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 professional maritime (12)

Tuesday
Apr302013

mazatlan harbor pilot hopping off the ferry

Click to enlarge.The guy in the white shirt at the bottom of the ladder is the harbor pilot for Mazatlan. His job is to board (and disembark from) vessels heading in and out of the bay. This was the La Paz ferry and I saw the tiny little door with the Hotel flag (white/red) open.

The pilot boat zooms underneath and pins itself to the moving ferry, and the harbor pilot scrambles down. In some ports they actually pick them up and drop them off with helicopters.

Harbor pilots are worth a read if you've never checked out the profession. Their job is all about handling huge ships in tight confines and doing it perfectly, not to mention having the physical prowess to hop from one moving vessel to another or from aircraft. It's an old job as well. The earliest harbor pilots on record date back to 700 BC.

Sunday
Apr282013

and sometimes north american paternalism is dead on

Great way to drown at sea.From the "thank god I'm not on that death trap" file...

Sitting in the Mazatlan anchorage this morning we watched this coffin-of-the-sea head out past the breakwaters, overloaded with families who are under the false impression that they are safe aboard this "vessel". 

Lacking in PFD's (life jackets), equipped with two life rings and no life rafts, what will have these people returning safe to the dock is simply the odds that on a calm day like today you can get away with carelessness. 

But the ocean doesn't suffer fools for very long. In what seemed like a personal reminder to me, two years ago the Mexican sport fishing vessel Erik capsized and spilled all its passengers into the Sea of Cortez. Floating for twelve hours no one on shore knew there was a problem until the first survivors crawled up onto the beach.

So, United States Coast Guard, with all your laws and regulation, I love you.

Wednesday
May232012

i think i'm done working on boats for other people (for now)

The water is warming up here in San Diego. As the temperatures rise, the tuna come farther and north and are in striking distance of the San Diego sport fishing fleet. 

Some of the long range boats (like the Red Rooster III) don't really need to wait and can make the haul down to warmer waters year round. For the smaller one day boat that I work on (the Pronto), our range is shorter so we basically only go out in the summer.

A couple of days ago I got a call to run some trips this June, and I think I'm going to duck out of them. The charter fleet that I was lucky enough to work with (West Coast Multihull) will probably get busier with the warmer weather as well. More tourists come to San Diego and more people want to spend time on the water, so the math works out in the favor of a lower tonnage captain like myself. Alas, I think I'm going to duck out of that work as well.

The market for captains is pretty cut throat and although I've ingratiated myself into a couple of spheres it's still a lot of work. 24 hour trips on the Pronto having me leaving Friday at 7pm returning the same time on Saturday, effectively nuking my weekend. All day charters on the catamarans are much easier on the schedule, but you're working. You're going where your clients want to go, you're in customer service mode, and you're hustling. 

I hate to sound like a wimp but I think I'd rather spend my time paddleboarding and hanging out with my family. At least for now. I rack up plenty of sea time and will continue to do so on the Rebel Heart so maintaining my license isn't a problem. For this summer, I'm going to sit back and let some other folks hang out in the wheelhouse and take the helm. 

Monday
Jan092012

yeah, sailing really is pretty cool

Starboard tack into the sunrise. Click to enlarge.Lately I've become a cynical mariner. There's an idea that excitement about a topic is inversely related to one's knowledge of that topic. It happens frequently on the water, and goes something like this:

Boy meets boat, boy falls in love. Boy sails boat and realizes the boat, the sea, or both, suck. Boy is left wondering where his sailing dreams went to and slinks away discouraged.

Many things about living on the water can be correctly put onto a piece of paper that has "Pains In My Ass" written on top of it. Jimmy Buffet never sings about replacing head plumbing or walking all over a third world town looking for a bolt. 

Hopefully I'll be an ASA instructor this summer, taking my training course in the spring. To that end I found myself auditing a 101 class this past Saturday. With four students in the cockpit of a Hunter 28, I was in the amazing position of either helping them along on their maritime journey or screwing them up by being a crappy (assistant) instructor. Needing to ditch the cynicism and fill my mind with unabashed enthusiasm, I thought back to a night on a 32 Ericson heading south east from the Channel Islands, maybe forty miles offshore. 


Bioluminescent algae in a boat's wake. Click to enlarge.The night was clear, the swell virtually non existent, and I was on watch alone while my friends slept below. The new moon cast no light and I held the drifter sheet directly in my hand, no winches or blocks to get in the way. 

