Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

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Wednesday
Sep042013

the weather here is like a crazy ex girlfriend

(From the beach at San Evaristo, a local panga is aptly named.)

In La Paz, I got used to the blazing heat. The few times it "rained", it would evaporate as quickly as it landed on you. It was my first experience walking around in rain that for all intents and purposes really didn't matter. As punishing as the heat was, you get used to it: a nice chilly mid 80's at night, 90 by mid morning, and 100 and change mid day. Those are ventilated interior temperatures. During the day you did all you can to avoid the sun, and at night you lay naked with a fan inches from your body.

(The remanent clouds of Tropical Storm Ivo, 2013, Puerto Escondido.)

Someone told me that the last week of August is like a switch gets flipped in the Sea of Cortez and it's no joke: the switch as been flipped. It's only September 4th and already the weather has gone haywire. Tropical storms have passed through, whip sawing everything with powerful winds and several inches of rain per hour.

I'm up writing this at 3:00am because of a chubasco that passed through: squalls with nearly the wind speed and rain of a small tropical storm but much shorter lived and much harder to predict. And like all bad weather they of course like to come in the absolute dead of night. My kingdom for a daytime storm.

(Sweet, it's September 4th and we're right in the middle of this shit.)

If you read glowing accounts of the Sea of Cortez, take note of the month. In September you are nature's weather tampon: used, saturated, and discarded with extreme prejudice. I honestly think the reason so few people write about summers here is because so few people do it. 

The storms do more than blow you around and get you wet. Streets are destroyed and it takes a week to repair. Fuel becomes unavailable. Engines are advised not to run in the filthy water that persists for days: desalinators are completely off the table in the very bays you want to hide out in. 

Hurricanes unleash more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain in a day. Most of that goes right back into the sea, but the portion that makes landfall creates huge pools of stagnant water. The aftermath of tropical systems are clouds of mosquitoes, desperately searching for a blood meal.

Does that sound a little rough? Welcome to a summer in Baja Sur.

The chubasco is over, the lightning flashes and rolls have thunder have gone away with the driving rain. Time to go back to sleep. Tomorrow, whether I'd like it or not, is another interesting day.

Friday
Aug302013

life and death in baja sur

Baja is all about nature, and nature is all about death. From apex predators all the way down to plankton, everything is trying to kill everything else.

And then some things live off the aftermath of the carnage. Turkey vultures are living testaments to the death all around. This guy and a few of his friends hang out outside of our rented apartment.

One of the most amazing things about the desert of Baja is that despite the heat, despite the cyclones, despite the insects and floods and apex predators and blazing sun, life as always manages to find a tiny foothold and establish itself. 

Thursday
Aug292013

hi mom!

A couple of references if anyone is interested:

 

 

The below photos show the deck of the USNS Henry Gibbins, T-AP-183, carrying the 1000 WWII refugees across the Atlantic. The ship was half refugees, many having escaped from concentration camps still wearing their Nazi-provided prison uniforms, and half injured American soldiers. My grandmother was pregnant with my mother on that trip.

My mother was born in conditions that on American soil rivaled only that of pregnant mothers in Japanese internment camps. My mother was one of the first refugees born in America, and even at that was in a fenced in camp patrolled by armed guards: refugees could not leave, and even family visitors could only interact through chain link.

 

Everyone who arrived in Fort Ontario wore a badget on their clothes that said US Army: Casual Baggage. Eighty years later I'm back on a hot and sweaty ship with a little kid in a foriegn land. What a world.

Tuesday
Aug272013

well now, here we are in puerto escondido

Looking west in Puerto Escondido at sunset.

Now that the dust has settled from Charlotte's blog post, I submit my own meager thoughts on our current location: Puerto Escondido, Baja Sur, Mexico. 

We've mentioned it over and over again but the heat is really the overriding factor. A close second now though are cyclones, rotating masses of heat and moisture that can wreak amazing amounts of damage. Even the systems that don't graduate into hurricanes, or break apart and send their appendages scattering about, can still cause substantial damage.

