Aboard Astraea

Invest in experiences, not things


March 26, 2015
by Lizze Kraft

Guest Post: 9 Tips for Visiting Cruisers

Ahoy, everyone!  I’m Nate’s sister, Lizze and I just got back from visiting S/V Astraea. Here are my nine tips for visiting cruisers:

1. Pack light!
There isn’t space on a sailboat for suitcases and ten pieces of luggage.  When I visited, I packed EVERYTHING I used for the week in a small backpack. The portability of my pack allowed my adventure to start as soon as I stepped off the plane. Nate, Nat, and Sully took me to Bucerias where we enjoyed shrimp tacos from a roadside stand. If I had a duffle bag or suitcase, we would have had to go directly back to S/V Astraea before exploring beautiful Mexico.


Here is the complete list of what I brought:
-camera and charger
-3 shirts
-2 shorts
-assorted boat parts
-comb and hair ties
-eyeliner, mascara, and
chapstick (seriously, you don’t
need foundation – you’ll
sweat it off anyway)

2. Don’t be afraid to get WET!
I didn’t get my sea legs, so the first night I fell into the water while stepping out of the dingy onto the dock. I just laughed it off – this was my initiation into the seafaring brethren. Luckily, my big brother took me back to the boat to put on dry clothes. This little splash was more about making a memory for our family to laugh about than actually getting wet.


3. Eat your way through the trip!
The S/V Astraea crew is eating their way through Mexico, and you should too. Order something different, and if you don’t actually know what it is, eat it anyway. We went to a cute little surfer town called Sayulita and had sandwiches and agua frescas (juices), and they were tasty hodgepodges of flavors I never thought to try in my own kitchen.

Breakfast was my favorite meal in Mexico. We had chilequiles. I liked it so much used day old corn tortillas and enchilada sauce to make a replica on Saturday morning when I got home!


4. Pee in the Pacific Ocean. To mark your territory and make memories.
The water is clear and warm, and being able to jump in at will is a memory that you won’t forget. As I sit at my office desk now, I wish I could walk downstairs and have this outside my door. Plus, peeing in the ocean smelled waaayyyy better than the latrines I use back in Pennsylvania.


Also, there are crazy little green bioluminescent plankton that illuminate phosphorescent light because of chemiluminescence that occurs when they are startled, so go swimming after the sun sets. We couldn’t capture it in a picture, but the memory is picturesque.


5. Embrace your crazy hair.
It’s hot and humid, and your hair will do some silly things. Throw it in a ponytail and forget about it. Everyone looks just as crunchy as you do, and everyone likes it.


On a different note, I don’t shampoo my hair. I haven’t washed it since the beginning of February (about two months ago). I only rinse it with water or an egg wash every few days), and being in and out of salt water and only rinsing it with fresh water has given my hair the “refresh” it wanted – it’s still shiny and voluminous from the trip!

6. Take the bus, don’t take a cab.
We rode everywhere on the van-buses.  They were cheap and they let me see the real side of Mexico that my cruises never showed me. Plus they gave me dedicated time to have conversations with the cruisers I love, depending on who I was sitting with! I also brought little toys for Sully that we would open to occupy little hands on the bus.


7. Get off the boat.
Check out the towns! In Puerto Vallarta, we found some cool bridges and walking trails to explore and have family-bonding time.


8. If you get seasick, go up to the cockpit.
Yes, I got ridiculously sick on my second night, but Nat came to the rescue with some pretzel chips and tasty pasta. I just sat up in the cockpit all night to watch the other boats dancing in the harbor. The swells were crazy! I had no idea that there would be that much turbulence with the anchor down, but everyone assured me that the waves that evening were very unusual.

9. This is a lifestyle – take some of it home with you.
I stole a little bit of S/V Astraea’s mantra, “Invest in Experiences, not things.” Coming back, I miss the feeling of closeness to everyone on the boat, so I apply the mindset by calling and checking in with my stateside family a little bit more.



