Monday, November 17, 2014

By Michael

Frances in Santa Rosalia.
The crew on s/v Shawnigan, another cruising family, thoughtfully commented here a while back saying that they like our blog and want to recognize it. They directed us to a list of questions they want us to answer and invited us to pass on the good will by forwarding our own questions to another blog we wish to highlight. I’m not ready to do the latter at this time, but everyone loves a good Q&A, so I’ll tackle those now. (In fact, to that point, I love answering any and all questions about us and what we’re doing, so please feel free to ask away in the comments or send us and email.)

We’ll get back to our regular programing next week.

What inspired you to start your blog?

Windy actually started the blog—note that the first few posts are hers. But then she asked me to contribute and it slowly became my voice. Though she is still very involved, mostly through editing what I write here.
She was inspired by our desire to share our adventure (and our lives leading up to it) with family and friends. I was originally inspired by the idea that the blog could become an income source. But I never went down that road (until Cruising World asked to republish our content on their site for a stipend). I wrote a lengthy post examining why we share our lives so publically, but I think it boils down to three reasons:
  • to communicate (and make connections with other cruising families)
  • to feel relevant/influencial
  • to practice and improve my writing

Who is your target audience?

Family, friends, other cruisers (especially those with kids), and I imagine the largest percentage of readers are those people who are contemplating or planning this way of living. But I really have no data to back up these metrics.

How or why did you end up with the boat you are currently sailing on?

We were looking for a heavy displacement cruising boat on the West Coast that was big enough to fit our family and in our price range. We found our Fuji 40 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico about a year before we planned to take off. I wrote a detailed post about our thinking and about our coming to buy this particular boat. Unlike most cruisers who work for years to get their boat ready, ours was virtually untouched by us when we began our voyage. We spent many months tearing it apart and working on it as we went.

What has been the hardest part of boatschooling your kids?

Aboard Del Viento, Windy does nearly 100 percent of the schooling. She has no formal training, but it’s gone very smoothly, especially relative to stories we've heard from others. She credits some of this ease to the fact that she was able to begin homeschooling the girls two years before we left and was involved in a supportive homeschooling cooperative in D.C. during that time. We don’t use a formal curriculum, just a hodgepodge of materials she’s put together. It can be challenging balancing conventional academic progress with opportunities for experiences, but when a whale shark is in the anchorage, it trumps school work any day.

What has been the most enjoyable/satisfying part of boatschooling?

Windy reports that it is simply the pleasure of being a partner in their day-to-day learning, of watching them mature intellectually, and being right there when they make those connections.

Do you plan on traditional schooling at any point? If so, when?

The only scenarios we imagine are a) we land in some interesting place where the girls’ attending school is the best way for them to be involved in that culture, and b) the girls request to go to conventional school, say in high school. By the way, the girls’ schooling also incorporates several learning apps on the iPad. Both girls spend nearly all their free time reading and writing and drawing—or listening to audio books.

What sea creature do you most identify with (what would you want to be?) and why? And how about the rest of the family?

I don’t really have an answer, but I polled the girls so I could put their responses here.

“What do you mean? I don’t have a favorite and I wouldn’t want to be a sea creature.” Said Eleanor.

"Those jelly guys, you know the guys that eat crabs and they suck in--oh yeah, a sea anemone!" Said Frances.

How do you divide your watch hours? Do any of the kids help?

We’ve never done formal watch hours. We do it today like we did in our twenties. I like to stay up late and Windy likes to get up early. After an early dinner I’ll be off watch until just after dusk. Then, Windy will go down and read to the girls and they’ll all fall asleep. At 2 or 3:00 a.m., I’ll be ready to sleep and will wake Windy. She’ll usually then wake me about 9:00 a.m. or so. It’s always worked well for us. Eleanor’s a bit of a night owl and she’ll sometimes stay up late with me. When she turned 10-years-old last year, she started doing thirty-minute daytime watches topsides by herself when we were under power or sailing in light airs. She’ll check the gauges and make autopilot adjustments, following a track on the iPad, and keep a diligent eye ahead.

What is your favorite recipe for your first 3 days of a passage?

