Paint the boat! Well, just the amas. The paint had been sheeting off the sides and had major scrapes and gouges from the dinghy as well as various panga visits while underway. We also had lots of little minor things that needed to be repaired. Basically, we were back from gallivanting about Nicaragua and were ready to get stuff done in a most efficient manner.
First, we must sand; scrape and sand. Wait! Drink a beer first to get our strength up, then sand. By the time we were feeling up to the task and had tracked down all our sand paper and released the orbital sander from it’s cocoon of ziplocks, it was about 10am and easily 300 degrees. We were still confident about the weather though because it had actually not rained torrentially in two nights and one day; therefore, the boat was as bone dry as a bone could be in 80% humidity. Seized by the we’re-going-to-get-all-sorts-of-shit-done-today attitude, we donned our dorky sun hats and a little spf 50 and got down to business. Thusly challenged and more than a little offended by our lame fashion sense, the temperature rose another 50 degrees just to make our day special.
In my fervor I tackled not the ama, but took apart the cockpit table, which had become a moldering gross black thing during the first three weeks in El Salvador. I thought I’d test out the sander and generator situation on something small and manageable. The sander worked great for a few minutes and then strangely, it lost power to the point where I could see the individual orbits of the motor. Hmm. Sander off and generator off, I inspect my work; I’ve managed to sand about 14 square inches of table but barely put a dent in the mold. I look around at the mess I’ve already created for having gotten so little done and try to keep the crankiness under control. I start the generator again and begin once more with the sander. Sander sounding good, good, wait… not so good, sounding worse now, slowing visibly… and do I detect a burning smell? And a gasoline smell, maybe an oil smell; not sure. I turn the sander off again and see that it is in fact smoking out of the air vents; the generator appears to be bleeding oil. Or gas. Looks like oil anyway, but there is a serious gas smell. Joshua enters the scene to see what I’ve done. He starts the generator again and it spews oil, then coughs and stops. Peeking into the oil reservoir, it appears to be full of gas, and the two are leaking out all over the inside of the machine from somewhere.
Not only do we feel inadequately equipped with generator know-how, we lack a good space in which to dismantle an oil and gas-bleeding machine riddled with screws and bolts and small unlabeled parts. We put it into the dinghy and ferried it over to Santini’s engine shop, which was conveniently located not 100 meters from where we anchor. We went back to the boat to regard the ailing sander, which had stopped smoking and looked for all it was worth like a fully functional piece of machinery. Just for kicks, we put “sander” on our Town List.
Now more than a little irritated with the developments of the day, I declare that I will hand sand the damned thing. After about two minutes though, it becomes apparent that hand sanding is going to be impossible. As it would turn out, the friction of 50-grit garnet paper (which I needed to knock the paint chips loose) on a surface of 12-berjillion degrees has a tendency to ignite the paper and cause my fingers to burst into flame. If I’m not quick enough (because I’ve become delirious from the insane heat, for example), the initial flare up singes my eyebrows. Smarts, and is not pretty. “Rum” and “chocolate, if any” are added to the Town List.
We begin to rethink the operation except somehow our lack of functioning toolage has caused both of our brains to misfire and we decide that not only does the white part need to be sanded/scraped and painted, so does the non-skid gray part. (This basically doubles the amount of work needed because scraping off the remaining non-skid will be a hell of a job, but it gives us something to do since the sander is down.) We hunt around for the tools required: a scraper and/or a chisel; we have one one-inch chisel but it would seem that our scraper has rusted through since the last time we checked it. We chuck the scraper and add “scraper” to the Town List. All sides of the hulls need to be scraped, actually, and one inch worth of tool is not going to cut it. “Honkin’ chisel” added to the Town List. We decide to give up on the amas altogether until the generator is fixed and we get new tools, then we turn our attentions to the sink in the dressing room, which exploded internally a few weeks before. We have decided to install a foot-pump (a device we happen to actually already have lying around, a minor miracle that—Jeff picked it up on one of his West Marine binges before we left San Mateo) and leave the handicapped sink in place as a water conduit only. I plugged the former hand-pump hole with MacGyver-like ingenuity by cutting a low-profile plug of display packaging and securing with a piece of chewing gum (no, actually I used a rubber washer). Installing the foot pump requires a three-inch hole drilled into the floor; naturally, we only have drill sizes up to 2 1/2 inches. No worries though, Crazy George has a three incher we can borrow. Then we discover our Mikita batteries are toast and have to go ashore to charge them. That takes practically all day. Charged and ready, the Mikita battery drill just doesn’t have it in her to make a three-inch hole in 3/4-inch epoxy-soaked fiberglass and plywood. Damn. We have to use an electric drill to get the hole drilled but of course we need the generator back before we can do anything. We go to the hotel to take showers and drown our sorrows in actual refrigerated beer.
