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 mexico (65)


four days at sea later, we're back in la cruz

We spent the last four days and three nights underway, about 25% of that motoring across the typically flat Sea of Cortez, and the other 75% bouncing around at or near hull speed whilst double reefed with terrific force 3-6 conditions. For one evening in particular things got a little beefy, but we have a heavy cutter and with the mainsail double reefed and the staysail on its boom, the boat rarely ever feels over powered. Still, it's weird to see 7.4 knots for a Hans Christian 36.

Double reefed, Hydrovane steering, flag flapping, ripping long before the weather really started up.

One really weird thing that blew my mind were the two encounters with upper tonnage commercial ships. In both cases I saw them on AIS early enough, and they saw me as well (visually, on radar, and via our AIS transponder). Normally in an open seaway things are a bit clearer: you're generally moving on one heading as is the other vessel, so potential collisions are spotted early. 

But in narrow bisecting channels that curve and look like spaghetti noodles piled onto the chart, AIS isn't smart enough to do the math that you're going to be making a turn in a few minutes (to avoid shoal waters, for example) as is the other vessel. 

Both times I contacted the bridge via the VHF and politely explained that we were a sailing vessel with limited options for maneuvering, and acknowledged they are probably restricted in their options because of the channel depth. It was blowing pretty good, I had two preventers rigged, and the wind vane was in the water: yes I can officially state that it would have been a pain in the ass to move out of their way. But I also know, because hey, I paid attention in captain school, I was intersecting a channel that they were crossing: we needed to figure out a mutually beneficial solution to our problem.

Closer than most of us want to get.

Both deck officers were more than polite and shot our stern. The captain of the Mazatlan Star in fact [figuratively] ran into us again a day later and hit me up on the VHF just to chit chat and say hello. As a footnote, if you ever run into a good merchant captain out there, consider taking the time to send an email or make a phone call to the company that they work for. These are men and women with jobs, and the good ones should be aknowledged more. 

I don't know if I'll ever get used to really long passages. I enjoy them much more these days, in large part because we have the boat (and ourselves) much more dialed in. The self steering systems work well. With paper navigation and a windvane we eliminate two of the always-on power consumers on many sail boats: the autopilot and chartplotter-electronics-suite. Charlotte's a good cook and has dialed in more and more recipes underway that make use of what provisions we might have, don't require a ton of cleanup, and doesn't sentence anyone to long stays in the galley doing prep work.

My navigation and weather skills are definitely better than they were, and my ability to balance the boat and keep her as comfortable as possible in a bucking seaway is improving. All of these little steps: from changing out incandescent light bulbs to LED, all the way to a balanced sail plan to avoid over ruddering constitute a base that doesn't eliminate problems, but has certainly freed us up to concentrate on other ones. 

Sunrise on the Pacific, just south of the Sea of Cortez.We're safely back in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and even within two hours of being on the mainland we were clinking glasses and getting hugs from friends we made last year. In less than an evening we were welcomed back by numerous people, invited to a local birthday party Saturday night where a lady has been dying for us to try her posole, and I hugged our old cabby Oscar that almost caused Lyra to be born in the back of a van.

And with that, the Sea of Cortez is now officially behind us. 


adios la paz (and the sea of cortez)

We are fueled up (with our mighty 12 gallon tank), there are decent notherlies scheduled to blow for the next few days, the National Hurricane Center has nothing forming, and the Hydrovane blade is up and the rudder mounted: in short, except for barely any propane, we're ready to rock the ~330 nautical miles from Bahia de La Paz to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (lah-crooz-day-whana-cox-lay). 

Adios, bitches.La Paz has been great and lame at the same time. Recently it's been a breath of fresh air having the Baja HaHa'rs in town which supplies a much needed jolt of vitality to what is otherwise a sailor's retirement village. The Sea of Cortez though, for all its splendor and beauty will be forever remembered to us as a hot and barren wasteland riddled with cyclones, overpriced (and shitty) food, and gringos who really have no interest in Mexico beyond someone doing their laundry on the cheap.

In my first year of sailing a big lesson I have learned is that similar to normal life, not everyone likes the same things. People eat different food, they read different books, and enjoy different movies. You need to sail and go where you want to: no one is handing out trophies because you managed to put up with more shit than you needed to or managed to not perish in an infecund hellhole that some neckbeard finds perfect for his or her anti-social tendencies.

