Monday, April 30, 2012

Pettiness And Gravity
By Michael

These steel stairs descend straight into
the salt water from the Turtle Bay pier--where they rust
away. The empty panga down the dock is our
taxi. Windy is about to make the leap onto the
dock before she helps the girls.
Windy woke me about 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, just outside the breakwater of Marina Coral in Ensenada, Mexico, about 55 miles south of San Diego. We weren’t finished going north, but we were done with the Baja Bash.

Upon checking in, Marina Coral let us know we had to leave no later than Saturday morning as every slip was booked for the finish of the Newport Beach-to-Ensenada yacht race.
So we all rested and enjoyed the ammenities of the Hotel Coral. I began writing a blog post about our time in Turtle Bay, 250 miles south. Our passages from Mag Bay to Turtle Bay and from Turtle Bay to Ensenada were benign, so I wrote about our 24 hours in Turtle Bay, how over and over, we felt like we’d stepped into a place where we were unwanted. It was strange.

It was difficult to describe these experiences, even using definitive examples, without sounding petty.
So Saturday morning, with everyone at Marina Coral wrapping up a week of bustling to accommodate the flood of racers, we cast off our lines and headed north for San Diego--my post unpublished.

All day on our way to San Diego from Ensenada, we enjoyed sailing north through the fleet of over 200 boats, many of which flew colorful spinnakers. As dusk descended, we contemplated anchoring off the Coronado Islands, unaware of the tragedy that took place there hours before.

Shortly after arriving in San Diego Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and clearing U.S. customs, we learned about the tragedy. My Turtle Bay anecdotes no longer sounded petty, they sounded unimportant. 

Tonight the U.S. Coast Guard called off their search for the fourth crewmember of Aegean, presumed dead like his three crewmates after their boat was destroyed 1:30 a.m. off Mexico’s Coronado Islands, just south of the U.S. border and San Diego. Aegean was headed south, participating in the annual Newport Beach, California to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race. Preliminary reports indicate 37-foot Aegean collided with another, larger vessel, such as a freighter. As they were for the racers over the past 12 hours, conditions for us were benign. An investigation is ongoing.
Saturday morning and from the deck at the Hotel Coral, I could
see the first of the race boats approaching the finish.
We cleared U.S. customs late Saturday night and we are tied up at the police dock here in San Diego. Over the past 24 hours we've watched dozens of race participants sail in to clear customs. I talked to a few crew who seemed pretty sullen when I brought up the Aegean. Everyone is eager for information, for answers.
For anyone who has not spent a lot of time on the water, especially at night, it may seem odd that there could be a collision between two boats, converging from miles apart on the open ocean, when one might be moving 25 miles per hour and the other 6 miles per hour. Yet, even assuming the crew of the Aegean kept a good watch, I can imagine how this could have happened.
On the sea at night, the crewperson on watch is looking for lights. In most cases, there are few, if any. The ones you do see, you pay attention to, watching to discern the direction and speed of the lighted vessel—especially relative to you. In this case, the Aegean crew likely would have seen many lights, of fellow racers, all of which would have been moving in the same direction and none perceived as an immediate threat. Assuming they weren't using radar, the lights of a larger vessel, such as a freighter, may not have been easily distinguishable from the others and therefore may not have been given particular attention—until it was too late. And too late can come very quickly and be disorienting. A backdrop of San Diego and Tijuana lights ashore could have futher complicated matters.
Hopefully we will soon learn more about exactly what happened. Windy and I talked tonight about our own watch keeping practices, especially at night. We affirmed our own strategy and reminded each other how critical it can be—not just for avoiding other traffic, but for avoiding the shore during coastal cruising.
The second of two whales we saw, sounding between
us and a race participant. Note three other
race participants on the horizon.
I don’t know why we did not hear radio traffic about the missing sailor during our trip north. We were tuned to channel 16 all day and heard several Securite broadcasts from a U.S. aircraft carrier warning other boats away from it. We heard numerous vessel assist calls. But we did not hear anything from the Coast Guard or race committee about the accident and the ongoing search. Only when we reached San Diego did we get the news. At the time we passed by the Coronados, we could have kept our eyes open, diverting to check on floating things we otherwise ignore. I think all vessels in the area should have been advised to keep an eye out.
The four guys who set sail aboard Aegean were the first casualties in the race’s 65-year history. They wore matching crew shirts and were likely excited for the downwind run that stretched over 130 miles. They probably looked forward to beers at the finish line and the celebration of their feat. They likely never imagined it would unfold any other way.
But it did. And this should be a serious reminder to us all to re-evaluate our own practices and safety protocols aboard. It is counterintuitive, but things can change in the blink of an eye offshore, even moving at less than 10 miles per hour. Need convincing? Read this outstanding account from a survivor of the 38-foot racing boat Low Speed Chase that wrecked earlier this month off San Francisco, resulting in five fatalities.
--Michael
 
