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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Entries in money (14)


Capital in the Twenty-First Century

We're not here to save the fucking manatees, guys.I've been reading the phenominal book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It's one of those rare reads that really lays bare a topic, piles hundreds of years of research into the mix, and unfortunately leaves the reader with a cold reality that they might not want to know. 

A fundamental tenant is that the rate of return on capital always grows faster than wage increases. It's a documentable and research backed argument that makes clear the case that so many of us have been wrapping our heads around: the rich get richer, and actually the poor get richer too, but not at the same pace. Or said otherwise, the gap between those who make a return on capital is ever widening over those who earn wages. 

For millions of people, “wealth” amounts to little more than a few weeks’ wages in a checking account or low-interest savings account, a car, and a few pieces of furniture. The inescapable reality is this: wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence, so that some people imagine that it belongs to surreal or mysterious entities. That is why it is so essential to study capital and its distribution in a methodical, systematic way.

Trust me: I like money as much as the next guy, and probably more. But even if you'd like to entertain the idea of pulling one's self up via the proverbial bootstraps, arguing ideology against data typically has results on par with chieftans claiming magic shields that will stop bullets. In short, you argue against reality to your detrement. 

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is alreadying being regarded as a seminal work, and has ushered forth a new dialogue. One in which we're not foolish enough to adhere to laissez faire capitalism nor find solace in Marxism, but instead are forced to confront the data and trends that our decisions have brought to us.

We should be beyond arguing ideology, or at least entertain reality as much as we do our political fetishes. 


the tale of maria darling's credit card fraud

A few months back, I helped to set up the e-commerce site for Nutrimart. It's a great family owned business in San Diego, I've been a customer for years, and I was able to knock it out pretty easily. 

This weekend I just randomly saw an email flash by about an order, and it piqued my interest a little bit. On first glance, it looked pretty normal.

The stolen identity. The card and address is Maria's, but phony contact info is supplied.She had purchased a gift certificate for $100, which is great. People have health fanatic friends, and a gift certificate really isn't a half bad idea (wink wink, in case you're ever wondering what to get me for Christmas).

I checked the IP address and it came back as being from NYC; so that checks out to some degree.

But then I checked the phone number and it belongs to the Pulaski Public Library: a quick phone call revealed that no Maria Darling worked there. Still, no smoking gun. Maybe she just typed the phone number in wrong. 

A classic dead drop: out in the middle of nowhere, easy to see anyone who's watching you.Then shortly thereafter, like within 12 hours, the gift certificate is redeemed by someone in Aurburn, Washington. I google the address, and a dead drop shows up: a location where deliveries can be made and contents picked up. The classic un-inhabited rusted out old business where drug deals happen in a movie.

The people who stole Maria's info are racking up orders all over the Internet, having them shipped to locations like this. If the police are there, no one bothers to stop. If the coast is clear, the inventory is loaded. 

Other details start falling in line as well. The shipping phone number rings directly to an un-setup voicemail. The email seemed a little weird too, and googling it brought up the glaring red flag of references to Russia. 

Russian reference in the email, dead drop shipping address, phone that rings to voicemail: spooky.Also if you note the shipping method, they paid $32 to have a jug of protein mailed to them. This could have been $10 if they had gone with UPS ground, but when you're spending other people's money who really cares?

So armed with this information, the first thing I'm thinking is Maria Darling, out there in New York, needs to know that her identity has been stolen. Someone has her credit card and her address, and a rather sophisticated con is going on. It's borderline guaranteed that these folks are racking up huge tabs on her account, and she's going to have a nasty mess of a problem to solve.

Remember, all the contact info (minus her adddress) is fraudulent, so I can't contact her directly in a quick manner.

My first call is to the San Diego police department.

Unfortunately I was told that since the crime happened out of state, it's really not their jurisdiction and I should talk to to the FBI.

So then I call the FBI in San Diego. A very nice lady said I should fill out the report online, to which I replied that we have evidence of a crime currently being committed and this lady is actively being defrauded right this very minute: perhaps someone should let her know. I ended up on hold, shuttled around between half interested parties for 20 minutes, and eventually hung up on.

Then I ate a cookie and thought about what else I could do. 

Visa! In an ironic attempt to prevent fraud detection, I don't have access to the card number, but certainly if I call up Visa with a lady's name and address, and inform them they're being defrauded, they will contact the card holder. No.