Puerto Escondido, sunset.So we're off to La Cruz. A lot of boats depart for the South Pacific from there, something we're dumb enough to do this Spring. We might have rose colored glasses on about La Cruz. Perhaps it was simply the first place in Mexico that made us feel like real sailors, but perhaps it really is that much better than La Paz and the Sea. No matter how tinted our shades are, they're not so bad as to completely obscure the differences in culture and tone. In Banderas Bay there are kite surfers, in La Paz there are darts on Wednesdays. In La Cruz every month there is a paddle-whatever-craft race where the goal is to pick up balloons for free beer, in La Paz there is a darts game on Wednesdays. In Puerto Vallarta there is a paddleboard race through a river with actual crocodiles, and well, you know about the darts in La Paz.

We met some awesome people in La Paz, some of which we'll even get a chance to cross into the South Pacific with. We also got a chance to meet up with some previous friends and it has been nice to be somewhere largely immune to the narco cartel violence that truthfully does plague the mainland. 

I'm rambling but this is my blog and it's really the only place I feel comfortable blabbling on. I know the big X is up there in your browser tab so hey, thanks for not clicking it just yet.


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.


one year as "real" sailors

It was exactly one year ago that we motored out of San Diego Harbor and started what has been, for me, the most amazing year of my life.

I've been trying to put my thoughts together about it for a while and just keep shaking my head. Charlotte and I sat around for a few minutes tonight just going through the list and it feels like decades worth of experiences, crammed into a single calendar year.

Our youngest daughter was born following the reenactment of a Benny Hill skit with Cole Trickle. I singlehanded ~1300 miles from Ensenada to Bahia de Banderas. I did my job from a developing nation. I took a train across the United States, and got the flu in New Orleans. We've crossed the Sea of Cortez, myself twice. I've weathered half a dozen cyclones. We've eaten fish we've pulled from the sea. We've met incredibly interesting people.

We've swung into tropical springs with rope from a tree branch, nets up to keep the crocodiles out. 

Charlotte and I sat in Puerto Escondido and found Lyra in the stars

The hardest things to put into writing though are the transformative impacts of it all. 

The problem with being an adventurer is that you'll never again belong in any one place. 

This year has been like a surgical operation, pulling away pieces of us that we don't really need and buttressing areas that had grown soft from "real life".

I'm summarizing a bit, but a core aspect of Robert Pirsig's commentary on sailing is that is indeed more "real" than "real life". So much of modern living is about insulating a person. Insulating away from the environment, from fear, from discomfort, from challenge, and ultimately from themselves. 

In Walden, Thoreau spoke of modern inventions:

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at.

It's really hard to believe that we'll be leaving for the South Pacific in a few months. Sailing with the family is physically, emotionally, and financially tough but looking back on the first year I can say this: it was absolutely worth it and I can't wait to write the next installment from New Zealand. 


west coast is the best coast

I'd like to take a minute to crap all over east coast sailors. I myself am from the east coast of course, born right outside the city of brotherly love. But thankfully I got my sailing chops on the west coast, which I will now explain to you why it is indeed the best coast.

The distance from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas is 97 miles. Ninety seven. That kind of wimp ass distance us west coasters do standing on our heads. 

For us to get from San Diego to Isthmus on Santa Catalina Island was the same distance, and that was amateur hour. Hell, Cora rode out a gale in that run, twice, when she was three months old.

No, for us west coasters to "go cruising" we have three choices:

1) Sail the two and a half thousand miles to Hawaii. 

2) Sail the four thousand miles to French Polynesia.

3) Sail over eight hundred miles through no-man's land of Baja, and that just deposits you on the end of a peninsula for which you must either continue on for another hundred miles to get anywhere decent or go another few hundred miles across the Sea of Cortez. Broken up normally that is four passages of three days a pop, over a thousand miles of which there is no safe haven from anything.


So with that, I salute you, 2013 Class of Baja HaHa'rs whether or not you're actually in the rally matters not. What does matter is that you're currently in Mexico, probably for your first time, offshore right at this very moment slugging away at over a thousand nautical miles of distance to get to the mainland. 

