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)

Wednesday
Jul172013

drove down Mexican Highway #1 and back in La Paz

We've been back in La Paz for about two days after driving the roughly 1000 miles from San Diego to La Paz. Mexico's Highway #1 is known as the "transpeninsula highway" although I started to nickname it Camino de los Muertos: the highway of the dead.

Charlotte is planning on writing more about the awesomeness that was our drive so I won't steal any of that thunder other than to say we're glad it's over.

So now we're back in the position of having TONS OF CRAP all over the boat and dock that needs to be installed, stowed, or otherwise organized. 

Some of this equipment is for the Pacific crossing (like the Hydrovane) and won't see a lot of action for a while, but other things (like the watermaker) will be going into full service as soon as we get out of the channel. Further items are like the life raft and spare parts: expensive items that we hopefully will never need but none the less must be cared for and kept available. 

There weren't a lot of nice things about the drive, but one was getting a sneak-peak at some of the places we were planning on going to. We spent the night in Santa Rosalia, had breakfast in Lareto, drove around Puerto Escondido, and hugged most of the coastline along the beaches of Bahia Concepcion. It gave us a nice idea of what we have in store for us as we take Rebel Heart north into the Sea of Cortez.

Yes indeed, boats anchored off of Lareto.

One thing that was nice to see was that yes indeed, some boats are anchored right off of Lareto. We'll need to be a little smart about how we leave the dinghy in the panga bay there, but I think I'll figure that out rather than hang out in Puerto Escondido which seems a little... boring?

Thursday
Jul042013

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.

Sunday
Jun302013

now reading: foreign affairs (july / august 2013)

I've been a long time reader of Foreign Affairs, a twice-monthly publication put out by the Council on Foreign Relations. Primarily written (and read) by diplomats and those operating in the foreign policy sphere, Foreign Affairs is not your typical magazine. Five to ten thousand word articles are the norm, with authors ranging from Henry Kissinger to George Bush to Hillary Clinton to Colin Powell. You may not agree with a given author's politics but what cannot be argued is their position as a policy creator or influencer. Rarely is an essay simply a policy stump speech, and where it is you'll typically find a full rebuttal essay right next to it 

The current issue has an excellent essay: The Rise of Mexico's Self Defense Forces, discussing the current status of armed militia units spreading through Mexico.

All of their content is available on the Amazon Kindle, so as much as I loved getting the stately printed editions complete with book-quality binding, the digital content is the only practical mechanism for me these days.

If you're at all a foreign policy wonk, consider getting a free trial month on your Kindle or downloading an article here and there from the website

Sunday
Jun302013

it's official: shit's getting real

We're up here San Diego amassing a pile of boat equipment, ready to head back down to Mexico in a couple of weeks. In the mean time I've been watching hurricane after hurricane spin up in southern Mexico and barrel northward, stopping 18 degrees north to make a hard left and die out in the Pacific.

The catch is that as the Sea of Cortez warms up, reaching over 90f in the peak of summer, cyclonic storms track directly in, or even hop over the Baja peninsula from the Pacific side.

One of our primary goals when we get back to Mexico is getting the f out of La Paz and putting ourselves in the more northern areas, at least with enough proximity to Puerto Escondido or Bahia de Los Angeles that if a cyclone is headed our way we'll have enough time to put ourselves in a relatively safe location and prepare.

Below is a YouTube video of Hurricane Marty hitting the very marina that Rebel Heart is sitting in now: Marina La Paz. I'll try our luck in a more protected bay with our own ground tackle, thank you very much. The camera work is shotty and the editing is circa 1966 but it captures a lot.

Monday
Jun242013

santa rosalia, baja, mexico

I just got this from our friend Brian on Vela. I was interested to know what Santa Rosalia would be like and I think I got my answer. He was responding to some of my questions so there are a few edits to provide more context.

 

I'm at the Fonatur marina here in Santa Rosalia, Baja, Mexico. There is no one here, just myself and three other boats. A common theme I'm seeing is that all these Fonatur marinas are shitholes. Like they built them and then basically abandoned them. The docks are nice but you have to chase away about 20 cockroaches before you try to take a shower. Impossible to hail anyone on the radio prior to arrival. Puerto Escondido Fonatur was the same way. Santa Rosalia itself is a super cool little town. Really interesting architecture, no one speaks English. Hardly any gringos. The currents coming in here are bizarro boiling seas... 2 knot currents hitting each other head on. It's not too bad if there is even a slight breeze but a lot of times there is no breeze at all and it's sweltering.
I've heard from several people that this is one of the hottest spots on the Baja side, apparently it gets a little better up in Bahia Los Angeles and not as humid. In fact, when I was headed in here the other day, the whole area was blanketed in a thick sheet of fog in the morning. Burned off by the time I got up here in the afternoon. Bahia Conception looked nice, didn't have time to explore it. The stretch between San Juanico and Punta Pulpito is pretty remote and seems like it gets big wind and waves when it's blowing out of the southeast. Not many protected spots to anchor until you get to Bahia Conception. Got a little too close to shallow water and a reef off Punta San Antonio, north of Punta Pulpito because I misread the coastline and my chartplotter maps suck ass.
----
Brian I hope you don't mind me posting your reply but I would have love to have this before I headed up there!