Tropical Storm Ivo passed through here a few days ago and blazed a path north that resulted in a drowning related death in Las Vegas, Nevada. We had 50 knot gusts down here and roughly a foot of rain in a day. The road to the nearest town was washed out in numerous places, homes were destroyed, and the sea water itself is still loaded with palm trees, cacti, and dirt. 

Cora's head, and looking out from the roof of our apartment where we can see Rebel Heart floating in the inner harbor.Puerto Escondido, in August, with a family, is pretty rough. Some people like it here very much, and I'd put that number maybe at two dozen, none of which have families. It's one thing to like the Sea of Cortez outside of the summer months, but late August through mid September is a switch that fluctuates between tropical cyclones and the blazing heat of the desert. 

The other night I walked through sheets of rain to get out to Rebel Heart: it was her first night on her new mooring and I couldn't sleep without verifying the ground tackle was holding and there was no chafe in the 20-50 knot winds. Scorpions scurried and frogs hopped all along the the road, eyeing me cautiously. A workman in a shack wondered who the insane gringo was walking around in the storm with board shorts and flip flops on, in the middle of the night.

Last night our bathroom (in the apartment we're renting) had a roach, a gecko, and a rather large spider, all staring at each other and finally allowing me to witness a true Mexican Stand Off.

We've officially been here a long time: the switching of courtesy flags.In two months it will be a year that we've lived in Mexico. It's hard to write objectively about things when you're in the throws of the tough parts, so as someone in mile ~18 of a marathon I'll recuse myself from forming a full opinion.

Putting so much of our lives up under the public spotlight inherently invites criticism and comment: it's just part of the equation. It's hard to put my finger on it but one thing this trip has really taught me is the importance of a unified, constructive, long-term mentality.

I mean really, how often in your life do you have to literally brave uncharted courses armed exclusively with your own wits, for years at a time? The longest haul that most people do is college, which is hardly comparable since you're around a bunch of other people doing the same thing and the institution exists for your success. The sea, however, does not have guidance counselors or academic coaches to help you out when you stumble.

This is not to say that you (or we) should simply bash our heads into the problem until it relents: another lesson of the sea is that when you attempt to argue with an ocean you will lose every single f'n time. Instead, you adjust the sails, anchor in a bay and wait for the weather to pass, or otherwise find a way to strike a tenuous balance. The sea is always changing: the deal you strike with it today will be washed away by tomorrow. 

The northern Baja Sur coastline, with the Sierra Giganta, is a mountainous desert unlike it's pancake-flat southern relative. Tonight I get to walk the ~1/2 mile back down the bay and dinghy back out to Rebel Heart, double checking the ground tackle before a couple of cells show up from a non-formed tropical storm that's showing up tomorrow. 

Would I rather be doing something else tonight? Of course. But do I get to spend more time with my kids than any other person I know? Yep. Have I seen more in the last year than anyone else I know? Yep. Does my eldest child feel as comfortable in a third world shack as a first world mansion? Yep. Have Charlotte and I learned a ton about ourselves and experienced so much we don't even know where to begin talking about it? Absolutely.

Time to head out, clouds are coming over the mountain tops and sundown is in a couple of hours.

Saturday
Aug242013

now reading: Empires of Light, inspired by Epic Rap Battles of History

Before we left La Paz for our one week sail-a-thon to Puerto Escondido I made sure to load up my Kindle with some new books. One distinct advantage to being Internet-less is that you can read a lot. If you don't think you have enough time to read, add up the time you spend behind a computer or television watching anything: there's your reading time.

Like most things worth doing, reading is not as inherently fun as playing XBox or watching animated gif's on social media of people doing stupid things. But also like most things worth doing, reading is in fact good for you. Ten hours a week of bullshitting online, just cut in half, would give you 130,000 pages in a year (5 hours a week)(52 weeks)(50 pages an hour average), or ~43 books. 

