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

test

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

Thursday
Apr102014

twenty four hours back in san diego

First, we would like to express our profound gratitude for the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard. These people are true heroes, along with Commander Alva and the crew of the USS Vandegrift. We will remember them forever.

We have been happy with the maritime life we have been able to share with our daughters. Even as we write this, several other boats are crossing the same stretch of water that Rebel Heart was on, with families who seek to show their children the world. Children have been sailing on boats for a long time, and the modern cruising family dates back several decades.

To our supporters and those who also seek an adventurous path with their families, we thank you for your kind words and support. From professional rescuers, professional sailors, and other families at sea we have been buoyed by your warmth and kindness. For those who are more critical, we ask that you kindly await all the details. There have been many inaccuracies reported through various media related to our daughter's health, the vessels' condition, and our overall maritime situation.

While we are thankful for the unsolicited generosity we have received and been offered, we encourage you to consider donating to That Others May Live (www.thatothersmaylive.org), which provides relief to the families of members of the United States Air Force Rescue community when tragedy strikes.

Monday
Mar312014

day 12 - trade wind sailing

We're officially in the Northern Pacific trade winds. Earlier, when I was dreaming about crossing oceans I remember seeing a picture of Lynn Pardey on the coach roof of her small sailboat, playing guitar up by the mast with the wind gently blowing them towards whatever tropical destination they were bound for.

I'm sure many have that experience.

For us, we've been in force 5 conditions for the last three days straight now. Lumped up seas, beefy swells, small breakers, and roughly twenty knots of breeze. Our lulls are around fifteen knots, and the gusts are at twenty five which normally would make for terrific sailing but living with that kind of boat motion for multiple days on end can be a little, let's just say, tiring.

The advantage is that we're hauling ass, making one hundred mile days with severely reduced canvas, and no more do I need to come out on deck at two in the morning and strip Rebel Heart to bare poles.

The disadvantage is that the motion is brutal, especially when you do it day in and day out. Last night before sundown I visually checked the rig and saw three slide cars (slugs) had disconnected from the mainsail, on top of course. No big deal, I'll just drop her down (already double reefed), fix, and re-hoist. So now those big beefy eight foot waves with breaking crests we got to plow into for a few minutes in order to get the sail down and up.

Problem solved, sail rehoisted. Three hours later (midnight or so) I look up with a flashlight to admire my handywork and notice they are all popped off again. Cool.

The yankee (our outermost jib) has suffered a bit of damage from some flogging during sail changes but fortunately it seems to be limited to re-enforced areas. Three cheers for sailmakers and the smarts they employ of knowing where problems will develop in advance.

Charlotte made a coffee cake last night, we managed to have sex once while both children were asleep, and none of us have sustained any long term injuries other than the bruising typically associated with offshore passage making.

I'm sitting in the cockpit typing this, looking aft past the wind vane steering system at the heaped up white caps and breakers. The old sailor adage comes to mind that there are indeed only three types of wind: "Not enough, too much, and perfect in the wrong direction."

We're roughly a third of the way through mileage wise, but more importantly I'm hopeful our experiences south of 5 degrees north latitude, including the South Pacific easterlies, will be a bit less beefy and give us the chance to walk across the cabin without taking our life in our hands.

We finally saw a ship after four days of nothing; it was the first time our VHF speaker has uttered a peep as well since we cleared the Mexican coast.

Much to do, Lyra is waking up from her nap, and Rebel Heart is dutifully slicing through the water on a south westerly course.

Wednesday
Mar262014

fingers crossed for wind again

Someone in Puerto Vallarta make sure you hop on the VHF and tell Mike Danielson that, indeed, I'm glad I brought a good book with me because we've been rather becalmed for the last few days. "Becalmed" of course is a fancy way for saying "the swell will rock you around as your sails flog themselves to death with insufficient wind to move the boat in any relevant direction."

