Friday, August 27, 2010

Turning Twelve

I woke up on August 23rd, my birthday, to the sound of the drag pulling on my new fishing rod. We’d picked up the anchor in V cove and were headed to Puerto Escondido. Only twenty seconds later, my dad’s rod’s drag went, too. We’d caught two fish at the same time! It was only the second time we’d caught two together on the trip! My mom said that they only did that to celebrate for me. But, sadly enough, once I’d reeled mine in , I saw that it was only a pacific bonito (bad for eating) and my dad’s was a skipjack (also bad for eating). But, it was a great way to start off the day.

For breakfast, we had tortilla crepes. Some of them were veggie crepes and others were sweet ones. They were amazingly good. The tortilla was just as good as the regular crepe.

One of First Large Mahi MahiAfter breakfast, I got some of my presents. I’d gotten a fishing rod earlier so that I could use it in the Sea of Cortez, where more fish swim. From my brother I got a book and from my parents I got dive gloves. I love my presents so much.

We finally got to our destination and stopped at the fuel dock. My dad filled the boat up with diesel while my mom got lunch prepared. Once they were done, we had a curry mango quinoa salad for lunch, one of my favorite foods. Then Harrison and I called our friends on Stepping Stone and arranged to go to the pool that was in the marina complex. We got in our swim suits and walked up to the pool. Our parents left the dock right away to get to a mooring and clean up the boat. It turns out that the water in the pool had been drained – so disappointing as I had planned to spend much of my birthday swimming with friends. We found our friends in the cold room, a room that is really cold when the air conditioning is on, even though it never is. Kimberly, 17, was checking her email and Savanna, 6, was just running around. There were multiple flies in the room , so I spent my time swatting them. After a while, Stepping Stone had to go back to their boat. Not too exciting.

My parents finally came to pick us up and I made a giant fortune teller and looked for books on Amazon. I was feeling really bummed. I took my mom back to the boat by dinghy so that she could start getting ready for dinner and went to go pick up my dad. When we got back, my parents presented me with their final present. It was a small, beautiful piece of art with two hearts and a sun made out of copper.

IMG_8911Stepping Stone came over for dinner. We had a chicken curry dish with lots of vegetables. One of the vegetables were dried jalapeƱos and my dad dared Kimberly and me to try one, so we did. They weren’t as spicy as I thought they’d be, but our lips burned for the next half hour.

IMG_8913Then we had dessert and our friends on Chat De Mer came over for apple plum crisp. We talked about how when no-see-‘ems bite you, they leave a pussy layer on top. Leo (Chat De Mer) told us that that pussy layer is actually eggs because no-see-‘ems lay eggs in you when they bite you. And, no, the eggs don’t actually survive.

IMG_8916 Kimberly convinced me to swim with the phosphorescence, so we got into swimsuits and jumped in. Phosphorescence are plankton that glow in the dark when you move. We put on snorkels and jumped in off the bow. The bubbles around us glowed green and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Kimberly dove down into the water and she turned into a ball of green. Then we swam under the boat and when we dove down, we flipped ourselves around so that we were facing the boat and when we came up, we saw the phosphorescence and the full moon together. It was so much fun.   

We got out of the water and we said good bye to Chat De Mer. Sarah, Kimberly and Savanna’s mom, told us stories about how they had cockroaches on their boat. Did you know that cockroaches can live for a week after their head gets cut off? It’s because they can still live off the food in their body until it runs out.

We were having so much fun that we lost track of time. It turns out that Stepping Stone left at 12:10!

I had a really great birthday and I think it’s one of my favorites so far.

Afterwards when my dad and I were talking about what it was like to be twelve, he asked me if I’d ever thought about how much I’ve slept in my life or spent on the toilet. That made me start thinking. If I’ve slept for an average of 10 hours per day and have spent an average of 20 minutes a day on the toilet every day of my life and I’m 12 years old, then I’ve only been awake and off the toilet for 6 years and 10 months. How long have you been awake and off the toilet?

Danielle (now in La Paz, Mexico)

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's for Dinner? And Other Food Items

Last week, we decided to take an inventory of our stores, and especially what's still in our freezer, given that we will be away from the boat for three weeks beginning on September 1. Of our kosher meat (which we've been ordering from the kosher butcher in Mexico City, the last time being in March just before Passover), we still had one 8-piece cut-up chicken, 4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, a package of sliced turkey, and a package of pastrami. The pastrami was eaten on my/Michael's birthday, we've had the turkey for sandwiches, we've barbequed the chicken (plus took a couple of pieces off for a chicken matzah ball soup), and Danielle has asked for a chicken curry dish for her birthday on the 23rd.