To provide some background, I'm a huge fan of Epic Rap Battles of History and can probably watch them all, every day, and laugh just as hard. Some are better than others, but overall I think ERB (its acronym) is a great example of how a half a dozen people with a camera and some software can rival the entertainment quality of a "real" production system. It was therefore quite normal for me to stumble across one of their recent clips: Thomas Edison vs Nikola Tesla.

I laughed and in general I knew that Tesla was the iconic unsung scientist. I read about the Philadelphia Experiment: the USS Eldridge equipped with Tesla coils phasing in and out of space-time. I had what I would refer to as a History Channel level of knowledge of the subject: poor. So I decided that it would be a fine time to read about the people and technology that makes the very thing I'm typing on, and you're reading on, work.

I wanted something that would put Tesla and Edison into context and I got that, plus much more. Empires of Light if anything is rather lacking in the technical whatcha-ma-jigs that actually went into, and go into, the production and consumption of electricity. Intstead it's a tale of soulless corporate tycoons in the Gilded Age, generally benevolant robber barons, all-American worth ethic, and the heavy tax paid by those with unmanaged talent

The real story of Tesla, Edison, and Westinghouse is that they weren't in a vacuum. Politics, circumstances, and random happenings of fate sometimes defined their paths as much as did their talents. 

As a side note, but one that is sadly relevant, this book was written before the 2007 Financial Crisis and the description and quotes from the Panic of 1893 are eerily familiar. 

In short Empires of Light is not only a history of the harnessing of electricity but also of the many shapes and forms that the American Dream can take. 

 

Friday
Aug232013

sitting in puerto escondido 

Looking out from Ensenada Grande, Isla Partida.

We left La Paz about a week ago and are finally sitting here in Puerto Escondido which really is a trippy little "town". 

We were planning on stopping in some other places along the way but Tropical Storm Ivo decided to show up and send 12-15 foot swells into the southern Sea of Cortez. 

So with that we high tailed it north and cleared the ~9' deep entrace to Puerto Escondido's inner harbor and here we sit. Whatever you're doing tomorrow, think a little happy thought for the family on their yacht in Mexico as the rain dumps down on us and we watch children's movies on the laptop. 

 

Friday
Aug162013

we're not ready to leave, and that's fine

 

We were in Bahia de Banderas last winter and a sailing family we met was leaving to cross the Pacific that day. They were completely non-chalant, one might even say bored. They shrugged, "Yeah, I think we need to get some milk at the store," they looked at each other, "maybe leave after that?"

They were crossing 4,000 miles of open ocean on a small sailboat and had the stress level normally exhibited when making a ham sandwich.

Alas, I am not that person. At least not yet. It has gotten easier to get moving though. With each untie of the docklines, each push out of the slip, each weighing of anchor, the process gets slightly more normal. 

People ask us: "Are you ready?"

There is a qualifier in the definition of ready that is fully prepared. So tell me, how exactly does one become "fully prepared" to go to sea?

Spoiler: they don't.

My thoughts on the matter, truthfully, is that if you feel you are fully prepared to head offshore in a sailboat then you simply haven't run enough scenarios through your head on the multitude of things that can go wrong.

Oh you have a life raft. What if it doesn't inflate? Oh you have an EPIRB. What if it doesn't transmit? Oh you have a satellite phone. What if the SIM card goes bad? Oh you have your ship's rudder and an auxiliary rudder. What if they both break because a whale smashes into them then jumps into the air, shits on your head, and whale-laughs as it swims away from your drowning ass?

No, there is no "ready". You simply do the best you can and hope you're not singing this tune.

For any other sailor out there freaking out about casting off for some distant lands across the high seas, don't sweat it. Because if you suck and are a danger to yourself, you don't even know you are, because you'd have to be smarter than you currently are to realize your lowly station.

Well, we're leaving in the morning. Adios!

Tuesday
Aug062013

the hydrovane nears completion

Our Walker Bay dinghy has been converted into Eric's Filthy Work Barge, strapped to Rebel Heart's stern. It's a work platform, trash bin, safety catch for dropped tools, and because it's a hard dinghy I can use the gunwales for sawing and other manly things. 