The next day we get the generator back! It was pricey though and we are a bit shocked at being charged $50 for one single thing, but we get over it and are just happy to have it fixed so we can drill holes charge our own batteries. We triumphantly plug in the generator and it runs great for maybe three minutes, then it begins to spew gasoline. Just gasoline though, not oil, but a lot of it. We have to drain the tank and use about ten garbage bags as well as all our rags to contain the gas spillage; we are in very foul moods when we drive it back over to Santini’s. He’s not there so we have to lug it back to the boat, where it is just a mess and stinks of gasoline fumes. We declare an Internet Day and head off to the hotel to not get anything done.
Naturally, not being productive and reading Slashdot and all that makes us feel guilty so we decide to get our airline tickets in order once and for all. (Joshua’s cousin Jeff is getting married and we’re thinking a little jaunt to Kentucky might be just the thing. Kentucky List started, “bourbon” added.) Ticket prices are unfortunately out of hand and so we decide to use our frequent flier miles to buy tickets. It seemed simple but it in fact turns into an epic research project with Joshua at the helm “figuring it all out” as he is wont to do. He calls every airline we have miles with and navigates the typically infuriatingly web design trying to update our information so we can weigh our options. We recently installed Skype and most conversations go something like this:
Joshua: Hi, my frequent flier number is xxxx, I want to know how many miles I have currently and what other airlines you have part…
Frequent Flier Lady: What? Hello?
J: Oh, sorry! Can you hear me? Hello??
FFL: Yes, Hello! How can I help you?
J: My frequent flier number is xxxx and I..
FFL: I’m hearing a lot of music or something..
J: Oh, sorry, I’m in El Salvador and the connection is sort of bad. The number is x x x x.
FFL: Can you verify the address?
J: (pause) Um, is it a California address? Is it Kingsley Street?
J: Okay, how about Stanford Ave.? Cambridge Ave.?
FFL: Is… is that “Total Eclipse of the Heart” I hear in the background?
J: Is it even in Palo Alto? How about Foster City or San Francisco?
FFL: By, oh what’s-her-name… Bonnie Tyler!!
J: Can you at least give me a hint?
FFL: It’s a PO Box.
J: OH! Okay, how about #60560?
J: #60556? #60565? #60506? Is it a Palo Alto box or a San Mateo Box?
FFL: I can’t tell you that. How about just giving me a zip code?
J: 90215? 90211? Shit, what was our last address? Can you verify it by any other information?
[Eventually it’s decided that Joshua is who he says he is since anyone trying to commit fraud would have better information and he finally gets our address information updated.]
J: The new address is (blah blah), zip code 805.. um, hang on, I can’t remember the new zip code…
FFL: Hey! Isn’t that Sheila E. playing now? Where did you say you were?
This scenario had to be repeated to update my miles as well. By 6pm, Joshua’s hair had receded a full two inches and turned gray but he was finally on the phone with the actual airline making the final reservation. And then the batteries ran out and the call was lost. Argh! We got them eventually though, which was good in that we didn’t have to worry about it anymore but bad in that we suddenly had a time schedule: we left in less than one week. It was after dark when we dragged our butts back to the boat.