Bioluminescent algae left a trail of sparkles in the water behind us as the few knots of wind pulled our light displacement hull across the black water. 

That night, and others like it, are what make sailing so special to me. Most of our world is water. It's where our ancestors came from, and for every American their not-too-distant relatives crossed an ocean, probably by sail, to be here. Much of our language, the most powerful of storms, countless traditions, and the very substance that allows us to live on this planet is water.

And in that raw and simple world of water on a spinning planet, wind is generated by the unequal heating and cooling from the sun. Sailboats go beyond a mechanism of travel and leisure. They are quite simply a device that connects us with the purest and most raw origins of our world. It is no wonder that sailing vessels inspire art ranging from haikus to towering sculptures that dominate a skyline. 

I suppose I'm still pretty jaded about a lot of things on the water, but I've seen and continue to see too many wonderful things and meet great people. I suppose when all that stops I will to.

Sunday
Dec252011

san diego parade of lights: a captain's prospective

View from the helm. Click to enlarge.Since 1951, San Diego has had the Parade of Lights. Starting in the northern end of the harbor near Ballast Point, the blob of ~50 vessels ranging from 100' to 8' in length jockey for position and eventually form a single file line passing Shelter Island.

Lit up with as many Christmas lights as the vessels can manage, it is quite the spectacle and attracts thousands to the harbor's shoreline. As a child, I remember many cold December nights watching the Parade of Lights so I was glad to be offered a job of skippering a boat. The owner of the Viking 42 Home Stead wanted to do the parade but rather than sweat bullets moving through the parade he wanted to enjoy the trip: smart guy.

I tapped my friend Dave for first mate duty and he performed admirably. It was nice to have someone else onboard who was keeping a lookout, could grab the helm for a bit, and that was feeling the same "jesus I hope we don't hit anything" vibe that I was on.

Parade of Lights boat. Click to enlarge.Three things stuck out to me the most during the trip.

First was the necessary proximity to other vessels. There is no assigned order and everyone wants to be in the front, so not only do you need to not hit anything but you have to "muscle" your way to the front as best you can. I typically avoid all confrontation on the water but the "nature of the vessel's work" in this case is to be in the parade so much like racing you need to push the issue a bit. We're talking 3'-5' of room on all sides here, in the dark, with lights and PA systems blaring everywhere.

Second was the chauffeur aspect. I often joke that being a 100 ton captain (as opposed to the "upper tonnage" world) is a bit like being a chauffeur because you're normally taking people out for a good time and they're right there with you. It really helps to be friendly, to like people, and to genuinely want people to have a good time. Often times people want to stay out longer than the schedule calls for and in the back of your head you're the only one working and you're probably working on a fixed price. So the quicker it's done the more you make and the less you have to work. However, your job extends beyond that of simply moving the boat. You're there for people to enjoy themselves and if they feel like the captain is running a schedule because he's lazy and wants to get back to the bar before last call then your odds of doing business with those people again is very small.

Saying goodbye to Charlotte and Cora. Click to enlarge.Third, and more along the lines of the first issue, was the tight maneuvering involved.  I had a sailboat doing 360's in front of me (because he wanted to), and we needed to go into every nook and cranny along the channel edge because that's where the people are. And along the lines of chauffeuring, when people want to get in closer you of course can fall back on your "sorry, that's too shallow" safety answer, but I'd argue that the nature of this vessel's "work" was to get in close to shore and show off for the crowds (obviously doing so safely). 

I can honestly say that for a good two hours my hands never left the throttle once except to take a couple swigs off my blue low-carb Monster.

I'd certainly jump at the chance to do this again, and if you get the chance to watch the parade from shore or sea I think you'll really enjoy it. Well worth your time.

Monday
Sep052011

worked on my first six-pac fishing charter yesterday

Yesterday was my first time out on a local San Diego six-pack charter, The Long Run. For the unitiated, there are basically two types of boats with paying passengers onboard (this includes sport fishers, whale watchers, charter sailing trips, harbor tours, water taxis, etc):

- Inspected Vessel. This type of boats have a Certificate of Inspection onboard in which the US Coast Guard goes through the boat literally with a ruler and determines how many passengers can be onboard. Based on the naval architecture, deck space, and bunks, a day limit and overnight limit will be established. 