We've also got two of those large salmon sides from Costco, a box of fish sticks, and some frozen mahi mahi from one of our big catches. There are some Boca Burgers (chickenless chicken patties as well as the tofu burgers) and some tofu sausages. Other than that, it's all frozen fruit. We'll be having lots of fruit smoothies over the next couple of weeks.

With all of this, I put together a matrix for lunches and dinners, and by my calculations, we should have an empty freezer by the time we leave. I've even included some blank spots assuming our luck in the fishing department continues.

And by the way (and this is for my mother's benefit as well), Michael and the kids were picking scallops for some friends (who also made some for Michael). The kids and I are still keeping kosher. The scallop hunt was still loads of fun - until we learned that it is illegal for non-Mexicans to do so. That's the end of that.

Last night, Danielle cooked us an incredible dinner of mahi-mahi fish burgers with home-made rosemary buns, Asian coleslaw (made by Harrison), and oatmeal raisin squares. This was, perhaps, one of our best meals yet, and we were able to share it with our friends Leo and Cecil of the Chat de Mer (during an intense game of Mexican Train).

It may be because of the delicious and healthy home-cooked meals we're having (no restaurants around here!), but the kids are growing like weeds. Harrison wore his running shoes today for a hike and they are already getting too small - we bought them big in mid-February. His ribs are still showing, yet he's gotten to be pretty muscular and tall. Danielle is almost as tall as I am yet is long, lanky and also muscular.

Having said all that, I can't wait to eat a good bagel and other great crusty fresh bread, some Korean food, Vietnamese pho, and meat - plenty of meat.

La Ramada cove, just north of San Juanico, BCS, Mexico

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Fish Are Back! (Or are we just learning how to fish?)

Well, the last couple of weeks have been a lot better in the fishing department. We've added to our lures and fishing gear and now seem to be catching more fish. Of course, it could also be that it is a better season and there are just more fish in the water, but we'd like to think that our skill has improved considerably along with improved lures and gear. You see, the importance of good (or decent) gear is critical. We've learned this first hand: The drag on one of our rod/reels broke. The drag is the rate or amount of force required to pull line out of the reel in order to slow down the fish once hooked without snapping the line. One morning we lost three - yes three - lures, because once the fish was hooked and started swimming away it snapped the line three times. Without the drag working there was no way to slow the fish down. It was costly in the lure department. The force on one of the catches was strong enough to have the rod fling back and knock Harrison's hat into the water. That resulted in us going fishing for a hat instead!

All that said, we've generally been catching more fish than we have in the past. Mostly all Dorado (Mahi Mahi) but also a yellow tail. Needless to say we've been eating a lot of fish. Sushi (a variety of spicy and non-spicy yellow tail rolls), ceviche, fish jerky, fish tacos, fish soup, fish cakes, fish cookies, fish burgers, fish, fish fish...

Yesterday, we motor sailed from Isla Coronado (26 degrees 6.64 minutes N by 111 degrees 17.02 minutes W) (after stopping in Loreto for a third day in a row -- see blog post "Loreto - Take Three") up to La Ramada (26 degrees 22.90 minutes N by 111 degrees 25.90 minutes W) which is just on the north side of San Juanico. On our way we hooked the biggest Dorado yet. After fighting to bring it to the boat for over 45 minutes with everyone helping reel it in, we got it on board, into our net. Once on board, I was wrestling it to get control of it. In all the commotion, the hook came out and it literally slid out from under me and back into the water. Think WWF - and I had it pinned! We all said "$*#@*#&$#$" at the same time (the kids got a hall pass on that one). It really was a beauty!

That said, not five minutes later we hooked another fish on our other rod (Danielle's early birthday present - isn't that cool that that's what she wanted??!!)! We started reeling it in. Now this one seemed to behave differently in its fight. First, it did not jump out of the water the way the Dorados do but instead dove. And, it fought like nothing else we had reeled in before. What could it be? Harrison wondered if it was a Marlin -- "Dad, Dad can we keep it?" -- and Danielle wondered if it was a shark -- "Dad, Dad, we better cut the line and let it go!" After over 65 minutes of fighting to get it on board (Barb, Danielle and Harrison had given up because they got too tired), we got it close to the boat. It was still deep and all we saw was its silvery color -- "Dad its a shark" -- but finally we reeled it to the surface and saw that it was a Mexican Skipjack (a tuna but not very tasty). While we don't like eating them, we decided to practice bringing it on board using our gaffer (large fish hook) to see if we could do it correctly so as not to lose our next Dorado! Success! We got it on board, got some photos and then let it go.

With all this activity we had originally expected to get to La Ramada by 4:30 pm. Instead, we got there at 7:00 pm. We anchored in this beautiful cove and then had ceviche for dinner! Then we played Rummikub.

Fishing's been a lot more fun!

