Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lightning Update

By Aaron

First of all, thanks for all the heartfelt thoughts and words of support.  Everyone, even people we’ve never even personally met, have all been so gracious and kind with their encouragement and offers to help.  It gives us the strength to pick ourselves up and sail on.

The night of the strike we quickly went through basic emergency damage control and assessment.

Is the fridge still keeping the beer cold?  Yes.

Is anything on fire?  No.                                                       

Is any water coming into the boat?  No.

Does the engine still start?  Yes.

After that it was trying out each individual piece of equipment that has an on/off switch and coming to the conclusion that we had a lot of work ahead of us. At least the new fridge I just installed a month ago was still working, and most of the lights, and the water pump, and the head pump, so our life support systems were in pretty good shape.

The morning after the strike we could visually see some of the damage.

DSC_3212Looking up we noticed that our VHF antenna was missing and presumably vaporized.  Both of the spreader lights were blackened.

DSC_3211We found one of the glass spreader light lenses intact on the deck, the other one shattered into little bits.

DSC_3228Going aloft to get a better look at everything, it was apparent that the maximum allowable voltage on our LED spreader lights may have been exceeded.

The masthead actually looked pretty good.  There was only a little blackening around the mount for the missing VHF antenna, it wasn’t even worth taking a picture of.  I removed the spreader lights, VHF mount, steaming light, anchor light, and anemometer in preparation for replacement. 

DSC_3229What’s left of the VHF antenna mount.  You can see some burn marks on the inside.  Maybe God was trying to hail us. 

We went ashore and with our fingers crossed made the call to our insurance company, Pantaenius.  Almost immediately we had arrangements to have a surveyor fly down from Florida to survey the boat.  And a nice thing about our policy is that the deductible for lightning strikes is zero. 

Our solar panels appeared to be working but alternator and generator charging were inoperative.  The panels alone aren’t quite enough to keep up with our electrical demands, we no longer had a working VHF or legal lights for being at anchor, so we knew we’d need to head to a marina for the time being (and it would also make it easier to meet the surveyor).  Fortunately, swanky Marina Papagayo was only about 7 miles away. 

Nicole already had a trip planned to go visit friends in Washington DC, and after considering staying with the boat we decided that she should still go.  So she flew out, and that same morning I pulled up the anchor and got underway to the marina.

And wow, nothing makes you appreciate the modern conveniences like having to use a compass heading for your course and actually hand steer the boat for over an hour!  If the marina were much further I may have had to (gasp) use a paper chart.

The surveyor showed up later that morning and did a very thorough survey of the boat and her electrical systems.  That report was submitted to the insurance company, and my job was to get quotes for repair or replacement of the broken gear which I have since provided.  And that’s pretty much where we’re at right now, but we expect to be ready to start ordering stuff shortly.  I’ll do the work myself.  Most of this stuff I installed the first time around, so I can do it again faster than a yard could, and probably to a higher level of quality.

DSC_3240It took me a few days to pull out some of the fried gear.  Still need to pull the battery monitor, engine hour meter, fuel gauge sender, alternator regulator, radar dome, GPS receiver, transducer, etc.  And probably all the NMEA2K cabling.  The lightning also fried one of my laptops.  You may notice the empty rum bottle as well.  While not directly affected by the lightning strike, it also gets a spot on the table as something that needs to be fixed.

So I’m curious as to where 1.21 gigawatts of electricity decided to exit the boat.  (Or maybe it’s squished up into a ball, hiding in the bilge.)  Yesterday I pulled out all the anchor chain to investigate the chain locker but everything looked good.  Today I swam the hull and looked at every metal surface, seacock and thruhull trying to see any indication of where the strike exited the boat.  I looked all over the hull underwater and at the water line for signs of pinholes, crazing, or burn marks.  What I can see of the chainplates looks good.  So I didn’t see anything unusual, but we’ll be hauling out anyway at the first opportunity to get a better look.  We’ll also need to pull the mast to rewire it. 

So yeah, this sucks.  But they say cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places.  And this place sure qualifies as exotic.  It’s absolutely, and stunningly beautiful here.  We’ve already fallen in love with Costa Rica and we’ve still got 90% of the coast to explore.  We’ll have a post up soon about our wonderful stay in Bahia Elena.  And yesterday we killed some time by renting a car and taking a trip to one of the many national parks, Rincon de la Vieja.  We took a 4km hike amongst all sorts of steaming and bubbling volcanic treats - and it was truly amazing.  So we’ll have some posts up on that soon as well, as well as updates to our ongoing repairs. 

Bella Star will sail on!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Struck by lightning

By Nicole

It was a dark and stormy night… Isn’t that how good horror stories start?  Well, that basically sets the scene for what happened a few nights ago.

While at anchor in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica, Bella Star took a direct lightning strike.

We were ashore enjoying our first taste of Costa Rican beer when a severe thunderstorm moved in bringing torrential rain, intense flashes of lightning and deafening cracks of thunder.  As cruisers, we live with the reality of a potential lightning strike, but it’s something we never really thought would happen to us.

