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Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in children (8)


austin stephanos and perry cohen currently lost at sea

Right now, there are two teenage boys missing in the Atlantic Ocean. Their exact fate is unknown and as the time goes on the most terrible of possibilities gains more and more traction: these boys aren't coming home.

I haven't bothered to wade through the horseshit that is certainly being shoveled at the parents right now. Without a doubt, critics from all circles are embracing that most American of pastimes: turning into a puritanical mob hell-bent on leveling moral vengeance. 

The clicks-and-eyeballs-ad-revenue news media fuels this behavior. People want drama and controversy, and modern "journalists" are happy to provide it.

Fortunately my fifteen minutes of fame is long over, so let me pick apart the critics of these families a bit. 

Leaving firearms, alcohol, and motor vehicle deaths aside, we'll just focus on drowning in general. Every day in the United States, roughly ten children die from drowning in swimming pools. Every two and a half hours, every day, a child drowns. Even more brutal is that plenty of life-altering permanent neurological damage occurs for children who survive but suffered lack of blood profusion to the brain for a sustained amount of time.

If the spittle-flying critics really are concerned with the safety of children then surely the shockingly high death rate from backyard pools would be the top of their list. But they're not, and the media doesn't really report it, and sort of like black people dying in Africa (5,500 children a day is the number, by the way), our whole society puts our collective fingers in our ears and ignores it.

But man-oh-man, when something juicy comes along like two boys lost at sea, or a family crossing an ocean, well now there's some info-tainment for you. I don't know about other countries, but here in the US of A we take a certain pride in publicly lecturing those who we feel step out of line. 

  • It has nothing to do with safety.
  • It has nothing to do with a true assessment of risk.
  • It has everything to do with novelty and the treating of our fellow citizens like they are a reality TV show for our entertainment. It's not just an opportunity to criticise, we feel like it's our duty. 

Let me raise an even more blunt point: oceans are better than swimming pools for raising children. Do you know anyone who developed lifelong confidence, connection with others and the environment, and a profound understanding of life via a backyard swimming pool? No, and you never will. 

But if you know any sailors (I use the term to include all who crew ocean going vessels), you'll know these people are deeply and permanently affected by the sea. It is a powerful teacher, taskmaster, and perspective-bringer. 

So not only are backyard pools (and firearms, and alcohol abuse) a much more serious threat (by any math) to the children of America, but you don't even get a lot of positives out of them. I digress, but the ocean doesn't have a lobbying group as where pools, firearms, motor vehicles, and alcohol do. 

So to those of you who shelter your children from, but at the same time expose them to, mortal danger, and then hop on your high horse to denounce others, I squarely write in big bold letters that you're a bad parent. 

Your children will enter the real world one day, and that world isn't the kumbaya singing fantasy land that you're conditioning them to grow into. It's a real world with life and death, beauty and danger, pain and comfort. No matter how much you want the world to be a safe place, it isn't. 

That the critics of this world don't jump all over you when your children are injured in a non media-publicized way simply means your life is in the same cattle chute with everyone else and while it's easy to throw stones at people unlike you, it's terribly uncomfortable to look at your own problems and see them as such. 

If the parents of Austin and Perry ever read this, first and foremost I hope they are found safely. As you've indicated in the press, sailors know the ocean and there are countless search and rescue operations that have yielded jaw dropping results

If your children are gone, I cannot even let my mind go to that place because of the anguish that it entails. But as parents I look at you through a lens that although not popular these days, is what even your critics regard as courageous and noble, when they can arrest their own desires to defend their complacency. 


going (back) to kennedy meadows

My friend and I clinked our tequila loaded mugs together on the last night of a multi-day backpacking trip in the Sierras. It was a success on many levels. Our kids, both four-soon-to-be-five-year-olds, not only survived the 2-night/3-day adventure but by all accounts had a great time. 

We started out at Kennedy Meadows. Located in the South Sierra Wilderness, a day's travel north will take you (along the Pacific Crest Trail) right into Inyo National Forest. The South Fork of the Kern River runs nearby, and beyond all that it happens to be the first place that I went backpacking myself in 6th grade. 

Eric and Cora hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail.

What was really amazing to me is that the first place we set up camp, north of the first stock bridge, was the exact same location that I had gone to as a child. Perhaps quite literally my tent was in the same location as I slept decades before. Being there with my own child, and being able to share the whole experience with another family, was another one of those torch bearer moments that make the whole mortality thing a little less depressing.