The dogs of Turtle Bay were friendly.
Windy and the girls headed down the Turtle Bay pier and into town,
two bags of laundry in hand (I had to carry the camera).

Get rid of the cars and the telephone wires, add some hitching posts
and Turtle Bay could be the backdrop for a western. It is a remote
and beautiful place, but distinctly not welcoming this time.

We rented this room in Turtle Bay for an hour just to shower.
None of us had properly bathed since La Paz...wait, maybe
that explains our reception.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

125 Miles To Windward
By Michael

Frances and Zada (Eyoni) high-five in
the last few minutes before we
left La Paz April 10.
I met Captain Jim Elfers in 1995. He stood before a blanket on the ground in a parking lot of the Channel Islands marina, in California. Like the other folks at this tiny marine swap meet, his blanket was covered with used boat detritus. But there were also a couple spiral-bound, pre-publication copies of a book he had just written: The Baja Bash. Drawing on the experience he gained delivering more than 20 boats up the Baja coastline from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego, Elfers wrote The Baja Bash to provide very specific advice on how to best approach this passage. He dedicated his book to, “the lone American who, upon driving to McDonalds and spilling coffee on himself, curses his clumsiness and drives away without calling a lawyer.” I bought a copy. Seventeen years later, a second edition is still in print.

In the first few pages, Elfers makes it clear that April, May, and June are the worst months to make this trek. “If you want San Diego…you’ll have to earn it.”
The Baja is a narrow, 800-mile-long peninsula. On one side are thousands of miles of cold, Pacific Ocean. On the other side is the warm body of the Sea of Cortez. This unique geography results in a strong, predictable seabreeze cycle. Added into the mix are cape effects, wind belts, and funnel effects that occur along this coastline. Nearly every likely climactic condition and sea state favors a southbound route.

In fact, you often hear folks claim that the trip from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas is so easy that anyone can make it on a 55-gallon drum. Of course, this means it is an inherently difficult passage when heading the other direction. And there are few resources or refuges along the way. The two Mexican states that comprise the peninsula are the least populated of all Mexican states. You are on your own.

For the past few months, every time we’ve talked to another sailor about our plans to head to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico, they’ve asked us whether we are taking the easier, more accepted route, via Hawaii. When we’ve said we’re not, that we have friends and family we want to visit along the way, up and down the West Coast, I could see what they are thinking, “Sucks to be you.” And they usually verbalized this thought.
In The Baja Bash, Elfers says that, “many of the first-time Mexico returnees I’ve spoken to put their boats up for sale the minute they hit San Diego.” He stresses the importance of timing the rounding of Cabo Falso, just a few miles north of Cabo San Lucas. Here is where thousands of miles of uninterrupted Pacific wind, wave, and current convergence meet the 200-mile wide mouth of the Sea of Cortez. “…Falso gets a cape effect that can be awesome to behold.”

We left Cabo San Lucas for Cabo Falso the morning of Friday, the 13th of April--and we beheld it.
Ignoring the fact that we began our trip on a Friday (a sailing taboo—and Friday the 13th, no less), we picked nearly the worst conditions to head north from Cabo San Lucas: persistent northwesterlies.