I seem to be immune to seasickness and I do much of the cooking anyway, so I spend a lot of time underway down below, in the galley. Unless it’s really rough, we eat pretty much like we do at anchor, though more often in the cockpit. And of course, what we eat depends on where we are—Alaska and the Sea of Cortez each provoke a different appetite. In Mexico we eat a lot of quesadillas and in Alaska we ate a lot of lentil soup. It’s worth noting that when we feel like it, we drink alcohol underway—beer and wine with meals and such. I don't think this is the norm.

What is your favorite ice cream?

I am torn between Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond. If I knew I was dying tomorrow, I’d consume a gallon pint of each. Windy says strawberry. Eleanor loves ice cream, but has no favorite. Frances loves cookie dough-flavored ice cream. By the way, you can get Haagen-Dazs in La Paz, Mexico. It costs about US$8 per pint—we’ve never bought any.


Eleanor kissing a long deceased puffer fish. Del Viento at
anchor in the background.

This is the cemetery on the hill above Santa Rosalia. That's Windy's
mom on the left--she came to stay with us aboard for three weeks.
It was a good visit, except that we spent a full week of it at anchor
in Santa Rosalia waiting for the gale-force northers to settle. But we
made it up to Bay of L.A. and saw some pretty anchorages in
between. And that's our good cruising friend, Norma, between
the girls.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Diesel Where It Shouldn't Be
By Michael

The girls walking down a lovely
Santa Rosalia sidewalk. See the bunches
of marigolds up ahead? They are popular
in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos
celebrations. They were originally
called miccaxochitl in the Nahuatl
(Aztec) language, which translates
as flower of the dead. 
I don’t know how to type the noises that Windy exclaimed from the galley, but I can describe them pretty accurately. It’s precisely and exactly and unequivocally the same noise you or your spouse would make after drawing a glass of water from the tap, taking a big swig, and spitting it out after realizing it was diesel.

I didn’t want it to be true. I didn’t know how it could be true.

I removed the inspection plate on the top of the port tank. The smell of diesel hit immediately. But the fluid in our water tank looked like water. But diesel fuel in Mexico isn’t dyed red as in the States. I dipped a ladle in and examined it. It was water, but with an unmistakable sheen of diesel on the top. I moved to the starboard tank, it was a bit worse.

I looked at Windy, “How in the world?”

“Is it possible you spilled some diesel last time we filled up and it ran into the water tank because the deck cap wasn’t tight?”

“No, I haven’t spilled that much diesel in a long time, and the fuel fill is on the port side, and lower than the water fill on that side.”

“What about during Odile, when we diverted rain water on the deck into the water tank—could there have been something diesel-y up forward?”

When I sponged the water-clear liquid
from the tank, it turned this brown
color, seen in the stainless bowl. I
think the sponging action emulsified
the diesel.
“Not a chance, remember the decks were cleared for a hurricane?”

It had to be that we took on contaminated water. Since we’ve been north of Loreto, all our water has come from jerry cans ashore, 5-gallon Sparkletts bottles that may or may not be washed between uses. Maybe one was contaminated with clear, Mexican diesel? Seems improbable. I’m always the guy that lugs them aboard and dumps them in through a funnel; I’ve never noticed a diesel smell, not even when handling the cap or the empty bottle afterward.

But both tanks are contaminated, so it would have to have been two contaminated bottles. But the tanks are connected by a common vent line.

Then I thought of an interface between our fuel and water tanks: the Heart Tank Tender. Small air hoses from a common gauge go to both the water and fuel tanks. I unscrewed the unit from the wall and quickly dismissed it as a possible source of contamination. Not only do the independent hoses travel six vertical feet from the tanks to the gauge, but the air that is pumped through them only goes one way and there were no signs of liquid in any of them.

For the last several days, I’ve been on my hands and knees, emptying the stainless steel tanks dry with a sponge, cleaning every square inch of them I can reach with rubbing alcohol (I read to do this online) and repeatedly flushing them with water and vinegar and with water and dish soap and with water and baking soda (trying everything I’ve read online).

