sailing at 7 – 8 knots and charging ahead like a freight train with the added sail changing the ride from a sharp hobby horse to one of smoothly loping along over the waves. The captain’s mood was instantly brightened!

The great ride lasted for about an hour before the wind died. We continued to make good progress as the seas calmed with the lower winds and we were all feeling pretty good about making it to Turtle Bay by early afternoon. By noon, the wind came up again and we slowed back down as Snug Harbor pounded into increasing seas. We finally anchored in Turtle Bay at 1600 on Tuesday. We had about a dozen gallons of diesel left out of the 140 gallons we left Cabo with.

Once in Turtle Bay we called on the radio for Enrique who sells diesel to cruisers. No answer. Bummer! However, then we got a call from a cruiser that was anchored out who said that it was Enrique, Jr. that delivers fuel he had probably gone home for the day and would likely be back in the morning. This would kill our plan to leave early in the morning, but at least we knew we could get fuel. A bit later we heard from Enique, Jr. Apparently, Enique, Sr. had heard the radio call and when Enrique, Jr got home Sr. told Jr. to go take care of the customer. Enrique Jr. and a buddy arrived in their panga about an hour later and delivered 120 gallons of diesel to Snug Harbor in the anchorage. They were pleasant to deal with and they treated us fairly.

We reviewed the forecast from Commanders Weather which looked good, but not great – projecting 10 – 20 knots for most of the trip to San Diego and decided to leave before sun up Wednesday. We made water, took showers, had a good dinner, retired early and slept like babies.

It is now 1500 hours Wednesday. We left Turtle Bay at 0400 hoping to avoid taking a beating in the afternoon breezes at Cedros Island, which is an acceleration zone where winds often double in velocity relative to the surrounding breezes. Fortunately, the winds have been much lower than forecast and we have been making great progress under motor all day.

The crew are all wearing smiles again – chatting, snoozing, reading and blogging.

Hopefully the light winds will hold…..

Baja Bash Report

Snug Harbor headed north up the Pacific Baja coast at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. Along with the captain are crew members Stu Conway and George Bean. Stu and George qualify as the greatest of friends by virtue of their volunteering for 1250 miles of motoring into the strong head winds that relentlessly blow down the Pacific Coast of California and Baja California. We delayed our planned departure date by 5 days waiting for a “weather window”. The winds often blow down the coast at 20 knots or more for days on end, which leads to ocean swells and wind driven chop which make passage north in a small boat nearly impossible. You try and find a forecasted period of time with light winds over the week it takes to motor north to San Diego. The captain down loaded all kinds of weather apps to help figure this out and also hired a routing service, Commander’s Weather to advise him on the optimal time to leave.

Commander’s recommended that we wait to leave until Sunday to start out with the best weather. However, leaving a day later also meant that their forecast showed we would get clobbered the last day before we got to San Diego. So we elected to take our licking early and finish with good weather at the end of our projected transit. Of coarse, this is a weather forecast, and one for a week in the future – so you make your best guess and you take your chances.

Well we took our beating the first day. We motored into big waves and swell that had us hobby horsing like crazy, leaping off waves and then burying our bow in the bottom of the swell. However, Snug Harbor is tough and she handled the beating well. When we motor around SF Bay we are accustomed to Snug Harbor making about 7 knots. On day one of the Bash, with same amount of throttle we averaged about 3 knots. We were not making much headway and were using so much diesel at that pace that we would run out before we got to our first available fuel stop in Turtle Bay, which is 425 miles up the coast. The crew was all looking a bit glum (except Stu, who always smiles) and wondering what they were doing out here.

We made it thru the night, the wind lightened up in the morning and we starting making a little better headway. The Captain was stressing over fuel calculations and wondering if we would have to turn tail back to Cabo for more fuel, giving up our hard earned progress north. Then the wind started to build, it got overcast and we slowed down again as the waves and swell began to build again. The captain decided to ignore reality for a while and took a nap.

When the captain woke up, the sun had come out, the wind had died, the swell had changed direction, Stu and George were smiling and Snug Harbor was scooting along at 6 knots, fast enough to get us to Turtle Bay with the fuel we have. So if the current weather holds we are good for Turtle Bay, and will have half the Bash behind us. If the weather turns nasty again then we will motor until our tanks are dry, save one jerry can of diesel for emergency use, and sail the rest of the way to Turtle Bay. After all Snug Harbor is a sailboat!

Stay tuned….