You left in the rain. There is a cyclone forming at this very moment that you'll need to contend with. You probably got a bunch of slop thrown at you from Hurricane Raymond. There's a low pressure system on your heels from the Gulf of Alaska. These conditions which you simply accept as the baseline of sailing is why east coast sailors should buy you a drink any time you're around.



puerto escondido to la paz

We had actually decided to leave Puerto Escondido (Spanish for "a goat's filthy asshole") two weeks ago. We got as far as Candeleros, 7nm south, but Hurricane Manuel headed our way so back to Puerto Escondido we ran. When we finally dried off from that we put our metaphoric foot down: we're done with Puerto Escondido. We bought whatever miserable provisions we could: stale bread, paper towels, and Red Bull. We spent two days prepping the boat for passage making mode and away we went.

Sunrise on the Sea of Cortez. Single reefed main, heading south.

I was pretty happy with my planning on this one. Diesel usage in the Sea of Cortez is normally a huge joke. The joke is you motor around all day and then get blown out of an anchorage at night. But on I saw a pretty good window of steady N-NE winds in the 10-20 knot range and combined with Charlotte wanting to put some miles between us and Puerto Escondido we punched it.

In the end, we managed the whole affair in two rather straight forward days. Twenty four hours, sailing through the night, then dropped into Isla Partida for some rest the second night. Woke up this morning, motored down to La Paz, and clinked our margarita glasses together to a safe and speedy passage. The total diesel consumption was somewhere around 4 gallons: a joke in these parts.

Moonrise over the Sierra de la Giganta.

Ever since single handing the Pacific side of Baja I've grown to favor the longer and more offshore routes. Granted, "offshore" is a relative term in a Sea that's barely two hundred miles across in some places. But in the middle of the Sea you get steadier winds, less refracted waves, and less of the current-induced choppiness that can be common in places such as the San Jose Channel. 

I've done and will continue to do night time gybes between islands in the dark, hoping that your plotting skills are dead accurate otherwise a rocky cliff is in your future. But if I can avoid that by going around something, even if it adds a few miles, count me in. Two hours spent with white knuckles in the middle of the night versus three hours relaxed listening to some MP3's of This American Life while sipping tea: which would you pick?

Cora with the Hydrovane in the background.We managed to knock out just over 100 nautical miles (of a ~130 nm run) without running the engine which is a miracle on the Sea of Cortez. Even better, we hauled ass. This was really my first time putting the Hydrovane through it's paces and I've got to tell you: I'm impressed. If there was enough wind to sail, the Hydrovane could steer. Even better it doesn't use a single electron of electricity and is built like a tank. Note to self: trying to pull into a marina with the rudder down is like walking around your friend's apartment holding a 20' long pole. The reduction in steerage response is dramatic in close quarter maneuvering so typical in a marina. We had a cross wind and cross current (opposing each other), but still, I'll be popping that sucker off before we take up another slip.

Our plan is to sit tight here, wait out Hurricane Raymond who hopefully doesn't come up this way, and haul butt down the 4-5 day passage to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. 


the affordable care act (obamacare) and cruising sailors

Lyra seeing the doctor in Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico.If you're an American citizen the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) affects you. If you're a sailor heading to far off locales or residing in foreign lands for prolonged periods of time, your interaction with the PPACA is going to get interesting.

As a full disclaimer, I work in the insurance space but am not acting as an agent or providing personal counsel. I'll source everything directly; you can read the details yourself. This legislation is also evolving so look for updates. In fact the law is changing so rapidly that I urge you to view the real Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) viewer on In researching this article I found several out of date CFR's from sources as reputable as Cornell Law and CFRRegsToday. Cornell at least notes that there are updates not reflected in their texts.

Q. I'm sailing outside the United States, do I need health care insurance even though I'm not in the USA? Come on bro, I don't need insurance, do I?

Basically, by January 1, 2014, almost every American citizen requires health insurance that meets certain standards ("minimum essential coverage"). The IRS has listed a few exemptions from the PPACA, criteria that if you match, you do not need to have insurance. Two of these exemptions are relevant to many long distance sailors: the 330 rule and the no-filing-requirement rule.

Q. What's the 330 rule?

The IRS has had the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) for a while, which basically lets you exclude up to ~$90K of income every year from federal taxation. To qualify, the IRS has a Physical Presence Test to verify that you spent 330 or more days of the year outside the United States.

