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Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in mexico (65)


the weather here is like a crazy ex girlfriend

(From the beach at San Evaristo, a local panga is aptly named.)

In La Paz, I got used to the blazing heat. The few times it "rained", it would evaporate as quickly as it landed on you. It was my first experience walking around in rain that for all intents and purposes really didn't matter. As punishing as the heat was, you get used to it: a nice chilly mid 80's at night, 90 by mid morning, and 100 and change mid day. Those are ventilated interior temperatures. During the day you did all you can to avoid the sun, and at night you lay naked with a fan inches from your body.

(The remanent clouds of Tropical Storm Ivo, 2013, Puerto Escondido.)

Someone told me that the last week of August is like a switch gets flipped in the Sea of Cortez and it's no joke: the switch as been flipped. It's only September 4th and already the weather has gone haywire. Tropical storms have passed through, whip sawing everything with powerful winds and several inches of rain per hour.

I'm up writing this at 3:00am because of a chubasco that passed through: squalls with nearly the wind speed and rain of a small tropical storm but much shorter lived and much harder to predict. And like all bad weather they of course like to come in the absolute dead of night. My kingdom for a daytime storm.

(Sweet, it's September 4th and we're right in the middle of this shit.)

If you read glowing accounts of the Sea of Cortez, take note of the month. In September you are nature's weather tampon: used, saturated, and discarded with extreme prejudice. I honestly think the reason so few people write about summers here is because so few people do it. 

The storms do more than blow you around and get you wet. Streets are destroyed and it takes a week to repair. Fuel becomes unavailable. Engines are advised not to run in the filthy water that persists for days: desalinators are completely off the table in the very bays you want to hide out in. 

Hurricanes unleash more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain in a day. Most of that goes right back into the sea, but the portion that makes landfall creates huge pools of stagnant water. The aftermath of tropical systems are clouds of mosquitoes, desperately searching for a blood meal.

Does that sound a little rough? Welcome to a summer in Baja Sur.

The chubasco is over, the lightning flashes and rolls have thunder have gone away with the driving rain. Time to go back to sleep. Tomorrow, whether I'd like it or not, is another interesting day.


life and death in baja sur

Baja is all about nature, and nature is all about death. From apex predators all the way down to plankton, everything is trying to kill everything else.

And then some things live off the aftermath of the carnage. Turkey vultures are living testaments to the death all around. This guy and a few of his friends hang out outside of our rented apartment.

One of the most amazing things about the desert of Baja is that despite the heat, despite the cyclones, despite the insects and floods and apex predators and blazing sun, life as always manages to find a tiny foothold and establish itself. 


hi mom!

A couple of references if anyone is interested:



The below photos show the deck of the USNS Henry Gibbins, T-AP-183, carrying the 1000 WWII refugees across the Atlantic. The ship was half refugees, many having escaped from concentration camps still wearing their Nazi-provided prison uniforms, and half injured American soldiers. My grandmother was pregnant with my mother on that trip.

My mother was born in conditions that on American soil rivaled only that of pregnant mothers in Japanese internment camps. My mother was one of the first refugees born in America, and even at that was in a fenced in camp patrolled by armed guards: refugees could not leave, and even family visitors could only interact through chain link.


Everyone who arrived in Fort Ontario wore a badget on their clothes that said US Army: Casual Baggage. Eighty years later I'm back on a hot and sweaty ship with a little kid in a foriegn land. What a world.


well now, here we are in puerto escondido

Looking west in Puerto Escondido at sunset.

Now that the dust has settled from Charlotte's blog post, I submit my own meager thoughts on our current location: Puerto Escondido, Baja Sur, Mexico. 

We've mentioned it over and over again but the heat is really the overriding factor. A close second now though are cyclones, rotating masses of heat and moisture that can wreak amazing amounts of damage. Even the systems that don't graduate into hurricanes, or break apart and send their appendages scattering about, can still cause substantial damage.

Tropical Storm Ivo passed through here a few days ago and blazed a path north that resulted in a drowning related death in Las Vegas, Nevada. We had 50 knot gusts down here and roughly a foot of rain in a day. The road to the nearest town was washed out in numerous places, homes were destroyed, and the sea water itself is still loaded with palm trees, cacti, and dirt. 

Cora's head, and looking out from the roof of our apartment where we can see Rebel Heart floating in the inner harbor.Puerto Escondido, in August, with a family, is pretty rough. Some people like it here very much, and I'd put that number maybe at two dozen, none of which have families. It's one thing to like the Sea of Cortez outside of the summer months, but late August through mid September is a switch that fluctuates between tropical cyclones and the blazing heat of the desert. 

The other night I walked through sheets of rain to get out to Rebel Heart: it was her first night on her new mooring and I couldn't sleep without verifying the ground tackle was holding and there was no chafe in the 20-50 knot winds. Scorpions scurried and frogs hopped all along the the road, eyeing me cautiously. A workman in a shack wondered who the insane gringo was walking around in the storm with board shorts and flip flops on, in the middle of the night.