 

 

Monday
Jun032013

pretending like cartel violence doesn't exist

About one week ago I finished up writing a chapter in the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico about cartel violence. In there I basically said, "It's a real problem but you can greatly decrease your odds by staying away from cartel areas and cartel people."

I stumbled across an article today, that apparently much of the financial interests in Bahia de Banderas did not want to popularize. Almost exactly a year ago today and six months before Rebel Heart showed up in La Cruz a drug cartel member was gunned down by AK-47's outside the local elementary school


Sunrise over La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Bahia de Banderas in the background. Click to enlarge.I guess I find this interesting for a couple of reasons. First, although I believe I'm right in the sense that you can greatly decrease your odds of running into cartel violence in Mexico you cannot reduce it to zero. Even in the sleepy fishing village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle narco operators won't stop at the town limits if there's something, or someone, they want. To put some context around it, you also can't reduce your odds of getting murdered in your own non-Mexican hometown, so let's not pretend Mexico is the only place where you can catch a stray bullet. 

The more unsettling aspect of this is how much news of cartel violence is suppressed. The local business boosters (like lacruzdehuanacaxtle.com and banderasnews.com) offer no mention of the incident, and in fact on local travel message boards the news is pulled. Ask yourself how much press coverage would happen if someone in your small home town was mowed down by assault rifles in broad daylight next to a school. 

The general consensus seems to be, "It paints Mexico in a bad light, violence really isn't a problem here, so let's focus on news that will draw in tourists." I'm glad that the folks over at lapolitica es la politica decided to give its readers the option of developing their own opinions in that regard.

The Mexican government itself is of course widely corrupt, generally ineffectual, and often tries to downplay the entire narco trafficking problem so as to bolster tourism. 

To see the local expat community (basically white Americans and Canadians who retire to Mexico) do the same thing, stemming from fiscal interests whether they want to own up to that or not, is sad. 

The short version of all of this is that you need to read between the lines a little bit once you leave your home turf. Most everyone you talk to will give you their side to a story and it can take a while to paint the whole picture.

I'm the last person in the world to fear monger: I find that type of writing and sentiment to be the domain of small minded xenophobes. But really, do your homework and realize the minute you cross into Mexican waters you are in any given narco cartel's operating area. Keep your wits about you. 

Friday
May312013

you may now refer to me as eric the (self) published author

That's right: just like everyone else with a sailing adventure I now also have a book for sale. The Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

In earnest though I did try to separate myself from the scribblings of memoirs that seem to be the norm for bards of the sea. Much of my time spent in Mexico has been trying to understand the culture, the environment, the politics, and the people. 

Charts and cruising guides did me well but there was a serious void in some rather important topics. Drug cartel violence is obviously one of the most serious issues in Mexico and it impacts boaters every year, yet it's conspicuously absent from most printed discussions. Also left out of most guides is navigating the Byzantine maze of customs to get critical equipment and supplies into Mexico.

And beyond the logistics, there are the people and their culture which deserves more discussion than being the setting for a Jimmy Buffet soundtrack. 

If you're coming to Mexico, sincerely know that I wrote this to make your life a little easier. Not everything will pertain to you, but I promise hidden in there will be some nuggets of information that will help make your Mexican sailing adventure more enjoyable. 

It's available now in Kindle format and the paperback should be on Amazon's site in a week.

Tuesday
May212013

the days i don't write about

If you notice on our blog, huge expanses of time go by where we aren't writing anything. Days, weeks, sometimes even a month will go by and not a word will be written. There is a reason for this. A really sound, solid, and bullet proof reason: sailing and living in other countries is frequently a pain in the ass.

In the net, it's worth doing. Similar to having children there are some heavy prices to pay, but what you get out of it, ever just barely sometimes, is worth the cost. But let's talk about one of the days I normally don't write about.

0700: Alarm goes off. One hour to get everyone up, fed, and zooming off in the dinghy towards shore. 

0800: Dinghy loaded, we zip off into low 60's (f) weather with a 15 knot headwind, driving spray at us as we bounce through the chop.

0802: Oops, forgot something halfway to shore, turn the dinghy around, do it again.

0830: Waiting on the corner for the city bus to take us down the road. Dropped off the laundry, forgot something, on the dinghy, tossed the trash.

0845: Exit bus, walk six blocks to school with Cora.

0900: Walk back with Charlotte, realize I'm walking the wrong way, turn around. Walk ~3 miles to the library.

0945: Arrive in library, wifi is busted. It's 0845 in San Diego where my coworkers are so the day is really starting.

1100: I've spent two hours on the phone at this point, dealing with one of the most difficult professional challenges I've come across in years. Walking around a breezeway in front of the library.

1145: The wifi connection is working again, emails can flow and I can get on the VPN at my company.

1200: Close down for the morning, walk to the ~3 miles back to Charlotte.

1245: Arrive at the coffee shop where Charlotte spent her day.