(in La Ramada)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Loreto - Take Three

Seriously.  Here we are, once again in the Mission Hotel in Loreto.  This visit was unplanned, but we discovered last night as we went through our clean laundry that Harrison's top sheet was missing.  We got up early once again, to head south for the 6 miles to Loreto, to pick up our top sheet.  When we entered the laundromat, there it was, folded neatly and sitting on the table waiting for us.  We made a quick stop for internet, and now we are heading back to the boat so that we can quickly raise anchor.  We'd like to get to San Juanico, our next destination 26 miles north (would have been 18 miles from Isla Coronados), before dark.

(from Loreto once again)

Who Does He Think I Am?

Harrison caught a skipjack, a fish that isn't all that good to eat, so our friend
Bill, on Iron Maiden, threw it at the sea lions. This short story is told from the
alpha sea lion's perspective.

I was swimming peacefully in the bay as three dinghies and a kayaker drove up. One of the dinghies had a fish. I could smell it. I wanted it. But, I realized it was a stupid skipjack, not my favorite, but it would do. What could be better than free food? But, as the polite creature that I am, I let him keep it. As the alpha male of my pack I made sure nobody took it either. Feeling that my duty was done, I swam to shore.

Then - get this - he threw the fish at me! He THREW it! He didn't hand it to me. He didn't place it in the water. He THREW it to shore! What does he think I am? An animal?

They stared at us, like we were in a zoo. I've already been tagged and I didn't like it. I definitely don't want to be in captivity. And here I felt like I was. I didn't like it. So, I changed my act from polite, cute, and cuddly to a big, strong party pooper. I stared them down and didn't even glance at the fish. When the pups came to try to eat it, I barked at them to scare them away, and they waddled off. I didn't want to give the boaters a show. That would teach that man some manners!

The boaters didn't seem to want to leave, so I got in the water and swam away to my favorite rock. I didn't like to walk. Then they finally started to leave. Yes! But as they left, the pups started to nibble on the fish. So, the boaters got a show after all! Ugh! I should've stolen stolen it from him at the start after all! That would've shown him!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Loreto - Take Two

We arrived in Loreto by boat yesterday (Sunday) for the weekly market.  The ride takes about 2 hours, so after getting up at around 6:30, lifting anchor in Isla Coronado, reanchoring in front of Loreto, and heading to the market, we got there around 9 a.m.  We got our fresh produce, and took it back to the boat.  We were quick so that we could run some additional errands, like picking up some dry goods at a grocery store, hitting the fishing store, the hardware store, the laundromat, the gas station (for our dinghy), and some lunch.  However, as we were getting into our dinghy to head back to shore, some dark clouds (cumulonimbus, as I'm told) quickly came over the water from the mountains.  The winds picked up and the water got extremely choppy.  After consulting with a number of other boaters also anchored there, we decided to 'skidaddle'.  In just a few minutes, we had raised anchor and were on our way to out run the storm.  It was rather exciting - the cool rain started coming down, the winds churned and tossed us around, and we were scurrying to get electronics into the oven, as well as anything outside the boat inside (shoes, clothes, towels, or anything that might blow off).  For the first time since our last overnight crossing, we all wore our lifejackets. Although our plan was to continue north after our trip to Loreto, we instead decided to take refuge back at Isla Coronado.  It was a great day after that - much cooler temperatures.

This morning we got up to do it all over again.  I am currently sitting in the Mission Hotel (free internet) after a day of laundry, hardware store, fishing store, lunch, gas station and ice cream!  We'll head back to Isla Coronado this evening and then get up early tomorrow morning to continue north.

-Barb (from Loreto, BCS, Mexico)

Sea of Cortez is Catching On!

Check out this recent article in the San Jose Mercury News about a couple who took a one-week learn-to-sail 'vacation' in the Sea of Cortez: 

Thanks to our friend Ken Ostreich who told us about it.

-Barb (in Loreto)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Things Have Greatly Improved...

Just wanted to let you know that things have greatly improved since my last post. Still bees, but they are not swarming. We've managed to pick up more screen material and have taped that up which has kept the bee numbers down while still allowing for air circulation inside the boat. It has gotten cooler during the nights which has made things more bearable. We have all been sleeping outside on the trampoline which I love - I wake every morning as the sun rises over the mountains and thank God for another day - then go back to sleep for another hour. I have been doing yoga many mornings. The sunsets are gorgeous. The giant bat rays do acrobats in the anchorage at all times of the day and night. We've been snorkeling a lot - as Danielle noted in her post, the number of fish species and starfish is astounding and I've really grown to love snorkeling. We've caught a dorado (mahi mahi) and had three yummy meals of it (fish tacos, sopa de pescado, and I've learned to dry fish into teriyaki fish jerky). We've been hanging out with some new friends aboard another Fontaine Pajot catamaran called Chat de Mer, as well as those on an 88 ton motor sailer called Iron Maiden. Together we've snorkeled and visited the north side of Isla Coronado where there is a small sea lion rookery. We've headed into Loreto for the Sunday market and picked up gorgeous produce. We've been eating well (tonight I made curried vegetables and dahl with brown rice) - we are trying to use up a lot of our food before we head back to California for three weeks next month. We have been spending very little - which I also love given that I am the keeper of the budget. It's very simple living, and we are very used to it by now. We've been doing some homeschooling that doesn't require internet given that there is none here, and we're trying to be done by 11 a.m. given that it is already scorching hot by that time.

