Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Solstice on the High Seas

I can't remember if I've mentioned that the crew of s/v Don Quixote are pagans. Sorta. Actually, we are not a particularly religious group, but if we had to pick a religion it would most likely be environmental paganism. One of the many objectives for the trip that appears to be going bye bye was for us to get a bit more serious about this whole paganism thing. So far, we haven't made much progress.

The one holiday we do manage to celebrate with some degree of consistency each year is Yule. Also known as Winter Solstice, Yule is a new year celebration. If you have a scientific bent, it is a celebration of the longest night of the year, the shortest day, and the loop of the sun out of winter and towards spring. Those feeling more poetic can describe it as the death and re-birth of the Sun God.

Yule has been around for a very long time. Most of the traditions associated with the holiday are similar to the Christian holiday of Christmas that consumes the second half of December. Pagans and Christians can get into all sorts of chicken-and-egg battles over the various trappings of the end of year celebration; It does no good for a functional religious illiterate such as myself to weigh in on the subject. There are many great resources on the subject online if you care to do the research.

Probably the important thing to remember is that almost every major cultural group in the world finds a way to celebrate the longest night of the year and many of the activities we associate with Christmas pre-date the Christian church by hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of years. For example, the "Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice with a festival called Saturnalia during which they decked their houses with boughs of evergreen trees and bushes. People gave each other presents, and all normal business was suspended and social distinctions were forgotten. Servants and slaves were given a feast by their masters who waited the tables. The Pagan Saxons celebrated the feast of Yule with plenty of ale and blazing fires, of which our Yule log is the last relic."* The Egyptians had some complicated Isis thing going on where she mourned the sun, and then the priests would come out in the middle of the night yelling about virgins and babies. But if you think that's weird, the one that makes me chuckle is a post-WWII Japanese tradition of waiting in line at KFC to get a bucket of fried chicken to feed the kids on the night that Uncle Chimney shows up with a million presents.

Of all the traditions, s/v Don Quixote's celebration is most like that of the Japanese. Traditionally, we would get a pizza delivered at about sunset. We "put out the hearth fires" by turning off the heat and all the lights. We gathered around a table in the living room, lit candles to the four elements as well a symbolic central home fire. We then wrote our regrets on small pieces of paper which we burned in the central flame. With no small amount of solemnity and giggling, we then put out the last of our hearth fires for the previous year, blowing out all the candles and plunging the family into darkness. Not even an ember carried our regrets into the new year. Every one settled down on cushions in the living room to sleep together until morning. At dawn, we would drive out to the West Seattle overlook and greet the sun with sun cookies and ringing bells.

That was then. Now, we do it differently. First, we can't put out the home fires... if we turn off our masthead light we are both wildly illegal and prone to getting run into by a drunk panga driver. Also, we don't have a living room. Probably most significantly, dawn is just a whole lot earlier in Mexico. So changes are necessary.

This year, we spent the day kicking around Mazatlan. In the evening, we climbed to the El Faro Lighthouse at about dusk. We cast our circle, burned our regrets, talked about what we want to take into the new year, then doused our little candle with a glass of wine. Then we tripped back down the hill. In the morning, we greeted the dawn with bells. Typically for our family, dawn was hidden in clouds. If we wait for the sun, this family will never get the new year started.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Yule, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, the Conger family of s/v Don Quixote wish you a very healthy and happy new year. May you have fair winds, following seas, and the good fortune to enjoy the lights in the eyes of your loved ones.

* I found a great resource online about the history of Yule which I downloaded and quote from liberally. Unfortunately, the authors didn't put their names in the document, and I can't find it again to get the link. Such is the ephemeral and plagiaristic nature of the Internet.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dirty Panties in Paradise

Sewing Projects
Sewing Projects
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The air is soft, cool and dry drifting into our cabin through the open hatch and gently waking as it touches the exposed skin of my arms, legs and cheeks. With a quiet yawn and stretch, I creep out of our cabin and up the companionway to greet the dawn. It’s going to be a spectacular morning with just enough dust in the air to ensure glorious color. There is nothing between Don Quixote and the sunrise to spoil the view, so I fill the coffee grinder and move into the cockpit to manually grind morning smell into the air.

At which point I step on a pair of dirty, wet, little girl panties complete with poop smear. “God damn it. Dog GAMN IT!! Why the &*#$_(* is the cockpit full of filthy wet clothes!” bursts out of me in a high volume, strident screech fit to wake not only the family but the anchorage, the birds on the shore, and the dead. So begins a typical day of cruising life.

You’ve probably heard the cruising axiom, “Routine maintenance in exotic ports of call.” The Don Quixote version is “Dirty panties in paradise.” Everything that aggravates me about being a parent is compressed into a twenty by twenty foot space, heated to 90 degrees, and filled with sand and fish scales. Including my temper. I crossed an invisible line in the filth a week ago where I stopped cooking dinner, ceased having sex with my husband, and started sewing fanatically with a pair of Bose headphones and back issues of You Look Nice Today and Penny Arcade flowing at high volume through my synapses. My former employees will recognize this tactic as it very closely resembles my management days when I’d close the doors, crank the NiN, and stop answering voicemail, IRC, and email. This is the Toast equivalent of going on strike.

The problem is physics, specifically Boyle’s Gas law. As you compress the same number of atoms into a smaller space, they run into each other and the boundary more frequently and generate more heat than the equivalent number of atoms would in a larger space. A family in a spacious suburban home smacks each other around, uses the last bits of toilet paper without getting a new roll, and occasionally burns a hole in the hardwood with forbidden candles. Squeeze the same family into 14” town row in suburban Philadelphia, and the volume rises, the Italian gestures start to emerge, and the family begins to earn the sobriquet “passionate.” Now take that family and compress them into a big, plastic, floating milk carton, slap the lid on, then start taking bets how long it will take the friction inside to increase the surface temperature to a point where you can bake tortillas.

As a cruising family, we need to figure out ways to let each member release the pressure of tight quarters and intimate living. Yesterday, I left the boat entirely for a quilting bee and didn’t come back until it was dark. Ruth fed my family on Victory Cat demonstrating both the generosity of her soul and the obviousness of my desperation to those around me. An escape such as that requires planning and cooperation, friends in the anchorage, and a sympathetic spouse. I spent the day in detox, sipping limonadas, cutting quilt fabric, touring the beautiful home of an ex-pat, and stretching my mental and emotional muscles to unbind the clenching kinks of constant small irritations. I took some deep breaths and read a book for an hour. I drank a beer and watched a good movie. I relaxed down to my smallest toe -- the one on the left that I can bend out independently of all the others a la a Vulcan greeting and therewith completely gross out the average six year old.

Hardware Sit
Hardware Sit
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
DrC picked me up just after sunset to drive me back to the boat. Unusually, the water in the Mogote was calm, the wind light, Venus and Jupiter brightly aligned in an upside frown in the eastern sky. My skirt blew gently around my ankles as I told my loving spouse about my day and praised him for his progress on the hookah and water maker. The mast speared up through the water complete with white Christmas lights, and Dulcinea greeted me with purrs and meows of welcome on the transom. I handed DrC up my sewing machine as I disembarked, talking animatedly about my progress on a scrape quilt.

