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 pacific crossing (9)

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.

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.

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
Feb242014

the bamboo whisker pole

I try not to run dead down wind, but instead take it a bit on the quarter, enough that the staysail fills and isn't blanketed by the main. If we must sail dead down wind we will, and especially in calmer sea states that's just fine. 

When waves start breaking and seas start heaping up, the ride is a lot more comfortable if you're broad reaching and in my personal experience the risk of broaching is much lower. Less end-of-the-world-ish, broad reaching tends to heel the boat a bit instead of just letting her roll around on her longitudinal axis. 

Regardless though, the 3,000 mile / 4 week Pacific crossing will be primarily a down wind affair, and if the trades don't beef up here very soon the wind will be in the 10-15 knot range. With conditions like those we have a drifter for a jib (thanks to my unpopular move of trashing the roller furling) and I really wanted to get a pole.

A whisker pole, basically, is a pole that lets you "push" the clew (bottom/back corner of the sail) out over the water and hold it there. In light airs when the sail might otherwise collapse and flog itself to death, the pole forces the sail to keep its shape, sort of. 

The problem with whisker poles is that we don't have one and the "right" ones cost a lot of money, but fundamentally it's a pole, right? I mean, it's a friggen pole. Yes it has to perform under load, yes it needs to be corrosion resistant, and yes it needs some fittings on the end. But other than that, it's a pole. 

Images danced in my head of two long 2x4's with some overlap, thru-bolting them together. Then someone mentioned a long piece of thick-walled PVC. 

But then I saw the geniuses over on SV Lilo that were using bamboo for a dinghy mast and I got excited. 

We got the scoop that some bamboo stalks were growing next to the wall near the primary school in La Cruz, so off Cora and I started on our hike.

Protip: if you do this, make sure you realize you'll need to cut the bottom and the top. The canopy at the top is way to intertwined to just haul down a stalk you chop at the bottom. Worse for me, there was a power line running through it all and I didn't want to be the guy who started a fire at the school or knocked out someone's power. 

Fast forward thirty minutes of hiking back with it and then sawing off all the little nodules along the stalk and I'm the proud owner of a new soon-to-have-fittings whisker pole. 

Yes, boat nazis, I know it isn't as good as aluminium (or carbon). But you know what? It's free. I got a nice little walk out of it. I got a chance to cut down a bamboo stalk and make a whisker pole out of it. 

And when we roll into French Polynesia with our balling-out-of-control bamboo pole you know everyone will be jealous. 

Thursday
Feb202014

dodging the el nino bullet

An "El Nino event" (in the ENSO) is basically the term for the Pacific getting warmer than normal near South America. When that water gets warmer, things change. The water temperature is always changing but during an El Nino event it changes so much that more dramatic weather impacts are felt. More moisture comes into South America. Australia can experience drought conditions. Cyclones can range farther and pack more punch. The trade winds weaken, or even reverse. 

That last aspect there has had me a bit worried for the last week ever since a client prediction center said there's a 75% of an El Nino event happening in 2014. In a worst case scenario that would mean you're sitting in the middle of the ocean with no wind: a bad place to be.

Fortunately though if you look at the data and forecast models, the general consensus is that if an El Nino event occurs in 2014 it will be around the time that we're hoping to already be out of the trade winds, although there is certainly an El Nino impact on New Zealand which we'll take into consideration. 

It's also worth pointing out that NOAA, which is no slouch, will only issue El Nino warnings six months in advance of increased likelihood and they have not (as of now) done so. They have however indicated that some models are suggesting El Nino activity, although they point out that those models might just be responding to normal seasonal variation. 

For those of you looking for some absolute truths, realize that climate models are built by software developers and as a software developer I assure you that we are generally a lazy and error prone bunch.

On a personal note, I've really enjoyed getting to know the weather. It's one of several aspects to sailing that really helps ground you to the world we live on. At a micro level you're paying attention to wind direction, but at a zoomed out macro level things like global warming (seasonal, man made, or natural) really do have a material impact on our plans. I've never had that kind of connection before. 

In our previous land life bad weather was this thing that while inconvenient was rarely a truly life threatening event but here on the big blue ocean it's different. Taking the time to learn about the weather and to care about meteorology can be the difference between happy and well timed passages versus bobbing around with no wind or getting the crap kicked out of you. Both happen anyway, but you can avoid those extremes as much as possible by making smart weather decisions.

Know your boat and know the weather, and nine times out of ten you'll be zipping along happy as a clam. 

Sunday
Feb162014

hydrogenerator sea trials: completed

I've been reluctant to write about my hydrogenerator for two primary reasons. First, it's hardly a new idea. There are commercial versions (that cost a grand or two) and hundreds of sailors have built DIY versions for decades. Second, I hadn't tested my little creation yet so it seemed a little presumptuous to wax on about something that might not work at all. 

But today, halleluiah, I sea trailed the whole mess in the dinghy with great results.

Essentially you toss the black prop (connected to the stainless shaft there) into the water. It's connected by a shackle to some single braid line, and then goes taught, the other end of the line being secured to a shackle on an Electro-Craft E722 permanent magnet motor's axle.