Things are better, but not yet great. Our galley foot pump failed a couple weeks ago, so we were using pressure water when the contamination was discovered. This means that a much larger system is exposed: much more hose, the pressure pump, the lines to the head, and the water heater.

I don’t know how much more flushing is in our future, but I’ll let you know.

Here we are again with our friends Norma and Christian (left) and
also Roy and Gerardo. The latter two are a Mexican father and son.
We met them when we anchored off Isla Angel de la Guarda back in
September, the day before we learned the hurricane was
coming our way. They were a pair of kayakers down from
Bahia de los Angeles and camping on the island. We gave them
the weather report and then wondered for weeks how they
weathered Odile. We ran into them again in Sta Rosalia
and learned they'd done fine, holed up in a cave they
found, about 25 feet above sea level. They're on their way
La Paz, aiming to get there by Christmas.
Surprisingly, even with this obstructed and limited
access to the inside of our tanks (the other is the same)
I was able to clean them pretty well, even given the baffles.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

¡Queremos Halloween!
By Michael

The girls, ready to go--la medusa
y la buceadora
It means we want Halloween and it’s what kids in Mexico say instead of trick or treat. I’m no cultural anthropologist, but I’m pretty sure the Mexican Halloween is an imported, bastardized version of our elaborate, sugar-filled consumer fetish—in the same way the American Halloween is just a distorted descendant of Celtic traditions, now gone completely awry. Instead of the bonfires of falls past, which attracted bugs that attracted bats, we now buy plastic, bat-shaped stand-ins, hang them like model planes, and call it a holiday. Even the extortionist roots of trick-or-treating have fallen away. Today if a house can’t deliver, kids politely go to the next one, no tricks and no hard feelings. But I digress.

This was the girls’ fourth Halloween as cruising kids, yet the first that really seemed foreign. In 2011, they hung out and trick-or-treated with other gringo kids on the docks in La Cruz, Mexico. In 2012, they canvased the houses of a posh Victoria, Canada neighborhood, an experience indistinguishable from the States. Last year, they were in Grandma and Grandpa’s neighborhood in the Bay Area. But this year, this year was remarkable.

We’re anchored off the small, Baja town of Santa Rosalia. Days before the big day, we asked around about the local traditions. We thought kids would dress up because we saw costumes displayed in some of the storefronts. “Si,” we were told, kids would dress up and they would go door-to-door soliciting candy after dark.

Do they say trick or treat?

No, ellos dicenqueremos Halloween.’”

And then we learned that in Mexico, kids don’t go knocking on the front doors of people’s homes, they do their trick-or-treating at businesses. The copy store, the pharmacy, the ice cream parlor, the hairdresser, the gift shop, the grocery store, the hardware store, the hotel—everything open is fair game.

At dusk, we dinghied ashore with Eleanor’s delicate jellyfish costume and Frances’s rugged snorkeler ensemble. Each carried a plastic grocery bag they’d decorated with a Sharpie. When we got to the familiar Santa Rosalia downtown, it was like stepping back in time. The narrow streets were clogged with cars filled with people who weren’t going anywhere fast, just Friday night cruising like in a 1950s movie. Hundreds of costumed kids and their parents moved eagerly along the sidewalks and in between the cars, crossing the street from open merchant to open merchant. Lamp posts were decorated and flowers were piled high in front of florists preparing for the Dia de los Muertos celebrations to come.

Back on the boat that night, the girls dumped their bags onto the table and fanned it out to commence the traditional hours-long trading session. But between the two girls, there was only one piece of familiar candy, a rogue mini Butterfinger. Nothing else could be readily identified and nothing else contained chocolate. Nearly everything was hard candy, much of it containing a spicy chili coating or center that would burn your mouth up. It made trading between them difficult, and fun to watch, the risk of ending up with something less desirable than what they started with was great.


The end of October, Eleanor celebrated her 11th
birthday with a berry pie I made.

The girls post trick-or-treating with our good
friends aboard Manakai, Christian and Norma.

Three brujas I found on a Santa Rosalia sidewalk.

There were lots of
very little ones in
And there were many
Catrinas about town.

Windy and the girls threading their way along
a busy sidewalk.