At which point, I knocked over a half open bag of trash, tripped over the hydraulic line for the water maker and damn near knocked myself out as I fell into the pile of dirty dishes stacked two feet deep in the microdot piece of shit we call a sink. “God damn it. Dog GAMN IT!! Why the &*#$_(* is the sink full of filthy dishes!”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Apologies for Skip Day

I Lost a Tooth!
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
We sailed to Mazatlan safely, picked up my mother, and promptly moved the boat to an area where Internet connectivity is non-existent. Generally, I try to plan ahead and have a bunch o’articles in the queue so that there is no gap in the publishing schedule. This time I screwed up. If this connection holds long enough, I'll get articles in the queue to last till Zihautenejo. Fingers crossed!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Our La Paz To Do List

Toasting Our Water Maker
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
La Paz was our longest stop since we left Seattle. We had a very long list of things we were going to get accomplished. We always have a very long list. As usual, DrC was the most productive while the girls barely managed to keep their rooms clean. However, we did manage to tick off several large items:

DrC To Do
[X] Watermaker - It’s now fully functional - 30 gallons per hour on the port engine.
[X] Hookah - We picked up a used on for $400.
[X] Soap - More lemon scent this time but too many orange crayons.
[_] HAM licensing - We still haven’t gotten our Mexican credentials.

Toast To Do
[X] DocuSign v2.5 - Another release for my client. It looks like they are going to want me to do more work for them in the future, which is nice. We’re increasingly looking at staying out here till the economy gets it’s collective ass out of hock -- which may take a very long time.
[X] Skirts - Made one for myself and got the fabric for Mera and Aeron. Jaime “doesn’t wear dresses anymore.”
[X] Scout Troop - We had our first meeting. I still need to finish the materials and ship them to all the rest of the boats interested in participating.
[_] Solstice Gifts - Progress made, but I’m not done. Mom is bringing one of the bits I need to finish. I also need to figure out how to make a shirt for DrC since that’s what he asked for. Gah.
[_] Fix Sail Cover - Gah squared. The seams are slowly unraveling. They come undone at roughly the same speed I fix them. By the time all is said and done, I will have hand sewn the entire thing from one end to the other.
[_] Helm Covers - Didn’t finish the covers, because I kept breaking needles. I’m going to try using the new machine Aeron bought for me before I give up on doing my own canvas work. She picked it up in a silent auction for $200 pesos at the subasta. Like ancient toasters, this old Elna looks indestructible, and the motor is so powerful the boat shakes when you engage it.

Girls To Do
[X] Switch Rooms - Mera is now in the V-berth while Jaime and Aeron share the double. This was dramatic and horrid. Jaime screamed, kicked, cried, and basically imploded. The process resulting three bags of “give away” and four bags of trash. The pack rat gene runs strong in Dean’s children. Jaime is gradually recovering.
[X] Play - The kids met four additional kid boats, expanding our list of folks we pal around with.
[X] School - We stayed roughly on target for school while we were here despite all the distractions.
[_] Solstice Gifts - They got started, but they haven’t finished either. Some stocking stuffers have been found and squirreled away on the boat.
[_] Decorate Dinghy - As an antitheft measure, the girls are assigned to paint the dinghy and motor. We’re holding off on this project as we are considering buying a larger engine. Wouldn’t do to paint it green with orange polka dots if we’re not keeping it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Day in La Paz

Etosha at Coffee and Cookies
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
La Paz, BCS, Mexico is an acknowledged mecca for the cruising sailor. It’s not that this is the most stunningly beautiful place in Mexico, nor will you find the cheapest goods, the best services, or the most comfortable anchorage. La Paz attracts cruisers because La Paz is full of a berzillion and one cruisers already, and a good fraction of the community and businesses have evolved to provide support for those afloat.

For example, you could live full time in La Paz and never own a phone; All you need is a powerful VHF. In the morning at 7:30AM on 21a you can listen to the Bill and Pepe Political show. This is your opportunity to discuss the latest news: political, economic, local, US and international. The participants range from libertarian and conservative to hippies living the good life. The conversations drift from the fluctuations of the Dow to how the new hotels on the Mogote are going to process their shit.

At 8:00AM, switch to 22a where you can get all the rest of the news that’s fit to print. Tides, weather, lost and found, arrivals and departures, Bay Watch, local assistance. During the morning net, you can find a diesel mechanic, trade your unwanted items for “coconuts,” and learn about the day’s activities. The cruisers organize daily yoga sessions as well as weekly Alcoholics Anonymous, dominos, blues jam, and quilting meetings. Do you need to find cranberry sauce? Want a part brought down from the United States? Looking for crew to go to Mazatlan next week? The morning net is your opportunity to find it.

Then you go to Club Cruceros in the Marina de La Paz at 9:30AM for coffee and cookies. The club includes a really well stocked book for book exchange as well as adverts for just about everything you might be looking for in terms of shops, technicians, and mechanics. It’s hard to get out of there in less than an hour. The girls love the place not just because there is a small playground to one side. And the cookies.

After coffee, head into town to the market. My daily rounds include the bank, fabric store, municipal market for fruit and vegetables, mercado for milk and packaged goods, carnaceria, pescaria, and tortilleria. My last stop is always the panaderia where I pick up a bag full of pan dulces and big soft white bread rolls. My whirlwind tour through the markets usually costs me about $20 USD for two days of food. I’m still having trouble getting over how cheap food is in Mexico... as long as you eat local.

We spend most afternoons on the boat doing chores, sewing, school, putting the water maker together. In the evening, we’ll go into town to play dominos and exchange email. I’d like to say that Internet is great in the anchorage, because technically it is. You have to pay for it though and we were too cheap. Stupid. In retrospect, I regret not plunking down the $30/month to get Internet out here on the hook from BahiaNet. Lesson learned.

Other useful bits to know about La Paz:
Both sunrises and sunsets are simply gorgeous nearly every day.
Theft is rampant. Anything not tied down will get stolen. Do not leave your stuff lying around anywhere, even on the deck of your boat.
Two weeks in Mexico and 65 degrees at night is going to feel really cold. Don’t ditch the blankets as you cross the border.
Fabric is cheap and abundant, at least here in La Paz. People still sew here. However, do not expect to find all that wonderful quilter’s cotton you find in the States. Down here, the fabric is for clothes. So the stores are stocked with muslims, linens, polyester blends, and all the notions you can possibly stuff into your cubby on board.
The much balloyhoo’d La Paz Waltz out in the El Mogote anchorage should not scare any experienced cruiser. Anchor your boat with lots of scope and a good clearance to your neighbors, set it hard and deep, and drift around. Particularly anyone who has anchored in the Pacific Northwest with routine tidal swings and currents of 2 or more knots will not find it particularly challenging.
Sunrise in La Paz
Sunrise in La Paz
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The best free Internet in the city is at Ciao Molina across from Marina de La Paz. 20 pesos for a limonado or 28 for a beer, and they’ll let you sit for hours. The meatball sandwich is also surprisingly good.

We go to bed early here. We get up early too. The days are short as Winter Solstice approaches, and the temperatures are dropping. Today, we move into the marina for a day of clean up and provisioning before heading across the Sea of Cortez to the mainland. I can readily understand the bungee appeal of La Paz that brings cruisers back again and again. We will no doubt swing through in April. The trick is not to get seduced into staying long enough for the barnacles to form.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Coals to Newcastle

Just Once
Just Once
Uploaded by toastfloats, taken by FIL George.
“Blow holes at eleven o’clock,” Grandpa George calls from the helm. DrC lifts his head from his book and looks around, the girls scramble up from their cabins. Humps and fins at eleven were only the start. Within minutes, the crew spotted signs of whale in every cardinal direction.