Last night our bathroom (in the apartment we're renting) had a roach, a gecko, and a rather large spider, all staring at each other and finally allowing me to witness a true Mexican Stand Off.

We've officially been here a long time: the switching of courtesy flags.In two months it will be a year that we've lived in Mexico. It's hard to write objectively about things when you're in the throws of the tough parts, so as someone in mile ~18 of a marathon I'll recuse myself from forming a full opinion.

Putting so much of our lives up under the public spotlight inherently invites criticism and comment: it's just part of the equation. It's hard to put my finger on it but one thing this trip has really taught me is the importance of a unified, constructive, long-term mentality.

I mean really, how often in your life do you have to literally brave uncharted courses armed exclusively with your own wits, for years at a time? The longest haul that most people do is college, which is hardly comparable since you're around a bunch of other people doing the same thing and the institution exists for your success. The sea, however, does not have guidance counselors or academic coaches to help you out when you stumble.

This is not to say that you (or we) should simply bash our heads into the problem until it relents: another lesson of the sea is that when you attempt to argue with an ocean you will lose every single f'n time. Instead, you adjust the sails, anchor in a bay and wait for the weather to pass, or otherwise find a way to strike a tenuous balance. The sea is always changing: the deal you strike with it today will be washed away by tomorrow. 

The northern Baja Sur coastline, with the Sierra Giganta, is a mountainous desert unlike it's pancake-flat southern relative. Tonight I get to walk the ~1/2 mile back down the bay and dinghy back out to Rebel Heart, double checking the ground tackle before a couple of cells show up from a non-formed tropical storm that's showing up tomorrow. 

Would I rather be doing something else tonight? Of course. But do I get to spend more time with my kids than any other person I know? Yep. Have I seen more in the last year than anyone else I know? Yep. Does my eldest child feel as comfortable in a third world shack as a first world mansion? Yep. Have Charlotte and I learned a ton about ourselves and experienced so much we don't even know where to begin talking about it? Absolutely.

Time to head out, clouds are coming over the mountain tops and sundown is in a couple of hours.


we're not ready to leave, and that's fine


We were in Bahia de Banderas last winter and a sailing family we met was leaving to cross the Pacific that day. They were completely non-chalant, one might even say bored. They shrugged, "Yeah, I think we need to get some milk at the store," they looked at each other, "maybe leave after that?"

They were crossing 4,000 miles of open ocean on a small sailboat and had the stress level normally exhibited when making a ham sandwich.

Alas, I am not that person. At least not yet. It has gotten easier to get moving though. With each untie of the docklines, each push out of the slip, each weighing of anchor, the process gets slightly more normal. 

People ask us: "Are you ready?"

There is a qualifier in the definition of ready that is fully prepared. So tell me, how exactly does one become "fully prepared" to go to sea?

Spoiler: they don't.

My thoughts on the matter, truthfully, is that if you feel you are fully prepared to head offshore in a sailboat then you simply haven't run enough scenarios through your head on the multitude of things that can go wrong.

Oh you have a life raft. What if it doesn't inflate? Oh you have an EPIRB. What if it doesn't transmit? Oh you have a satellite phone. What if the SIM card goes bad? Oh you have your ship's rudder and an auxiliary rudder. What if they both break because a whale smashes into them then jumps into the air, shits on your head, and whale-laughs as it swims away from your drowning ass?

No, there is no "ready". You simply do the best you can and hope you're not singing this tune.

For any other sailor out there freaking out about casting off for some distant lands across the high seas, don't sweat it. Because if you suck and are a danger to yourself, you don't even know you are, because you'd have to be smarter than you currently are to realize your lowly station.

Well, we're leaving in the morning. Adios!


the hydrovane nears completion

Our Walker Bay dinghy has been converted into Eric's Filthy Work Barge, strapped to Rebel Heart's stern. It's a work platform, trash bin, safety catch for dropped tools, and because it's a hard dinghy I can use the gunwales for sawing and other manly things. 

One of the items I picked up on our recent smuggling run from San Diego is a Hydrovane. You see dear landlubber, no one actually steers the boat for long distances. Even just cruising around the bay I'll tap someone on the shoulder and say, "You look like you can steer the boat, go for it." 

But for long trips, and especially really long trips, you need to have a piece of gear that can handle steering the boat. Right now we have our little X5 wheel pilot which has faithfully steered Rebel Heart for a maybe three or four thousand miles. But it uses electricity, steers towards a compass heading, and isn't really designed for tens of thousands of miles.

The Hydrovane, however, is designed for conditions like that. It steers an angle on the wind (not a compass heading), uses no electricity, is built like a brick shit house, and acts as a secondary rudder. That last point is somewhat relevant because my own observations are that losing steerage is a primary factor in people abandoning boats. 

The install has been a major pain in the ass. I've gotten to be a fairly handy guy but this job required a lot of chops, especially because of the contours of our hull. With a flat transom and decent access, this is a one (long) day job. For me, it took about five days, three of which had me in full on ass busting mode.