March 21, 2015
by Nate

Filling up with Fuel and Water in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Diesel: We have a main diesel tank that holds 50 gallons, an aft tank that holds 40.5 gallons and four five gallon jerry cans. In those four cans we can actually carry about 23.75 gallons of fuel. Our fueling plan is to rotate through the fuel using our oldest fuel first. Yesterday we ran out of fuel in the main tank while charging the batteries and running the refrigerator at anchor. We transferred 23 gallons from the aft tank to the main tank and added 23.75 gallons from the jerry cans to the main tank to top it off. Today at the fuel dock we put 40.5 gallons in the aft tank and 23.75 gallons in the jerry cans.

We have two outboards and two outboard fuel cans, one is three gallons and the other is six gallons. Our Honda generator holds about a gallon of fuel and we have two five gallon jerry cans that hold about 11.75 gallons of fuel total.

For water tanks there are 23 gallon tanks under each salon settee and a 40 gallon water tank under the aft lower quarter berth. Our water heater holds 6 gallons, giving us a total of 92 gallons of fresh water. We also have a Village Marine Tec SeaQuencher 200 water maker that produces about 7 gallons of fresh water per hour when it is running. Were not using it right now because the water around La Cruz is pretty dirty from rain and a recent red tide.

After filling up with fuel we moved over to Dock 1 at the marina and filled up our water tanks, jerry cans and solar shower with water and gave the boat a quick rinse. Note: Some people say the water at La Cruz is not fully potable, so well use it for washing dishes and taking showers.


All fueled up and back in the anchorage

Diesel: On March 21, 2015 we took on 64.27 gallons (243.31 liters) of diesel at a cost of $4,056.12 Mexican pesos. This includes a $601.16 Mexican pesos Servicio de Atraque or docking service fee. The listed price for a gallon of Diesel was 53.75 pesos, the true total cost per gallon of diesel was $63.11 pesos, or at todays credit card (including 1% international transaction fee) it ended up being $15.03 pesos to $1 USD or $4.20 USD a gallon.
Gasoline: The gasoline docking service fee was $170.15 pesos a gallon listed at $51.37 pesos and the full realized cost was $60.2 pesos or $4.02 USD a gallon.
Water: For 92 gallons of water we paid $15 pesos, a buck US.

March 6, 2015
by Natalie

Still Having Fun in La Cruz

Two more weeks have passed here in La Cruz. Here’s what we’ve been up to…

We took a trip to Puerto Vallarta to go to a few marine stores and ended up exploring a little bit, too. It’s a very tourist centered town. On the malecon there is an “Original” Senor Frog’s Store on every corner. We got to see the Voladores de Papantla, who climb to the top of a 50 foot pole, wrap thick ropes around the top, and then fall head over heels dangling by just one ankle. Dressed in traditional native attire and playing drums and flutes, they spin and fall gracefully to the ground as the ropes unwind at the top of the pole.




There’s been a lot of motorcycle riding through town and playdates on the boat.



We visited Jackie and Murray one last time at their resort. It was another fun day spent at the pool.



Nate and Murray played poolside Mexican Bingo and Nate won both rounds! His prize was a Puerto Vallarta tour the next day that lucky for us, Jackie and Murray were already signed up for. Even though the tour ended up being a bunch of stops at over-priced tourist traps, we were happy to spend more time with J and M before they headed home to Canada, and got to see parts of the area that we would never have seen without renting a car. The highlight of the trip was a tour and tasting at a tequila factory up in the mountains where Sully got his first taste of tequila. Just kidding, it was agave nectar!




We took the boat into the marina for a day to receive and install our new batteries and give Astraea a much needed bath. Sully used our soap bucket as his own personal bubble bath.


We finally stopped to see the iguanas that live in the trees near the marina entrance.


