July 30, 2010

Good Gear

We've been reading through Meri from Hotspur's list of the most import kitchen equipment to carry on a boat and found ourselves nodding in agreement or shaking our heads in unconvinced disbelief (seriously, a handheld blender?, and what about good wine glasses?) The list got me thinking beyond kitchen equipment and contemplating the other gear we carry; specifically personal gear.
You can spend a fortune buying cool stuff designed for boaters. Some of the time it's really worth it, while other times you're just forking over a lot of money for something with a sailing logo. No matter which brands you buy though-here are ten of the things we couldn't (or wouldn't want to) do without:
See Further-
Polarized sunglasses are essential on a boat.So we keep several pairs around ovf varying quality. So far it seems the cheap ones break, the super duper ones are so-so and the mid-prized ones do best.
Chemical Free Sun Protection-
When possible I try to ditch the greasy sunscreen and wear technical clothes. The stretchy, formfitting sport shirts are great for hiking and swimming. While the silky, lightweight ones (I like Solumbra*) breathe really well. We also got Maia a full length jelly-fish suit. It's isn't a technical UV fabric, but it's still better than sunscreen alone.
About that Sunscreen-
I'm a bit of a junkie. I tend to keep track of which ingredients work well (Trisiloxane, Titatium Dioxide, Avobenzone) and which we should be avoiding (Oxybenzone). We also carry dozens of bottles-because proper use means we use loads and reapply frequently.
Cutting Through It-
Evan has a Boye knife which he always has with him and that has gotten him out of more than a few bad situations. I have a very similar style Spyderco knife, which if I carried it with me I wouldn't need to call Evan over whenever I've needed a knife…
Staying Dry-
One of our newest goodies is the Harken's Roll Top Wet 'n Dry bag. It was a freebee, but I still love that it is much lighter weight than our old dry bags, has an external pocket for wet stuff, and has back-pack style carry straps. We use a dry bag pretty much anytime we take something to shore that should stay dry. Including our supposedly waterproof handheld Cobra VHF, which we have since learned from other boaters is barely splash proof.
Smart Toppers-
Look for light weight hats with a stiff brim and a sturdy chin strap. Evan still loves his Tilley Hats, while I'm rather liking my North Sails Bluewater hat. Maia has a cheap cotton one we found in a tourist market-and she likes it too.
Nimble Footing-
We're hard on shoes and brought a few spares. For easy walking in town flip flops are the way to go. But for rough trails and beach landings I've joined the Chaco's crowd. Evan and Maia just wear what fits and buy what's available. I did learn that hard soles are pretty vital though-spongy ones are torn up by barnacles or pierced by cactus thorns.
Drink Up-
We each carry a water bottle when we go to shore and each have a favourite. The ones that seems to last are our Nalgene bottles, we've had them forever and carry a litre and they are transparent so I can see if the water inside is dodgy looking.
Battery Free-
Evan has a new solar powered watch that is waterproof and has a nifty action where when you flick your wrist at night the light turns on. He spends entire dinner parties working the crowd, showing them his light. We probably need to find new friends soon… On a cruising boat you really only need one watch-most of the time we're happy if we know what month it is, knowing the time and day is a bit superfluous…
I never thought I would be an early adopter, but we need two more eReaders on this boat. I have a Kobo and I'm shocked to say I love the thing. I can take out library books!

Tears, Shrines and Stories...

Before we came back into the Sea this summer I shared my old memories with Behan from Totem. Her family spent last summer in the Sea and as we compared highlights—her's from last year and ours' from 14 years ago—I was surprised by how many things were the same. She had stories of the same hikes, told of the same experiences in the same dusty towns, and caught the same fish on the same reefs.
I have to admit I was surprised—when you're living something that seems so rich and new, you want to think it's a unique experience. And it's not like we're in Disneyland; where we all get tickets for the same ride. We're in a diverse landscape with endless options.
San Jaunico (and us!!) 14 years ago
 But something happens in places where people go year after year. Experiences get passed along at the dock, and at potlucks, and gradually a story develops. Even without guidebooks we learn where the best hikes are, which bakeries make French-style bread, which islands we shouldn't miss, and where to dive to find clams (to see only—they are illegal to take if you are not Mexican...)
The cruisers' shrine in San Jaunico. I need to find the picture of our contribution...