At 300 RPMS, which seems to happen around ~4.3 knots, the motor makes about 12.5 volts. The faster it goes the more amperage and voltage it creates. I'm not worried about a voltage regulator because the amperage is low (about 5 amps at 12.5 volts, to maybe 12 amps at 90 volts), but to reach the upper threshold of voltage we would be doing double our hull speed so at that point over charging our batteries will be the least of my concerns. 

I had a local machine shop drill a hole through the generator's shaft so I could put a shackle through it.I only lost about 1/4 of a knot in my testing, so if I double that (to be a pessimist) and do some math it means a 20 day passage would now take 22 days. But that's 22 days of making 5 amps continually, which means we don't need to haul as much gasoline or diesel. And as anyone who's sailed downwind knows, it literally stinks to run the engine because the exhaust fumes blow into the cockpit and cabin. 

For the motor I had a few criteria. One, it had to be a permanent magnet motor. Two, it had to be fairly low horsepower because I wouldn't have a lot of rotational torque (generated by the prop) to work with. Three, it had to hit charging voltage (> 12.5 volts) at a low RPM. The Ametek models are definitely the most popular, but I re-read the specs on the Electro-Craft E722 and felt it would do the job as well if not better. Both of these motors were originally designed to spin large disk drives around and as such are frequently found on Ebay. The good news is that a lot of people are building wind generators these days, the bad news is that it's raised the price considerably on the motors. I was lucky and got mine for $50 but $100-$200 seems a bit more common.

The other thing I had the machine shop do was build a shaft for the prop with an eyelet on the end.For the prop I'm sure there are better options than what I got, but I was pressed for time and saw a $400 prop on sale at West Marine in San Diego for $40. I figured that was better than whatever else I'd be able to find so I tossed it in my checked baggage and called it good. 

I had a machine shop drill a hole through the motor shaft that would accept an 8mm shackle so I could secure that to a thimble in the tow line.

I also had the machine shop use a solid stainless rod, thread it, and pop a nyloc nut on for the prop. Also, they put an eyelet on the end that I could likewise shackle to a thimble on the end of the tow line.

When testing I was happy to see that the line doesn't kink at all: the rotational twist builds up in a few seconds and then starts happily spinning the motor. The drag on the prop causes the line (at least my single braid) to not kink, and any twist is transferred as kinetic energy to the motor's shaft. 

The only other thing you want to make sure to add is a blocking diode. Otherwise when there's more voltage in the batteries than the motor is making, either because the boat is slow or possibly because your solar panels are putting out a lot of juice, the motor will start consuming electricity rather than generating it, and you can watch the prop as it tries to spin itself away from your boat.

My machinist showing me the fastener assembly he built for the prop shaft.All in, rounding up, I spent $50 on the motor, $8 on a blocking diode, $40 on the prop, $100 at the machine shop, and $40 worth of line and thimbles. So that's $240 and possibly another $30 for a soft shackle to make a fairlead, call it $300 all in to hopefully have a sizeable heap of clean energy for our passages. I'll report back with more info but I've got high hopes that in addition to being quieter and more environmentally friendly it will also end up being cheaper as $300 worth of gas and diesel really doesn't go that far.  

Regarding fish eating it. Personally I think that's cruiser-folklore (a.k.a. "sea stories"). The stainless steel shaft is two feet long and it's 1/2" single braid which is pretty tough to slice unless you hack it to death in multiple attempts. I'm of the personal belief that the loss of towed props is due much more to common and less dramatic reasons like forgetting to mouse a shackle. Either way though, the electrical connections and line that secures the motor to the boat will be sufficient but intentionally the weakest link so that if a school-bus sized sea monster bites hard it wont rip the transom off.

Monday
Feb102014

weak el nino year possible for 2014

I just spent the last hour combing through forecast models and am slightly bummed to find out that there is a better-than-zero chance of a weak El Nino event happening in the middle of 2014.

2/6/2014 - (Reuters) - U.S. weather forecaster Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said on Thursday there was an increasing chance of the El Nino weather pattern after expecting neutral conditions through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014.

That represented a change from the CPC's previous outlook of neutral conditions through summer 2014.

In its monthly report, the CPC maintained its outlook that El Nino was unlikely through the spring, but noted that a change in temperatures "portend warming in the coming months."

The good news about that is three fold:

1) It's possible that no El Nino conditions will happen at all.

2) If an El Nino does happen in 2014, it looks to be weak. 

3) If an El Nino does happen in 2014, it looks to happen in the summer time which although still not great for Pacific sailors at least leaves the big Americas->French Polynesia route relatively untouched. 

Reading through the NOAA forecasts you really a strong taste of all the phrases like "might", "could", "possibly", "waiting on data", "still being determined", etc. If you peel back the layers further you'll see that budget cuts to oceanographic warning systems have been chiefly responsible for the lack of finality in recent forecasts. 

Apparently the $3,000,000 USD needed to fix NOAA's buoys was simply not available. To put in context, that's the cost of two Tomahawk missiles. I don't think it's a reach to argue that knowledge of global weather patterns that affect crop production, transportation, and so much else might be slightly relevant than what two cruise missiles can accomplish. In 1998, damage from El Nino weather conditions caused over twenty five billion dollars in losses to the US economy. 

 

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.