1300: Walk the six blocks back to Cora's school.

1315: Get Cora.

1400: Walk another ~3 miles with Charlotte (Lyra strapped on) and Cora. The temperature in the shade since 1000 was about 93 (f) degrees.

1445: Hair cut done, Cora looks like a boy now because Mexicans don't cut little girl's hair and have no idea how to do it. Walk back to the library area where I worked.

1500: Hang out at the playground for a bit, avoiding the slides that are hot enough to issue second degree burns. I knock out 3 sets of pullups and dips. It's still in the 90's, in the shade. I'm not in the shade.

1600: Arrive at the dentist to find out that our appointment had been cancelled. They had tried to call our cell phones not really, since when they tried calling with Charlotte standing in front of them holding her phone it rang fine. 

1605: Took a cab back to the marina, boarded dinghy, pounded through 10 knots on the beam.

1620: We're out of water onboard, so I grab our three water cans and head back to the dock to water up.

1640: I grabbed the laundry, and bought some drinks for the evening. Slamming back into now 15 knots on the beam I get completely drenched in sea water.

1700: I take a cockpit shower in the blowing wind. I hadn't bathed in two days and smelled like an old shoe that had been wedged up a bum's ass, lubcricated with extrement. 

1730: I'm now clean and dry. I hang up my seawater soaked jeans and my wallet falls out into the ocean, floating away. I jump in after it, clad in my boxer briefs. 

1800: I take my shower all over again, dry off again, put on new boxer briefs, and go back to hang up clothes and organizing the cockpit for the windy night ahead but that has already started.

1830: I climb into Cora's berth, read her a book, and tell her a story. Over the next hour as the onslaught eases, I end up with her falling asleep with my arm over her as she tells me a story about a dragon and and how you need to be brave around them.

Needless to say, Charlotte and I went to bed early. In no small part because we had to wake back up at 0700 this morning and start all over again.

 

Sunday
May192013

balandra, home of the ice cream cart-barge

One thing that makes the La Paz, Baja, Mexico area pretty cool is that there are a lot of neat places nearby. Hailing from San Diego, the closest “cool place to go anchor for the weekend” was 80 miles away to windward, at Santa Catalina Island. And honestly you couldn’t even anchor there as the primary destinations have moorings installed. Here in the sailing Mecca of La Paz however, there are several islands, many large bays, and countless smaller coves within a few hours. Further destinations are merely another hour or two away beyond that, and so the story goes for hundreds of miles up Baja’s interior peninsula.

Balandra isn’t the closest stop north of La Paz, but it’s the most popular. On a busy weekend you’ll have a dozen boats in the cove, half of which are local charters letting their sunburned gringo clients zip around on suped-up tenders and drink margaritas. And yes, that’s “busy” for here.

Though we had plans to head to Espiritu Santo Island, a student in Cora’s Mexican preschool we have her enrolled in gave us an invite to a birthday party on the beach in Balandra. We’d been here before for a single night when coming in from Bahia Los Muertos, and this time we spent three days and two nights anchored in this beautiful cove. 

We had some friends on Classy Lady II that showed up as well with their five year old daughter Solis. They sold their last sailboat, bought a powerboat, and are looking to build a new sailboat. If you think we have an interesting story, trust me, these guys have us beat hands down.

There are really two aspects to Balandra: as an anchorage and as a beach.

As an anchorage it is relatively straight forward although first time people in the La Paz area will likely be spooked by the Los Coromuelas that kick up around sun down, howling wind out of the south west until ten the next morning. There are also crappy little flies that don’t bite but otherwise manage to annoy the hell out of you as they land on your face, neck, ears, and every other square inch of skin. Happily, these odd insects don’t seem to enter the cabin all that frequently and don’t hang out after sun down. Their domain is the uncovered pitch heat: probably where you’ll spend the least amount of time.

The beach of Balandra, or Playa de Balandra, is the real gem of this bay. It’s weird to look two hundred yards out and see people standing in waist high seas but that’s how this place works. The water is crystal clear, fish zip around by your feet, there is no surf, and for hundreds of yards the water is so shallow and calm that even the most timid beach goer finds themselves happily flapping around in 80 degree (f) water. Also, the bugs that are present in the anchorage are mysteriously absent here.

The ice cream man has his little cart that he pushes with high volume wheels: not only do they handle the sand well, but in deeper water the whole thing floats so he can push it along like a barge. Like a lot of Mexico, it’s the strange blessing and curse of stunted economic development that allows beaches like this to be accessible to the average citizen and not have a resort built right on the sand. Charlotte and I frequently walk around and shake our heads saying, "Imagine what this place would look like if it was in the States." I sincerely hope that as Mexico continues developing and growing as an economy it can preserve locations like Balandra: the natural beauty around here is quite literally, priceless. 

Monday
May132013

rebel heart video from the sea of cortez

Some various video clips edited together and put to AWOL Nation's "Kill Your Heroes" (which is figurative advice I think a lot of people might want to consider). Still getting the hang of the new Countour after ditching the GoPro (terrible product, terrible service, more expensive).