I'm sorry sir, without the card holder's card number I can't help you.

Try as I may, I could not get the local police, the FBI, or even Visa to care enough to do anything in this case. So to Maria Darling, short of booking a flight and waiting at your doorstep with the news, there is absolutely no way I can let you know in a timely manner that right now, as I type this, your finances are being ransacked. 

The next time you hear about identify theft and wonder why it's happening at the scale it is, let me provide the answer to you: because it's easy. The distributed nature of these cons, the insulating techniques like dead drops, and the high volume economy we live in makes most of these things incredibly resource intensive to solve.

My guess is the product that would have gotten shipped probably would have ended up on eBay or something similar. Purchased for free, sold at 100% profit, so many steps and layers between all the movements that it would take days of investigative work to put the pieces together. 

I wish there was a positive spin to this story: the best I can offer you is to make sure you practice good identity and finance discipline and hope you never fall into the cross hairs of folks like this.



how we spend our money and where we get it from

Cash. Dinero. Duckets. Dollars. Call it what you like, but it's probably the core thing that shapes your sailing plans (or lack thereof). Your choice of boat is largely based around how tall your pile of money is, and likewise the depth of your Scrooge McDuck gold-coin-pool influences how you'll equip your boat. And that just gets you a boat on the dock. 

Where you go, how long you can be gone for, and what happens when things break will all be shaped largely by money. Will you stay at marinas or anchor? Will you visit expensive places or bypass? When someone asks you out to dinner, will you go?

The sea may be a symbol of freedom, but your boat ultimately is a symbol of how much money you have.

We try to answer everyone who writes to us. Since we're not famous like some people, we don't get a lot of mail in the first place. A few days ago I got this email from one of our three readers (the others being our parents), talking about their sailing plans.

The only other hurdle is money. I realize you guys might want to keep that part of your lives private, but if you're able to share anything about how to fund this type of adventure, it would be much appreciated.

I guess the best way to answer that is to talk about how much it costs and where we get our money from.

The cost of sailing is, unfortunately, completely all over the map. Sailing an equipped vessel in good shape and being at anchor is actually rather cheap, although of course have an "equipped vessel in good shape" isn't cheap in and of itself. For some specifics, here's some costs we incurred in our first year:


  • $6,000 for a Hydrovane. We put this cost off because we didn't need it until we decided to cross an ocean, so it showed up in our first year.
  • $4,000 for a watermaker. Again, put off until we decided we needed one.
  • ~$500 for various canvas projects (that's primarily material costs). Chaps for the dinghy tubes, covers for this and that.
  • $800 for an apartment in La Cruz for one month (during Lyra's birth).
  • $1200 for an apartment in Puerto Escondido for six weeks.
  • ~$600/month for moorage fees for maybe 9 of those 12 months. We've probably been anchored about 25% of the time but with two little kids (and/or a pregnant wife) we honestly like being at the dock if we're not off somewhere remote and interesting. 
  • ~$300/week for combined fun/food/whatever spending money. It's hard to track because most remote places only take cash so you end up withdrawing a bunch from an ATM and then using it for whatever, then you need more cash again.
  • $2800 for a new mainsail. Our old one was getting pretty beat up and we wanted a new one before we did the Pacific. 
  • $500 for fuel, all in. We tend to sail a lot even in the relatively motor-everywhere culture of Mexico, and when we do motor we keep the RPM's low and are happy making 5.5 knots. 
  • ~$1,500 in airfare for family or personal visits back to the US.
  • ~$5,000 in medical costs but roughly $3,000 of that was pregnancy related. And we have two little kids, so there you go.


My "office" for that day, in a scummy old harbor's empty room in Mazatlan.

So that's our costs, as best I can remember them, and then for how we make money:


  • We have some referral links scattered around the site, which make about $20/month on average which is roughly what it costs to host, so that makes the site at least free.
  • I wrote a book, which has made a couple of hundred dollars. At this rate, in a few years, I'll about break even for having a minimum wage job (taking the total revenue, divided by the hours it took to write it).
  • Charlotte wrote a series of magazine articles that dropped some money into the bank.
  • But the lion's share of our money comes from me working my corporate job as we move around. The specifics of that I'm not at liberty to share, but I can provide some generalities. I spend, on average, a few hours a day on the phone (satellite or cellular). I spend on average about 15% of my time back in the United States, normally for 3-12 days at a time. Sometimes it's every month, but from August-October I never went back once. We spent about four weeks back in San Diego during July where I was in the office every day. 