We were entering Monterey Bay. The weather had been lovely all day, though the wind chose not to pick up until mid-afternoon. With the spinnaker finally flying, we were enjoying a pleasant downwind sail into Monterey Harbor, looking forward to a layover day in that famous California coastal town.

The whales provided quite a show. Huge humped backs mounded through the waves. Large spumes of air signaled the direction to point eyes, binoculars and cameras, fins and flukes slapped the water to get our attention.

At one point, I shouted, “Forward!” It’s all I could say as a humpback leaped out of the water roughly ten yards off the port bow, landing with a thunderous splash that sent spume up onto the bows and on to the faces of my gaping children. “Grab a line!” DrC and George both shouted. We all dived for a hand-hold in case the whale decided to take on a catamaran. The enormous mammal chose instead to slide a few feet past the port beam, leaving a fuming wake of bubbles and gratefully astonished sailors. I said shakily, “That was an amazing experience... one I might not want to repeat.”

Our bow whale only punctuated a day full of Discovery Channel moments. Seagulls spent the day playing tag with Don Quixote as they dove on our bait, drafted in our wind wake, and hitched the occasional ride on the bow. Mera whiled away several hours sitting in a bow seat counting jelly fish. DrC caught a mackerel and, after much discussion and many pictures, the family decided it was insufficiently tasty eating and threw it back. We barked at sea otters rolling in kelp, George took pictures of cormorants, pelicans, and other sea birds, and the girls tried to catch sight of plankton through a microscope. As we came into the harbor, we were greeted with the sight of hundreds of sea lions basking, barking and honking on the breakwater.

At sunset, we settled down to a bobbing anchor with curry, rice and mangos. Grandpa George finished his lesson on Hinduism as DrC and I finished our last sips of wine before stirring the wasp nest that is our family preparing for bed each night. Grandpa asked the table, “So girls! What should we do tomorrow in Monterey?”

Three girls chimed harmoniously, “Let’s go to the aquarium!!” DrC smiled, I shrugged, and George laughed. “Okay! Let’s go see some sea life.”
Uploaded by toastfloats, taken by FIL George.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don Quixote on the Cover of Latitude 38

Haven't seen this in person. Thanks to all those folks who have brought my attention to the magazine, though. Tim of Victory Cat said he'd bring us a copy... for the archive. Next stop is to get them to start printing stuff I write. Heh. I can dream, right?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Drunken Stupor Observations

Uploaded by toastfloats.
Actually, I’m not as inebriated as I’d like to be. If I were, I suppose I wouldn’t be able to feel the tips of my fingers and typing would become impossible. On the other hand, maybe as a technical writer, typing has become so integral to my existence that I can accomplish the task in any mental state. You hear of musicians, for example, who are capable of feats of tremendous virtuosity even when high on all sorts of illegal substances. So too might I, a technical writer, be highly capable of producing wit and grammatically correct prose after consuming multiple alcoholic beverages.

Alternatively, spellcheck is saving my ass.

Without sober reflection, here are my observations on the cruising life:

I really want a bath. I miss bathing. I miss the little ritual of asking DrC if I can take an hour to bathe, heading for the bath, locking the door. I would turn the spigot on hot hot hot, drop in half a Lush bath bomb, and sink in. I’d take a good book, preferably one with very little character development and a great deal of hot, uninhibited sex on moors, in closets and pressed on the stairs to the second floor. My flesh would turn pink, then red, and my head would spin as I stepped out of the tub. DrC would be ready with a cold glass of water, knowing I’d spent too long in the hot water, dehydrated, and was about to pass out. Then I’d flop like a stranded fish on my bed, too hot to cover myself with clothes or bedding, the cool night air chilling my heated skin while my head swam and spun in delicious slow whirls until I’d fall to a limp, warm sleep.

I’d like my boat better if it didn’t move all the time. When you’re slightly drunk and your head is two sips short of a complete spin, it would be nice if the ground didn’t move. The movement, the sloshy sounds, the honking of the sea lions on the nearby breakwater, combine to make me feel considerably more intoxicated than I should be forced to feel after such a small quantity of wine and large quantity of tasty pork and vegetable curry.

I’d like my family better if they stopped arguing with me. There is a Rule. It’s like the Rule of Three, I suppose, a guideline for better living. Not like running a stop light... more like shutting off the lights before leaving the house. The Rule is that if three or more people have the same problem with you, the problem is you not them and you need to fix it yourself. So I have a really big problem with my family which causes me to yell at them all the time. The problem is that I want a clean, healthy, safe environment, and they want to live like pigs with a self-immolation complex. The whole place would smell like a Saturday morning bacon fry if I let them live like they apparently want to. This is my problem. I must fix it. I think a good start would be to adopt a more carnivorous approach to life.

Spore is not an educational game no matter how much we want it to be so. I’m sorry; As a homeschool parent, you can not justify the purchase of this game as an educational expense. It’s a great deal of fun, and I recommend it highly, but we all need to stop pretending we’re learning more about evolution and societal development by playing it.

I shouldn’t miss friends I’ve only known for a few weeks, but I do anyway. I miss s/v Wish and s/v Carasan. I want to spend more time with s/v Walking on Water and s/v Tango. I miss Ted and Sue of s/v Indigo so much it hurts. I miss s/v Rubber Duckies, with their great attitude and wonderful children. I miss Laureen and Jason and Behan in a way that strikes to the heart of what I am. There are boats ahead of me with more wonderful people, but part of me is afraid to meet them. I am not sure I’m cut out for this love ‘em and leave ‘em approach to friendships. In the real world, I made friends by the decade: Joe and Alex in one, Jim and Keet in another, Kristina and Joann in a third. Now I make them monthly, but it’s hard to feel right about the transient nature of these relationships. DrC was probably right: I’m ideally cut out for monogamy. I didn’t believe him at the time, but 20 years and counting suggests that once again he was right and I was wrong.

Finally, I have decided not to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Last year, I used it as a grand excuse to write “go look at my prior great art” posts. I think that would have been acceptable had I simultaneously either produced a great work of fiction or -- alternatively -- merely spun out 50,000 words of drivel for future use on this blog. Since I did neither, it was a complete cop out. This year -- starting October 1 -- I started pounding out 50,000 words of blog content with nary a pause in the delivery schedule. Never mind the why, I don’t plan on changing the delivery schedule to the blog any time soon.

And with that, I get to sign off. 923 words later, I feel as though I’ve not only exercised my wine soaked demons, but also made significant progress towards my 50,000 word objective.
My Posse
My Posse
Uploaded by toastfloats

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Passage Notes - Part 2

You’d think I would have said everything I have to say on passage making given that I’ve spent a total of six weeks doing it, but I seem to still be full of notions of how not to do it the way we did. Some more ideas:

Two Navigation Stations
My father in law brought along his laptop complete with Nobeltec software, GPS receiver, and charts. He set this up on our salon navigation table. Prior to the arrival of this laptop, the navigation table was a complete misnomer. It’s most significant responsibility was holding DrC’s beer while he practiced guitar. With a computer on the nav table and another at the helm, off duty crew could routinely check our position with bugging the guy at the wheel. I’m going to make this SOP going forward instead of just a happy accident.