One of the items I picked up on our recent smuggling run from San Diego is a Hydrovane. You see dear landlubber, no one actually steers the boat for long distances. Even just cruising around the bay I'll tap someone on the shoulder and say, "You look like you can steer the boat, go for it." 

But for long trips, and especially really long trips, you need to have a piece of gear that can handle steering the boat. Right now we have our little X5 wheel pilot which has faithfully steered Rebel Heart for a maybe three or four thousand miles. But it uses electricity, steers towards a compass heading, and isn't really designed for tens of thousands of miles.

The Hydrovane, however, is designed for conditions like that. It steers an angle on the wind (not a compass heading), uses no electricity, is built like a brick shit house, and acts as a secondary rudder. That last point is somewhat relevant because my own observations are that losing steerage is a primary factor in people abandoning boats. 

The install has been a major pain in the ass. I've gotten to be a fairly handy guy but this job required a lot of chops, especially because of the contours of our hull. With a flat transom and decent access, this is a one (long) day job. For me, it took about five days, three of which had me in full on ass busting mode.

More ass busting tomorrow, but I think (and hope) that the majority of pain is behind me. 

Saturday
Aug032013

another day spent living in the devil's a-hole

We're still sitting in La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico. We got back from San Diego roughly two weeks ago and despite the paralyzing heat I have actually managed to get a few things done. The watermaker is installed and seems to be working just fine. The AIS transponder is installed and also seems to be working just fine

But the real job, the job that will get my man card punched or ripped up is the windvane. It's big, it's expensive, it's heavy, it's awkward, it requires fabricating custom things, and it has to be mounted in the most difficult of locations with the most solid of connections. The PVC in the picture above is simply so you can mount the entire thing without actually using any of the real tubing which would be entirely too difficult. 

Today however I reached a breaking point and informed my family that we would somewhere, anywhere, air conditioned in order to get away from the worst of the heat: the dreaded 2pm-5pm range where you literally sit in a pool of your own sweat. A nearby mall of sorts was the perfect destination. We got some groceries, they had 20 peso painting set ups for kids, we got lunch, and it was all done in glorious air conditioning.

Even better was that some friends of ours hit us up on the VHF and asked if we wanted to go over to the pools at the Costa Baja resort. Easily the most top end thing I've seen in Mexico, it was the iconic infinity pool with drinks served, lounge chairs in the water, and set directly on the beach so you're no more than 30' away from the ocean and a waiting jetski to zoom around on if you so desire.

So yes, today was one of those days when all the sweating, skinned knuckles, and odd tropical skin irritations are worth it.

Friday
Aug022013

now reading: Empire of Illusion

I don't know how I stumbled across this excellent book, but Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle has been an enlightening read, although a bit sad.

I've heard of "celebrity culture" before, but I had never really understood the impact of it. Think of the hundreds of millions of people who are functionally illiterate, who've never read a book after high school (or college), who watch endless reality television shows and know more about the manufactured world of celebrities than the real one. 

The vocabulary and grammar of US Presidential elections have steadily decreased over the ages. In Lincoln's time, only someone with the education of a high school senior would be able to fully understand the discussion. Obama caused a small bump, but in the Kerry-Bush debates it had sunk to a 6th grade level.

The steady dumbing-down of society is not limited to the United States, but it is the general focus of the book. 

Rather than living in the real world, more and more people live in the manufactured make-believe world.

Only 20% of American families buy one or more books every year, and half of Americans can't read something beyond an 8th grade level.

On a very practical and personal note it makes me quite happy to know that a huge benefit to raising kids outside of the specter of American society is that the firehose of celebrity and consumer culture is reduced to a dripping faucet. 

Reading material like this makes me think of best-intentioned parents questioning our decision to distance our children from the typical American upbringing. More and more I find myself turning the raised eyebrow back at them, wondering about their rationale in staying in it.