Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Water Puppies, Belizeans and a Calcified Hose

Posted by Scot

This story starts with our water maker, and ends in our toilet.  Which seems to be the way a lot of my boat stories end recently.  But there is some pretty good stuff in the middle, so it is probably still worth telling (and hopefully reading).

We have known for a while that we needed a new boost pump for our water maker.  The old one seemed to have some kind of short in it that kept tripping the breaker.  So, when I went back to Alberta to work, I carefully researched the pump on the internet, and had the exact one shipped to the hotel where I was staying.  Then, I packed it carefully in my bag, and schlepped it all the way back to Guatemala.

The Jabsco Commercial Duty Water Puppy pump in our water maker.  Could you tell from looking at it that you need the one without the thermal protector cut out switch?

Since we weren’t using the water maker in Guatemala, I didn’t get around to installing it until a couple of days ago.  The installation was pretty easy.  Just unscrewed the old pump from the wall, took out the water pipes from the inlet and outlet, cut the wires, and then reversed the whole process to put the new pump in.  And it worked great right away.  For about 15 minutes, we were making sweet freshwater from the salty stuff we are floating in.  Then, suddenly, the pump just stopped.  The breaker didn’t trip, and after a few minutes it fired up again, but it definitely didn’t seem normal.  So, I emailed Rich Boren, the owner of CruiseROWater, the company that makes our water maker.

I should write a quick side note about Rich.  I’ve had the need to contact him about the water maker three or four times now.  Mostly with stupid questions from a neophyte water maker owner.  And once with a question about our electrical system, which I eventually traced back to the generator.  Every time I have emailed Rich, he has gotten back to me in less than 10 minutes.  It doesn’t matter whether it is an evening, weekend, whatever.  And once, I phoned him as he was driving across Texas to a trade show.  He put me on speaker, and we had a long conversation as he drove along.  He has always had good ideas about whatever I asked him, and has been extremely supportive, even when the problem turned out to have nothing to do with the water maker.  I have no idea how he manages to keep up this level of customer service, but it is amazing.  I hope it doesn’t disappear as his company grows.

Of course, it would be better if I’d never had a problem with the water maker at all, and hadn’t ever needed to call him.  Anyway, this time, as per usual, Rich emailed me back in a few minutes.  He knew right away what the problem with the boost pump was.  It turns out that a few months ago, the company that makes the boost pump started to put in a thermal protector switch, so that when the pump gets hot, it cuts out.  Something about keeping people from using it as a 24/7 service pump.  Apparently CruiseROWater gets the pumps made specially without the switch, and if I had bought it from them, I wouldn’t have a problem.  Anyway, we ran through a bunch of trouble shooting options, including possibly drilling out the rivets in the pump and trying to remove the thermal switch myself.  In the end, I decided to just pickle the watermaker, and go and find a dock somewhere where we could fill our tanks from a hose.  I'll buy the right pump from CruiseROWater when we are back in the States.

So, the next day, we sailed up to San Pedro from Cay Caulker.  We knew TMM Yacht Charters had a base there, and figured we could fill our tanks at their dock.  The sail up was fast.  We were moving 7.5 knots in about 16 knots of wind on our beam (and about 7 feet of water.  It was actually a bit unnerving).

When we got to TMM, we managed to get onto their dock without running aground, even though it turned out they only have about one boat’s width of deep water next to their dock.  It was a bit scary to get in there.  The manager was yelling detailed instructions on exactly what to do with each engine so I could turn the boat on a dime, right off the corner of the dock, without the cross wind pushing me out into the shallow water.  “Starboard engine forward now, 2,000 RPMs, and port reverse 1,000 for 30 seconds!”.  Like that.

Anyway, we managed to safely get on the dock, and started to fill our tanks.  Even though it was only 2:30 in the afternoon, they were shutting down for the day, since they had just sent out their last boat for charter.  One of the guys stayed behind to help us off the dock, and as we filled the tanks we got to talking.  His name is Giovanni, and he is the primary boat mechanic for the TMM base in Belize.  We discussed the weather, and got an updated local forecast from him.  Their forecast showed gusts offshore over 30 knots, and swells up to 8 feet for the next few days.  That kind of put a damper on our plans to head offshore up to Mexico the following day.