Sailing through the Sea is like following a plot line. Today's story took us back to the same cruiser's shrine in San Juanico where we left our boat name on a wooden plaque in 1996 (this time we left it on a unique piece of bone.) We gathered more obsidian from along the same trail—but now we know they are called Apache tears and even come with a legend. Last time they were just nice rocks... And we showed Maia how to dive for chocolate clams and then pointed out to our neighbours how to read a potentially Chubasco laden sky (something we were shown on a similar evening when we were last here.)
Just a few of the Apache tears (aka obsidian) we found on the trail.

I'm no longer disappointed in knowing that someone came before me, and that I'm simply following the threads of a well-known story. Instead it motivates me. I want to find new things, or rediscover old moments that are no longer part of the tale. And maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get to add to the collective narrative and make it richer for whoever comes next.
At anchor in La Ramada

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July 29, 2010

One of Those (Perfect) Days

They should all be like this. And in the imaginings of people who dream of going cruising, but haven't quite made it out yet, they probably are. I don't normally write this blog in diary format. I'll give the rough details of where we are and what we are up to—but I find the moment by moment, blow by blow account that some bloggers give at best boastful and at worst boring. But because yesterday was one of those days, so rare in its goodness and the fact that nothing broke, well...
7:00am (or there abouts) I woke to a sound. Sharp and close to the boat, it pulled me out of a dream and startled me awake. In the half-light of the rising sun I heard it again, then again—an echoing bang. I slid past Ev and headed out on deck where I watched the big manta rays leap free from the sea.
Their sun salutations reminded me of my long neglected goal for regular morning yoga. So I rolled out my mat and with the manta rays leaping and the sun rising, I woke up my body. My view was of blue-green water ahead and the red volcano and white sand beaches of Isla Coronados behind. Once it was too warm to keep going (do I need to admit only 20 minutes had passed?) I jumped in the water and swam until I cooled off.
By now Evan and Maia were up. It was 8am and the day had started. We had breakfast and tidied the boat—then did a Spanish podcast together. Then Maia went to play over on Hotspur and Evan and I organized our dive gear. We have a compressor and all our gear aboard, but we're still novice divers. So we went through each step carefully, checking each other's gear, then weheaded by dingy to an easy dive spot.
Once in the water we descended to a magic world. Diving seems different than snorkeling in that when you snorkel you're clearly foreign and often spook the fish. But when you're under the water it doesn't take long for the fish to accept you as one of their own (although a bit ugly and clumsy, perhaps...). And within a few minutes we had a school of curious fish around us—escorting us as we checked out crevices and boulders, looking for the beautiful and strange.
A perfect day on a sailboat also needs a good sail. And we had one of those too. An 18 mile beam reach to our next anchorage of La Ramada. Our lousy La Paz bottom paint job couldn't even take the fun out of the sail—despite the fact that a heavy crop of barnacles is currently costing us boat speed. We even caught a couple of fish—one Skipjack which we threw back, and the another (a pretty little mystery fish) which became part of an excellent curry.
Tucked into the cozy anchorage we knew the best way to end the day would be dinner with friends. So we convened on Hotspur and were joined by two singlehanders who were also in the anchorage. We watched the moonrise, while swamping stories and enjoying the potluck fare and then headed back to Ceilydh—where we spent a quiet night.
It's funny to think of how hard we worked to get yesterday—years of planning, saving and scheming just to experience a simple day on the water where nothing at all went wrong. The payout for the simple days is so much more than most people ever expect—hours of work and frustration and loads of money mostly.
But when the days do come, we savour.
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July 27, 2010

The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Explaining the Sea of Cortez to people who don’t know it and love it is almost impossible. Pictures from the area come across as either bland and washed out from the high light, or somewhat fantastical. There is none of the alluring abundance of a South Pacific or Caribbean Island

This place is harsh—the cactus and thorny bushes that look so sparse from shore (especially when you’re picking a likely looking morning hike) are pretty much impenetrable up close. The water contains so many things that sting that we need to swim in jellyfish suits and still end up comparing jellyfish stings. And the wind is always too strong, too weak, or from the wrong direction.

