Saturday, February 25, 2017

Writing Recognition
By Michael

This cactus just has a
je ne sais quoi, no?
I won an award at the Miami International Boat Show this month, a writing award from my peers at Boating Writers International, for a story I wrote for Cruising World. I’m pleased for the recognition, but judges are human and subjective and many of the other entrants deserve the same recognition.

I’m writing because as the managing editor of Good Old Boat magazine, and as a reader of and contributor to several other boating magazines, I’m in the thick of the marine journalism world and I’m surprised every year when this contest rolls around to see that there are relatively few entries.

The Boating Writers International (BWI) annual writing contest features 17 categories and awards $17,000 in prize money, plus plaques and certificates. What aspiring writer in this genre couldn’t use a little extra cash and recognition? Yet, of the thousands (and thousands) of stories that were published in English-language boating magazines and newspapers and trade journals around the world last year, and that would have fit neatly into one of the 17 categories, only a tiny percentage were entered. In its 24th year, the BWI contest attracted only 151 writers and photographers who together submitted only 378 entries.

Now, you have to be a BWI member to enter, and annual dues are $50, but members are entitled to two free contest submissions, plus other membership benefits, such as a press card that can be used to get into boat shows for free, a monthly journal, access to a job board, and more.

I will boast that Good Old Boat magazine had a pretty good showing in the contest this year. We encouraged our writers to enter and in the Seamanship, Rescue, and Safety category, “The Storm Trysail” (Good Old Boat, January 2016) earned the top prize for Ed Zacko, one of our contributing editors. In the Gear, Electronics, & Product Tests category, writer Drew Frye won first place for “Splash Test Dummy” (Good Old Boat, September 2016). Finally, under the Boat Projects, Renovations & Retrofits category, writer Connie McBride earned a Merit Award for her story, “Filling in the Blanks” (Good Old Boat, November 2016).

The biggest number of winning entrants went to writers of stories published in Cruising World, and stories in the following pubs were also recognized:

Anglers Journal, Boating,, BoatUS Magazine, Chesapeake Bay, Compass, International Boat Industry Magazine, Multihull Sailor, PassageMaker, Practical Sailor, Professional Boatbuilder, Sailing World, Sea, Sea Magazine, Soundings, Texas Fish & Game, SAIL, Showboats International, Small Craft Advisor, Sport Fishing, Yachts International, Yachting, Yachting Monthly,

That’s it!

There are at least 50 other boating pubs out there, nearly all of which weren’t represented. That’s likely a failure on the part of the editors at those pubs for not pushing their writers to enter. That’s a failure on the part of BWI members like me for not getting the word out.

And writers—and boaters who want to be writers! —there is a huge market out there for your work. In my book, Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines, I list most of the magazines in this market (with helpful contact info). Each magazine has at least one editor watching their email, waiting for writers to send them content they can buy. Why isn’t that you?

Get writing, get selling your writing, and next year you could be submitting your published story to the BWI Writing Contest.

Trust me, you can do it. Selling your writing is not magic, it’s just work.

Eleanor, Frances, Otis, and Oliver on a hike.

Frances and her visiting cousin, Oliver.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hello From the Other Side
By Michael

A few nights ago the girls left Phoenix
to spend a week with their Auntie Julie
in Washington state. They fly
unaccompanied and make
their way through security and then
find their gate and board when it's time.
Funny thing we learned is that
kids do not need IDs when traveling
domestically. Last time we sent them
with their passports, this time nothing.
February 14 I surprised all three of my Valentines with a trip to Mexico for dinner.

I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but our Ajo sojourn is intended to accomplish two goals: create another income stream for cruising and test the waters for a future life whereby we spit our time between land and sea. Ajo offers a home base only two hours from the Sea of Cortez.

Of course, that puts us only 35 minutes from the Mexican border. Yet surprisingly—or not surprisingly—we’ve been so far too busy to make this short trip—until the other night.

We cleaned up, piled into the truck, and headed south on I-85. Ten minutes later we passed through Why, Arizona, which locals refer to as The Why, because the tiny hamlet is apparently named for the Y in the road where the 86 to Tucson branches off the 85 to Phoenix. Another few minutes and we were in the thick of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Then, Mexico.

Sonoyta is the town across the border. It’s small and tidy, not a tourist destination.

“It smells like Mexico.” One of the girls said smiling.

There is something comforting about being in Mexico for all of us. I can’t really say what it is. The place just feels like a second home.