- Uninspected Vessel. This is the typical boat that most private owners will buy. Unless you have the USCG issuing you a Certificate of Inspection every year, you are (naturally) uninspected. As such you will be restricted to six paying passengers. Whether it's a 300' mega yacht or an 26' sailboat, six passengers will be your maximum load. Hence the "six-pac", "six-pack", or "six-pax" designation that gets applied.

Bonnethead Shovelhead SharkBeyond the smaller passenger load, the other big difference was our route. On the Pronto we head offshore as a rule. Fuel up, get passengers, hit up the bait barge, clear the point, and usually motor throughout the night making 8 knots to the outer banks, arriving roughly ~50 miles offshore by first light down in Mexico. 

On The Long Run we already had fuel (despite going out the night before as well) and spent the day in the bay, raking in probably 25+ fish. Everyone got something, several legal sized bass, and even a ~35lb bonnethead shark (or shovelnose, as they're called out here). 

We left the dock around 6:00am, and were back around 2:30pm. All around it was a great trip. Clients had fun, I got a chance to work on a different vessel with its own handling characteristics, and the weather was just about perfect. Really couldn't ask for better conditions. 

There's the business end of this boat that I still need to figure out (how often it's running, what my schedule would be, how much it pays, etc) so it's up in the air a bit as to whether this will be a regular thing for me. But for what I got out of it I'm happy, and it was great meeting a nice group of clients and deckhand (Mike) who really had his act together.

Sunday
Aug212011

scuba, captain'ing, and fixing our bowsprit

So minus the normal routine of my life, those three have been pretty active lately.

In the realm of scuba diving, I'm just about finished with my divemaster packet to send up to PADI. Initially I thought about keeping going up through Instructor but for now I'm happy doing the DM job and diving with friends. 

The Internet has actually helped me quite a bit with scuba diving, first getting a dive buddy off of reddit.com at last minute's notice, and then (through that guy) learning about Power Scuba

I need to do some yearly maintenance on my regulators but other than that I can officially say it's a rather cheap sport once you have all your gear (and you're not chasing gear trends).

In the professional maritime world, I've been picking up shifts where I can. As pretty much the bottom guy on the totem pole I can't exactly demand an awesome schedule but I'm learning a ton and getting much more comfortable at the helm.

As a I mentioned earlier, I got a regular job as the captain of the Pronto, a local sport fisher. That's definitely the hardest job I've had on the water in quite some time. It's difficult because of watch schedules, expectations, and getting a single screw two-stroke diesel engine from the Korean War in and out of a tight slip is never trival. 

On our boat, I'm currently yanking the bowsprit off in total. It has a bit of rot in it, just so much that I need to yank it off to repair it. Instead of that, I found a place up in Oregon that stocks old growth Douglas Fir. I'm having a friend of mine shape the new timber to match the existing and then hopefully (knock on wood, pardon the pun) everything works just perfectly after that.

Pulling off parts of the rig gets a bit spooky since both the outer and inner forestays rely on the bowsprit to be there. It's a workable problem, but not exactly making a ham sandwich. 

Additionally, and I know this will cause an infinite firestorm on message boards one day in the future, I'm pulling the roller furler off. I'll make a whole post specifically about it later.

Monday
Aug082011

captain of the pronto

Friday night I took some clients out on a local sport fisher, the Pronto. It was a pretty interesting experience, being the first time I've operated that vessel and the first time I've worked as the captain of a sport fisher.

I'm not really a motivated fisherman, but I do a lot of scuba diving so I have a bit of insight into what types of sea beds hold what types of critters. For my first time out we got 20-30 fish, some of decent size, which was better than some commercial boats out that day and worse than some others.

We left Friday night after fueling up and grabbing some bait from the bait barge, and anchored maybe half a mile off the middle of the southern Coranado Island. Got started bright and early putting around the islands and in near the coast of Mexico, picking up rock fish and trying to get our clients to have the most amount of fish they could get. This year is marginally better than last which isn't saying much since last year was horrible.

The vessel itself is a single screw two stroke diesel that *will not* back to starboard, ever, at all, no matter what you do. We had to put our trash cans out to bump off of another sport fisher on the way in. It wasn't pretty, but it worked and no egos/paint/wood/fiberglass was damaged.