Today was overcast for the first time this summer, and we prepared for a chubasco (severe weather cell) that we watched as it came north and then by-passed us, but not without some rain showers and light winds. It was a welcome cooling and cleaned the outside of the boat. I used the opportunity to clean inside the boat which we hadn't done in a couple of weeks. The kids watched a movie. Michael fixed things, as he usually does, and still amazes me with what he knows. For example, when we blew a circuit breaker on the generator just as we tried turning on the air conditioning (which is why we don't run the air conditioning for those who asked) which led to the generator failing to run the AC power, he headed down into the engine room and got the generator working again. Trouble shooter extraordinaire.

Michael and I celebrate our birthdays on Saturday - for me it's number 45, for Michael it's 46. The kids are planning another one of their self-cooked meals for us with apple pie for desert. That's it for gifts - there's no where here to buy anything, so we'll both be taking rain checks. Other than the hand-made cards. Birthdays while cruising are really spectacular for both kids and adults - very simple, unplanned and last minute gatherings of any cruisers who happen to be around on that day (and no matter how well you know them). You give make shift gifts (a brownie mix, a fishing lure, a can of olives, a used book, a used piece of clothing) with homemade cake and whatever snacks you have in your stores that you are willing to share. None of these expensive parties or gifts. Low expectations, but heavy on the fun.

Perhaps it's being in the Sea of Cortez in the middle of complete wilderness and nature, but one day seems to blend into the next. I can't remember how long we've been anchored here, and it's hard to believe that it's already mid-August with High Holidays just around the corner. The world keeps turning, the year keeps cycling, and we've been gone for 11 months already. I'm just about ready for a change of pace, but not quite yet.

Isla Coronado, BCS, Mexico
26 degrees 06.618 minutes N; 111 degrees 17.032 minutes W

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A Snorkeling Trip

We are now anchored at Isla Coronado, near Loreto. We'd heard about great snorkeling on the other side of the anchorage, so we went this morning. My mom and brother wore their jellyfish suits and me and my dad just wore our swim suits. There was a gorgeous sandy, blue water cove near the reef so we anchored the dinghy there.

Once we were in the water, the first thing I noticed were the jellyfish. Jellyfish look like see-through umbrella tops with several long tentacles. It's the tentacles that touch you and sting you several times. Getting stung feels like an electrical current is running through you. I started swimming toward the reef. And sure enough, I was attacked by huge jellyfish! Most of the time, you can't see jellyfish, but these were easy to notice in the clear water. I swam back to the dinghy and stared at the bumps growing on my leg. Once they died down, I got back in.

I swam around to the other side of the reef where everybody was. By the time I got there, Harrison was cold and wanted to go back. He'd been helping my dad collect scallops, so we switched places and I helped my dad instead. While he was collecting, two big fish kept following us, trying to get to the scallops. They were pretty fearless, so we had to kick them to make them go away.

The snorkeling was great. There were tons of fish and starfish. There were needle fish, angel fish, and butterfly fish. To go from one side of the reef to the other, you had to go over a deeper part, which was between two reefs, because the reef itself was too shallow to swim over. On that route, there was a huge school of thousands of fish that swam the entire side of both reefs back and forth. The starfish were very unique. There was a five pointed one that was green with brown spikes and a pink multi-pointed one with blue spikes. Some starfish were just the normal five long points.

On the way back, my dad saw an eel. We both saw lots of jellyfish and rockfish. And then, I got stung again! This time, it was on my hands. Right away, my hands turned bright red and welts popped up.

I loved the sea life in this snorkeling trip, except for the jellyfish. I guess I learned my lesson though: always wear your jellyfish suit unless you want to get electrocuted!

Danielle (in Isla Coronado)

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reflections of the Past Year

My lifestyle for the past year has been very different from what it's been in past years, given that I'm living on a boat in Mexico.

In an everyday lifestyle, kids' entertainment is laid out before them. They have dance, sports, TV, theater, and lots of other things. I have activities too, like swimming and playing at the beach, but I don't have TV or sports like the ones at home, things that used to take up most of my time. Instead, I rig up zip lines and swings, some that hang you off the side of the boat.