Red Lights
Many boats come equipped with a red light for the navigation station. Until you overnight, you don’t understand how important these are. Red lights do not ruin your night vision. White lights blind you for a really surprising amount of time... in fact far longer than it takes a tanker to ride up your transom and run you down. Make sure your existing red lighting gear is functional. Also, consider getting a sheet of red gel from a stage lighting store. Make covers for items like your iPod or secondary laptops so that you can reduce their glare at night. You can also make a cover for flashlights used in the cabin.

Warm Clothes
The boat is colder on the ocean at night. No matter what temperatures you are used to, if you take out your boat at night it is considerably cooler. We see most cruisers living in their foulies during a passage, particularly while they are at the helm. In addition to your foulies, consider a warm hat that covers the ears, wool socks and a decent pair of warm shoes or boats. We also used a lap blanket. Now keep in mind, if you helm on Don Quixote, you are inside a completely enclosed bimini. I can only imagine how cold it would be to do this in a more open cockpit. Dress warmly.

Know Your Lights
When you are out on the water, the lights make absolutely no sense whatsoever. This is a non-trivial problem. Parsing out the message sent by a white-green-white combination can be the difference between getting run over by a tanker and running over a fishing boat with its gear out. I thought I knew the lights. I took the American Sailing Association course, studied the book and reference cards, and memorized all the little light thingies. Then we got out in the big water, and absolutely nothing looked like the cards. For one thing, the lights do not sit idly while you puzzle out their message. They bob like corks, move from left to right, and sometimes they simply change from red to green or white. This -means- something, but figuring it out on the fly is hard. I think an intrepid cruiser-programmer should take about two hundred videos of lights on open water and build an interactive online quiz. Do the best you can by boning up on the subject and make a game of it with the more experienced crew before they go to bed so you don’t panic after they’ve gone to sleep.


More things you do not need to take on a passage: television, bathing suit, hair care products, and puzzles.

More Sunset
More Sunset
Originally uploaded by purpleteeleaf.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Baja Ha Ha - Third Movement

More Profligate
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Wind, wind and more wind for our third leg of the Ha Ha leaving Bahia Santa Maria on November 5 and finishing up in Cabo the next afternoon. The Poohbah says this was about the fastest leg 3 he’s ever seen, and a sizable fraction of the fleet sailed the entire way. We certainly did, though I’ll admit we were tempted to motor the last hour just to be done. I know that the Ha Ha isn’t really race, but there was something tremendously satisfying and thrilling about crossing the finish line. It was especially nice to complete a leg without motoring even a bit.

The Ha Ha is exhausting. You travel about 750 miles in ten days. Even with the stops in Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria, it’s a long trip with many overnight passages. The trip took it’s toll on the family. As we completed this third leg, I looked around the boat in a bit of despair. The cockpit is disgustingly dirty. The boat looks like a child’s toy box, picked up, shaken, and upended on the couch in a vain attempt to find a favorite sparkly. Our sleep patterns are totally destroyed. School has pretty much ground to a halt, and DrC and I have trouble mustering the energy to care.

I’ve been maintaining a running calculation of our fuel consumption throughout the trip. Our hope was to avoid fueling until we got to Cabo. The wind was so fantastic on the trip, we changed our objective to La Paz. After completing the Ha Ha in Cabo with nearly full tanks, we’re now eying Mazatlan on the fuel we took on in San Diego. The really annoying bit is that fuel down here costs about half what it cost us in San Diego, so all this frugal sailing is financially not all that helpful. I’m not sure if fuel costs are so much less because world oil prices are dropping or because Mexico is net exporter of gas and oil. In any case, the low cost of fuel should be factored in to any cruisers’ Mexico bound cruising budget.

Herding Cats
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Our fishing woes continue. We caught a boat on the first day. It was of the species “monohull elegantistis”, commonly known as an Allegria. We also hooked something absolutely giganormous the second day. We saw it flashing silver right after the hook went whizzing out of the rod at high speed. I swear it was bigger than the Allegria we had hooked the previous day. The result, however, was the same. We lost our lure and a bunch of line. I have reached the point with fishing where I am resolved to catch all my future meals using a VHF line and fruit, coleslaw, and chilled beer lures. We caught ten pounds of prepped, deboned, and stunningly fresh ahi in Bahia Santa Maria using a Sierra Nevada six pack lure on a Walker Bay dinghy line. This method of fishing is highly effective and considerably less work.

We rounded the famous arch and spotted Neptune’s fingers early afternoon on November 6. Caba San Lucas anchorage and bay spread out in front of us, a beautiful resort on the south tip of Baja designed to entice gringos into spending all their money. Time to drop anchor and resist the lure of showers, provisions, and civilization. One night in the Cabo marina rafted three deep with other fleet members would have cost us $140. It is not going to happen. Civilization must wait until we get to La Paz.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Baja Ha Ha - Second Movement

The Litter Box
Originally uploaded by rmckerb.
The second leg of the Baja Ha Ha 2008 started in Turtle Bay (Bahia de Tortugas) on November 1. The weather was mild, the sun rising over the hills in great swaths of orange, magenta and purple, and the wind non-existent.

Just outside the bahia, the Grand Poohbah introduced us to the “Rolling Start.” A rolling start means, “Stay behind s/v Profligate and motor until we get enough wind to get going. Don’t count the motoring minutes in your total.” This makes for fantastic photos. With the sun bright and strong and every boat in the fleet clustered near the Poohbah, there are boats everywhere you look. There were prizes for “First Spinnaker”, “First Naked Spinnaker”, and “First Spinnaker on the Correct Tack” so everyone was trying to get canvas and chutes into the air. Never mind that the prizes were only a pizza in Cabo, it was the idea of the thing.

When the wind finally started to pick up, Poohbah basically said “Go” and we went. Profligate circled the fleet capturing photos as we all flew down the coastline in a 15 knot northeasterly. It was during this fine morning sail that the Poohbah crew captured the photo here which was posted to ‘Letronic Latitudes. We poured out on to our deck to engage in a little mutual admiration of our Dark Side boats. As the Poohbah flew by, he told us to “tighten your spinnaker sheets!” which actually worked and picked us up about another 1/2 knot through the water.

Initially, we felt naked on the second leg. Losing our radar and chart plotter going into Turtle Bay, we were now sailing without our heads up display. Okay, I think everyone needs to do this for awhile. Shut off every electronic gadget you have on the boat except your handheld GPS and your depth sounder. Now sail around for a month. On that first morning, we were uncertain, nervous. I was scared spitless about overnighting without the radar. Yet as I write this, we’ve traveled nearly 700 miles, done five or six overnight passages, and navigated into a half dozen anchorages using charts, dead reckoning and our handheld. In all that time, we’ve only had one close call; we had enormous difficulty spotting the south marker going through San Lorenzo Channel and accidentally cut the corner by about 100 feet. Passing over a six foot shoal my heart almost stopped. Folks experienced with Mexico, however, will tell you that this kind of incident could occur even with all the electronic gadgets as the charts here are notoriously inaccurate.

But back to Leg 2. The wind was steady all through the first day and into the evening. In fact, we had to swap out the spinnaker for the jib as the wind increased. We were averaging about 6.25 knots over ground, which for this boat is pretty good. I used to think around six was just horrid speeds... and for a catamaran I suppose they are. But our six, six and a half consistently put us in about the middle of the Ha Ha fleet over the course of the entire rally. So as cruising boats go, we’re not slow and we’re not fast. We’re average.

Course I don’t really like being average.