Why did we do this?
To every person who expressed pity when we told them we were Bashing this year, my optimistic response was uninformed and foolish. “Ah heck,” I’d say, “of course the Bash is not a downwind sail, but we don’t mind tacking upwind, covering some extra miles and taking some more time. We’ll get there.” I’d reasoned too that the bad reputation was probably exaggerated. After all, it probably stems from the stories of frustrated delivery captains who are paid by the trip and want to finish as quickly as possible. We had time. Windy and I knew the first 40 miles, to get ourselves around Cabo Falso, would be difficult. But surely there was not a need to wait for the wind to die completely so we could motor north.

We confidently left Cabo in the early morning with 20 knots blowing around the cape.
We got smacked. It was rough. We tacked out on a west-northwesterly heading with a reefed main and full jib.

After half a day, it got rougher. We reefed the jib.
By late afternoon, it got rougher. We furled the jib and started the motor.

Under reefed main and motor we pounded and pounded into increasingly large, steep, and confused seas. We should have turned around, but figured we would not have to endure too much more. Surely these conditions were specific to the Cape. After all, the wind was completely manageable under reefed sails, we just had to get past these damn seas.
Into the evening, it seemed we were constantly grinding to a halt after slamming into a steep wave or being broadsided by another. Our speed continued to deteriorate. The sound down below was awful and we learned about all of the things we had not stowed well. The pitching was so bad it swung the glass chimney of our oil lamp into a mirror, shattering it.

During the first night, we tacked again out to sea, hoping for more regular seas 30 miles out. Nobody ate anything. Nobody could sleep well. It was the first of three long nights.
Both of us were surprised when the first heavy blast of cold sea water blew over the coaming and into the cockpit. Our boat has a lot of freeboard and the cockpit is perched high above the aft cabin. This makes for a dry boat. We’d before seen only the rare wisp of spray reach the foredeck, but never sheets of water in the cockpit, not until now. I was drenched and cold. We dug out our warm clothing and foul weather gear, stowed since we left Washington, D.C. almost a year ago.

By the second day, the drenching seawater dousing in the cockpit was constant. A couple times heavy gusts overpowered our reefed main to bury the toe rail. Yet northwestward progress remained depressingly slow. We spent our on-watch hours hanging out under the dodger and down below, making quick trips outside only to alter course or check the engine gauges. We continued on.
This is the lonely home of the person on
night watch (the cockpit, looking aft from
the campanionway). Though it is usually
darker; I turned on the spreader lights to
take this picture in the middle of the night.
About this time, Windy noticed the bilge pump was running intermittently. She dutifully reached down and tasted it: saltwater. Our bilge incorporates a deep sump with an opening of about 20  inches by 20 inches. My theory was that the small amount of water in this sump was sloshing, repeatedly activating the float switch. We turned off the bilge pump to test the theory. An hour later, the primary pump was underwater and the secondary pump was about to be triggered. The pump ran for 30 seconds when we turned it on.

With all of the water we were shipping on deck over the bow, I guessed that the source of our bilge water was the two hawse pipes forward. I climbed to the head of the v-berth and removed the access panel to peer into the anchor locker with a flashlight, bracing myself against the constant and often violent pounding, rolling, and pitching. It appeared that every 15 seconds at least two cups of water would pour down from the two hawse pipes. Windy added “plug the hawse pipes” to our departure checklist.
Towards the end of the same day, Windy called me to the aft cabin. She pointed to water seeping and pumping out from behind the cabinetry and over the floor boards. Hawse pipe water ingress could not rise to this level. There was no tankage aft. Yet saltwater was coming from behind the cabinets, onto the floorboards, running forward into the main cabin and finding its way down to the bilge. This didn’t look good. To our credit, we both tend to stay pretty calm under pressure.

I pulled up the soaked cushion over the bench between the two aft berths. In the locker underneath, the group 31 starting battery was nearly underwater. With the locker open, water now sloshed out and into the main cabin, a half-gallon with each roll. Using a hand pump, Windy and I removed five gallons from this space. The water returned slowly.
This water was coming from someplace aft and above the engine and prop shaft seal. The only potential failure points I could think of this far aft are the cockpit drain thru-hulls and the rudder post, both accessed only via the lazarette. My mind skipped ahead to the worse-case scenario for the water intrusion: a crack in the hull where the rudder post exits, a potentially catastrophic failure. This scenario seemed unlikely, especially as our rudder hangs from a full strut, but it is a point of rare failure on sailboat hulls and I couldn’t help but dwell on what seemed to be extreme forces we’d subjected 34-year-old Del Viento to over the past 36 hours. Our pitching and rolling hadn’t been smooth and pleasant, it had seemed course, our hull slammed from the side and falling off the top of steep waves and into deep troughs, crashing, over and over, non-stop.