But when we get together with other boaters we can’t help but compare our favourite places and be drawn to the spots we haven’t seen yet. It’s not a romantic or sentimental love though—it’s something that seems more elemental.

I’ve been struggling to find the words to describe this place—beyond snippets of stories and moments out of our life. Fortunately I don’t have to. John Steinbeck did. He was here 70-years-ago on a research vessel. His book is a must have for every visitor to the Sea of Cortez:

   “We wondered why so much of the Sea of Cortez was familiar to us…coming to it was like returning rather than visiting. Some quality there is in the whole Sea that trips a trigger of recognition so that in fantastic and exotic scenery one finds oneself nodding and saying inwardly, “Yes, I know.”
    "If it were lush and rich, one could understand the pull, but it is fierce and hostile and sullen. The stone mountains pile up to the sky and there is little fresh water. But we know we must go back, and we don’t know why.” --John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

July 25, 2010

Dead Beach

 Dead Beach
Mostly our trip has been about life. It's been a celebration of all that is magnificent and bountiful in our world. It's been our chance to immerse Maia in forests, deserts, oceans and wetlands so she can revel in them, but also so she can understand why we use resources carefully, take only what we need, and minimize our impact on the land and ocean around us.
We talk about the environment a lot on our boat. It's impossible not to, when you live in it, and see how connected you are. What we don't do though is focus on the doom and gloom. "If we want children to flourish, to really feel empowered, let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it." David Sobel's words in Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education have been my guide since Maia was tiny. It's not that we're avoiding reality; it's simply that our planet's problems are so huge that her 8-year-old heart shouldn't have to bear them quite yet.

Dead Beach snuck up on me though. Maia named it. She came across it. It's a beach, near a reef, like so many in the Sea of Cortez, where the fishermen are trying to stay one step ahead of the conservation laws. Armed with spear guns, nets, knives and hookah dive rigs the fishermen come, day after day, until nothing is left. They take the baby sharks, the rays, the big fish, the small fish, the clams, and the oysters. From the sharks they take the fins. From the fish they take rough filets. From the reef they take the life.
The beach we found was one of death. There was stink, a pile of carcasses, and vultures. And at its edge, knee deep in water, confused and broken hearted, stood my daughter.
"Why is there such a place as Dead Beach?" Maia asked me as we hiked this morning.
Some people are greedy?
They don't think?
They are desperate to feed their families before it is all gone?
I cycled through the possible answers before choosing; "I don't know, but it makes me sad," I said. Then Maia told me about her grief for the baby sharks; "Why do they waste a whole shark just for a fin? Don't they know the ocean needs sharks?" Her anger; "I'm so mad they are killing everything and not giving them a chance to grow." Her despair; "Don't they understand there will be nothing left? Nothing…"
Our children see what we are doing to the planet. In some deep part of themselves they know Dead Beach isn't just one place. And they want answers from us; an explanation. I didn't have one for Maia. So I led her on a hike away from Dead Beach to look over a small cove that was alive and thriving. We sat and watched the fish swim and the waves wash over the rocks.

And I hoped her heart healed a little.
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July 23, 2010

Preserving Summer

Mango season, the tomato harvest—both so luscious and so brief…
5 kg of small yellow mangoes straight from the orchard costs 40 pesos, about $3.5. Add the ingredients for chutney—ginger, garlic, cider vinegar, sugar, onions…

Cook for a while. Adding steam to a steamy day. 