Wind died out in the middle of the night. I broke down and turned on the motor just to prevent us from moving backwards. The sky was unbelievably clear and beautiful. Mera and Aeron on watch with me so we had a star lesson on the trampoline. We lost count of the number of shooting stars we saw. We could see for miles and miles. With the boat on autopilot, the girls and I could actually see the surrounding fleet traffic, fishing boats, and tankers considerably better from up front so we spent most of the night up there tied down like chickens in a box.

When DrC took over watch in the early morning hours, the wind started to come up. We put the spinnaker up and it stayed up until we hit Bahia Santa Maria. There were moments where we seriously thought about taking it down as the following wind picked up. But just as we got ready to yank it down, the wind would die slightly again. The girls and I spent a good fraction of the morning participating in the fleet roll call. We collected nearly 30 boat positions from Ha Ha participants with VHF but no SSB. We then relayed them to the Poohbah over SSB. The good news is that I can state unequivocally that our SSB works for voice send and receive.

Unfortunately, even with all that sail up all day, we didn’t make it to Santa Maria until the wee wee hours of the third day. This was a serious test. It was pitch black, no moon, no radar, and we were entering an unfamiliar anchorage. Fortunately, the Ha Ha fleet was lining up to enter the anchorage like airplanes going into Chicago O’Hare. We just slotted our boat with a fleet member fore and aft and motored in those last few miles. Anchoring was a dicey proposition at best... everything looks MUCH closer together in the dark and at night, not to mention the pangas trailing off of local fishing boats in long, invisible, deadly strings.

BSM sunrise2
Originally uploaded by rmckerb.
At the girls’ request, we agreed to host a “Ha Ha Kid Party” on Don Quixote our first night in Bahia Santa Maria. We pulled out the slide, the floating island, and our munchies. The Poohbah requested that we move our boat nearer to the fleet flag ship so that folks could find us more easily. This was our pleasure. Profligate was very close to the coastline and moving our boat over there put us smack dab in the middle of the “litter box” -- the crescent of shallow waters along the shoreline of any Pacific Mexican anchorage where all the catamarans drop hook. I think I’ll write about that party separately.

The Ha Ha shore party the next day wasn’t actually as fun as our kid party, in my opinion. We did, however, enjoy a long walk along the coastline and a wonderful swim in the surf. The entire family agreed we want to come back next fall. We’d like to explore Mag Bay as well. An idea for our plans next year is beginning to take shape, and it includes Ha Ha’ing a second year. We’ll see.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ralf Relative Rolliness Scale

You have no doubt heard of the Beaufort Scale. This is a gauge of wind force from 0 to 150 knots which is supposed to tell you whether or not you can go sailing today. What you really need to know about wind, however, is that it works like earthquakes with the force growing exponentially. 30 knots is a whole lot more than 20. 40 is seriously nastier than 30 by a considerably greater amount than the 20-30 increment. I think 50 and 60 are like 8 and 9 point quakes on the Richter Scale, something to be avoided at all cost.

The longer we spend on the Pacific, however, the more convinced I am that we cruisers also need a Ralf Rolliness Scale. This 0 to 6 scale would describe the degree of comfort found at an anchorage based on the amount of bounciness. An anchorage can be quite comfortable with little or no swell, or you can bounce around like the rubber ball on the end of child’s paddle toy. Discomfort comes from the wakes of passing boats, ocean swell, wind fetch, tide and current. Just as wind changes on a daily basis, the Ralf Rolliness rating in a given anchorage can change from day to day, even from hour to hour.

Some anchorages, however, consistently suck. I for one would really like the cruising books to be more explicit about the amount of suckage. I’d also like to be able to get on the VHF and say, “Hey everyone, you know that little place next to Wharf #2 in Monterey Bay that’s supposed to be so comfortable even if there is a NW swell? Well, we’re here in a Ralf 4. Do not venture in. We’re abandoning our anchor early this morning.”

Or how about: “This morning we are waiting out a truly heinous low pressure system in San Simeon. This is the most beautiful spot we have anchored since Native Anchorage in Knight Inlet. Fortunately, the bay provides reasonably good shelter from the prevailing (and in this case storm driven) north westerly. There is a mild Ralf 1 swell from the south, shading to Ralf 2 when the breeze pushes us beam on to the swell.”

See how useful that would be? Let me take a first stab at formalizing the Ralf Rolliness Scale:
Rolliness Scale

Friday, November 14, 2008

10 Ways to Piss Off Homeschool Parents

Musee Mechanic
Musee Mechanic
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
A long time ago, I wrote an article entitled We're Not All Cut Out for Homeschool. This article generated the single largest number of hits of anything I’ve written. Those who follow my blog know that the article was an aberration. I actually don’t spend much time noodling on the education of my children. Either they’ll survive their young lives under our mismanagement, or they will fail miserably as adults. Really no point in worrying about it. On the other hand, I loved all the traffic. So in a shameless attempt to drive up the numbers again, I thought I’d tackle a really sensitive subject: the amazing sensitivity of homeschool parents.

Let me say in advance Thing 1 and Thing 2. Thing 1) Not all homeschoolers are created equal. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are families doing it. Thing 2) We’re a defensive lot with good reason since the world really is out to get us. And Thing 3) Counting is overrated, so don’t ask me to be consistent. There may or may not be ten things that piss me off as a homeschool parent.

Do NOTs With A Homeschool Parent

Ask About Math -- My eight year old starts having a temper tantrum every time we ask her to do a math check. I think is because we have some demented notion that “Math is Hard” and “Math is Real School.” Neither is actually true. Math is fascinating and sometimes challenging, but actually not particularly difficult. You do a problem, and you always get the same answer. Let’s compare that with a boat electrical system wherein you can do the same thing and get a different result every time. Most homeschool families are defensive about their math curriculum and education in no small part because they are deschooling the parents. The kids would have a lot easier time of it if none of us had ever had to do School Math.

Challenge Curriculum -- Don’t take on a homeschool parent regarding their choice of history or science books. While the homeschool movement is gradually going “mainstream,” there are still enough of the end point fundamentalists out there that talking about the age and origin of the earth is pretty well a topic not taken up in polite company.

Reminiscence About Prom -- Look, we frackin hated prom. It is an anachronistic ritual perpetuated by the rich elite to make the rest of us feel like ugly wallflowers. So don’t go on and on about how wonderful it is and how sad it will be when my daughters miss it. You’re starting to piss me off. In fact, let’s just generalize the prohibition to high school. High school sucked. Remember? It wasn’t like the Disney movies, and I see no reason to inflict that hell upon any child of mine.

Worry About Socialization -- Okay, that’s better. We’re not actually going to get upset about this topic. Every homeschool parent knows that our children are considerably more socially capable than your average schooler kids. Sure, we have our loners, geeks, whackos, and freaks just like the Regular World. But overall, our kids know how to interact with people at a much more mature and diverse level than children who spend all day with 29 other folk the same age and basic demographic.

Look Amazed When Our Kids Do Something Special -- This one knots my knickers. Every time my kids do something a little strange, highly advanced, or just plain spectacular, it is as if every normal in the room is struck dumbfounded. “A homeschooler can read at age 4?” they gasp. Or play a musical instrument, make and sell jewelry, paint spectacularly detailed miniatures, dramatically deliver Shakespearean sonnets, or read high school level fiction at age eight to name but a few examples from homeschool kids I’ve raised or met. Why are you so surprised? A homeschool kid gets the undivided attention of at least one adult as well as virtually unlimited time to explore their interests and hobbies. As a result, it should surprise no one that they tend to pick something they like and become exceedingly good at it. I don’t think this makes these kids prodigies so much as it demonstrates what all children are capable of given the time and attention.