No one was hurt—that’s the main thing—but Bella Star sustained major damage and is out of commission for the time being.  Virtually all the electronics were fried, including the VHF, SSB, Pactor modem, autopilot, chartplotter, alternator/regulator, inverter, battery charger/monitor … and the list goes on.

The last few days have been stressful and trying—I’ve cried more than once—but we’re working with the insurance company to come up with a plan.  We want nothing more than to get Bella Star out cruising again, and that’s what we’re going to do.

We’ll keep you posted…

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Escaping Bahia del Sol

By Nicole

The VHF radio crackled to life, and we heard our pilot boat firmly instruct us to give Bella Star maximum throttle.  “Maximum throttle, copy that.”

We were charging up the face of ~8’ waves at full speed and crashing down the back side of the breaking swell.  It was a bit tense, but we were doing it!  We were crossing the bar and leaving Bahia del Sol, El Salvador—and its quicksand-like grasp—behind.

So what was it about Bahia del Sol that held us there so resolutely?  Why did we stay tucked away in the estuary for all those <cough> 7 weeks? 

The easy living, beautiful weather and good company were certainly important, but a big part of it, I think, has to do with the feeling of familiarity that develops the longer you sit in one place.  You get to know the people, the bus system, where to go for the best grub… and it all starts feeling very comfortable.  You start putting down tiny little roots, and the longer you stay, the deeper those roots dig in—and the more difficult it becomes to pull them up. 

But enough about leaving Bahia del Sol for the moment.  What about our arrival?  And what did with do with all our time there?

On passage to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador – sailing off the Guatemalan coast

Bahia del Sol, the destination of the Cruisers Rally to El Salvador, lies about a mile up the Jaltepeque estuary in central El Salvador.  The entrance to the estuary is shallow and turbulent with breaking waves, shifting sand bars and strong currents, which makes coming and going a full-fledged event.  You have to time the crossing with high tide and be guided across by a pilot who is in constant contact with you via the VHF radio.  When we first saw the huge rollers guarding the entrance, we figured we’d just have to wait for a calmer day to cross.  But, nope!  Up and over we went.

Bella Star 4-2-2012 10-01-30 AMBella Star 4-2-2012 10-00-55 AM  Woohoo!  Bella Star goes surfing in El Salvador.

After our heart rates returned to normal and we got officially checked into the country, the Bahia del Sol lifestyle commenced with drinks, pool time and conversation.  And it never stopped.

I hate to say it, but for a place we spent so long, we didn’t take many pictures.  It’s like being at home… how often do you snap photos of the family sitting around the living room?

Anyway, here are a few random images from our time at Bahia del Sol that I hope will give you a feel for the place:

P4260277Our home in El Salvador – the Bahia del Sol marina (from the top of Bella Star’s mast)

P5130512 Sunset over the anchorage and mooring field

DSC_2968  One of the volcanoes towering over the estuary

P5130472  $1 beers and pool time

VolleyballA little exercise to burn off all those $1 beers.  Thanks for the picture, Serendipity!

P5160522  We did our internetting at the open-air restaurant just across the deck from the pool.
And we drank lots of coffee …

… Or after, say, 10:30am, beer.  Did I mention they were only $1?

P4260278Aaron went up the mast to replace our broken anemometer (a booby landed on it one night and it snapped off)

DSC_2959 Here I am repairing Zack’s mainsail for Panache’s Pacific crossing – so glad I took that sail repair class!

P5130486 Even out cruising, Aaron likes to keep up the look he calls “sassy.”

P5130484 The Barber of Bahia (AKA Hugh from Serendipity).  Total cost?  One beer.  That’s a $1 haircut! 

P5080392You know us… we like a good beach bonfire. This one was particularly nice for roasting hotdogs.

P5080412The fire starter?  Kerosene!   Zack replaced his kerosene range with a custom propane set-up, so we had to find something to do with all that old fuel.

P4270303Drinking El Salvadorian beers at a palapa restaurant in La Herradura, a 4-mile dinghy trip up the estuary. 

Aaron le gusta beber cervezas grandes. 

P4270301Note Brahva’s ergonomic bottle and clever tag line, “Brahva beats.” Beats what? Who knows!

The “El Salvador Rally and Bahia del Sol” experience was definitely a good time, and we would recommend it to anyone traveling south from Mexico.  More than anything, I love that it brought us to El Salvador, a country that we ended up really enjoying.  Sure it has its issues (an appalling amount of trash and a general lack of respect for the natural environment top the list for me), but given all the country has been through in the last 25 years, it’s doing pretty well.  It’s the people, though, that I’ll miss the most.  Almost without exception, El Salvadorians are friendly, helpful and proud.  And best of all, they’re always ready with a “Buenos!” and an authentic smile.

I was asked numerous times by the staff at Bahia del Sol, “Cuando devolverá a El Salvador?”  When are you coming back to El Salvador?  “Algún día,” I would reply.  Someday… and I hope that’s true.  But until then, many thanks to El Salvador, Bahia del Sol and the Rally organizers on Mita Kuulu!  Thanks for a memorable experience.

On to Costa Rica!