Seal into jars.

Meanwhile cut ripe plum tomatoes into thick slices. Sprinkle with stolen sea salt. If you have it.

Put out on a screen in the sun.
One day.

 Two days.

On the third day (or the forth if you're not in a desert) pack in bags. If you haven’t eaten them all, already.

July 22, 2010


Maia: May Skyler, Caroline and I have a sleepover?
Me: When? Where?
Maia: Tonight? Well, we have the biggest boat and no brothers...
Me: It's 6pm... Our boat? Will you sleep?
Maia: Yes, of course.
Me: Will you tidy up?
Maia: Yes, of course!
Me: Will you be nice to us in the morning after having too little sleep?
Maia: Yes!!
How could I say no, and miss this...

July 21, 2010

A Mission

Between 1683 and 1834 some 28 Catholic missions were founded on the Baja peninsula. Spain’s goal was to gain control of the frontier—by establishing settlements that provided agriculture and livestock (and Christian indoctrination) to the 50,000 or so natives who lived in the region. The result was that European contact (and the diseases it brought) all but wiped out the first people.

These days most of the missions are abandoned. They were built in some seriously out of the way places and were difficult to manage. Despite the fact they were built near water sources, this is still a desert, and many of the communities were never able to become self-supporting, let alone flourish.

Even though the missions are mostly gone, I’m intrigued by them. Somehow, despite the upheaval and damage the system wrought, there is still something almost mystical about the buildings themselves. I’m not as fascinated by the easy to reach ones though, I like the ones that are tucked away and nearly forgotten. I like a bit of effort with my religion.

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó fit the profile. Founded in 1699 it was one of the earliest Baja missions to be established—although when I looked at where it is on a map I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.
 the first 15km of the road is paved--and then it's not...

Even today it is hard to reach. With Meri and Caroline from Hotspur along for the trip, we followed what seemed to be a modified goat trail up an arroyo into the mountains. Along the way, almost fittingly, we passed the site of ancient cave paintings, which were left by the very people the mission eventually wiped out.
 We were pleased with these cave paintings--simply because they weren't hand prints

The road to San Javier is under a constant state of construction. Maybe Tourism Mexico thinks I’m not the only person who’d like to drive off into the mountains in search of god. But whatever the reason, it appeared as though the road was being built for us, as we traveled along it. Bulldozers moved boulders and cleared a rough pass for us at several points as we rattled over ruts and smaller rocks in our tiny (and abused) rental car.
 Our rental car made it up okay but it started to die on the way down. We barely got it back to the rental agency. Of course we never mentioned where we took it.

In San Javier we weren’t disappointed—the mission had a serene weightiness to it. A constant and permanent atmosphere that made it feel as old as the mountains around it. There was an old man inside when we went in. He sat silently in a pew and we moved around him quietly—respectful of his deep devotion. After the girls lit candles and we got our fill of the flamboyant art, he began speaking to us—giving us the history of the place and answering our many questions.
 Every December 2, pilgrims make the trek to San Javier to pray for miracles. We hoped for one of our own as Maia lit a candle for her Grandma Ann.

He was still there after we went for lunch, still sitting in the same pew. And we guessed then that he works there.
 stone detail
He must wait each day for someone to make the long drive to the old silent mission.
So he can tell its almost forgotten story.


Dinner was cooking and the sun was setting so I asked Maia and Caroline to bring in the laundry. The moment was so sweet I had to watch. Dinner burned a little...

July 18, 2010

Still in Limbo

We are in one of those harbours--the ones I’ve come to think of as a type of limbo: A place between real cruising and real life, where our days are filled with chores and the intention of simply getting out.

I thought about itemizing the chores we need to finish in order to leave here: do laundry, fix the windless, make the bug screens, write and file stories, etc... But then I looked around—this is a beautiful place with the peaks of mountains catching the evening light and misty desert islands in the distance.