Talk About Finances -- We’re broke. Most homeschool parents are broke. I don’t want to talk about it. Shut up. Whatever you do, don’t suggest that financially it would be more responsible for one of us to work. Mathematically (and YES, we can do math) there are very few markets and very few parents with the skill set to make it more economically responsible to have both parents working full time... particularly if the household has 3 or more children or one under three years of age.

Bring Up Team Sports -- Yeah, I’ve been wondering what I’m going to do about that one. While I can do without the 6 hours with 30 kids thing, a group sport really can’t be beat. Going to have to ponder a creative alternative. It would have been easier if we hadn’t left on a boat.

Mention Homeschool Law -- Some states make being a homeschool an absolute trial and misery. I am fortunate enough to have the kids registered in a state that is pretty straightforward and not particularly onerous. However, talking to parents in states with more stringent rules is like opening Pandora’s box of Political Hell.

* *

Truffles... ummmmm...
Truffles... ummmmm...
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
All right I’m a little steamed, but not really pissed off yet. I encourage the homeschool families out there to pipe up with other comments or stories or issues that piss you off. I can always edit this to make me angrier later. Right now I think I’ll go look at whales with my girls.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Famine or Feast

In addition to Murphy’s Law, McGillacudy’s Law, Moore’s Law, and Laureen’s Rule of Three (which is really more like a guideline), let us add Toast’s Law:

In cruising, there is either way too much or none.

Let’s start with food. Either you have just provisioned the boat, and you can’t open the medicine cabinet without a box of crackers leaping out to hit you on the nose, or it’s been three weeks and you can not find three ingredients to cobble together to form a lunch. You travel either through regions of the world where grocery stores are conveniently situated a five minute walk from every dinghy dock, or you pass through an area where the local “market” stocks nothing but beer, cigarettes, two jugs of expired milk, a basket of very limp carrots on ice, and fifty variations on the word “bait.”

Laundry is binary. Either the entire cockpit is overflowing in stinky panties, rotten blue clothes and damp towels, or we did laundry this morning.

Fuel is a gradient. You start with lots and over time you use it. Unless you’ve broken something. Then you find that somehow you’ve leaked a full tank of propane into the atmosphere. In addition to being environmentally disastrous, this state change results in nothing but cold gruel and warm lemonade until you can find the next fuel station.

Don’t get me started on wind. Every sailor knows that the quickest way to make the wind die down is to put up the main sail. Turns out that a quicker way to do so is to send s/v Don Quixote into the teeth of the forecast. Even should NOAA pump out a lovely 15 to 25 knot forecast with steep 12 foot swells, if you send us out there the wind promptly drops to 5 from the west. We spent twelve hours motoring from Pillar Point Harbor to Monterey on the world’s slowest roller coaster despite an otherwise completely threatening and highly disturbing forecast.

Fish are like laundry. You either have them or you don’t, and it’s not really clear which state is more frustrating. If the fish are in the mood, they generously throw themselves on the bait in a protein suicide that is both commendable and speaks volumes about the fundamental stupidity of the piscine species. You then haul in fish after fish until the blood is an inch deep in the cockpit, and there is no room in the freezer for the rum drink ingredients. If the fish are not in the mood, no amount of clever hooks, bait, or lures will get them to pay the slightest attention. Inevitably in these conditions, we catch birds. We’ve probably caught every major species of ocean bird between Vancouver Island and Cabo San Lucas.

Advice. Well, let me see. This might be the exception that proves the rule. I’ve never been with sailors who didn’t have a lengthy list you’re doing wrong. Books, blogs, and salty dogs are all full of useful tidbits to read and forget. If DrC and I listened to the majority of this nautical treasure house, we probably would have never left. We certainly are insufficiently competent to do what we are doing. However, here we are. Nearly 3,000 miles and we’re still float. The kids are still alive, too. Surprising, that last bit.

My advice is to forget the rules, and pass the wasabi. God knows you’re not going to be able to find any more of it after you run out of the... what? Five JARS? Who packed this damn boat anyway?...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cooking Idea - Package Pumpkin Muffins

Mom's Fixins
Mom's Fixins
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
This idea came from s/v Walking on Water. It is apparently a Weight Watcher’s recipe. I don’t so much care about the fact that the version I describe here is low fat and low “points.” The really important bit is that the ingredients can be stored in the Guest Food Box pretty much forever. This is an excellent potluck finger food contribution for either dessert or breakfast. It also is the first of many reasons to get mini muffin pans. I didn’t think I needed these either, but you do. Get yourself two which will just fit in most boat ovens side by side.

Package Pumpkin Muffins
1 box of spice or carrot cake mix
1 small can of pumpkin
1/3 cup of water
1 cp chopped nuts or raisins (optional)

Mix everything until all the lumps are gone. Use cooking spray on the muffin pans. Half fill the cups. Bake until done at whatever temperature your oven allows. They bake fairly quickly, even in pathetic propane ovens. Makes 48 mini muffins.

Yes, it is that simple.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dream As If You'll Live Forever

Dream as if you’ll live forever; Live as if you’ll die today.
~ James Dean

The View From My Window
The View From My Window
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The spinnaker is red and white and full of wind from the northwest. We are riding the longest, slowest roller coaster south to San Simeon with the sun riding high. School is out for the day so the girls sprawl in boneless heaps around the boat, reading, dozing, staring at the horizon and periodically calling sightings of whales, seals, otters, and unusual bird formations.

I have a sailing mix on the stereo. As near as I can tell, my father in law connected to iTunes and browsed the word “sail.” He then purchased every song with the word in the title... or even in the lyrics. The mix includes every artist from the past forty years who ever came near the sea, from Jimmy Buffet to Vangelis and Enya, Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys, classical, world, country, and pop. I’d like to say it’s oddly appropriate helm music, but I suspect it’s just odd and eclectic. I am enjoying it, however. I seem to know all the words, all the melodies, and I’m frequently able to belt out the lyrics at the top of my not inconsiderable lungs.

No one cares. Even DrC is relaxed, having completely given up on the idea of getting a second alternator to work on this boat. He’s reading an old Dan Brown novel in the cockpit, soaking up sun like a 6 foot, cotton clad lizard on a white fiberglass rock. He’s either deaf or my singing is better than I think since he appears unfazed even by the highest, loudest notes.

Today, we are living.

Poetically, we are living as if this is the last day of our life. In a grand gesture to carpe diem, this moment is all that matters. It matters so much, because it is so completely full. I can not think of a way to enhance the pure pleasure of what we are doing. Cruising life is not like this, of course. Most of the time it’s hard work punctuated by frustration, moments of sheer terror, and a low background buzz of worry about the cruising kitty, the weather forecast, and the boat machinery. But every once in awhile, the life is precisely as pictured in the magazines. Which makes me wonder if my life has changed or I have. Maybe had I changed my attitude in my land based life, it too would have been days of oyster soup sparkled with pearl moments.

I am prone to think I live a charmed, lucky life, full of unexpected opportunities. My husband, my career, my personal life are a series of points on a Cartesian system. In retrospect, you can see me with a large ruler and a number 2 pencil drawing direct paths from one major miracle to another. Many of those miracles were people, bosses and friends, parent and children. Others were jobs, houses, a boat at just the right time at just the right price.