Being a border town, Sonoyta is a supply depot and jumping off point for undocumented migrants headed north into the States. Driving around town, even just hundreds of yards from the U.S. border crossing, we saw a dozen sidewalk vendors selling camouflaged backpacks and canteens and all the survival equipment someone would want to have before starting a treacherous journey across the Southern Arizona desert.

That’s a weird juxtaposition against our family of four, dressed up for Dia del Amor, who drove freely south across the border, only pausing to say we’re going to have dinner and not being asked to show any form of I.D. or anything.

The one restaurant we wanted to eat at was closed and our second choice was packed with 3 dozen Federales who arrived just before we pulled up. Ten or so of their trucks were lined up outside, one unlucky soldier stuck waiting in the bed of each, standing vigilant behind the vehicle-mounted machine gun.

No, no, lo siento mucho,” said the waitress, motioning to all the Federales and explaining why she couldn’t serve us.

Crap. But to make something of our trip, we pulled up the nearest OXXO, bought two 18-packs of Tecate, a handful of avocados, and about 20 limes. Because the peso/dollar exchange rate is a crazy 20:1 right now, the savings on just this stuff more than paid for the fuel we burned to drive down.

Crossing the border back into the States just meant getting our passports scanned, then we continued on home, where we enjoyed Valentines dinner out at our favorite Ajo craft brew pub, 100 Estrella.

The Southern Arizona Sonoran Desert is so beautiful.
This is just a random stop on the side of the road, about
halfway between Ajo and Sonoyta.

Entering Mexico.
This is our new friend, Yosie (l) who drops by the house
to give us juggling lessons. Yosie is also teaching
an entire classroom of kids at the Ajo School to juggle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In Pursuit of the Green Flash
By Michael

Eleanor watching the sunset in Fiji.
Definitely not a green flash night, too much
atmospheric haze and likely distant clouds;
note how dim the sun is at its base.
I’ve seen the green flash so many times, I forget there was a time when it was a mystery to me. Before ever seeing it, I'd heard references to it and I wondered exactly what it was and whether it was real.

It is real. But it’s also a bit of a misnomer because it’s not a flash in the sense of bright light, it’s a flash in the sense that it’s over in a flash. It makes more sense to describe it as, “a green smear that you'll miss if you blink.”

There are precise atmospheric conditions necessary to produce this phenomenon, and I’m not sure what they are, but I know that when I’m someplace with no mountains or clouds or too much haze obscuring the horizon and the setting sun, it’s likely I’ll see a green flash. To be clear, the sky can be solid overcast, but as long as there is a clear band at the horizon, conditions may be right.

Especially for folks living on the East Coast or the interior of the U.S., seeing the green flash is not easy. An ocean horizon to the west offers the best hope. Cruising in the Pacific offers plenty of open horizon opportunities. On the contrary, here in Ajo, we've got too much terrain to get a clear shot of the sun setting behind the horizon.

I saw a green flash soon before we left Fiji, while photographing the sunset, and decided to share exactly when it’s visible and what it looks like. There are better photos online, but these are what I’ve got (and I missed the flash).

Okay, this looks like a green flash night--so long as the
sun, which, as it sets, does not set behind that island
(the sun will move from left to right in this frame).
As it drops beneath those clouds, it will
reveal either a clear horizon, or distant
clouds we cannot see now.

Great, horizon looks clear, but I'm concerned about the island.

Damn the island.

Wait, it might set well to the right of the island, in the clear.
The horizon looks perfect for a green flash.


Definitely gonna clear the island. I still can't stare at
the sun with the naked eye at this point, just catching
glances. (But you do need to be staring at the time
the green flash happens.)

Now I'm catching more frequent glances, sunglasses coming off.

I'm almost staring constantly at this point, I don't want to miss it.

Any millisecond now.

I'm not blinking.

And this is the last photo I have that shows anything.
I saw a great green flash this night, but the camera didn't catch it.
But, this is exactly what it looks like, only green--a distinct, brilliant
green smear in place of this white light. It's the last thing
that can be seen. It's very quick, but unmistakeable.
And like dolphins at the bow, you really don't get tired
of seeing them.
And if you’re intrigued by the green flash, I offer a story from my friend Mike Litzow aboard Galactic. While I’ve seen my share of green flashes, Mike has seen a handful of doubles, and even triples. Do you even know what that means? Check out his post from the middle of the Atlantic a couple months back.

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