Living in Mexico is like going to camp every day. Water sports after school, is always the first on our agenda when at an anchorage. My favorite is scurfing, a version of wake boarding, except for the fact that your feet aren't locked in because you're standing on a surfboard. Close seconds are wake boarding, knee boarding, boogie boarding, surfing, snorkeling, and just plain old swimming. On this trip, I learned how to build a bonfire, surf, scurf, and dive off of higher points than I was used to. I'm still working on my back flips!

I've also made many friends on this trip, Mexican and American/Canadian. At home, I've had most of my friends since kindergarten. But here, I've started all over. One of the Mexicans that I befriended didn't speak any English at all. But I still managed to teach her how to juggle devil sticks!

Throughout the trip, I gradually gained more freedom. I learned to drive the dinghy and to do it alone. That's like driving a car while your parents are still home. I've also done dinghy landings, getting the dinghy onto the beach. I go almost everywhere alone, when at home, my mom was reluctant to let me go to the park around the corner.

Even with all those activities and new experiences, I'm still an everyday kid with school, chores, and after school activities that I don't get to do until school's done.

I think I've grown a lot this year and I've had fun trying out a new lifestyle.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

How To Play "Horse Fights" In The Pool (Revised)

This game needs four people, two pairs of two, and is played in a pool. One person goes on top of another person's shoulders. The goal of the game is to get the other team's top person off and into the pool. The bottom person can NOT interfere. When the top person is all the way off the bottom person's shoulders, that team loses. The team that has their top person on the bottom person's shoulders the longest, WINS! Have fun playing "Horse Fights".

Harrison (in Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez)
26 degrees 06.646 minutes N by 111 degrees 17.004 minutes W

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How To Play "Horse Fights" In The Pool

This game needs four people, two pairs of two, and is played in a pool. One person goes on top of another person's shoulders. The goal of the game is to get the other team's top person of in to the pool. The bottom person can NOT interfere. When the top person is all the way off the bottom person's shoulders ,that team loses. The team that has their top person on the bottom person's shoulders, WINS! Have fun playing "Horse Fights".

Harrison (in Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez)
26 degrees 06.646 minutes N by 111 degrees 17.004 minutes W

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Friday, August 6, 2010

House rental, boat insurance, and health care

We have not yet rented out our house, and must seriously begin to consider our options if we have not rented it out by mid-September, which could include making our way back home earlier than planned.  We so don’t want to do this, so if you know of anyone who needs to rent a home in Menlo Park over the next school year, please pass on our information. 

We’ve recently had to make some other decisions.  We changed our marine insurance to one that does not require us to be north of 27 degrees latitude during hurricane season.  This didn’t make logical sense given that hurricanes do reach north of 27 degrees, and that there are ‘hurricane holes’ south of that.  In addition, there are many things you can do to prepare your boat should a hurricane pass by, often stipulated in the insurance contract (lash down sails, remove all canvas, etc.).  We know of only a handful of others who were required to have their boats north of 27 degrees in order to be covered for a loss from a named hurricane. Our insurance agent came up with even higher premiums after we discussed it with him, and so we’ve opted to go elsewhere.  Our new insurance, which is more reasonably priced, has given us a few more options of where to leave our boat when we head to northern CA next month, including keeping it right here in Puerto Escondido.

Another decision we have had to make is whether to keep health insurance.  We have a catastrophic policy that would provide us with medical coverage in Mexico in an emergency and would fly us home if needed. This is all about $300 per year total. In addition to this, we’ve kept our health insurance in the US but it doesn’t cover us out of country.  Our premiums have just gone up to nearly $1000 per month, and given that we haven’t used it at all this year, our deductibles have not been met either.  Many cruisers have opted not to carry any health insurance, given that Mexican doctors’ visits/tests are so inexpensive and are reputed to be just as good as many American doctors. I know someone who had a mammogram done in La Paz for $50, and wasn’t charged for a resulting ultrasound either. In any case, we must now decide whether to risk not having any insurance against the astronomical costs of the insurance, or loosing continuous coverage.  The jury is still out on how to gamble this one.

Puerto Escondido, BCS, Mexico

The World Could Use a Few Less Wasps

So as planned we left Puerto Escondido yesterday morning, and even got some sailing in on our way to Isla Carmen, another beautiful spot here in the Sea of Cortez. Of course, it was still hot, but we were feeling positive about getting to the anchorage and doing a little swimming. As soon as we arrived, we were swarmed with wasps. We've known wasps can be a problem throughout Mexico - we've been swarmed before - and have been told to make sure there is no open fresh water whatsoever on your boat. This means covering up dishes that have just been washed, and showering after sundown when the bees go away. We've also been given a number of different pieces of advice in terms of what to do once they arrive, including spraying them with a concoction of dish soap, a tablespoon of chili sauce, a tablespoon of vinegar, some baking soda and the kitchen sink. We've found that a heavily concentrated spray bottle full of dish soap does the trick (in addition to making our decks incredibly slippery - it's all a trade-off). We've also been told that placing a bowl of sugar water somewhere on your boat where you don't go will keep them away from the places you do go, so we opted to give this one a try as well. I think the bowl of sugar water just brought more. Hundreds of them drowned in the water, but there were still thousands around. We had to keep our hatches and doors closed so that they wouldn't get in, and when it's 115 degrees, it's a sweat box extraordinaire on the inside. We decided to just go for a swim after our two fly swatters and the sugar water were clearly losing the battle.