The harbour is calm, we have showers and laundry on shore, we have friends moored beside us, kids for Maia to play with and an entire town within hitchhiking distance. There is really nowhere else we need to be. But even now, a YEAR after we first set out, I find that the push to keep moving is so strong, that it’s hard to simply be here.
 We celebrated our one-year cruisiversary with friends from Hotspur and a coconut cream pie, from scratch--yay me

Part of it is that full-service harbours—those populated places with businesses and useful facilities (although in the case of Puerto Escondido services are limited) are considered, at best, necessary evils for cruisers. The goal is always to be away from it all, out there, somewhere. Because out there is where real cruising happens, it’s the place where we go to explore and relax—it’s the weekend, I guess.

The crazy thing for me is when I’m in a get-work-done-harbour I feel anxious and guilty about relaxing. There is just so much stuff still to do if we are ever going to get going, is the argument I have with myself, even as the temperature rises (is it really, already 34° C, in the shade?) and the day slows. And we subtly pressure each other to get out, to get going. There is nothing more motivating than to overhear other cruisers on the VHF as they discuss bypassing a harbour with the goal of staying out in the islands just a little longer.

My biggest challenge in life is to learn to be comfortable with being still. I learned this when I had my tarot cards read when I was 18. I’m pretty sure I was told other things in that reading that I forgot—maybe that I’d have three marriages, 7 kids and a goat—but the idea that some mystical force recognized what I already knew about myself: that I’m happiest while roaming, was what stuck. It was both liberating and depressing. What about feeling settled and rooted to a place? I asked the man who read my cards. “You’ll have to work at being still to get there,” he told me.

And I will, eventually, I guess. But today, there is so much else to do, because I want to leave here, despite its beauty and undiscovered secrets. But I will practice with being still, just a little bit, just for a moment. And maybe someday it will take.

July 16, 2010

A Sort of Homecoming

We're home.

Yesterday our arrival back to the boat in Peurto Escondido just felt like a relief. After one ferry ride, two flights, two bus rides (totalling 20 hours) and several cab rides, we were just glad to be back home with the majority of our stuff (Evan had two screw driver bits seized at the airport).

Today though--as we adjust to the heat (was it really this hot when we left? why didn't we notice?), sort through the stuff we brought back (the boat needs to go back on a diet), clean up the mess the cat made while we were gone (uhh, thanks for all the dead stuff, Charlie), and clean up the wasp nest that materialized inside--being home kind of feels like a lot of work...

But it also feels like we're home. The boat may be dirty and chaotic. We may have no fresh food. The temperatures might be causing us to wilt. But there are soaring mountains behind us, blue water beneath us and friends anchored around us.
In a day, or so, I'm sure we'll all being saying how good it is to be back.

July 6, 2010

Sailors' Hiatus

You may have caught on to the fact we haven't updated for a bit--the reason is we're not on the boat right now. After a year of cruising it was time to head home for a few weeks--catch-up with friends and family (especially my Nana who just turned 90), and buy stuff.

The trip home was relatively painless, we arranged for someone to care for Charlie and the boat, and then got a lift to the bus and spent 18-hours navigating winding roads while watching shoot-em-up movies in Spanish. I'm pretty sure the Transformer movies don't actually have a plot, in either language. In San Diego we parted ways--Ev and Maia headed straight for Vancouver and I went to Quebec for a conference and a press trip.
Maia made good use of her time at home to enhance her unicycle riding skills
Now we're in Vancouver and our days schedule runs something like this: locate and buy sewing needles, engine parts and watermaker bits. Repair electronics, engine bits and computers. See friends, family and doctors. Send Maia to circus camp. Repeat. It's busy, but lovely to be home amongst so many loving people.
The rushed pace is making me miss the boat a bit though. And the cool weather is definitely making me miss Mexico. We know this will all pass too quickly though and in a matter of days we'll be back 'home' in Mexico. So we're savouring all of it.