Why this matters is that the IRS is using the same logic to determine if you are exempt from the PPACA's individual mandate

There are a lot of variables to the physical presence test, so consult IRS Pub 54 for more information. In short, if you qualify for the FEIE, you are excluded from the PPACA's individual mandate.

Charlotte getting a checkup and sonogram in Ensenada, Baja, Mexico.

Q. But bro, the requirements and realities of medical coverage are completely disjointed. In some places there aren't even medical services, and even just the definition of preventive coverage is different.

The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (noted as "The Departments") have joined together to address problems with the PPACA, including its enforcement to expatriates. To that end, there is a smidgen of wiggle room because they are still working on it. New legislation will come into play by January 1, 2015, and until then you'll see the 2014 year marked as the "temporary transitional period."

Q. I'm on Medicare Part A, Medicare Advantage, or a Medicade plan. Do I need to buy coverage?

No. Medicare Part A and Medicare Advantage provide "minimum essential coverage", and most Medicade plans do but you'll need to check specifically on your plan provider's website.

Q. Well I still need insurance, what kind of insurance do I need to have then?

If you're covered under Medicare Part A, Medicare Advantage, or most Medicaid plans you don't need to do anything. All of those, and typical employee (or self) provided health insurance plans provide"minimum essential coverage". These coverages are sufficient through the 2014 temporary transitional period and onward through 2015.

Note: this does not include "self insured plans" where you just squirrel away money in an account and call that a medical insurance plan.

This however is of little help to people who meet the following conditions:

If that's you, starting in January 1, 2015 you'll need to have a PPACA compliant health care plan. Starting in January 1, 2014, you'll either need a USA plan that covers you when you travel internationally or you'll need an expatriate plan. The definition of an expatriate plan is as follows:

For purposes of this temporary transitional relief, an expatriate health plan is an insured group health plan with respect to which enrollment is limited to primary insureds who reside outside of their home country for at least six months of the plan year and any covered dependents, and its associated group health insurance coverage. 

So you'll need to read the specific plan details to see if your expatriate policy has the exclusion of it only being available to people outside their home country for six months.

Lyra's birth, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico.

Q. So wait, we saved up for a couple of years of cruising. We're not planning on working and if we do it will probably be under the table or just random non-reported income. Do we need to buy insurance?

Probably not. You can be exempt from the PPACA individual mandate for several reasons, one of which is if you don't make enough money that you need to file a tax return. Use the IRS's calculator to determine if you need to file a tax return, and if you don't, the PPACA individual mandate does not apply to you.

Working on a guy's boat or in a local bar for cash on the barrelhead is one thing, but take note of FATCA which now has many foreign governments reporting the transactions of US account holders directly to the IRS. 

Additionally, if you spend at least 330 days or more every year outside the USA, you meet the physical presence test, exempting you from the individual mandate via that mechanism.

Q. What is an expatriate health insurance plan?

Most "expatriate plans" (a.k.a. international plans) do not include coverage inside the USA, however most USA plans do include coverage abroad. The reason is simple: health costs in the USA are astronomical, usually to the tune of 7x the international average. A regular check up in San Diego might cost $100, as where in Mexico it can be $10.

Also note that nearly all expat plans, and USA plans rendered abroad, are reimbursement plans. You pay out of pocket and file a claim, to which you'll get paid back by the insurance company upon their review. Check the terms and notes in your policy as it will generally be quite different than what you may have experienced in an employee sponsored stateside plan. 

Whether you travel with a stateside or expat plan you'll need to keep your receipts, file claims, and take an active role in your insurance. 

Q. This all seems expensive, I'll just pay the ~$100/year per person penalty.

I'm sure many will but by 2016 it will be roughly ~$700/year per person getting pretty close to the cost of most health care plans. At that point you're spending a decent amount of money without getting anything from it.

Also note that for some countries, like France, if you want a long-term visitor visa you'll need proof of medical insurance (which has nothing to do with PPACA). So ignoring the law in the short term, forgetting about the value of medical insurance itself, is feasible, but as the years tick by you'll probably feel the squeeze. 

Q. What are my options and where can I get a policy that satisfies the 2014 year and then the 2015 year?

This is already a pretty dry blog post, but in a future one (soon) I'll review some some health care plans and discuss their details. 

If anyone has any comments, questions, or thinks there's a different interpretation of the laws please let me know.


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. 


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...


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.