The Mexican Navy made their rounds through the anchorage. We had just sat down to lunch when we heard whistles and knocking. I popped out into the cockpit to see four men in a dinghy, two with machine guns. Surprised, all I could think to say was, “Oh. Hi!”, and then, “Nate, the Navy is here!” He came outside and then, realizing he was just in his underpants (a common occurrence because it’s so hot), told the officers, “Una momenta por favor. No tengo pantalones.” They just wanted to see our boat documentation and passports. Nate was very friendly and tried to give them some US Navy t-shirts, but they were very serious and left after taking a few pictures.


I can’t believe we’ve been in La Cruz for a month already. That’s one third of our total time in Mexico spent in one spot! We are getting a little antsy though, so next week we are off to new locations in the bay.

On Sunday we are heading to Paradise Village Marina to get some pool time in for a day, fill up our water tanks and check it out before visitors start arriving. We will be staying at the marina for a few days when Nate’s sister comes next week, and when his parents come later this month. After getting our fill of the crocodile slide at the resort for a day, we’ll be on  our way to Punta de Mita, a little town with an anchorage at the entrance to Banderas Bay.


February 26, 2015
by Natalie

From the Galley: Grilled Pizza

Nate has been wanting to have a pizza night once a week. We tried a place in La Cruz last week and it was really good, but a little more expensive than our usual cheap tacos. We’ve made pizza on the boat a few times, but turning the oven on in this heat makes the boat unbearably hot. So what do we do? Grill it!

We use Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything for most of our recipe searches. There are a lot of times when we don’t have access to the internet, so having a huge book of recipes is essential. I’ve used this book for years before cruising. Everything always turns out great and it is very complete.


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February 19, 2015
by Natalie

Two Weeks in La Cruz – Welcome to the Mainland

We dropped anchor outside the marina in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on Friday Febrary 6th. Our first order of business was to get a hot breakfast. After three days of scrounging for food on our propane-less three day passage, we were ready for a real meal. We got the dingy in the water and ready to go into town.


La Cruz de Huanacaxtle from the anchorage

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February 13, 2015
by Nate

Crossing the Sea of Cortez

On Monday, February 2, 2015 we left the anchorage at San Gabriel to head south to Los Muertos to cross the Sea of Cortez and end up in Banderas Bay.

We made a late night arrival at Los Muertos to get one more good night’s sleep in before the big crossing. I’m glad we stopped at Los Muertos because we got our first close encounter with dolphins.


Dolphins spotted in the distance

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February 13, 2015
by Nate

Westerbeke 44B Glow Plug Replacement

The day we got Astraea the engine started right up. Then after having her for about eight months the engine started being hard to start. We thought it was a problem with the batteries not delivering enough current, and they were seven years old, so I replaced them. Well, that didn’t make the engine start any easier. Each time we went to use the engine for the first time that day it would take 2 or three long cranks to start the engine. Our engine starting procedure went something like this:
1) Open the floor boards and turn off the raw water supply so we wouldn’t flood the engine.
2) Hold preheat for 10 seconds and then crank the engine for 20-30 seconds, knowing that it wouldn’t start.
3) Put the batteries on “Combined” and pray the engine would start when we would crank it for 20-30 seconds. Sometimes it would, but usually it wouldn’t.
4) Crank the engine one more time for 20-30 seconds and it would either start, or we’d pull out the generator and charge the batteries.
5) Once the engine started, rush down and open the seacock for the raw water supply to allow cooling water through the engine.
6) Check for water discharge at the stern and see that the batteries are charging.
7) Sigh a sigh of relief and/or have a beer.

Back in December at Southwestern Yacht Club I got lucky troubleshooting when Gary from Sea Rover II came over to help. He had a clamp on ammeter that we used to check the starter current and the current through the glow plugs. We used a voltmeter to read good voltage at the rail that connects the glow plugs, but when activated there was no current drawn, indicating that the heating element in the glow plug burnt up and was and open, not allowing electricity to flow through and register as Amps.

The day before we left San Diego I went and bought 4 new glow plugs from A to Z Marine near Shelter Island, but didn’t install them until a few weeks ago because I didn’t want to screw the engine up worse during our long cruise down the coast. I now regret not having replaced the glow plugs sooner because it was really easy.