Friday, October 31, 2014

By Michael

When you just can't take the talking
any more, the ChipClip is
an effective tool.
“Are you sure you’ve got it?”


I pointed out into the afternoon sunlight, “You’re gonna cross this street, go one block that way, and then turn right on the next street, and just keep walking until you see it—right?”

“Yeah.” Then after a pause, “Wait, what’s a block?”

We were sitting at a street taco stand, about four blocks from the little food market we frequent in Santa Rosalia. Frances wanted to walk there and share some of her food with the two dogs that were always outside (I can’t remember the names she’s given them).

“Tell you what, I’ll go with you, but I won’t be with you, I’ll be following behind, keeping an eye on you, but you won’t see me or know I’m even there. How does that sound?”


And off she went, looking both ways before crossing the narrow, one-way street and then purposefully heading down the side street, a plastic bag of gristle swinging in her little hand. I followed behind.


It’s hard to illustrate or explain Mexico to you. Much of its culture still eludes me, and I’ve spent a lot of time here. I work on my Spanish every day, I talk to many people, and I’ve read a couple excellent books about Mexican culture (Mañana Forever by Jorge Castañeda and The People's Guide to Mexico by Carl Franz). But the more I learn, the more I learn how much there is I’ll never understand. My friend Tim, who lives here, has the same sense and he has an explanation for everything: T-I-M. It’s simply an acronym for This is Mexico, a universal explanation for whatever baffles us. Windy and I say it to each other at least once a week.


“Yep, T-I-M.”

But then there are the aspects of Mexico that are different, often endearing, but not necessarily baffling. This story is about one of those.

Recall, I’m following Frances, out of sight, on the streets of a busy little Mexican town…


One of two types of rays we
see often on the bottom. These
are about the size of dinner plates.
My little sprite glanced over her shoulder periodically. I knew she couldn’t see me; she continued with determination. Then she hit the gauntlet: two teenaged girls, still in their pale pink school uniforms that made them look like nurses from a 1950s hospital. They got animated as Frances approached them on the sidewalk. I couldn’t hear them. Frances likely didn’t know they were talking to her until the one girl stepped in front of her and bent down, the other crowded, they were trying to communicate. Frances was then turned around, a little person clutched tightly by one girl who beamed at her friend with the camera.

Snap, snap, snap.

Then they switched, passing their new plaything between themselves for more pictures.

Finally they released their prisoner and waved and smiled. Franny continued on, in the opposite direction she’d been headed. One of the girls ran to her and turned her around, pointing up the street.

When I approached the girls a minute later, their backs were turned and they were chatting, their eyes on the little girl disappearing into the street scene ahead, no doubt wondering about her.

“She’s practicing walking to the store by herself,” I said in Spanish as I passed. They nodded and went on excitedly about how cute Frances was.

Also the size of a dinner plate,
we see these guys a lot.
As much as an attribute can be applied to a group of 100 million people, Mexicans love kids, they just do. I often highlight this for other gringos by pointing out that there is no concept in this country of ‘family friendly restaurant.’ None. The very idea of insulating adults from kids for the adults’ sake just wouldn’t register here.

Strangers often lightly touch my girls lovingly as we walk down the street. I hear whispered terms of endearment like, “preciosa,” or “cariña,” or “muñeca.” I think this happens to a lot of foreign kids in particular.

But this village mindset can be a bit overwhelming too. Earlier this year, in downtown La Paz, I was trying to teach both girls to safely cross streets by themselves. “Go ahead, I’ll wait here mid-block. Just remember everything we’ve practiced: look both ways, make sure you have eye contact with the driver, and cross with purpose.”

We couldn’t do it. Every time we tried, a another pedestrian or shopkeeper would appear from no place and grab my daughter’s hand protectively and walk her across, before returning across themselves to resume whatever they were doing. Sometimes one of the girls would point me out to the kind stranger, probably in response to a question about where their parents were. The stranger’s smile would often fade when they saw me. I'd give a weak wave, “Yeah, I know,” I’d say under my breath, my face flushed, “T-I-M.”