We're maybe five or six hundred miles off the coast of Mexico headed south west, trying every trick in the book to get down closer to more reliable winds. There are some not-unfriendly looking cumulus clouds floating around the barometer took a small hit so I'm hoping this keeps up through the night. I've really learned to embrace my inner light-air sailor. Three days of < 10 knot winds will do that to you, or at least they have to me.

For the last few nights the wind has dropped to around 3 knots, not "strengthening" to 7-ish knots until later in the morning. This has honestly been some of the toughest sailing I've done: needing to handle a boat in flukey air, dropping all sails and bobbing like a cork for hours in the open ocean, and trying to extract every ounce of speed I can when it does pipe up a bit. There's a certain joy in being exhausted from your day, only to hear your rig slamming about in nonexistent winds. Dropping sails on deck, the mainsail ungracefully trash-packed all over the coach roof, and my grumbling with my headlamp on.

We've only burned five gallons of diesel so far in this whole affair, knowing that since we carry so little (30, total) there really isn't a lot of fudge factor. Every drop and every minute needs to be carefully allocated and there hasn't been anywhere worth motoring towards, so sitting with johnsons-in-hand we do. In my defense this is my first ocean crossing and I'm usually a much better weather router, but I definitely screwed up the assessment on this one a bit and have been getting the consequences rammed into my respective orifices.

I haven't had a ton of time to sit around and be reflective about this insanely long passage. My waking hours are spent, entirely, working. Parenting, extracting performance from whatever wind we have, fixing a few broken things, laundry, my day job, and then trying to connect with my wife once the kids are in bed. Oh, and then there's whatever the night has in store for us which lately has been a huge back of, well, you know.

The forecast looks better starting tomorrow, we haven't seen a boat in days, and our apples should last another week if we ration ourselves.

Time to flip on the running lights and watch some Battle Star Galactica with Charlotte on my laptop.

Sunday
Mar232014

day ... 4?

I think it's day 4 now?

We're still running a somewhat normal configuration of a single reefed main, staysail, and yankee with decent results. During the daylight hours the wind tends to freshen a bit. At night we're seeing around 8 knots, and it pipes up to maybe 15-20 during the middle of the afternoon.

Night time boat speeds are hovering around 5.5, daytime is more like 6.5. We've bumped 8 knots a few times, and a few days ago we bobbed like a cork at 0.0.

I'm still trying to make sure we make a lot of westerly progress. That's not really that hard to do, but it does put the boat on a beam reach which for full grown adults isn't a problem but for a one year old it's a little... active.

At night when everyone is in bed, I sneak around and trim all the sails in a little tighter and put us back on a close reach. The motion is lumpy but people are sleeping so I get away with it. Once everyone is awake I'll widen back up again to a broad reach for the comfort factor.

The psychology of this trip has been rough. I read about everyone else's Pacific crossings: watching movies, reading books, fishing, etc. On Rebel Heart from the minute the girls are awake we're in extreme parenting mode with a couple of intervals where it calms down a bit during naps or digitally enhanced entertainmnet.

We've finally started reading about the islands from Polynesia to Tonga that we're planning on checking out: it's been a boost to our spirits to realize that we're not just crossing 3,000 miles of water for shits and grins. There is indeed, hopefully, a warm light at the end of the tunnel that involves a pleasant anchorage and some type of rum-based beverage.

Saturday
Mar222014

36 hours into our pacific crossing

Well this certainly is an interesting experience. It's not every day that one gets to sail across an ocean for the first time, and as I type this that's what we're doing. A gap materialized whereby both girls are entertained, the boat is basically on course and balanced, the water tank is full, batteries are at 14 volts, and well, things are pretty good.

Yesterday, things were not so good.

On our first day out the wind died at night, giving us the option of light air sailing with our drifter, bobbing like a cork with the sails down, or burning precious diesel fuel which will be needed later on.