I definitely spend more time than anyone else we've met, by a long shot, working while sailing. A lot of people who are working while sailing tend to work in project mode: they're on-again-off-again type arrangements, or something like writing where it comes in big pushes and then you can breathe a little. For me it's more like a river that I can dam up a bit but that delays (and creates) a flood. 


Another thing to note is that for the five years before our trip, when we were working on the rigging, engine, decks, and paying off the boat (and our other bills), we lived pretty cheap. I've never bought a new car in my life, we didn't travel anywhere exotic for half a decade, and opted for saving as much as possible.

So the secret for us, boringly enough, is saving and working. I wish I could make it more interesting.


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.


preparing our smuggling run

The big items haven't shown up yet, but the paper charts did along with some Amazon stuff.

Still on the way includes our life raft, wind vane, water maker, a heap of spare parts, AIS transponder, and a sea anchor.

Once we have all these items our intent is to go to Tijuana, get a one way rental car, drive back to San Diego, load up the car, and head south through Baja down to La Paz.

This is also known as smuggling. Mexican import customs (Aduana) is corrupt and hit-or-miss even if you do follow their web of paperwork.  So, fingers crossed.

We've put off a lot of purchases for as long as we can. The stuff is expensive and in general the longer you keep from installing it on the boat the longer it will last. But some things, like the watermaker, have proven to be extremely important to us in Baja. Other things, like the windvane, aren't that important now but are on the list of critical items for crossing the Pacific and going farther away from the First World

In no particular order, here are a few other things we picked up since we're in the awesome land of consumer pleasure:

There's more than all of that of course, but this is probably our last time that we can take big heavy stuff back down to the boat so we're stocking up. It didn't help of course that last night I watched this Vice film on the deportees living in the Tijuana canals.


superbowl sunday, street taco style

I get a lot of traffic on my post about the two economies of Mexico. Today (Super Bowl Sunday) was another great example of that. The marina had a deal going for about $30 USD, and another local bar had a similar gig going on. Sure, there were all you can drink specials (on stuff you wouldn't want to keep drinking) and you could sit around hooting and hollering with other westerners. 

Instead, we found our way up the the Jazz! Zappateria street taco shop. One of the owners is a very nice man and flipped the television (on the sidewalk there) to the Super Bowl as soon as we sat down. It was in Spanish, but still: nice guy. If you're coming to La Cruz, make sure you hit this place up. It doesn't hurt that dinner for the three of us is about $8.

Two nights in a row now we've had dinner with the folks from Landfall. It really is amazing how nice sailors are in general. And not to keep quoting myself but Steve, Tamiko, and Eli are a great example of uniformly unique. Their son Eli, beyond being a normal fifteen year old, is also a dwarf. The kid's got scars up and down him from the (I'm pretty sure I heard this right) multi-year tracheotomy, not to mention various connective tissue and bone surgeries. Just so the kid could move about, like you and I probably take for granted. 

Sailing is this never ending parade of new, constantly thrust in your face. New problems, new opportunities, and new friends. And with all of those come new perspectives. The influx of new paradigms causes you (forces you, in some cases) to look at the world just a little bit differently when you lay down than you did when you woke up.

And in the spirit of new, we're now waiting for our second baby girl Lyra to pop into the world. Baby girl, I hope you like adventure.

And to my dear friend James on Jean Marie, I feel terrible for your loss tonight except now you know how it feels to watch your team be brutalized on national television, just like a Chargers fan. Cough cough.


the two economies of mexico

We jokingly refer to La Cruz as Mexico-lite in that there are still semblances of American culture. There's a Wal-Mart (30 minutes away), maybe 10% of the people you talk to speak English (loosely using the term "speak"), and white people bop around in their shorts and sandals. One protip I can give anyone who wants to blend in: don't wear shorts and sandals. Shorts, sandals, and a good sunhat are the billboards of HELLO I'M A GRINGO. Not that there's anything wrong with that per say.