More ass busting tomorrow, but I think (and hope) that the majority of pain is behind me. 


another day spent living in the devil's a-hole

We're still sitting in La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico. We got back from San Diego roughly two weeks ago and despite the paralyzing heat I have actually managed to get a few things done. The watermaker is installed and seems to be working just fine. The AIS transponder is installed and also seems to be working just fine

But the real job, the job that will get my man card punched or ripped up is the windvane. It's big, it's expensive, it's heavy, it's awkward, it requires fabricating custom things, and it has to be mounted in the most difficult of locations with the most solid of connections. The PVC in the picture above is simply so you can mount the entire thing without actually using any of the real tubing which would be entirely too difficult. 

Today however I reached a breaking point and informed my family that we would somewhere, anywhere, air conditioned in order to get away from the worst of the heat: the dreaded 2pm-5pm range where you literally sit in a pool of your own sweat. A nearby mall of sorts was the perfect destination. We got some groceries, they had 20 peso painting set ups for kids, we got lunch, and it was all done in glorious air conditioning.

Even better was that some friends of ours hit us up on the VHF and asked if we wanted to go over to the pools at the Costa Baja resort. Easily the most top end thing I've seen in Mexico, it was the iconic infinity pool with drinks served, lounge chairs in the water, and set directly on the beach so you're no more than 30' away from the ocean and a waiting jetski to zoom around on if you so desire.

So yes, today was one of those days when all the sweating, skinned knuckles, and odd tropical skin irritations are worth it.


everyone is asleep: the pacific crossing

Life aboard Rebel Heart is many things but quiet is rarely one of them. Nature is noisy, children are noisy, and boat projects are noisy. If a fog bank rolls in you merely have to follow the choir of crying kids and power tools to find our floating home. So rarely can I find the thirty minutes to ruminate, and honestly that's probably a good thing.

It was almost nine months ago to the day that we left the United States. I vividly remember six months before leaving as the first waves of "oh shit, we're really doing this, aren't we?" passed over me. Then my stomach would be gripped by alternating waves of fear, excitement, hyper-analyzing, and finally exhaustion until the cycle could start anew.

This summer will be in the Sea of Cortez and in the fall we'll go back to Bahia de Banderas, but we're basically at the six month point from the Pacific crossing. I can tell because of my stomach.

We'll be leaving from the little "A" there and headed to the little "B". It's ~2,800 nautical miles (3,200 land-person miles). The map reveals a curious oddity about the "Pacific crossing". Once you're at the little "B" there (near Tahiti), you're still in the middle of nowhere. Except now you're on an island in the middle of nowhere. 

So as much fanfare as there is for the non-stop multi-week passage, you still have a metric ass ton of miles ahead of you, despositing you completely on the other side of the world. Who would have ever thought that sailing a boat around the planet would involve so much sailing?

After a day of running or exercising you will be a little sore, a little tired, and maybe even sporting some new injuries. But you feel good. You know you did something that you can be proud of. Something worth doing.

Imagining our little girls, and us parenting them, as we sail across three thousand miles of open ocean just to arrive at the beginning of the South Pacific is, to put it lightly, interesting. 

In the famous words of our most intellectual President: "Bring it on."


it's fucking hot

The interior temperature of Rebel Heart was in the upper 90's today, starting around 10 in the morning. It dropped under 90 by 11pm. This is terrible for a couple of reasons:

#1 It's not the hottest time of the year yet. These days will be a pleasant memory in a month or two.

#2 The humidity was just over 60% which although not a "dry heat" certainly wasn't as bad as some days when it's sauna style.

The ocean temperature is climbing as well and at a certain point, like in a month, hurricanes can start tracking directly into the Sea of Cortez. 

 There's a joy in sweating my metaphoric balls off in a developing nation. Marching around the streets and looking at Cora, realizing that if we don't drink some water, soon, we'll probably get heat exhaustion. Followed by heat stroke. Followed by death.

We flag down the ice cream truck and our cones melt within a minute. I washed my hands the other day and flipped on the hot water lever by accident. So I flipped the other lever, which provided even hotter water. There is no cold water. It's either warm or hot.

It's midnight and 85 degrees which is downright chilly. 

With that, I'm off to bed. I have another day of putting my body's (and my family's bodies) thermal regulation systems to the test.


my lower lats vanished

Today's workout started with a 6:30am to get started before the evil globe of death (a.k.a. the sun) arrived. Forty five minutes or so to do two sets of all this, kettlebell used is a 53lb:

In other news I realized that my lower lats (latissimus dorsi) have vanished. It's the sad reality that a kettlebell and body weight can only get me so far. However I will now laugh in the face of muscular weakness as I bust out my rings. However rather than using them simply for dips and pullups, we now enter a new chapter in not letting myself turn into a ball of goo:

 Fitness is hard in a third world country during pitch heat. Part time sailing, where you have access to a gym somewhat regularly, is a whole different ball of wax. Unless you're spending months at a time in 100+ degree heat with zero gym access, it's really hard to convey exactly how difficult strength training can be.