That night it rained so hard that our dinghy filled up with water and would have sunk if we hadn’t had it locked from the stern and motor to a cleat on the mother ship. Joshua poked his head up around three in the morning to see what was up because damn was it raining cats and dogs. He went up to the cockpit because the dinghy wasn’t visible from the cabin (like it usually is) and with a battle cry of “Dinghy Down!!” sprang into action. Hesitant action since the decks were awash, the gas tank was bobbing around, and the outboard motor was just barely above water, making it difficult to bail since water flooded right back in. In the end, Joshua half crawled out to the edge to tie a rope around the far edge, we hauled the edge of the side to just be above the water line and bailed with buckets until back to normal. Then we wrestled the entire thing up onto our deck and fastened it down. The rain was still crazy when we went back below to towel off and go back to sleep. The motor worked fine in the morning and we didn’t even get any water in our gas tank.
The next day we got our generator back for the second time and I was incredibly irritated that Santini charged us again! We had asked him if we owed him anything to be polite but we fully expected him to say no because it obviously wasn’t fixed the first time but he said instead, “$10.” And since his son is the one we are friends with and who watches our boat when we’re away, we didn’t want to cause a scene and argue, so we just paid it and resolved to never have a broken generator again. And never go back to Santini, or something. Super irritating but we didn’t know what else to do. I was incredibly cranky the entire day after this. The generator did work though and we drilled that three-bloody-inch hole we’d been saving up all week.
Back on track with the sink project, I cut the intake hose down to insert into the pump intake. While it was gushing gallons of what we sarcastically refer to as “fresh water” into the bilge, it dawned on me that our quarter-inch tube was not going to work with the three-eighths inch intake part. DRAT. We have a few hose adaptors but not this size and by introducing an internal diameter of 3/8 into our little 1/4 and 1/2-inch tube family, we were going to need a lot of adapters. We half jerry-rig it and put “hose fucking adaptors” on the Town List.
At this point, we were at an utter standstill and had to go to town. We beefed up our Town List with things like “bolt retainers, sand paper, avocados, wine if not too gross,” and headed out to the road to catch a bus. Normally there are ten bizillion busses that blast by us with their horns blaring every time we try to go to the tienda but this time when we actually want to catch a bus, they vanish. We debated for easily thirty minutes trying to decide upon Zacatecaluca (or Zacate, as people tend to call it, for obvious reasons) or San Salvador. San Salvador being a major event but that is sure to have everything we need and Zacate, which is small, but easily navigated, and how the hell hard is it to find an orbital sander anyway? We decide to get on the first bus that comes and let it take us where it will. We end up in Zacate just in time for a downpour. Awesome!
(Hint: It’s not as pretty on the inside.)
We visited every hardware store in town, mostly because each one kept assuring us that the next would have the answer to our dreams, if not an orbital sander. In fact, many people we asked had no freakin’ idea what an orbital sander was (and it was not because I had the wrong word, because I didn’t); we were presented with planers or hand-held circular saws. We finally found a place that did know what they were at least enough to inform us of what we had already discovered: there were no orbital sanders in all of Zacate, you have to go to San Salvador if you want that sort of thing. We changed our tactics and went for smaller potatoes: a scraper. Bingo! Feeling confident now, Joshua pulled out the wrong-sized hose adaptor we brought along and asked if the guy had any in 1/4-3/8 inch. He took the adapter, turning it over in his hand and regarded us with the weirdest look like he was asking himself what the hell sort of people would just walk into any old hardware store and hand the innocent clerk one of these?! Then he asked us in very careful English (the first he’d spoken), “Tell me. What is THAT?” This caused us to launch into a winded and broken description of why one might need a hose adaptor and what one might use one for, which is tolerated with increasing suspicion. “OH! It is for tubes! You know, tubes? Is that the right word? When you have two different tubes and one is bigger and you need to put them together… HOSE! Like in a garden, I mean hoses. But in a kitchen. Plumbing, it is a thing used in plumbing when you have two tubes—I mean hoses…”
It was sad really. Finally the clerk guy showed the adapter to the manager who knew immediately that they did not have them, even if he didn’t know what it was. Foolishly, we pulled out our retainer clip for a small bolt (it functions sort of like a cotter pin but goes around the bolt and looks kind of crazy). This was it for our man though; he picked it up and gave us the most exasperated look like, “I don’t fucking believe it!” We were at the point of wondering if we had not accidentally gone to a different planet instead of Zacate but again the manager was shown the alien piece and not only did he recognize it, he confidently declared that there were none to be found in all of Zacate and we could go home now. Which we did; we didn’t get back until after dark and the only important thing we found from our list was the scraper. We had avocados for dinner and a bottle of questionable wine that turned out to not be half bad.