Out in the cockpit, I began to empty the lazarette. I had to clear it to access and remove the floor boards to check the rudder post and cockpit drain thru-hulls—I was soon shaking cold and wet. Where the heck was I going to put our life raft, four 5-gallon jerry jugs, two sails, four fenders, a huge duffle bag of line, kayak oars, a shovel, two folding chairs, a dolly, a large emergency rudder, heavy wind vane components, and other things?
I worked quickly and neatly, securing and ordering things in the cockpit. I was halfway through when I realized everything I pulled out was drenched. I could hardly lift the duffle bag of line, soaked through as it was. I realized what was happening. Even as I worked, deck water rushed aft and gushed over the shallow coaming and into the lazarette. Water entering at this point had been a problem in the past. Even in a slip with heavy tropical rain and the lid secured, deck water that found its way aft would pool and flood below through this lazarette lid. I’d forgotten all about it as it has hardly rained since we moved aboard in September.

Frances getting to know a baby lobster we
pulled up from the water while underway.
This was kind of poignant as Windy and I
have pictures of us doing the same thing
in 1997 when we were down here on the
first Del Viento. Interestingly, on this trip,
the water was thick with these things, in
carpets that would stretch hundreds of
meters. The beaches outside the entrance
to Mag Bay all featured a thick red band
at the high-tide line where these guys
wash up.
More water poured in. Good. I didn’t continue emptying the lazarette. I put everything back, relieved.
Later, Windy was in the cockpit when the Harken main sheet traveler car ran out to leeward. The shackle that attaches it to the windward side sheared off under load. She determined that none of our spare shackles were a good fit and improvised a fix using a strop of Spectra our friend Ethan (Eyoni) made and gave us before we left.

Then it was my turn: I noticed our radar tower moving like it hadn’t before, swaying in increasing arcs. This is the robust, 3 inch diameter, aluminum pole at the stern used to mount the radar, cockpit light, stern nav light, shortwave radio antennae, and wi-fi antennae. This pole is attached below decks with lag bolts into wood blocks that are glassed to the hull. From here the pole passes through the deck and extends ten feet above the deck. Halfway up is a davit that extends outward for raising and lowering our 85-pound dinghy motor with block and tackle.
The bolts that attach the pole at the base and to the deck collar sheared. I secured the pole with half-inch line to cleats forward and athwartships before it could do further damage.

By the time we reached Bahia Magdelena, 125 miles north of Cabo, the wind and seas had abated as forecast and we’d enjoyed six hours of relative calm. Windy was sleeping like a log. We anchored just inside the bay and I crashed too. The boat was a disaster down below. Later that day we woke and motored 15-miles up the bay to the fish processing plant at San Carlos to buy some diesel for Del Viento and ice cream for the girls. This calm was the start of the weather window that would have allowed us to motor sail quietly around Cabo Falso and north.
I grew up in an era where everything seems to be exaggerated. If you take the televised evening news literally, you will turn into a frightened, cynical person with an unrealistic perception of the risks inherent to living. I learned to be critical. Perhaps that is why I discounted in this case, advice rooted in common sense. I discounted expert testimony in The Baja Bash. I know too that I felt that we didn’t buy a sailboat so that we could motor up the Baja. Why wait for a weather window so I could motor instead of sail? Now I know the answer. When we anchored at Mag Bay, we’d run the engine 54 hours since Cabo. Ironically, we’d have run the engine for fewer hours had we waited for a weather window and planned to motor the entire route direct.

In the end, Del Viento and her crew faired pretty well. We put the shake back into the shakedown cruise and found some valuable surprises, but nothing really disappointing. Frances threw up once and the rest of us suffered bumps and bruises, but otherwise we are all happy and healthy. We have more confidence in Del Viento and we do not plan to put her up for sale in San Diego. But that could change, we still have 675 miles to go.
--MR

This is our radar tower when it seemed stout, ready for anything.

