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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You can also find me on G+ and twitter, and most of my photos get uploaded to radpin.imgur.com

Sunday
Sep222013

farewell, solar furnace: the equinox has arrived

Cora's tan-dots from her Crocs.To Mr. Sun, you who are a third a degree lower in the sky today than you were yesterday.

You have left your mark on our bodies, our boat, and our minds. In the short run we all have weird tan spots, in the long run probably some skin cancer to go along with it. We've learned a lot about sunscreen, big hats, and long sleeve clothing. Varnish has peeled as if under a heat gun. Paint has cracked from the expansion and contraction of the wood underneath.

You are still high in the sky: roughly 7 degrees higher than our friends in San Diego are experiencing. But you are lowering, every day, as our planet makes its orbit around you. Like many of its inhabitants our planet is not upright but tilted. The northern hemisphere has been seeing you at a lower angle in the sky and for less hours. Starting today, at the fall equinox, we'll finally start seeing you for less than half the day.

One of Rebel Heart's two 135 watt solar panels, complete with bird shit and sun.

I must thank you of course, Mr. Sun, for all the electricity you created for us. Hundreds of gallons of fresh water, hours of movies and music, fans, lights, phones charged, and tools operated. Radar signals, AIS transmissions, VHF and SSB conversations, and even powering the Iridium phone that connects to satellites. Forgetting about the capital costs of the panels and associated storage and wiring, all of this power was free. So thanks for that, big fusion reaction in the sky.

Of course we're headed back further south this fall, so we'll be seeing more of you shortly. And then we'll be at the equator in the early Spring, where you never go away. And further still, just to flip this whole thing on its head, we'll be in the southern hemisphere. Down there winter is summer and summer is winter, people read right to left, and walk around upside down on their ceilings. 

Tuesday
Sep172013

yup, still in puerto escondido

Rebel Heart sitting on her mooring in Puerto Escondido. Note the bird shitting from the spreader.Well we're still here. It's still hot, this place still basically sucks, and we're really looking forward to getting out of here as soon as we safely can. In the mean time though I've been oddly productive. With us staying in a weird apartment nearby I've been able to turn the boat into a workshop and do all sorts of jobs that are a pain in the ass to do when you live on the boat (think: interior varnishing).

Look familiar? No, this isn't an old picture. I took it today.The heat has been paralyzing as usual, but a few days ago I noticed a betterment of sorts. The "improvement" of the weather was that it had stabilized. Yes, it was still 100f in the cabin today. Yes, there are clouds of mosquitoes and flies. Yes, there are scorpions, roaches, beetles, wasps, hornets, bees, and kissing bugs.

But there aren't anymore than there was a week ago: that's a first. The weather had been, until recently, getting progressively more shit-tastic every few days. We're not jumping for joy or anything because it's still punishing outside (even at night), but there's a ray of hope. No bigger than Sarah Palin's book collection, but it's there. And we need to cherish these things.

Speaking of bugs, I'm not a "bug guy" and only through Baja-induced desensitization therapy have I come to not scream like a little girl when a roach the size my child's fist is walking (or flying) around. But I must say that some of the bugs are down right interesting. Beautiful moths with vibrant colors. Clouds of mosquitoes with mating pairs of dragonflies buzzing through them like RAF Hurricanes through Luftwaffe bombers.

My daily commute.Every day I, normally with Cora, hike the 1/2 mile or so from the apartment down to the docks. I can get wifi at the apartment, but not cell reception. At the docks I can get cell reception, but not wifi. Oh what's that, you need to be on the phone and online to do your job? Too bad, so sad, laughs Puerto Escondido.

And then of course there's the work on the boat I need to do.

Some days when I'm really lucky I get to go back and forth a couple of times. Man, it's great, let me tell you. To the clouds of blood sucking insects I represent all that is good and holy in this world. Sometimes I actually feel bad for them, but I only have so much blood to go around so I rush through coated in DEET.

The Sierra de la GigantaMany aspects of this area are beautiful but in a raw and savage sort of way. Everything is scrambling to live. The businesses need your money, the bugs need your blood, the barnacles need your boat. Walking even two feet out the front door of the apartment you immediately get the very accurate impression: you're in hostile territory. Walk five miles in any direction and there's a good chance you'll die. And no shit, the vultures follow you around, just in case.

Puerto Escondido or any given city scene after a violent revolution?Puerto Escondido also makes an excellent argument against government-planned business ventures. Dating back hundreds of years, Puerto Escondido was a place anyone with a ship wanted to be if there was a large storm coming through. Numerous sailors came here, and some even built docks to get out to their boats. A small community was formed.

What did Mexico do? They placed (uninspected, poorly designed) moorings into the bay and started charging money (even if you want to anchor). Because hey, if a few guys with cheap sailboats like this place, that means that lots of people with expensive sailboats will like it, right? Sure!

Street lights illuminate dirt lots, buildings are either half finished or half demolished, and guard houses are manned, but guard absolutely nothing. And even then, the guy outside swatting mosquitoes is only in his plastic chair from 10am-4pm. Apparently the criminal element of Puerto Escondido keeps bankers' hours.

***

Only a few more weeks until we can close the chapter on our Baja summer. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Thursday
Sep052013

the roof, the roof, the roof is my office

Perhaps when you think of satellite phones images of Jack Bauer from 24 flash into your head. In fantasy land satellite phones are these go-anywhere tools that allow you to walk around, talking to anyone, generally the President, and always about important things.

The reality is that satellite phones are expensive, fastidious, and at their best provide the audio quality of a mid 1990's cell phone operated from inside a cave. The remote antenna, the little black hockey puck looking thing on the ledge above my backpack, needs a fully unobstructed view of the sky. Obstructed, even with a tree's thin leaves and certainly with a roof will provide either no signal or continual dropped calls.

The only place I've been able to find that works is on the roof of a two story building near where we're staying. In the sun, on the roof, with clouds of mosquitoes. Jack Bauer never had to put up with this shit.

However if you need to talk to people worldwide where there is no cellular coverage (which generally implies no wifi coverage), you have no choice but a satellite phone. I use an Iridium 9555, which is sort of the workhorse model with a long history of performance. Not all satellite phone constellations are truly global, but Iridium is. My plan is $100/month which includes 70-140 minutes, depending on how the call is connected. In general it's reasonable to assume that airtime is $2/minute, and any outbound SMS messages (which allows us to update Twitter) is $1.

Beyond all that, I have a subscription to UUPlus. For another $30/month I manage to have the majority of my work email forwarded, compressed, and available via the incredibly bad 2.6KB/s data connection (with multisecond latency). Likewise, I can reply and unless you inspect the email header it will look like it came from my Outlook client on the corporate network. 

And with UUPlus, I can download NOAA weather fax forecasts to see just exactly how screwed we are.

If you've never tried to do your job in a place that sans electricity, sans cell coverage, and even sans people, this might not really resonate with you. But for those misguided souls that are trying to bridge the chasm between first world professionalism and the third world, this blog post is for you bros.

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!