Once the heavy Dacron sails couldn't keep up, I hoisted the lightweight drifter and we managed to make a couple of knots for a few hours. Dew set in after dark, saturating the boat and making everything cold and wet. Then the drifter parted, and my thoughts went to a "skied halyard", meaning one that is way the hell up there and you can't get it back down.

Portions of the sail went down into the water, forming a sea anchor of sorts, which loaded up the jib sheets (secured with bowlines). A blown out (1/3 of it was gone) sail was wrapping around the keel which fortunately on our boat is full-ish in shape so there's not a good chance of anything wrapping.

I had to literally hack the drifter up with my rigging knife, at three in the morning, on a sloppy wet deck with my headlamp on: pretty salty stuff.

The wind has actually been out of the WNW today (day 2), so we're close hauled making 4 knots or so now with a single reefed main, staysail, and yankee. The Hydrovane has been dutifully steering us around.

On the grib forecasts it looks like the wind starts shifting to be more northerly, which will let us widen up our angle to a beam reach and make true westward progress.

Psychologically, it's a pretty big adjustment to get used to an underway boat, at least for us. Day sailing is one thing, but this is a whole different bag of potatoes. I'm usually a meticulous navigator but I've found myself realizing that short of a daily fix there isn't much use in being more anal about it.

I'm really hoping the wind stays up tonight and doesn't die off like it did last night. Off the west coast of Baja, once you were about ~50nm out, the daily diurnal wind patterns dropped off and you got the prevailing northwesterlies.

It will take a huge load off of my mind to be "in the trades", or at least in a 24 hour wind pattern that we can bank on throughout the night. Bobbing like a cork is no fun, my light air sail is totally unrepairable, and diesel is worth its weight in gold.

Today we found ourselves in the cockpit for a few hours, everyone happy, the boat zipping along, and we look around smiling, realizing that this really can be fun. One day down, maybe 30 more to go.

Sunday
Mar162014

wednesday, not friday

A few years ago I almost crewed on a boat bound for Hawaii, departing from San Diego. The owner onboard was a lazy drunk who didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground, but he was damn sure not going to leave on a Friday. 

For those who don't know, the general consuses was that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday. Because we like to to pick and choose mythology in our consumer based society, sailors picked that one as an unlucky day to depart.

Which is utterly ridiculous if you think about the amount of commercial ships and warships that leave whenever they are required, Fridays included, for as long as boats have been on the water. Leave it to the knuckleheads with the lowest amount of sea time to lug around superstitious mumbo jumbo up there with angry gods sending fire out of the tops of mountains because an insufficient quantity of virgins were sacrificed.

The don't-leave-on-Friday bullshit is especially absurd if you think of the practical and pragmatic pressures on vessel schedules: official entry and exit requirements, weather, tides, visas, and much else.

Personally I'd prefer to leave on a Friday just to imagine the head shakes and tssk-tssk's that would emerge from hardened seafarers (crossing their fist ocean, just like me). 

This is a long way of saying we're slated to depart Wednesday night. Hoping to grab some showers, wait for the wind to die out, and motor out of the bay once the chop has died down.

Sunday
Mar162014

some updates for thekeel.com

I published some updates on thekeel.com today that hopefully should solve a couple of problems some people were experiencing.

  • Map would load, but you weren't on it. Well in fact you were on it, but the zoom and centering was way off. So it should be a lot better now.
  • Tracer effect added. Until now you could upload GPX tracks and your current position, but there wasn't anything in the middle. Now you'll have a colored linestring for your last 60 days of checkins, connecting the dots (as it were) of the places you've been. Now that I type that, it should be user configurable, but I think I'm up to my eyeballs in code changes already.
  • Cache updates. Should make everything a bit quicker.

What should get me some sympathy from any other developers out there is took me about ~10 hours just to get the site to recompile on my laptop. Between the last time I had worked on it and now I got a new laptop, so everything collided as new versions of Entity Framework blew up all my data references. 