Underway, twenty minutes out of Cabo San Lucas and headed for Cabo Falso.
Things deteriorated from here.

At the end of the first 125 miles of our Bash, we stopped at the small,
industrial town of San Carlos in Magdelena Bay to take on 200 liters
of diesel. The commercial pier we tied up to dwarfed Del Viento and
the quantity of fuel we asked for is small compared to the 4- to 10-
thousand liters the fishing boats usually need.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Girls, Underway
By Michael

Eleanor beachcombing, Del Viento behind her.
While the girls now spend a fair amount of time topsides while we are underway, watching the world go by doesn't keep them entertained 100% of the time. Down below, they have schoolwork to complete, but otherwise spend their time engaged in imaginary play together or solo downtime, the latter usually spent reading books or listening to audio books. By the time we get where we are going, they are eager to head ashore and explore with us.

On overnight passages, they are sacked out while Windy and I take turns in the cockpit, on watch. Even in the warm climates, we are usually in long pants and fleece in the cockpit at night. We watch the glowing bioluminescent streaks left by dolphins too dark to see, we track the far-off lights of other boats, and we star gaze. Of course, all the while,  night watches also mean hours of listening to music or This American Life podcasts and eating Doritos or chocolate, reserved especially for these times.

--MR

This place on a boat, above and behind a settee, is called a
pilot berth, intended for an adult to sleep while underway.
Like many, ours is fitted with a lee cloth that can be pulled
out and attached to hooks above, keeping the sleeping person
from rolling off until they are called on watch. But we
have yet to use the pilot berth as such. Instead,
we named it The Nook and it is a favorite
spot of the girls.

On our last trip, the girls did what you see here for a solid five hours.
The boxes of macaroni and cheese, and every other little bit you see
are a part of some make believe critter homes. They invent characters
who talk to one another, back and forth, without end. Sometimes one
girl will break out of a character role into an omniscient narrator who
will clarify or dictate the scene for the other. Did I say this goes on for
hours? I just don't see the attraction; fortunately, they do.

Here Frances is on the bow pulpit, scanning for dolphins or whales.
Just aft of her, but forward of the mast, is Eleanor in a green shirt
and sitting on deck, doing something on the iPad.

Before we left D.C., I lobbied hard against bringing the Calico Critters
dollhouse aboard with us. Sure it doesn't weigh much, but it is bulky.
It takes up much of an aft closet, but worth every square inch because
the girls love it so much. Note the wallpaper Eleanor made for this room.








Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On A Mission
By Michael

This guy (or gal?) perked up to greet his long-lost buddies.
Shortly before we left La Paz, we fulfilled a final obligation: we repatriated some hermit crabs the Wondertime crew took from the beach at Bahia Gato a few months ago. Bahia Gato is about 90 nautical miles north of La Paz, up into the Sea of Cortez. It was a good shakedown of the boat changes and fixes we completed during our three-month La Paz stay.

It was only a six-day trip, just there and back really, but we had a great time and the voyage was made even more special for two reasons.

First, the girls spent more than 5% of the time on deck. Usually, they hunker down below, likely suffering a bit of mal de mer. But this time, they were topsides with us at least half the time, and enjoying themselves.

The other reason this trip was memorable: blue whale sightings! They really are blue, a pale shimmering silver blue, unmistakable from the humpback whales and sperm whales we've seen. And they are unmistakably larger than other whales we've seen. For each of the 10 sightings, we saw only the back of the whale, no breaching or fancy fluke raising before a dive. But these backs are so broad and large it is startling. Smooth and glistening in sunlight. Blue whales are not just the largest animals on the planet, they are the largest animals known to ever exist. Like all the other whales, we never saw them before first hearing them, a loud whoosh from their blow hole. No, we don't have any pictures of them...but following are the other pics from our mission.

--MR

Captive life was not as grand. Note the collection of hermit crabs just visible
in the crevice where the sand meets the rock.