Maritime law stipulates that (for most sport fishing vessels) two licensed captains need to be onboard, so the other guy I got a chance to work with was a captain by the name of Joel Miller

Amongst other things, Joel spent five years of his life cruising around on his 50' Kettenburg with his family, coming back to the states about three years ago. Great guy, and very nice to have onboard.

I finished up the weekend with a scuba trip down at La Jolla Cove on Sunday night. Very much an aquatic weekend. 

Saturday
Jul232011

spent some time on a Gemini 105 catamaran this week

Thursday and Friday of this week was my first time working for West Coast Sailing, being a captain for some folks from out of town who chartered a Gemini 105 catamaran. 

Cutting right to the meat of it, the handling of such a light displacement vessel was both convenient and slightly alarming, having spent most of my time on heavier displacement vessels (both sail and power). 

With wind on the beam, after our bow cleared the dock by 5-10' the wind immediately grabbed the bow and started sending her skittering sideways. In fact, the wind's very pronounced impact on the Gemini, and the near complete lack of inertia are second place for handling tips I could offer. 

The first tip though is related to the vessel's single outdrive. Armed with a Westerbeke diesel that barely sips any fuel at all, the outdrive essentially negates propwalk (for better and for worse). In close quarters maneuvering, a helmsman is left with a propulsion system that best resembles a dinghy/outboard combination, a lightweight dinghy in regards to displacement (or lack thereof), and a highfreeboard low draft vessel as far as tracking is concerned. 

Once you get used to the lack of inertia and learn that your typical maneuvering tricks will not work well in the single-outdrive-on-a-catamaran setup, you can learn some valuable tips:

1) She wants water going past the rudders. If you stop moving her (either in forward or reverse), the wind will take her. This was evident even with <10 knots blowing.

2) Don't count on propwalk. When you apply rudder, the outdrive moves as well. Backing to starboard may theoretically be harder than backing to port on a Gemini (or any outdrive), but in practice they operate nearly the same.

3) With the light inertia and small displacement, she will *almost* stop on a dime. If you're moving 1-2 knots, full reverse will probably stop your forward progress within a couple of seconds. The propulsion response is very quick, especially in reverse. 

4) Going bow in with a catamaran seems easier than backing down, but your visibility is pretty terrible up front, as where when backing down you can more accurately see the distance to objects and speed.

I might get a couple more updates out there in the future related to sailing the vessel and ship's functions, but these were the most pronounced things I learned. As is typical, the biggest challenges for most boat owners happen in the very beginning and end of a trip when leaving and picking up your mooring lines.

Sunday
Jun122011

my first lesson in the difference between recreational and professional scuba

ThisFuckinGuyRightHere

The guy with the blurred out face there taught me a few lessons today. We’ll call him Ned. As a Divemaster candidate, my job was to act as a divemaster for a group of open water students. Herding the cats, as they say.

My day started with a lady who dropped her mask in 55’ of water. No big deal, go down and grab it for her. There was one student who from working with him yesterday I knew he was a bit of a spaz (that’s the technical term used to denote people lacking all forms of grace and elegance in the subsea environment), so when I head “Eric, buddy up with Ned and get him down!” I knew I was in trouble.

Ned has two ways of moving in the water: dropping like a stone or flying up like a child’s balloon soaring to the heavens. Trying to keep pace with this, the current set us off, so there I was all alone with Ned as he went high and low and low and high again.

As a recreational diver, you learn your limits. You learn a way to descend (both in rate and technique) that works for you, and likewise for ascending. But with student divers, you have to deal with their often crazy behavior. If they shoot to the surface over buoyant, you need to slow them down by grabbing a fin and trying to slow their rate of ascent. Likewise if they’re bombing into the depths, you need to arrest their downward progress. Both of these maneuvers require you to alter your normal way of doing business and quickly have both ascents and descents that you weren’t planning on making. Ears giving you trouble that day? Tough shit, you can’t let your students drown.

So here I sit with a nice cause of sinus barotrauma,  unable to smell or taste anything, never mind the pain of whatever damage happened deep inside my face. Caused by chasing Ned around as he flew up and down in the ocean, I need to get some rest and have sweet dreams about how to manage myself underwater so that I don’t get injured and my students learn how to dive and don’t get injured themselves.

Ugh. File this blogpost in the “what the hell am I doing this again for?” category.