As an example of the "tracer effect", let's take my good friend Sven for example, piloting his Ericson along Mexico. See Sven, I told you I had your data!

 

If anyone has any feedback, please email me. I can't always knock out problems as soon as you find them but I'll add them to the stack and knock them out when I have a decent connection some down time.

Wednesday
Mar122014

we're [eventually] going to leave soon!

We're still sitting here at the dock, moving bulky gear around the over-stuffed cabin, ready to cross an ocean. Why are we sitting in a slip, holding our collective johnsons, you may ask? Well unfortunately for us the weather does not share our state of readiness. Instead it has decided to be light and flukey.

Slow sailing isn't necassarily bad. In fact, with a light swell, it's down right enjoyable. We have a big drifter. 8-12 knots of wind can be a downright pleasure.

But 4 knots true when you need to move downwind? Well, that's a little different. And that's the wind speed I heard on the SSB this morning for a boat that's sitting a few hundred miless off the coast. Looking at the forecast it's just going to get softer and softer over the next week, eventually blowing lightly from the south (ie: the wrong way entirely).

The furthest forecast I can see, including on Fleet Numerical's models, shows the Pacific High establishing itself (finally) eight days from now and hopefully a low pressure trough gets shoved down on us from the Gulf of Alaska. If those two things line up, that will create enough power to get off the coast (courtesy of the storm's remnants), and the Pacific High should be sitting there allowing the trades to operate at a good strength and extend far enough to the east that we can "hook into them". Mike Danielson at PV Sails went over some of this with me and I felt better finally having someone explain to me what the monsoonal trough really f'n is.

That's a lot to wish for and it's at the outer edge of a model trying to predict global weather, but every week or two conditions look better than they did a week or two before.

So, here we sit. On many cans of chicken and pork, we sit, waiting for the winds to align so we can shove off in a nice breeze towards Polynesia. 

In the mean time we've implemented a "chill the f out" policy onboard. After weeks of scrabbling to get ready, we're as ready as we can reasonably be. We've crossed the threshold whereby anything stressful or onerous at this point doesn't have a major impact on our success. 

And as anyone who's prepared for a big journey knows, it's a lot of work and sometimes you need to stop and remind yourself that the whole thing is supposed to be enjoyable, not just bearable. 

Thursday
Mar062014

getting ready to say good bye to mexico

Just me and my shirtless male friend touching each other.

I've lived in Mexico now for a year and a half. My Spanish has improved and I can accomplish most anything I need to, albeit I probably have the equivalent grammar and vocabulary of a four year old. But still, I have a dual citizen Mexico-United States daughter. I flipped through my passport and saw that in the last sixteen months I've accumulated eight re-entries to Mexico. I've written a book about my experiences here.

I've singlehanded Baja and the Sea of Cortez, and sailed across it twice more with the girls. I drove a van from Tijuana to San Diego, then back down the Baja peninsula to La Paz. I flew in a twin engine prop plane across the Sea of Cortez, twice, missed a flight in Cabo, and have collected every type of passport entry method aside from a train (which I'm not sure even exists in the US-Mexico border). 

I've surfed, paddleboarded, scuba dived, hiked, ran, snorkled, crewed a race boat, gotten drunk, ran into old friends, met new friends, did other things I can't put on this blog, lived in two apartments, and raced down a lonely Mexican highway in the middle of the night with my wife in labor as a police pickup escorted us.

A possible route for us, in manly pink.

A weather window has materialized allowing us to sail the 3,000 miles to the South Pacific, meaning that multiple days of decent winds have shown up as far as the forecast models will go. This, coupled with the pilot charts and general sailor-wisdom pointing to mid-March through mid-April as being optimal times to cross, means that no matter how you slice it our time left in Mexico is pretty short: possibly only a few more days. 

I'm not sure how I feel about Mexico. Because my daughter was born here, both Charlotte and I are eligible for permanent resident status. For most of my friends back in the USA, the idea of living long term in Mexico might seem rather absurd: it's a narco cartel ridden back water that's dirty, dangerous, and poor, right?