Windy and the girls helping guide the long-journeying crabs back to their cousins.
Eleanor (left) and Frances (right) scrambling on the smooth red sandstone
at Bahia Gato.
We hiked up to get a better view of our boat at anchor here at
Isla San Francisco, a waypoint on our trip to Bahia Gato.

Windy holding the dinghy off sharp rocks while the girls mess about in the tidepools.
The shoreline of Baja is interesting, everywhere. See the little speck on far right, center?
That is Frances's hat and shoulders, busy moving sea snails around in the tidepools. That's
our dinghy up on the beach beyond her.
Frances watches Eleanor zip by at 15 knots, me towing her on
the boogie board behind the dinghy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Vagabundos Del Mar
By Michael

The strawberries we've bought from the back of this Ford Escort
over the past three months have been the best, most consistently
good strawberries I've bought anywhere. We must have
purchased four dozen baskets (canastas) since we arrived.
At 5 for 50 pesos, that's only 80 cents U.S. a basket.
It’s curious, feeling ready to leave a place you like. We arrived in La Paz at the start of this year, the first week of January. We now know the city. We own the streets and the faces we see are familiar. We have our favorite restaurants. I push my cart around the grocery store in a pattern and I don’t need to ask where anything is. We’ve filled our propane tanks a few times and we’ve done dozens of loads of laundry. We live here. We like it here. We’re feeling ready to leave.

There is no reason we couldn’t stay in La Paz, dig deeper roots. There is no reason we must leave. We just want to go someplace else, see something else. I guess this is wanderlust.

There is nothing like it in a land-based life. Nobody gives thought to moving for the sake of moving. How would you get to work on time if you lived a hundred miles away next week? What an expensive and inconvenient proposition to pack and unpack all of your stuff, to move into a new place.

But imagine if the situation wasn’t so. Imagine if it was only a matter of deciding to leave. What if it took ten minutes to detach your home from its foundation and float away, coming to rest whenever you wanted in someplace entirely new? No packing, no hassle, just making sure you have groceries and water, and going…from Los Angeles to San Francisco, from Washington, D.C. to New York, from Houston to Lake Tahoe, from Portland to Aspen. When you arrived, you would walk out your front door to someplace new. You may be in a different climate. You would have to learn where everything is, maybe even a new language. You could stay as long as you wanted; you could always return to where you were. Could you? Would you?
Aramburo (aka the cow store) is "our" supermarket in La Paz.

This is cruising.

We want to leave La Paz and head for British Columbia. We hear it is beautiful—no, magnificent. We want to anchor near waterfalls, see orcas, and soak in natural hot springs when the air is cold enough to condense our breath. We will miss cactus, palm trees, warm water, and the friends we've made here. We’d like to see glaciers and rugged vistas that test the infinity setting on our camera. We are leaving tomorrow.

We have lots of friends and family with whom we want to visit on the west coast of California, Oregon, and Washington, so it will take us a long time to get up to British Columbia, probably a few months. We may winter over in Victoria and then get a jump on the summer cruising season next year, high-tailing it up to Alaska or something. Or we may not.

From the time we arrived in Mexico to begin our adventure, we have been bound by the projects we wanted to complete on Del Viento. There remains a short to-do list we’ve saved for San Diego, but we are otherwise untethered. We leave tomorrow, all of us eager to see where we go in the next few months—in the next few years—and how long we stay there.

--MR

The girls scrambling over the deck with their little baskets Easter morning
to find the hidden chocolate eggs.














And this is where they ended up Easter night, at a bar, playing Barbies
with others while their parents hung out with other parents, drinking
beer and listening to live music. That's Frances on the left, Emma of
Whiskey Charlie in the middle, and Raquel, the bar owner's
daughter on the right. Of course, in Mexico this is perfectly fine.
In fact, when the waitstaff was busy, I sent Eleanor to the bar
to order and bring back a pitcher of Negro Modelo--try that
at home.