The water was a bath. In addition, perhaps because I am sweating so much, as soon as my skin gets into water, it becomes prunelike - just like when you've been in a bath for too long. After a couple of hours, we decided we needed to eat, and because the kids were begging for comfort food (Ramen!), I decided it was something I could throw together quickly. Showering was out of the question, so I just proceeded straight to boiling the water inside the boat with the windows closed (our screens, by the way, do not fit properly - we tried to tape them up with electrical tape but lost the battle on that one too). Now the sauna became a steam bath. We decided to eat outside on the trampoline, enjoying the sunset. It sure was beautiful, and it seemed like within a matter of seconds, the wasps were gone. The night was turning out to be not so bad after all.

Now a couple of days before, a wasp tickled my shin, so I used my other foot to wipe it away without realizing it was a wasp, and of course got stung in two places. My shin and ankle swelled up pretty badly and it was both painful and itchy, but I got through it with Cortizone cream and and Benadryl. Fast forward to yesterday, and while trying to fit the screens into the windows, I bent down and caught a wasp between my thigh and hip as I was crouching. Bam. Stung again. This time, the sting swelled up immediately. I took Benadryl immediately too. Today the area is red, at least 4 inches long and 3 inches wide and swollen. In case I am developing a severe allergy to wasp stings, we have the epi-pens on the ready. But while I sit here fighting the wasps for a second day, I am petrified.

Back to the narrative. We were at sunset when I digressed. Because of my Benadryl, I fell asleep practically in my soup bowl, right there on the trampoline. All of us decided to bring out pillows and we all fell asleep on the trampoline. It was a gorgeous night, and dishwashing could wait until the morning. Michael offhandedly said, "Now all we need is a Chubasco," which is a severe weather cell that is common over the Sea of Cortez during this time of year, with lightning and strong winds, as well as sometimes rain. At about midnight, the winds did indeed begin to pick up. We turned on our wind meter and saw that there were around 20 - 25 knots of wind. As it got stronger, we heard our friends on Iron Maiden on the radio and chatted with them. They were anchored at a different island and had a clear view of the weather cells making their way over to us. We quickly took down our canvas over our cockpit, tied down the mainsail, took everything in side, took down the BBQ, and placed all our hand-held electronics in the oven to avoid having them get fried if we were to be struck by lightning. Michael even disconnected our Single Sideband Radio and our second chart plotter, but the rest of our electrical equipment is just too complicated to disconnect, so we had to take our chances. We let out more chain as our anchor had started to drag. The winds grew to over 35 knots. We all lay awake in the cockpit, waiting. Eventually we must have all fallen asleep as the storm passed by around 4 a.m. and I had a fabulous sleep (my best in days due to the breezes) until I was woken at 7 a.m. to the sound of wasps swarming once again.

We had planned to get up around 7 a.m. and do an early morning hike at Balandra Cove on Isla Carmen (a different Balandra than the one near La Paz), as the trail is known for seeing Big Horned Sheep and Desert Iguanas (we know someone who caught one for a pet for a few days - without our Bearded Dragons, we thought that would be fun). However, we decided instead to get the heck out of there - enough with the wasps.

By 10 a.m. we were anchored at Isla Coronado where the bees are not supposed to be so bad. However, the wasps once again found their way to our boat. I sat there for an hour spraying them with the soapy water, and it seemed to have done the trick. We still have about a dozen roaming around at any one time, but we are managing still. Michael and I took long naps to catch up on last nights lack of sleep, while the kids played a four hour game of Monopoly. Homeschooling is out of the question in this heat. I've killed at least 100 wasps today alone, while making challah and dinner for tonight. The kids and Michael went into the water to scrape the bottom of the boat (something that needs to be done at least once a month to avoid build-up of barnacles, green hair and the like, which slows your boat speed if you do not maintain it), but both kids got stung by jelly fish. Again, it's a trade off - wasps or jellies?

We are trying to stay positive, as I hate being a complainer. I like to pride myself on examining challenging situations and figuring out what to do to change it. After all, if you keep doing the same things everyday, you're going to get the same results, right? Michael and I were concerned about the summer in the Sea, with the severe heat and little civilization, but we said we'd try it and if it didn't work out, we'd make a change. So now what? Twenty-five days until we're out of here for our three week trip to California, but in the meantime, it's so hot and sweaty that it's hard to do anything, let alone think.