Well, not really. Talking about "Mexico" is a lot like talking about the "USA". Can you really compare Detroit, San Diego, Manhatten, and rural towns in Appalacha and Wyoming? They're incredibly different and most of the people living in one of those places probably wouldn't get along well with the folks from the others. Mexico, while certainly not as culturally or racially diverse as the USA, still has many layers and it's frankly ignorant to imagine a country so large and involved as being nothing more than our backwards and poor neighbor to the south. 

Zooming down the highway with Charlotte in labor, some unknown woman's car, police escorting us.Still, it will be nice to leave, but for me personally it's because I have a fair case of wanderlust. As you travel around by boat, in every harbor or bay someone will undoubtedly tell you that their little slice of the world, the one you're in at that moment, is the best.

I know seven people who've sailed around the world, and they came back here and said it was the best they'd ever seen.

I've heard that above line (with startling little deviation) in San Diego, Catalina, Puerto Escondido, La Paz, Mazatlan, and Bahia de Banderas. Personally I think the various boosters and self proclaimed admiralty of whatever bay are well meaning, but their attitude is akin to a townie who views any departure as treason, sensing the threat that if people want to leave the spectre is raised that perhaps that little slice of Earth isn't really all that special. Or at least not so special as to keep you from finding happiness somewhere else, albeit on a different set of merits.

More to the point, the only reason I've seen so many amazing places and done so many amazing things is because we got off our asses, pushed ourselves hard, and went into unknown (to us) territory. Sometimes the results were spectacular: La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and San Blas come to mind. Sometimes the results were mixed: Mazatlan and La Paz. And sometimes the place was an absolute dump that should be used for storing nuclear waste: Puerto Escondido. 

Despite Mexico's faults, and like any nation it has a long list, it has treated myself and my family well. The people have been warm, generous, and kind. I've traveled in the USA and returned to Mexico over a half dozen times, and right along with the knock-down heat I get a smile on my face and feel at home.

So Mexico, thanks. 

Monday
Mar032014

me and my little buddy

My friend Carlos gave us a ride to a store that sold "panga tanks". If you'e sailed in Mexico, you know these things. Five bucks, fifty liters, surprisingly durable.

Where I go, she goes: me and Cora. 

Cora and I have been glued to each other for the last year or so. Ever since Lyra showed up we, like many parents I would assume, divide and conquer. It's hard working on a boat project with one small child, it's virtually impossible with two. So when I need to go somewhere or do something I bring Cora because otherwise Charlotte would be dealing with two kids while I get to haul ass around and be independent: kind of a dick move.

Fortunately, I really like Cora. She's funny, nice, and tries really hard to always do the right thing. I think because I do so many grown-up projects with her that I sometimes forget she's three years old. I caught myself getting frustrated because she didn't know the difference between a socket and a box wrench. It's odd sometimes to traverse adult-level challenges and then hear a no-punch-line joke about poop from someone with hand-drawn tiger stripes on her knees. 

She routinely walked miles with in the Baja summer heat. She's been on bouncy bus rides, airplanes, multiple boats, and slept in a dozen beds. She always wants to help me. She loves her mom. She really loves her sister and those two are adorable together.

In the last year if you've seen me for more than five minutes, chances are good that Cora was there with me. Possibly picking flowers, telling you about her day, or asking if you like her dress. 

Cora and I zooming out to Rebel Heart in Puerto Escondido.

Cora and I have been to parties together. We've gone to the beach together. We've had take-out on the sand together. We've gone paddleboarding together. Surfing together. Swimming together. To a waterpark together. To movies together. To the plaza together. To workout together. To my job together. Worked on the boat together. She sailed through a gale at four months old and has crossed the Sea of Cortez twice (as has her sister and mom).

So little buddy when you read this in the future, just know you've been a dynamite kid.