The next trip was to San Salvador. We prepared a huge list and headed out at the crack of dawn. We spent about three years in Vidri, the granddaddy of hardware stores in San Salvador, which has all these irritating little counters with different themes like “fasteners,” “power tools,” or “random miscellany—we didn’t know where to put it either.” You have to ask for every item from a clerk who then has to go back to find it for you. Inevitably, he brings out the wrong thing or the wrong size and has to go back to find another. It was like grocery shopping in Russia; confusing and took forever. At the end you pay at yet another counter and then bring your receipt to the bagging counter where the girl checks off each item and hopefully the tool counters remembered to send your ordered items up to her or else it takes her a million years to get them on the line to locate the missing item. We got almost all of the things we needed though and headed off to the other section town where we knew there was a hardware store that had actual things hanging on the shelves that one could browse and fondle. Because I was dying of hunger at this point, we stopped in at a random place that served us what was essentially a banana, bean, and cheese lasagna. Weird, but sort of good in a way; or maybe I was just high from the red dye in my soda pop.
(Just a random street in San Salvador with some busses and a lot of diesel exhaust. A lot of the city looks like this.)
We finished our shopping and laden with all our goods (including the paint! Remember the paint? This is a story about painting the boat), we made it to the mini-bus just in the nick of time.
The minibus leaves when it is full, and it doesn’t take a very long time to fill. Basically there are perpetually a hoard of parcel-carrying men and old ladies with big biting teeth and pointy elbows waiting nonchalantly for the next bus. The moment it pulls up and the doors open, their eyes flash red and with a snarl, they push and fight their way onto the bus even before the people already on it have a chance to get off. It’s quite a scene. Within about four seconds, the bus is filled to brimming with four people abreast, triumphant eyes glowing, parcels everywhere, elbows jabbing. They hang around for about five minutes more to get the humidity and temperature inside up to unacceptable levels and to cram at least four or five more people in who don’t have seats, and then they lurch off. When I say “don’t have seats,” I mean: there are no aisles so these additional people sort of bend at the waist in front of the seated people, wedging their legs and bodies in between knees and baggage and heads. The “minibus” is in fact, really really small; sort of a kid cousin to the VW Microbus. We even made a few stops and picked up more people along the way. Evidently we were one of the last busses of the day so people waiting on the side of the road were dead set on getting in that vehicle no matter whose lap they had to sit on. We were ejected finally at our turnoff and caught what turned out to be in fact the last bus of the evening. We were the last passengers off too. The end of the line. The moment we stepped off the bus, the driver did a 3-point turn in the narrow road and went roaring back towards town.
We got up bright and early the next morning ready to sand until we dropped and it was drizzling outside. SHIT! So we both cracked open some pulp fiction and ate a box of cookies until it stopped and the sun came out. We sanded and scraped all day long and then dragged our asses to the shower to pollute the environment with the toxic dust clinging to our very bodies. The next day we got wise and hired a guy from the island named Frank, a traditional El Salvadorian name, to come help us. He is a very large quiet guy with two front teeth festively surrounded in silver. We started him out cleaning the anchor line (rope), which had become quite a lively little habitat for barnacle and little crabs. Joshua had started the job and Frank finished; and he did a hell of a job. Joshua was lamenting that we might just be better off cutting off the barnacle end and leaving it at that but now, that thing looks almost good as new. Go Frank! Then we had him come sand with us. After several hours we inspected his section and then realized that we had to do a better job in order to keep the boat looking even. He was great and forced us to be extra efficient. At the end of the day, his fee was $10. We paid him and drove him back to his island, but paying the guy just $10 for a full day of hard work in the blazing sun just seemed weird. We had him come the next day to finish up the sanding, finished early and paid him his $10. We also gave him our broken sander in case he could fix it (since we now had a new one that did not smoke) and a small rug that we didn’t need and he seemed pretty happy.