The only thing more woodsy than a titanium spork is eating out of a titanium pot with your titanium spork.

We kept it to a simple out and back course (caltopo details, for anyone super interested). I had some big dreams about a loop but the problem with loops is that if you don't make the distance you need to early on then you have to make up for it in the end. Essentially if you screw up the mileage plans on your loop, you're going to have a death march.

A note on death marches: there's a knife edge on backpacking with kids, and you need to play with "pushing it" vs "at-the-moment-enjoyment". Indeed, these two factors are at work with adults as well, but adults can communicate better, train harder, and (typically, but certainly not always) complain a lot less than small children. Walking up mountains is tough, there's no way around it. That's part of what you're doing and it's important that children understand that it's perfectly fine to not feel comfortable all the time. 

Seneca warned that the optimal position of our lives should be general stress and discomfort. The idea being that comfort and excess stressors are equally toxic for us. One could effectively argue that he spotted the problems of a sedentary lifestyle roughly two millenia before it fully plagued the western world

All photo credits are due to my friend, and fellow dad backpacker, Frankie.

This might sound weird, but I want my kids to be uncomfortable. It's good for them to have a hard time. And not in some t-ball-bullshit-hard-time sense where everyone gets a trophy at the end before the pizza party.

When we walked back to the trailhead, after spending three days in the backcountry, I looked Cora in the eye and said something to the effect of:

Who did you see out there on the trails? Adults. Adults in good shape. People walking the PCT from Mexico to Canada. A generally hardcore group of people that are way higher up the bad-ass totem pole than your average Joe. And you, you do it too. You walked for miles and lived in the wilderness. And you did it well. You did what few people can do, and you can own that now because you earned it.

We don't get better by having an easy go of it. Our lives shouldn't be about exposing ourselves to the least amount of discomfort and danger before we drop dead. Stealing from Nassim Taleb:

This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.

But have no fear, gentle hearted souls. In addition to a healthy dose of stoicism a few fun items were entered into the mix. Every night the kids got dessert, we made stick bread, I retold all the wilderness spooky stories I knew, and they literally spent over ten hours simply throwing rocks and sticks into the river.

Long day of walking + ice cold snow melt river = aaaaahhhhhhhhh.

Aside from the desire for a nice shower, I walked away from this trip with even more desire to get our family back to the sea. Back to a place where, like it or not, the wilderness is right up in your grill. Every day, all day. Reflecting between wilderness backpacking and sailing, I think the biggest distinction is that all backpacking trips end eventually. But with sailing, you can literally do it for your entire life. Years and decades can tick by where you are typically inches from the sea. 

Still, it's nice to be in the mountains and for as long as we have access to the beautiful wilderness in the United States we'll use up every minute of it that we can.


we're registered. now all we need to do is sail 4,000 miles with two kids

The tough part is over.So the tough part is over: we've signed up on the Pacific Puddle Jump website. Now that those harrowing two minutes are done, all that's left is 3,000 miles of open ocean with two small children. That of course merely takes you to the western end of the South Pacific: another several thousand miles sits between our destination and New Zealand, our "final destination". 

Final destination is in air quotes there because it's somewhere that right now we're execting to park the boat for a bit and live. After two years in the tropics it will be nice to not worry about mosquitoes and possibly engage my inner snowboarder. 

If it seems rather crazy to do what we're doing, just imagine how crazy it seems for me as the guy who's actually doing it.


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.


watching cora grow up

Cora's first birthday.Tonight I got the chance to hang out with my daughter for most of the evening, just the two of us. Because of my schedule and Cora's current desire to hang out with Charlotte all the time it's actually pretty rare for Cora and I to spend an evening together alone.

Because I don't get a chance to really "bond" with her (I can't believe I'm using that word) often, when I do the differences are really profound. I see her almost every day, but the bonding part really only happens every month. It's sort of like cartoons written out page by page on the corners of a paperback book. There are definite frames that I see with a fracturing that keeps it from being perfectly linear. 

The disjointedness between the frames, the pronounced difference from one snapshot to the next. Like a figure moving in the dark, it's the actual movement that draws focus.

So Cora, I write this to the future you in the hopes that you read it one day. Getting a chance to spend a nice evening with my daughter is one of my favorite things to do. As much as I'm scared of you growing up fast, I'm so excited for you to learn about this world and all the wonderful things in it.


dinghy sailing with cora

Eric and Cora at 18 months, ghosting along on the Walker Bay 8. Click to enlarge.I have no way of knowing if she's going to grow up enjoying sailing, but by god she's going to be good at it. 