And this is how many Mexican families spend Easter (usually the whole week,
called Semana Santa): picnicking on the beach.
Our friends Rick and Kyra of Nyon are proof that we don't
just hang out with other cruising parents. They inspired us the other
night aboard Nyon to consider wintering over in their hometown,
Victoria, Canada. Kyra's an artist, check out her work here

Friday, April 6, 2012

What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
By Michael

Here I am using our handy new deck/anchor wash
system to spray the krill off me after cleaning
the hull and prop.
I posted last week about the Puddle Jumpers, a nickname for those cruisers currently making their way across the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. Most of them check in daily on one of a few nets set up for folks voyaging under sail in this region. For these nets (and hundreds like them), folks transmit over high frequency radio bands.

Our friends aboard Convivia and Wondertime check in nightly (0200 Greenwich Mean Time aka Zulu Time aka UTC) on the Pacific Puddle Jump Net at the single sideband (SSB) frequencies of 8294/8297 KHz. This means that anyone within thousands of miles of them
with a shortwave radio can tune in and perhaps listen to the transmissions and even talk to vessels underway.

Many cruising boats (including ours) have these radios and use them for long-distance communications with other boats and shore-based stations, for obtaining weather and news, and for sending short emails using special modems and software. These radios are large, appear complicated (to me), use a huge antennae (most sailboats run one up the mast or use their standing rigging as an antennae), and require a lot of power to transmit.

But it is pretty cool to listen to these transmissions (or to the BBC, for example). The sound quality is sometimes surprisingly good, but usually hissy and crackly with high-pitched squeals in the background—like tuning a 1920s tube radio to hear one of President Roosevelt’s fireside chats. In our modern age where I can walk down the street of any big city with my iPhone and enjoy a crystal clear conversation with someone on the other side of the planet, shortwave radio communication is quaint—and fundamentally unchanged since World War II. But these radios (including both the HAM and SSB bands) remain  a dominant means for communications on the high seas (though it is probably only a matter of time and price declines before satellite internet access usurps them).
I recorded Sara of Wondertime checking in the other night on her way across the Pacific. If this 90-second recording from a little boat about 1,000 miles out to sea doesn’t excite you, you may not be cut out for cruising. Enjoy (following this is a transcription).





Sara: This is Wondertime, how do you copy us, over.

Net Controller: You are right next door, literally. Go ahead.

Sara: Roger that, I figure we’d come in okay. Okay, it’s, uh, oh two hundred Zulu, Wondertime, whiskey-delta-foxtrot-five-eight-four-eight. We’re at zero six degrees, three three minutes north, one two four degrees, two two minutes west. We’re steering two two two true. Our speed is four decimal five knots. We have, uh, northeast one five knots of wind. Uh, we have a northeast three meter swell, six zero percent cloud cover and our bar is at one zero zero seven and that’s steady. How copy, over.
The Icom M710 is aboard Del Viento.

Net Controller: Oh, you were so loud and clear. Okay, I’ll read back to you. At zero two hundred zulu, Wondertime was at zero six degrees, three three minutes north, uh, one two four degrees , two two minutes west. Uh, two two two degrees true, speed four point five knots. We’ve got northeast wind at fifteen knots, northeast swell three meters, the cloud cover, uh, sixty percent, and barometer one zero zero seven millibars, sounds familiar. How did you get that, any corrections?

Sara: Nope, you got it. Uh, all is well on board and, uh, we have no traffic.

Net Controller: Okay, roger that. Well blaze away, we’re right behind you. I’ll break with you and go to Convivia…

--MR



Windy (reflected) is in charge of the radio aboard Del Viento. She obtained
her HAM radio license before leaving so we could transmit on
those bands if we wanted (though no HAM license is required for SSB).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fiberglass For Everyone
By Michael

This is Eleanor this morning, assuming her first
formal watch under power as we headed back to La Paz.
She kept an eye on the temperature gauge, followed our
course on the iPad, changed course using the autopilot,
watched for other traffic, and advised of any wind
changes that may allow us to sail. She did all of
this for about 90 minutes. She was proud.
Before the 1950s, boats were made of wood, by craftsmen. They cost a lot of money. If you didn’t live like the Kennedys (or weren’t hired as crew by the Kennedys), you probably didn’t spend time ocean sailing.

Then fiberglass came along. It was relatively cheap, fast, and easy to build with. Recreational sailing was suddenly accessible to a burgeoning, post-war middle class. Fiberglass changed everything.

