Aboard Astraea

Invest in experiences, not things

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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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We’re not ones to follow recipes verbatim. I use them for inspiration mostly. Nate used Bittman’s pizza dough recipe, but added a secret ingredient – sugar! It added a little sweetness and it increased the volume of the dough (those little yeasties love sugar!), so we got three pizzas instead of two. Yay for leftovers!

Once the dough was ready to shape, I spread it out on a piece of foil with a little olive oil. I drizzled more oil on top, and then passed it outside to Nate where he placed it foil side up on the hot grill. Then he peeled the foil off and closed the lid for a few minutes. When it started to look golden and yummy, he flipped the pizza and started loading the toppings on.

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Ready to flip

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Ready for toppings

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First a little sauce...

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Then the cheese. We used Oaxaca cheese, it's like mozzarella

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Pulled pork pizza! We use this packaged shredded seasoned pork for tacos, but it was really delicious on pizza

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Top it off with sauteed peppers and onions

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Check to make sure the bottom is crisp

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Cut and serve

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It's CRAZY good!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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January 4, 2015
by Nate

Our Cruising Mottos

“Invest in experiences, not things”

This was our family motto before we even decided to go cruising. It really fits in with the cruising lifestyle because we don’t have the space for all the extra stuff.  With our mobile, floating home, we’re able to travel longer and do and see things we wouldn’t have been able to if we kept a house or an apartment full of stuff.

That was our initial motto, then we bought Astraea and found out that the liveaboard and cruising lifestyle isn’t as glamorous as it’s portrayed in the magazines. It takes lots of elbow grease or lots of money to keep a sailing yacht in pristine condition. That recently retired cruising couple in the boat ads – salt and pepper hair, holding hands on the bow of their beautiful, sparkly yacht must have millions in the bank and a full crew running the boat, because there’s not a drop of sweat, no ill fitting boat project clothes or grease stains on their shirts. Oh, and to complete the picture of this idyllic cruising couple, the jib is rolled up and the sail covers are on while underway because they motor everywhere. This leads to our next motto:

“Cruising boat, at least she floats”

This is what we say when we’re frustrated with Astraea. It’s been a lot of hard work to maintain the boat. Months of work went in to removing the teak decks, laying nonskid and painting topsides. We lived for two and a half years without the decorative ceiling headliner to conceal all the hardware mounted through the deck and cabin top. Astraea looks beautiful from the shore, but when you get up close you can see she’s aging. There’s always a list of things that are broken, dirty or need perfecting. We’re currently anchored in La Paz visiting with cruising friends old and new. La Paz is the perfect place to get replacement parts, consult with fellow cruisers and get expert technicians out to repair the boat’s critical systems. Here’s a list of things that have broken since we began our cruise about a month ago:

  • Engine control panel gages, tachometer and hour meter read incorrectly (yeah, I shorted something terrible out while replacing the preheat solenoid before we left San Diego). The engine still runs and over temp/low oil pressure alarms work so we decided to leave without replacing it.
  • Masthead anchor and navigation light bracket sheared. Light removed and requires remounting
  • Engine glow plugs do not glow. Engine is hard to start – takes 3 tries of 20 seconds cranking to start
  • Engine driven fridge compressor leaked all refrigerant and makes a terrible sound when running
  • Boom vang and boom cleats ripped out. Holes require plugs and repainting
  • Main mast paint worn from halyard slap at reef points
  • Mizzen halyard getting chafed by something near the masthead
  • Various gel coat chips
  • Engine oil needs changed
  • Propeller cone and bolt fell off some time before we hit Turtle Bay
  • Galley oven wood handle broke, but still works
  • Watermaker purity is at 550, not below 500. Still safe to drink, but not perfect. Need to replace the membranes if the purity goes above 750.
  • Macerator was broke, but I replaced it and then it clogged and cleared the clog and now it’s better. Fingers crossed it’s better forever because I hate being covered in turdwater splashes (I need a poop suit)
  • Main mast halyards need to be re routed. After 3 years I finally figured out the right way to route them, but the rig works well for now.
  • All the wood needs another coat of varnish.
  • Sully’s hatch and the companionway leaks
  • We need a companionway hood or dodger if we ever go upwind or sail in the rain
  • 6HP Johnson outboard does not pump cooling water
  • Bottom needs to be cleaned

I’m sure there’s a bunch of little stuff about the boat that is broken I’m forgetting, but you get the idea.