But even though I can order a Denver omelet at Philo's Bar with Led Zepplin pouring through the speakers, we definitely are in Mexico. 

There are iguanas running around big enough to pump your adrenaline and have you looking for a nearby improvised weapon. I went to buy some chicken, and got a chicken. Dead and gutted fortunately, but minus the head and entrails it was a chicken. Sawing through bone I'm happy I have a bad-ass folding knife. Between fishing and buying meat from a butcher I've gotten much more familiar with animal anatomy.

I've learned that there are two economies here in Mexico: the Mexican economy and the Mexican-Gringo economy. As an example, we went to get a shoe repaired. After getting pointed towards a residence we walked in and found a student in his late teens with a pile of school books in his living room. This represents the Mexican-Mexican economy and he quoted us twenty five pesos, or just about $1.90.

All around town there are homes for rent, with signs spray painted CASA EN RENTA. Again, the Mexican-Mexican economy. You will not find these on Craigslist. You will not find these on any website. The people do not speak English. They only work in cash on the barrel. 

In America, we are used to going to one store that is open nearly (or truly) 24/7 for everything we want. Wal-Mart Super Center. Target. Sports Chalet. Ralphs. Vons. Costco. Although these American models are penetrating into Mexico, you pay for it on the nose because you are squarely in the Mexico-Gringo economy.

In the Mexican-Mexican economy, you show up on Wednesdays to the market that runs through a street in La Cruz. There are various vendors ranging from music to produce to children's toys to clothing. In Mexico to do your grocery shopping you might very well end up going to half a dozen different stores. Infuriating to Americans who prize convenience above nearly all else, but a way of life for Latin America, and not without its advantages. 

Dining is another example. The concept of "street food" is fairly ingrained here in Mexico and at a genuine family run operation you can expect to pay a couple of dollars a piece for a meal. Or you can walk ten feet down the road to a restaurant that more closely resembles what an American would feel comfortable in and pay two to three times the amount of money. 

Between establishments that more closely resemble America (big box stores, more "normal" eateries, etc) and Americans wanting to keep their distance from the real Mexican culture, enterprising expats and savvy Mexicans have found ways of leveraging greenbacks out of visiting white folks.

People say that the cheap Mexico of the past is gone: I disagree. The millions of Mexicans who live in relative poverty and extreme under employment are still here and for the most part getting by. But the new crop of American tourists who come to Mexico do not want the Mexico of the 1950's. They want to swim with dolphins. They want air conditioned hotel rooms. They want to take a taxi instead of figuring out the bus. They don't want to learn Spanish. They want to haul their yacht out on a TraveLift.

The thing I've been most impressed by is how quickly you can hop from one economy to the next. No one looks down on you for seeking a lower priced option and in fact it's greeted warmly. Acting like you have a limited supply of money and can't burn through it, like nearly everyone in Mexico, actually gives you something in common. It shows a value and respect for work and money, a shrewdness that can separate you from your more gullible contemporaries, and you learn about the real Mexico, supposedly the thing you actually came here for.


newsflash: food in mexico is cheap as hell, and good

Pat and Ali on Bumfuzzle have commented about this before, and I'm sure I'm not breaking any new ground here. 

Some things in Mexico are very expensive, particularly if you need a specific boat part. Expect 2x-4x the US price tag, and that's using the base of already "marine grade" pricing. So that $100 doodad might be $300 now.

We took a free shuttle (a guy in a little Ford Tempo) into downtown Esenada and looked for an authentic Mexican restaraunt. We kept walking until we barely saw any white people, and glanced through a window that looked decidedly non-American but at the same time non-rip-you-off-tourista style. 

It was with great joy that I was presented a bill for $11. Food for all three of us, a beer, and a soda. Finally, I have found something in this whole boating thing that is indeed cheaper than living on land back in San Diego. Eat your wallets out, San Diego.

I tried my Spanish on the way back, asking a man sweeping the sidewalk for directions to a taxi. He of course replied quicker than I could understand so I just nodded a lot and said "si" on repeat. Charlotte was there to translate, forunately. 

A ~$8 cab ride back and we had a terrific evening for less than twenty bucks. Seriously: viva la f'n Mexico.


how to select satellite internet on a sailboat

Inmarsat SatelliteThe other day Charlotte asked me about Internet access while underway on a sailboat. I had always known it to be expensive even for a slow connection, having worked for a satellite company early in my career.