Our dinghy is a Walker Bay 8 (that I got used, in great shape, with the sailkit, for $400). With the 80 degree weather this weekend I bent on the sail and did some zooming around. Cora was a eight weeks old when we first took her sailing. She was so small that we had to roll up blankets and pack her between them so she wouldn't roll around in the cabin.

At three months, Cora rode out a series of storms including some brief gale force action.

As cool as all that sounds, one could argue that it's easier to be in a keelboat at 30 knots than it is to be in a dinghy at 10 knots.

Can you spot Cora's backpack? Click to enlarge.So with a light Santa Ana blowing we proceeded to sail back and forth across America's Cup Harbor. On Saturday I kept it short and we just zipped over to Point Break Cafe for some daddy-daughter breakfast time. Zip across the cove, tie up at San Diego Marine Exchange's dock, and walk the hundred feet to a delicious Mexican egg scramble.

On our second day out, Cora simply fell asleep. I tacked as silently as I could, trying to avoid the sound of the cam cleat blocks rattling around and minimizing heel by shifting my weight around.

Not only did she do good, but she did much better than expected. She enjoyed it, liked looking at the birds (tweet-tweets), although she freaked out a bit when she woke up and we were still underway.

Skippers, take note. The "finger hold" technique. Click to enlarge.It's going to take her a while to develop the motor skills to haul in the main sheet, but that will be her first job I think. I'll probably control the trim and have her take the slack up and lock it in the cam cleat.

And while it has absolutely no relevance to the contents of this blog post, I'm currently listening to Harbor Lights by The Platters, and maybe you should too. Very nautical stuff. Listen to it enough and you'll probably be ready to sail Drake's Passage.


yes, you can workout with a newborn at home

I went for a terrific run today that I just had to share. Nothing magical and nothing you probably don't already know about, but it was great just the same. I've been training for a while for the America's Finest City Half Marathon (26.2/2=13.1), so my weekend runs have been getting longer and longer. Initially doing 5 miles was a lot, then pushing 7 or 8 was tough, and today I was able to belt out about ten and a half with a solid sprint at the end and felt great.

Exhausted afterwards and ready for a nap, but great none the less.

It's been a little challenging to maintain a running and lifting schedule with a two week old newborn (a week of which was spent in the hospital), but it's doable. In fact, I'm getting ready to throw the official bullshit flag on dads who get fat and lazy and blame their kids (or their new responsibilities, however you want to phrase it) for it.

Let me be clear, it's hard. For the last year or so I've religiously lifted weights 3-6 days a week, only stopping for actual injury recovery or planned rests (of which there have been three one-week periods in that year). I've run three days a week, again only stopping three times, to let some overuse injuries heal.

Since the delivery, my schedule has been much more erratic and hard to predict. Rather than having the well oiled schedule I did before, the sleepless nights that most newborn parents have to deal with turn every day into a dice roll, where you don't know how much energy you'll have the next day.

So some days when I can't make it to the gym, I do as many pushups as I can, throughout the day. Crunches can be done almost anywhere. Pullups on the campionway hatch. Lunges down the salon. It's not perfect, but it keeps the base alive and is much better than doing nothing. As is said around my workplace, the enemy of done is often perfect, meaning that just because you can't do something exactly the way you'd like to doesn't mean you shouldn't get it done regardless. As is often the case in life, if you wait for the lights to be green you'll be waiting your entire life.

So dads, get out there. Kick some ass, and make sure your kids grow up knowing that excuses don't work for them any better than they work for you.



baby onboard

Tomorrow, our daughter Cora will be two weeks old. We spent the first week in the hospital, and the second week on the boat. So far we've been doing what most newborns and their parents do: sleep, eat, use the bathroom, and adjust.

For my non-parental friends and readers, most newborns wake up ever 2-3 hours, feed (you can't really call it "eating" yet) for ~30-45 minutes, and go back to sleep. In between there are a few moments of alertness, superseded by diaper changes, and cleaning up the little spills they make.

I took a month off of work, which has been great. Getting lots of boat work done, getting a chance to help with Cora, and breaking away from work for a little bit.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about the impact of having little Cora onboard shortly. Right now we're just getting a lot done and having some fun, and we've already seen several people who are quite supportive of Cora growing up on a boat, and others who aren't quite so helpful. 

But the things that matter are great. Cora's happy and healthy, Charlotte is, and the boat is still floating.