Which leads me to our last cruising motto:

“If it’s not broke, it’s not Astraea”

Don’t think this post is a big downer, it’s just the reality of cruising on a limited budget. We’re taking our time in La Paz addressing the major comfort and safety items before we head out to the nearby islands to complete the projects (every cruiser’s motto – “Cruising: fixing you boat in exotic locations”) and have fun snorkeling, hiking and exploring.

Some of the best times Natalie, Sully and I have had as a family have been Aboard Astraea and we’re looking forward to many more!

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January 3, 2015
by Natalie

Christmas in Cabo!

We dropped anchor in Cabo San Lucas at 2 o’clock in the morning on Sunday December 21st. Anchoring in the middle of the night is never the plan, especially since it meant missing out on seeing the iconic Arch at “land’s end”, but the alternative of bobbing around waiting until sunrise was not worth considering. We planned on catching a peak of the famous landmark on our way out.

Two days before, we left Bahia Santa Maria in the afternoon with the conservative estimate of a 48 hour sail south to Cabo. The wind was just too favorable though, and the trip actually took just 36 hours! There was one point that we were screaming along at over 6 knots with just a reefed mainsail up. Our friends on S/V Kialoa were making over 6 knots with no real sails up, just the dodger that was acting as a sail in the downwind breeze. Once we realized we were making great time and wouldn’t be arriving after sunrise like planned, we messaged our friend on S/V Coconuts, Eric and Jaime, who had sailed into Cabo just a month before. Eric assured us that Cabo never sleeps, so the anchorage is bright enough that we’d have no trouble dropping the hook sans daylight.

After half a night’s sleep, we awoke to the sound of music and pangas zooming by Astraea. We hadn’t even had our coffee yet and the bay was already alive with activity. We knew then that we had made it back to civalization after spending two weeks in the deserted Pacific Baja coast between Ensenada and Cabo. After our coffee, we got ready to check out the town where most cruisers plan to exit ASAP.

Before we had the dinghy off the bow and ready to go we overheard Cindy from S/V Namaste on the radio planning a rendezvous on Lover’s Beach with the rest of boats we’d been sailing south with. We decided the town could wait, so with swimsuits on and a picnic packed we headed to the beach, excited to get off the boat for the first time since leaving Turtle Bay five days earlier.

We landed the dinghy on Lover’s Beach with the help of guys hanging out on the beach for just that purpose…expecting tips of course. Thinking we were just going snorkeling and swimming, we didn’t bring any money. We should have known – it’s Cabo! A couple of our friends had cash with them so they tipped the guys for us all. Then we unloaded Sully’s toys and spent the afternoon chatting about the trip to Cabo and snorkeling (I saw Angelfish!) with our friends. It was a great relaxing way to unwind after the trip down the coast.

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December 30, 2014
by Natalie

A Bumpy Sail to Bahia Santa Maria

After one night anchored in Abreojos, we continued south towards Bahia Santa Maria on the morning of December 17th. We considered staying to take a tour of Laguna San Ignacio, a protected whale refuge that’s off limits to non officials vessels. During the whale season in winter, you can take a guided panga trip into the lagoon to observe the whales. But Christmas was soon approaching and we wanted to get somewhere to stay and relax for a while.

We dropped anchor in Bahia Santa Maria on December 18th at 4pm. We had a rough ride overnight in very bumpy seas. In the morning, I started to feel a little queasy. My scopalamine patch had been on for three nights, so it’s seasick fighting effectiveness was starting to wear off. I was in the bathroom digging around in the closet looking for dramamine when a big roller hit. Because I wasn’t holding on I flew backwards over six feet and slammed into the oven in the galley. I didn’t notice the damage until later (since I got so frustrated with the motion of the boat and jumped right into bed), but my collision with the stove cracked the wooden handle! I never checked, but I’m sure I had a nasty bruise on my back.

While digging around in the head closet looking for my dramamine after my injury and outburst, Nate noticed a slimy, sticky mess. A bottle of shampoo had tipped over and the lid loosened due to the motion of the boat and rattle of the engine. The liquid leaked through three levels of shelving. Once we were anchored, we spent our afternoon cleaning up that mess. Seems like there’s always something stupid that happens on passage.

The clean-up wasn’t what kept us from heading to shore though. It was another high surf beach, so we were stuck onboard for the evening. We thought Sully would get antsy being stuck on the boat, but he is such a little home body. He’s perfectly content watching movies and playing with his toys. And eating cereal :-)

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Sully's new favorite breakfast. "Milk cereal!" he says when he wakes up (and a few other times during the day)

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