To replace the glow plugs all I had to do was remove the rail that connects them, then back the glow plugs out and replace them and tighten like a spark plug. The most important part of the prep work was ensuring that the engine was clean to prevent anything from falling in the cylinders while working.


New glow plug on the left and the burn out one on the right. When I checked the new plug with a multimeter it read 0.7 ohms resistance, and the old one read infinite resistance.

The glow plugs are just a bit different, if you look at the old plug there are 7 threads that were engaged in the engine. When I replaced it the new plug only went down 4 turns before it got tight. After removing and inspecting the new plug, I saw that the middle of the plug below the threads is longer on the new plug. About 4 threads are needed to engage to have the plug seat entirely.


The new plugs shiny and silver in place.

After replacing all four plugs we just push the preheat button for about 5 seconds, then crank the engine for about a second and it fires right up! No more sweating if the engine won’t start! Natalie said she was getting an ulcer with the stress of whether or not the engine would start. Now she can worry about other things.


February 8, 2015
by Natalie

Bay Hopping in the Islands

Puerto Balandra

Our first stop after the long stay in La Paz was Puerto Balandra, just 12 miles north. We arrived in the afternoon and immediately hopped in the water. We hadn’t been swimming since visiting the pool at Costa Baja with Eric and Jaime. The water in the La Paz anchorage is not the cleanest, so we couldn’t just jump in whenever we wanted.

Sully and I rode the kayak ashore to play on the beach, while Nate snorkled and chased after puffer fish. Then we all went for a walk in waist deep water to see the famous mushroom rock, ‘El Hongo’, but Sully started shivering so we went back to the boat.

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La Paz - 06

January 19, 2015
by Natalie

Living Life in La Paz

Our time in La Paz has been pretty uninspiring…I guess that’s why it’s taken me so long to write anything about it! Life here wasn’t much different than life in San Diego: boat projects, grocery shopping, a few hangouts with friends. The difference was that instead of being at a dock we were in a very crazy anchorage where boats swing wherever they want to, we get to shore with wet butts from the dinghy ride, and we have to walk everywhere instead of driving.

La Paz is a great town with a huge cruiser community. We usually started our day by riding the dinghy into Marina de La Paz where we could use the dinghy dock for a small fee. Then we’d head over to the cruisers club where they had a coffee hour. There is a great little playground there that Sully would play at while we drank coffee and visited with friends and other cruisers. Then we’d walk to whatever errand we were running that day – the grocery store, public market or hardware store. Or we would just go to the big park on the malecon and let Sully play some more. I’ll just let pictures tell the story this time…


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The fridge compressor is run off a belt from the engine

January 9, 2015
by Nate

Technautics Engine Driven Fridge Recharge

On Astraea our Fridge uses two different ways to make the icebox cold. We have two refrigeration compressors, one run off 115VAC shore power (or our Honda 2000 generator when we’re away from the dock), the other loop runs off the engine. The two compressors pressurize refrigerant to make holding plates in our icebox cold. Each compressor’s loop is separate so that if one side breaks or leaks we can use the other to keep our food cold.

After fixing broken refrigeration lines and sealing leaks I didn’t properly secure the holding plates in the refrigeration box. Some refrigerant leaked out of both loops and decreased the efficiency of our fridge. Natalie helped me secure the cold plates with wooden blocks and I tightened all the connections.

I was out of refrigerant and ended up taking an afternoon to find more in La Paz where we’re anchored. It took trips to a half dozen different hardware and auto parts stores before I found what I needed. The threads on a giant bottle of refrigerant at El Arco (a hardware store) were smaller than the standard American style refrigerant bottle I was used to and there was no adapter, so be careful if you end up looking for refrigerant in Mexico because that bottle did not fit the gage set.

Three very different cans of refrigerant, but they're all 134Ae kind we need

Three very different cans of refrigerant, but they’re all 134Ae kind we need

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