Eleanor with a booby while underway. These guys are
pretty tame (sometimes letting the girls touch them)
and their feet and plumage come in all colors.
A pretty Mexican sunset. You never get tired of them.
All of us swimming with sea lions at Isla Angel
de la Guarda, near Bahia de los Angeles.
That's Frances in the foreground.
We've been seeing lots of whale sharks lately. This guy
swam by us in the water at Puerto Don Juan. A week
earlier, anchored in Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Windy and I
saw the biggest one ever, nearly the length of Del Viento,swimming right alongside. They're kind of like
shark-shaped manatees.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Las Cuevas
By Michael

Frances silhouetted on the dinghy
bow as we motor out of another cave.

This past May, sitting in a Guaymas boat yard with the mercury showing 111 degrees Fahrenheit and with blast furnace-like winds filling the air and the inside of the boat with dust and with mosquitos toughing it out just to suck us dry, we wondered aloud how we were going to survive a summer in the Sea of Cortez. I mean, this was still springtime and Guaymas wasn’t even as far north as we planned to sail. All the superlatives we’d read and heard people use to describe the summer Sea suddenly carried great weight. We were doomed.

Yet for all the dire warnings and our own apprehensions, we also knew people who’d intentionally spent multiple summers in the Sea and they didn’t seem totally nuts.

We remained steadfast to our plans, we would subject ourselves to a summer in the Sea and judge it for ourselves.

This was our favorite cave, a big, cool
cavern in the Sea that few seem
to visit or know about. It's on the eastern
side of Islas Espiritu Santos, just south
of Caleta Partida.
Back in September, on a still-hot day in the northern Sea of Cortez, Windy said how she wished we had time to spend at least next summer in the Sea too. We all agreed. Every summer day seemed better than the last. And it wasn’t just a matter of acclimating and good preparation.

The fact is, nearly everyone eagerly warned us of the heat and of the lack of services in the northern Sea, but few said anything about the positives, the things that overwhelmingly make a summer in the Sea something especially wonderful. Following are four of those positives:

  • Especially up north, summertime is a paradise for solitude lovers. We saw increasingly fewer boats north of each big milestone (Loreto, Bahia Concepcion, Santa Rosalia, Bahia de Los Angeles). Take the Refugio anchorage at the top of Isla Angel La Guarda. The water was clear and warm. Rock spires jutted out of the water, their cragged faces glowing warm reds and browns and oranges. We swam with members of a small, nearby sea lion colony. We dropped the hook anyplace we wanted and spent a few days snorkeling, eating, and reading without seeing another boat.

  • We lived with the critical, ever-present threat of hurricanes, but using the shortwave radio nets, they were easy to track from anyplace we were—so that we could be in a protected place when they threatened (and as evidenced this year, the northern Sea is statistically safer). And threaten and strike they did this year, but even storms that never reached the Sea tended to generate unsettled conditions that brought welcome relief from the relentless, clear, blue skies and the penetrating sun. We spent whole days under the cover of high clouds. Some days thunderstorms brought wind and rain. The clouds provided shade and the rain could drop temperatures by fifteen degrees.

  • The water is exceptionally nice. People told us the Sea would get so hot that jumping in would offer no relief. This just ain’t true. This year, water temps in the Sea were hotter than normal, and yet we all enjoyed every cooling minute we spent bathing, swimming, and snorkeling.

  • And there are caves. The pictures say it all. What a great place to spend a day, either exploring them or hanging out inside of them with a cooler of snacks and cold drinks—beautiful, primitive, cool respites.

If you’re looking down the road at your Mexico cruising itinerary and you have a summertime window you could spend in the Sea, reconsider fleeing to Banderas Bay or booking it back north to the States. Steel yourself for the heat, prepare for the bees, make lots of shade, pay strict attention to the weather, and have the time of your life in one of the world's best cruising destinations.


Snorkeling paradises are along every shoreline.

Not a bad way to spend a day.

Natural playgrounds, see Eleanor?
My little spelunker.

The crew in our dinghy.

Eleanor feeling her way.

This photo is right-side-up. Look at all the good-sized and disparate
rocks that appear glued to the ceiling of this cave. Some of those are

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