My husband, however, subscribes strongly to the belief that you make your own luck. He insists that I do not lead a lucky life so much as I have an enormous capacity for finding a way to make use of what fate sends in my direction. This is oddly humble in an otherwise extremely self-confident -- dare I say arrogant -- masculine male as it diminishes the luckiness of my finding him to merely a matter of my manipulating him into my bed and then into marriage. He has a rather Machiavellian opinion of my charms. He insists, however, that to live life to the fullest, you have to first recognize what you have right now, here, today.

So why on earth did we have to get on a boat and sail away? Couldn’t we have simply done all that fabulous growth and introspection thing right where we were? In the house in Seattle? With the warm, dry sheets and the hot tub, and the secure income? Apparently not. I think somehow over the decade we spent there, we forgot how to look for luck. There wasn’t enough time, or there wasn’t enough energy. The daily pattern left no room for air, for breath, for breathing.

Now it’s different. Take a deep breath of cool, clean ocean air and belt out some absolute torch and twang. “Walk away from trouble with your head held high, then look closely you’ll see luck in your eye.”
Pointing the Way
Pointing the Way
Uploaded by toastfloats, taken by FIL George.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Baja Ha Ha - First Movement

Better Sail Boat Picture
Better Sail Boat Picture
Originally uploaded by purpleteeleaf.
A quick, picture-less update from Turtle Bay. We completed the first leg of the Baja Ha Ha in a catamaran record low time of several days and many hours of motoring. The winds were beyond light. They were almost negatively light -- if you can imagine such a thing. We did have a really strong, fun sail the first day and a half. Then we motored. Then we sailed. Then we motored. Then we turned off the engines a drifted an entire day at .5 knots. It was great! We swam off the back of the boat. I swam faster than the boat was moving.

* My sinuses. Jaime picked up a head cold someplace in San Diego which she then passed on to the rest of us. My head felt like it was going to pop most of the trip. It made the entire thing quite challenging.
* On the last day, I did a credible job of ripping the GPS dome off the bimini. This somehow managed to short out the entire system which includes our radar, chart plotter and primary GPS. Urg. Thank you very much, we were smart enough to carry paper charts, another computer with charts, and a handheld GPS. We'll tailgate other boats all the way down to Cabo so radar shouldn't be a big issue either. And then when we get to Cabo, we'll mail the damn thing back to Seattle and tell them to fix it or else.
* Dinghy motor? Don't know about this. I think DrC and Jaime just flooded it past all hope of recall for this afternoon.

* More dolphins. Actually, it was the squeeling dolphins in the bow wave that distracted me sufficiently to rip the GPS dome. Not feeling great about dolphins.
* Absolutely spectacular lightening show. This is something you can enjoy at sea only if you can see the strike from top to bottom and can't hear the thunder indicating the storm is at least 30 miles off. It was amazing.
* Stars, shooting stars, planets, satellites, constellations, more shooting stars. Mera and I enjoyed several star gazing lessons on the bows during night watch.
* Sitting in the cockpit last night, listening to the music drift over the water and watching the masthead lights flicker on the bay like june bugs on a summer night in Philly. The air was sweet and warm with a nice off shore cooling breeze, the wine was chilled, and DrC was in an unusually happy, talkative mood.

The Ha Ha is not for everyone, but it is absolutely where the crew of Don Quixote needs to be. We are all enjoying ourselves immensely. The girls and I try to participate as much as possible in the morning roll call, doing the VHF to SSB relay. It provides a notoriety that the girls (and I) revel in. Just about everyone is getting to know our names and our boat. They love the attention, they like trying to hook up with the other kids, and they really really REALLY want to go ashore to play.

What they don't appreciate is Mexican pastry; It's not sweet enough. Pearls before swine.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pacific Dinghy Dash - Qualifying Round

Adventures in Dinghy Dash
Adventures in Dinghy Dash
Uploaded by toastfloats, taken by FIL George.
Two sports announcers sit on a set framed by a wide expanse of California beach. They smile into the camera as the male begins:

“We’re here today in lovely San Simeon for the qualifying round of the Pacific Dinghy Dash. The weather is perfect for today’s competition: sunny, with 9 knots of wind blowing offshore. Our competitors have been dropping anchor since Tuesday, drinking wine and exchanging boat cards as they prepare for this key round of the year’s competition.”

The female announcer is dressed casually in upscale athletic clothing. As color commentator, she is a former participant in this sport. “Jack, it’s a great day to start the Pacific Dinghy Dash and a great place to do it. The surf is breaking about 10 yards out consistently at 3 feet every 7 seconds. We should see the crews relying on a straight in approach, riding the last wave with a strong push of their motors and largely keeping their feet dry.”

Jack nods sagely, “I agree, Julie. Points will be awarded today largely on style and dryness. I doubt we’ll see much in the way of innovative approaches.”

Julie looks out over the water, “Our first crew is off the s/v Sea Horse. You’ll notice the captain’s classic slow approach. He’s got a hard bottom dinghy with two crew... and there you see him slide up to the back of the wave... a hard throttle...”

“Oh yeah! Look at that!” exclaims Jack.

Julie agrees, “That was lovely, Jack. Did you see how his forward crew came in with one leg curled up on the outside. He put it down just as they hit the shallows.”

“And the captain throttled his engine at precisely the right moment. Those are going to be high scores, Julie. Sea Horse is really setting the bar high today,” Jack points out.

“Yes, but we’ll have to go some way to compete with s/v Vindsong. Look at that dink!” Julie cries, “We’re looking at an old fashioned, wooden row boat.”

“That’s a beauty, Julie. The line glued along the teak edge is both handsome and dramatically increases the difficulty for his crew.” Jack continues ominously, “Getting out of that craft is going to be a challenge.”

“But his approach is solid, Jack. Look at him come in with his bow crew talking him up to the edge of the swell. That’s nice.” Julie watches for a moment, “Yes! There they go!!! Vindsong is rowing hard hard hard.... And THERE! Great elan. Fantastic exit! They both just elevated straight out of that boat and over the side.” Her partner comments, “I don’t think they’ll be getting much for dry feet, Julie, but they sure get points for level of difficulty.”

Jack continues, “Now we have newcomers to the event, s/v Don Quixote. This crew has competed before -- and quite successfully -- in the Pacific Dinghy Dock and Dinghy Drag. They in fact medaled in the Drag not once but twice. They are considered a force to be reckoned with here in San Simeon.”

Julie is doubtful, “I don’t know, Jack. I’ve seen too many crews come down from the Pacific Northwest who think they know how to handle their dink after competing in high tide and strong current. Then they encounter the surf of the southern California beaches and have to start learning their sport all over again.”

Jack nods sagely, “I see your point, Julie. The Dock and Drag really require different skills don’t they.”

Julie explains, “Yes, the Dock is about gauging distance and the relative speed of the many moving craft in the harbor while the Drag is a very physical event requiring great strength and a hard bottom. The Dash is all about timing and feeling your way through the waves. Let’s see how these newcomers do.”

Jack warns, “It doesn’t look good for Don Quixote. Look at that...”

“The captain is coming on too strong. He’s not waiting for the waves. See how he allows his helm to just power in?” Julie observes.

“Isn’t that crew a bit young for this event, Julie? They’ve got three juveniles.”