A Prisoner in my Own Boat,

P.S. As I post this via Single Sideband Radio (there's no internet in the wilderness), the buzzing has gotten much louder. I just picked up my head and saw that the wasps have greatly increased in number again. Back to battle, but at least I know they'll disappear at sunset in about an hour and a half.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Puerto Escondido – An Interesting Place

Puerto Escondido is an interesting almost surreal place.  It is enclosed on three sides by mountains so is reputed to be an excellent hurricane hole, safe from sea swell and weather.  It is also hot as heck as I noted in my previous post.  It has one marina with no slips, only a dock to which only a handful of boats can tie.  The inner harbor has mooring balls; when you arrive, you hook onto an unoccupied mooring ball and then when you get the chance, you go into the marina office and pay (approx. 30 cents per foot (of your boat) per day).  Another option is to anchor in very deep water in the outer harbor, known as the “Waiting Room”, for free.

The marina has a pool (like bath water these days), a hot tub (who needs it these days), a restaurant, a self-serve laundromat (who’s doing laundry these days), a little store with snacks and alcohol, and a room with tables and chairs and a couple of couches (generally  used by people for working on their computers).  Given that there is nothing else around here, many of us spend a lot of time on the internet.  There are a group of ‘lifers’ who sit outside this internet room beginning at about 9 a.m. and drink beer all day.  I believe they call themselves the Circle of Knowledge, but I’m not sure if that’s what other cruisers coined them in jest.  They hang there in the shade drinking beer all day – no joke – until the sun goes down.  Nonetheless, the morning net (when cruisers check in in the morning on the VHF radio, get the weather, get any local assistance, etc.) is cheerful and informative (yesterday there was  discussion of how to get rid of a fearless fox hanging out in the garden).  The net operator each morning brags that this is truly the best place to be.  Perhaps they have air conditioning?

As I mentioned, there is really not much in the way of civilization around here. It is interesting that Puerto Escondido at one time, due to its geography as a natural harbor, was to become the next Cabo San Lucas.  The government spent a lot of money building the infrastructure, laying out roads and electricity and plumbing, thinking that if you build it, they will come.  Not so.  Apparently no one wanted to buy the lots for a million dollars, so there are wide roads to nowhere lined with street lamps, but nothing around except this marina and up the road a bit, a little hotel with about 20 rooms.  That’s it. 

Civilization is about 20 miles north, in Loreto, which is a nice sized town with an airport, many interesting shops, some good restaurants, the first mission in the Californias established in 1699, and a great museum with exhibits about early Mexico, the Spanish conquest and the missionaries.  We even found a ‘gourmet’ food shop that sold canned albacore tuna, pretzels, bamboo shoots and whole wheat pasta (the first we’ve seen of these items in many months). 

The problem with Loreto is that there is no way to get there unless you (a) get a ride from someone who happens to have a car (note: most cruisers use their boats to get around and don’t happen to have a car in their bilge); (b) hire a taxi for $50, which is then yours for the day; (c) walk out to the highway (about 3 miles) in 118 degree heat and hope that the infrequent bus suddenly becomes reliable and will pass by; (d) walk out to the highway (about 3 miles) in 118 degree heat and thumb a ride; or (e) rent a car for $40.  As noted in my last post, we opted for (e) and it went well.

Why don’t we just take the boat to Loreto?  Because there is only a small fishing boat anchorage inside a breakwater – in other words, there’s no protected place to anchor overnight. 

Apparently people come to Loreto for the sport fishing.  We’ve caught nothing, and Michael is now looking into buying a larger spear gun and selling off our current smaller one.  Perhaps when we go out to the islands around Loreto (Isla Carmen, Isla Danzante, and Isla Coronado), we’ll have better luck catching our own dinner.

We’re definitely trying hard to shake things up and get out of what we are feeling is like a rut – all due to the heat – so we are hoping to leave in the morning for the islands to do some snorkeling, fishing, and cooling off.

Still hot as ever,
Puerto Escondido, BCS, Mexico

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Meaning of a “Closed System”

My “Soggy Duck” friend, Ken Oestreich, along with his wife, Monica, and two kids, Sophie (7) and Max (2), spent four days after our Soggy Duck weekend aboard Whatcha Gonna Do sailing out to the islands near La Paz for four days.  Below is a blog post Ken wrote following his visit.

After spending the better part of a week on Whatcha Gonna Do with her crew, I have a new relationship to what it means to be independent.