We were finally ready to paint. The paint was a Sherman Williams two-part epoxy marine paint. We were expecting it to be a pain in the ass since epoxy always is but not such a pain in the ass. Two gallons of non US-regulated toxicity right there in our cockpit and it needed to be mixed before it could be used. Mixing epoxy parts in the wind sucks; Joshua did a lot of swearing and used up a roll of paper towels just getting the lids off the cans. We have these heavy duty nitrile blue gloves but irritatingly, the size “med” fits maybe a small child—they are small for me and I don’t have very large hands. Joshua usually rips out one or two before successfully donning one. Rubber gloves of any variety are incredibly unpleasant in intense humid heat, by the way, just in case you hadn’t thought about that. Joshua ripped out a glove before he got the lid on the can and it took nearly forever to get a new one on so he could mix together the two parts. We followed instructions and waited dutifully the half hour before using (actually, it took me about that long to get my own gloves on).
By this point, the boat looked like absolute hell. Paint was scraped and chipped and sanded down to the primer in many places and the primer is a flat grassy green color. Just uglier than anything. I was actually terribly excited to get the paint on so it would be beautiful and smooth and monochromatic and all that good stuff. We readied the rollers and began to apply the paint. Within about two or three roll strokes, it was clear that this paint was completely weird: it was ‘cobwebbing’ up with the backstroke of the roller. Thick fresh paint went down but the return roll tacked up this flimsy cotton candy-like stuff that then separated and floated off in the wind. If the wind was blowing away from the boat, the incredibly toxic paint merely went into the water where it could wipe out entire frog species or something; if the wind was shifty or towards the boat, it went all over me, the chrome or other metal parts, the other paint, all over everything. A huge mess. It was impossible to get it to roll on evenly or spread it around—like it was drying too fast, but it was plenty wet. I couldn’t figure it out and I pretty much lost my shit at this point. Joshua decided to give the roller a try because I was so pissed off and upset I couldn’t see through my tears anymore. He wasn’t able to do much better though, there was just something wrong with the paint. Maybe it was just too hot? It was around 100 degrees I guess, but it is always 100 degrees here. We quit after the small section and decided to go to the hotel to internet surf until it cooled down.
It did cool off and cloud over threateningly by late afternoon and we decided to give it another try. Again, conditions were awkward due this time to the blustery wind—strong and in all directions (cobwebs everywhere). I again tried with the roller—a problem in itself because I prefer the dense foam rollers, they leave a nice finish without too many bumps; however, epoxy chemicals break down foam, so you only have a limited time to use any foamy applicators with epoxy. The cooler conditions made for a little better application, but not much. I did what I could to make it look not horrible and we finished the tops of both sides of the amas before we decided to give up for now.
I think we will try again when we return from Kentucky by trying a slow-evaporating thinner. Maybe it would go on smoother if it wasn’t so thick. The too-thick application makes the paint look far from beautiful, not what I had hoped. That we’ll have to re-sand everything all over again is another utterly depressing thought.
So we gave up and decided to spend the last two days before taking off tidying up the boat and packing. We spent the evening eating food cooked by someone else with the contents of Sereia (a 37’ Mariner that recently entered the bar, with no mishaps whatsoever, in fact, here’s a photo:
Looks scary, doesn’t it.)
We returned from dinner back to the boat to the last little bit of the day waiting to kick me in the ass. This was the toothpaste, or rather the lack thereof. The last Tom’s of Maine Mint Whitening Gel (I absolutely love this stuff; the best of both worlds: hippy, but whitening) was actually out. Jamming the bristles of your brush tip into the neck of the tube procured nary a smidge. What is worse is that we happened to stock a backup toothpaste: one extra large tube of “OraCare; White Toothpaste”—that’s what flavor it is: White. The stuff foamed up so heartily that I had to spit more than once lest I choke to death on the amount created. Sweet too. Joshua informed me that we’d been carting it around for over a year since he’d been possessed one day by that irrational demon that lurks about the dollar store.
(The Revised Plan: Drink bourbon in Kentucky.)