A very brief primer about satellite constellations might help to explain this. Currently, there are over 3,000 satellites buzzing around the planet. A satellite like the one pictured on the left can sit in orbit in a few different ways. The orbit, altitude, capabilities, quantity, and transmit power define the constellation's profile. 

Step 1: Identify a service provider (these are the people who own or lease the satellites in orbit).

One provider, Wild Blue offers satellite Internet access but only to the lower 48 states of the US. Normally when people think about satellites they think of global coverage. Most satellite constellations, such as Wild Blue's are only covering a (relatively) small area of the world. The reason for this is basic economics: it takes significantly less satellites to cover the primary areas where people live than to have sufficient quantity to be buzzing over Siberia and the North Pole (where no one might need access for weeks or months). 

Even a company like GlobalStar, which you would be forgiven forGlobalStar Coverage Map. Click to expand. expecting to be "global" in its coverage only covers most of the populated land masses and a small amount into the water. 

So beyond simple "satellite internet", most sailors are looking for a true global solution or at least one that will cover the vast majority of their sailing grounds.

Inmarsat Coverage Map. Click to expand.Inmarsat, simply put, has the best combination of prices and global coverage. But take note that several areas are still missing. A few-hundred square mile patch in the Eastern Pacific, Drake's Passage off Cape Horn, and in the Indian Ocean near Oman. 

Step 2: Identify the "solution" that they offer. 

A product designed specifically for small pleasure craft is the Fleet 33. On first glance at Inmarsat's website you might see their entry level (~$500) IsatPhone, but that doesn't work for data applications unless you consider using the phone's keyboard to send emails as "data" (which technically it is). There are more powerful options than the Fleet 33, but the pricing gets astronomical. 

Step 3: Identify the hardware you'll need to install. 

KVH FB150 Installed, the white dome on the port quarter. Click to expand.Since we narrowed our search down to Inmarsat's Fleet 33, most of the recommendations point towards the KVH TracPhone FB150 (pictured left). For roughly ~$6000, you can find these available at and Jamestown Distributors. Power consumption (12v) ranges from 2 amps at idle to 20 amps during transmission. 

Although the price is obviously quite high, remember that a new SSB installation can also set you back a good few thousand dollars depending on what you buy and where you buy it.

Step 4: Pick a service plan based on your estimated usage.

Most satellite companies don't bill you directly, instead you'll need to go through another reseller. Since we're looking at the Fleet 33, we'll hop over to's service plans. Their "Entry" plan boasts the following profile:


  • A minimum 12 month contract at $863/month. Just over $10,000 a year ($16,000 for the first year, including hardware).
  • 126MB/month. For the casual Internet user, this is very little data. As an example, the average smartphone data in the US (as of July 2011) is 4x this amount.  To achieve what would be even a spartan usage of regular Internet service (1GB/month), your costs will be roughly $36,000 a year.
  • 9.6Kb/s (which is roughly the speed of a dialup modem from 1994). 


Summary: Yep, it's still very expensive.

There are certainly some people out there who can justify the costs or have a need for it. And for those of us who suffer varying degrees of Internet addiction, like a heroin junkie perhaps the withdrawals are just too painful and worth stealing your mother's television to help subsidize your habit. If you have the money pay for it and perhaps more importantly you want to invite the potentially maddening experience of trying to conduct business via satellite this might work for you.

And a note regarding costs: the $16,000 - $32,000 numbers represent the cheap side of the equation. For folks demanding DSL level speeds know that they are achievable, but the prices quoted hear will seem like pocket change.


good bluewater boat insurance guy

I got a text message from my friend Ryan (who's still managing to have cell coverage off the coast of Mexico) who needed some Mexican liability insurance.

I tried a couple of online sources: no good. His boat is too vintage (1967 and made of wood) and the online places I called just weren't flexible enough. 

Then I got a lead on this guy:

George Lindley
1110 Scott Street
San Diego, CA 92106

I walked out of there with a policy for Ryan that they were able to email him in under thirty minutes for a lower price than anything I saw online. Plus (and most importantly) George knows his boats and knows the boating world. I haven't talked to him about cruising insurance yet and what the options are for that, but if you're looking for someone to contact give him a try. And he has two cute dogs that run around the office as well!