Independence isn’t so much that you get to go where you want (true) when you want (true). It’s not that you don’t have to pay attention to days of the week (also true). Independence doesn’t necessarily mean that you can disrobe and sail as a family whenever you want (sadly, true too). The independence I’m talking about is self-reliant independence: That you have to bring along everything you plan on needing, for any type of contingency. There is no opportunity reach outside your world if you need to.

Life on a boat is quite independent in this way, and we got a brief taste of it when sailing with WGD’s crew near La Paz. When you’re at sea, there’s no quick run to the market to get an extra gallon of milk. There’s no jaunt out to Home Depot because you need an extra nut or bolt. There are no utilities to supply endless electricity, water or natural gas.

And this is what had me re-think how the majority of us live – in a large, interdependent, interconnected set of systems. Mathematically (and biologically) our typical lives are “open systems”. We always have more resources available somewhere for us to consume. But on a boat, just about all systems are “closed”. You leave port with what you have, and that’s that; make-do with what you have.

I was first impressed with this concept with an opening volley on Michael’s Rules of Water Usage (to be referred-to henceforth as MRoWU). There is only so much fresh water kept on the boat: So don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth, or while you do the dishes. And don’t shower too long. Now, although MRoWU point out that fresh water can be manufactured on-board WGD, it comes at a price: Electricity. And to generate electricity, you need Diesel. So again, if you want fresh water, you’d better carry fuel. No diesel, no water…. the need for fuel is to be weighed-against the need for motoring if/when the wind stops. Again, a closed system with tradeoffs.

My next run-in with the concept of a closed system on-board Whatcha Gonna Do was with Barbara’s provisioning the galley. Think about this: Most of us run to the super market 1-2 times a week – to buy dinner for a few nights, re-stock a box of cereal, buy a gallon or two of milk. And, if while preparing kebobs you manage to run out of onions or peppers, you run down the street for a few. Not so on the closed system of the boat. Barb pointed out that you might have to plan meals weeks in advance, and carefully buy supplies in anticipation. Now, mix-in the fact that your perishables might only last a week or so (ok, maybe longer for potatoes) and you have to carefully plan for a sequential series of meals over many weeks.

Then there is the concept of operations and maintenance. A cruising vessel has pipes and wires and fittings and harnesses – by the dozens. Each system (electrical, fresh water, hot water, engines, generators, pumps…) needs maintenance. So think: specific tools, spare parts, filters, oil, cables, connectors. (Ever seen the movie Brazil?) If something goes wrong or breaks, you’d better have on-hand a full set of spares – and tools to install them. Again, the concept of closed-system independence was driven home to me when I peered into one of WGD’s engine rooms (yes, two of them). There were neat shelves of tools and parts – not to mention glues, pastes, sealants, paints, wires, fittings… and the list goes on. It all has to be on-board just in case.

It was really very impressive that Mike and Barb had thought-out nearly everything they needed – or could have needed – in advance of their voyage. Try that at home… for one weekend only use battery-powered devices, only drink the fresh water in the bathtub, and only eat what’s in the pantry. I guess that’s a taste of living in a closed system -- and kudos to Mike, Barb, Harrison and Danielle for making it all work so effortlessly and elegantly.

43 degrees Celsius and melting

I am sitting in REAL heat.  Not the kind where you think your 4-day heat wave is lasting 3 days too long.  This one doesn’t end.  There’s no air conditioning to get a reprieve.  There’s just sweat, and lots of it.  There’s no touching.  There’s no intimacy.  There’s no exercising.  What there is plenty of is grumpiness.  And sleepness nights.  And slo-mo. 

We’ve been out of La Paz for just over a week, and we thought it couldn’t get any hotter than it was there (104 degrees Fahrenheit).  It actually wasn’t so bad in La Paz, since at night it would cool down to about 69 degrees – and we’d need blankets by morning.

Since La Paz, we’ve been to San Evaristo, then Agua Verde, and now Puerto Escondido – all along the eastern coast of the Baja Peninsula – and it keeps getting hotter as we go.  Yesterday, we rented a car for $40 for a 24 hour period just so that we could sit in air conditioning.  We split up the rental so that we’d get it over a two day period. You go to desperate measures when you are this hot.  The thermostat in the car registered 43 degrees Celsius (that’s about 118 degrees Fahrenheit, folks) yesterday at 6:30 p.m.  Our trip to Loreto (30 miles north of Puerto Escondido) was great – both days – but then we had to return the car.

We got to Puerto Escondido 4 days ago in time to see our friends on Rocinante off (they’ll be in Seattle for the next 6 weeks – lucky them!), and had the benefit of hanging out in their air conditioned hotel room for a couple of hours.  The swimming pool at their hotel was a hot bath, as is the sea water. 

Can we survive this heat without completely melting?  Time will tell.  We are counting down the days until we get to northern California, where today it was a balmy dry (gulp) 70 degrees. 

From Hot-As-Hell Mexico,