But the unanticipated longevity of fiberglass (the material isn’t prone to rot like wood) means that most boats built over the past 50 years are still with us. That is a lot of boats (and every year they build more). Fiberglass durability is changing everything, again.

Our boat is 34-years-old, built in 1978. Most of the boats of the cruisers we’ve run into were built in the 1980s--some a bit older, some a bit newer. As the fleet of fiberglass boats grows and ages, prices of older boats drop. We paid $64,000 for Del Viento and put half again as much into her. But the replacement cost indicated on our survey is $499,500. The family of four who crew Knee Deep, a 1984 Catalina 38, famously paid $25,000 for her (the base price of a 2012 Catalina 38 is over $280,000)--a boat Lin and Larry Pardey said would be their first choice if they were to buy a fiberglass cruising boat. In our 20s, Windy and I cruised from California to Florida over 7 months on a 1980 Newport 27 for which I paid $8,500 (in 1993).

I’ve written before that there is a path to the cruising life for just about anyone who wants it (and few do). The cost of entry is not a limiting factor. If you have any doubts, watch the movie below. It stars the crew of a boat named Pestilence. The title of the movie is Hold Fast and it is the brainchild of a sharp, eccentric, 20-something guy named Moxie Marlinspike. In short, the documentary is about buying a $1,000 boat and cruising on a shoestring budget, taken to a far-out extreme by Moxie and three friends (who needs a dinghy motor when you have a friend with fins?). Moxie narrates the film with an Ira Glass-like delivery that is at the same time deadpan and full of enthusiasm. Whether you’re looking for entertainment or inspiration, I recommend it highly. Following is the trailer on YouTube and below that the entire film on Vimeo. For info on downloading the movie using BitTorrent, click here. Finally, Charles Doane does an excellent job describing the movie on his blog.




.

--MR

Same girl, a few days prior, at the helm of the dinghy under supervision.
I have always read that cruising with children affords opportunities for
them to demonstrate responsibility at an early age. It is true, and a kid like
Eleanor eats it up.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Easy Money For Cruisers
By Michael

Eleanor at the bow under way, applauding dolphins.
Early this year, Windy and I joined the U.S. State Department’s Junior Diplomat Program (JDP). This is the greatest thing since roller furling--and they’re looking for more cruisers to participate. In addition to a stipend each month ($230, or $115 times two) for our participation, the State Department reimburses our slip fees and any additional costs we incur to obtain Internet access.
According to the State Department website, the JDP seeks to, “leverage and promote goodwill by U.S. citizens abroad, obtain information that can be used to help resident, in-country ambassadors allocate funding to improve relations, and better understand foreign nationals’ perceptions of the United States from a man-in-the-street point of view.”

We simply complete a form each month online, kind of like a survey. After the basics (where we traveled during the month) we check off the types of interactions we had with foreign nationals (retail, restaurant, hotel, other) and then provide a few details about select interactions.
For example, in the notes section of the report we submitted two weeks ago, I reported that I talked to a Mexican welder about the U.S. political race and how Obama is likely to defeat his Republican opponent come November. I indicated that the welder agreed with my assessment and seemed to like Obama. Yesterday I received feedback from a State Department employee indicating this is a perfect example of the kind of anecdotal accounts they are looking for. They said the few junior diplomats they have enrolled today who travel the world on boats are prized because, “they tend to have interactions with people and businesses that are very different from those experienced by casual, short-term travelers.” He urged me to spread the word.

So, I’m letting you all know. Click to access the U.S. State Department Junior Diplomat Program (JDP) Enrollment Form and to get more information. Participant counts are restricted by region, so hurry! (And please forward to others who may be interested...)
--MR

And this is part of the reason we are underway:
Hermie. Before they left for the South Pacific,
we promised the crew of Wondertime that we
would repatriate Hermie and Sweetie at the
anchorage where these temporary pets were found,
Los Gatos, about 90 miles north of La Paz. I have
a dentist appointment April 2, and our new sails are
due to arrive about the same time, so we will be back
by then. After another short stay in La Paz, we plan to
round the Cape and begin our bash north to British
Columbia...maybe Alaska.