Quickly, we decided to sail back down to Cay Caulker, and wait a few days for better weather.  As we were making this plan, Giovanni mentioned he didn’t mind staying behind to help us fill our water tanks, as he had nothing else to do for the afternoon.  He seemed like a nice guy, with lots of local information, and great knowledge about boats, given his job with TMM.  So, I invited him to sail back down with us to Cay Caulker, just so we could keep chatting for a while.  He could take the water taxi back home, and still be back in time for dinner.

Nary and Giovanni, joining us for an afternoon sail in the shallow Belizean water.

After a moment’s thought, he decided it would be nice to come for a sail.  Before we knew it, we were inviting two other TMM employees, who had stayed behind to wait for Giovanni.  One was his younger brother Nary, and the other was Nary’s friend, Reynaldo.

So, once our tanks were full, we pulled away from the dock, under the careful guidance of the TMM guys, avoiding the shallow water just a few feet off our starboard hull.

Right away, it was clear that Giovanni wasn’t going to lounge around on our sail down to Cay Caulker.  He noticed our fishing rod, and asked if it would be OK if he dropped the lure in the water.  “Sure!” I replied.  “If you catch something, it will be the first fish we have ever landed on this boat.” 

Once the line was in the water, Giovanni mentioned he could adjust our rod holder for us, and tie a line on so we wouldn’t lose the rod if we ever caught a fish.  So I grabbed him an Allen key, and in a few minutes he had the rod holder all set up to his satisfaction.

Giovanni, showing us how to catch a Belizean fish.

Then, Reynaldo asked if he could use the head.  We mentioned to him that he should use the port side, since the starboard one still wasn’t working quite right.  Before we knew it, Giovanni was in our starboard head with a handful of tools, pulling apart the pump and plumbing that I have wrestled with for months.

A few minutes later, the fishing rod went “ziiiiiing”, and sure enough, we had the first bite ever on our red squid lure.  Giovanni came up from the head, pulled the fish in, and we all took a minute to admire it before he threw it back.  Nary then washed the deck where the fish had dripped blood, and Giovanni went back to work on the head for the rest of the trip.

The first ever fish to actually make it onto Monashee.  It was small, and we threw it back, but still!  A fish!

After we anchored, Giovanni told me the next day was his day off, and he would be happy to come and finish fixing the head if I wanted.  He had come to the same conclusion that I had – we needed to replace some of the hoses.  I had assumed I wouldn’t be able to get the proper kind until we got back to the States, but he knew where to get some in San Pedro, and said he could bring it down the next day.

Reynaldo and Nary, watching the fish get reeled in.

So, the next day, both he and Nary showed up at the boat at around 10:30.  Within an hour, they had stripped all the plumbing down from the head, and replaced the heavily calcified hose.  Once they were done, Nary cleaned the entire head, top to bottom.  He even washed the outside of the window.  And finally, after months of on again/ off again function, our starboard head flushes the same as the port side.

The calcification on the inside of the old hose had narrowed it to a fraction of it's original diameter.  Giovanni told us TMM changes these hoses on their charter boats every 9 months.  Glad we have a brand new, completely unobstructed hose now.

I took Giovanni and Nary back to the water taxi in Cay Caulker, and told them we would give them a call when we come up to San Pedro in a few days to check out of the country.  They were both really nice guys, and it was a highlight of our trip to have them on our boat.  One of our favourite things has always been getting to meet local people, and get a sense of what they are really like.  These three from TMM were honest, hard working, polite, and pleasant to be around.  It was a treat to chat with them for a couple of hours on our boat, and learn a bit more about what it is like to live in Belize.

Giovanni gave me the OK to put his cell number on the blog.  So, if anyone in Belize is looking to have some boat projects worked on while they around San Pedro or Cay Caulker, you can give him a call at 501-633-3612 (I think if  you are calling locally, you don’t need to dial the “501”).  He knows where to source parts and materials, and his labour rates are really reasonable compared to what you would pay in the States.

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