“No no,” she replies, eyes on the Don Quixote boat, “family crews are common in this sport. My sister and I started at 9 and 12. Oh look,” her voice shades to a bit of horror, “they’ve timed it all wrong. Jack, they’re going to... oh no...”

Jack exclaims, “They’re going over they’re going over!!!” He pauses as if unable to believe what he’s seeing, “Oh that’s tragic! Look there’s gear everywhere!”

Julie interjects, “It’s okay, Jack. Look at that crew scramble. They can stay in the competition if they can just recover well. Remember, we average their scores over several beaches throughout the next three months. They just need to recover their gear and get ashore unharmed.”

Jack calms, “Yes, Julie, and now we see a crew who’s been working together hard up north. Look at them scramble.”

“They’re doing well, Jack. They got that dinghy back over in less than 5 seconds. I see all five crew. See how they automatically divided responsibility. Captain, helm, and first mate have got that dinghy aligned and ashore. The younger crew are gathering Crocs, towels, and hats.”

“Let’s shift to Bob on the beach. Bob?”

Bob holds a microphone near the drenched Don Quixote crew who are gathering and checking gear, “Captain? Can you tell me what happened?” He thrusts the microphone in DrC’s face.

“We were just &#*ing stupid,” DrC looks grim. Salt water drips from his beard. “I didn’t wait and time the waves, and Jaime gunned it just a bit too late. We should never have gone over. Stupid.”

Bob switches to Toast, “And you? How’s it look?”

Toast looks around and her eyes narrow, “Good. We’re good. In gear we lost two pairs of sunglasses and a baseball hat. Not bad. We’re definitely going to use the dry bag and a lot more tie downs in the future. The kids are all right. No one is hurt. I’ll be able to rescue all the electronics except maybe the cell phone, and it’s insured.” Aeron jumps up into the view of the camera, bouncing to pop into the screen and mostly just the top of her head appearing as she blurts out, “That was AWESOME! I want to do it again! Let’s do it again and again and again!”

Julie’s voice off camera reminds Bob, “What about the equipment?”

Bob asks the captain, “DrC? Your boat?”

DrC nods slowly, “We’re okay. Lost an oarlock and the seat, but Toast wanted to replace those anyway. I think the motor’s okay.” 

Julie agrees and as the camera pans back to reveal Jaime, Mera and Aeron cavorting in the surf while DrC and Toast drape shirts, towels and hats over driftwood to dry, “While this was a hard introduction to the Dash for the Don Quixote crew, their experience has earned them a spot. They reacted quickly, gathered their gear, and they chose their hardware well. The engine is an old Yamaha two stroke. DrC can spend an hour cleaning it out, and it’ll start right back up. This isn’t so true of some newer, lighter more maneuverable hardware. What the crew sacrificed in speed, they made up in durability.”

Jack chuckles, “Well clearly they are going to need it. Don Quixote may be putting a lot more dents in that dink before we see them coming in smoothly.”

Julie laughs in agreement as Jack tells the camera, “Now let’s go to Steve who is monitoring the preliminaries for the Smooth Jybe @ 25 Knots.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Baja Ha Ha - Prelude

We Finally Haul Out
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The Ha Ha starts for many boats years before they actually leave their home port. The Conger Family has prepared for the Ha Ha for nearly three years. We always wanted to do this rally "for the kids." Our time in Canada sealed the deal for the adults as well. The Ha Ha is a quick and easy way to meet and greet a lot of cruisers. It's also a fantastic way to connect with other family boats.

Our Ha Ha socializing also began well before the event. We met our first Ha Ha bound boat cruising the west coast of Vancouver Island in August. At the time, we were not very diligent about writing stuff down so we promptly forgot their name and boat. It's embarrassing.

Emeryville in the Bay Area was a positive haven of Ha Ha boats. It helped that by September, the rally committee had sent out our cruising packages which included a Baja Ha Ha sky blue and white flag. By running this up the spreader, we were able to attract the attention of boats all over the marina. Because we had our good friends s/v Rubber Duckies, Excellent Adventure, and Totem to distract us, we didn't spend much time with Ha Ha'ers in Emeryville. However, ever since, it's been almost a default stance.

There was s/v Wish on the dock at KKMI. s/v Vindsong and s/v Sea Horse trapped with us in San Simeon. s/v VictoryCat on the hard here in San Diego. There was s/v Sirius Star -- a father and young daughter team looking for other kid boats -- and at every turn we hear about another family "desperately seeking kids." Dinners, movies, drinks, and long chit chats on the VHF quickly become the norm, with those bright blue and white banners waving an introduction from any distance.

But what consistently slows down our socialization is work work and more work. Three years of constant effort to make us ready to cross the border was apparently insufficient. We've been in the yard far more than we've been out during the past month. We've spent an obscene amount of money and the yard grime is ground into my heels so badly that I think the only way to restore their original pink color is to slice them off.

We are, however, all done with that. I don't know if our alternators will ever work correctly. I think that's an open question. We've now got folks who know what they are talking about saying we should strip the whole thing out and start over with a considerably more simple system. Okay. If that worked, I'd do it. If dancing naked on the beach singing Disney show tunes with a string of Christmas lights draped over my shoulders worked, I would do it. The good news is that everything else is ready to go.

SSB? Check
Outboard? Check
Autopilot? Check
Provisioning? Check
Paperwork? Check
Cat? Check
Haircut? Check
Engines? Check

So we head out for the Baja Ha Ha with only two things that hover over our boat like Damocles sword: those alternators for whom voodoo is apparently the strongest form of mechanical improvement option available and a complete lack of Mexican currency. The good news on that later is that with the peso plummeting along with the dollar, we don't expect folks to have any trouble taking dollars at our first port until we can get to a Mexican bank.

Good bye United States. I'll be back in a few years. Take care of yourself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Guest Post - Seattle to Emeryville

George at the Winch
George at the Winch
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Editor’s Note: George is my father in law. He cruised for nearly three years on his Valiant 40’ with his wife Nancy. We asked him to help us crew the boat from Neah Bay to San Francisco. He also joined us on the San Francisco to Santa Barbara leg. The following -- reprinted with permission -- was his account of our northern passage.

HEADLINE: Don Quixote Leaves Rain Soaked Liberal NW Tree Huggers Behind for Southern Sunshine and Adventure
on Sep 6 Sat 2008
by George Conger
Sep 6 Sat. Elliott Bay Marina Seattle to Neah Bay 11am. Non stop. Motor mostly. 1.5 hr sail near Admiralty Head. Pasta w red sauce.  78nmi covered 
Sep 7 Sun.Neah Bay 6 am. There are no alternators working. (Remember there are two on a catamaran) No electrical help available Neah Bay. What the heck! We don’t need no stinking alternator. Motor out to Cape Flattery. Nearby are a few rocks and then Tattosh Island and lighthouse. Sail between and out. Rocks to south look like Easter Island heads. Must have been impressive for first native peoples, at that time. Future casino site, they are thinking.
Sail at night on Bimini only 3.5 knots in 13 knot NW. It’s dark out here, cold, and we are doing things conservatively. I can’t remember if we are saving battery by hand steering or not. Ham potatos and veges. 93 nmi to Gray’s Harbor WA.
Sep 8 Mon. 2pm  Light conditions 12-20? In order to see what can be done about alternator problems we head for Grays Harbor. The entrance Bar is out beyond entrance. We barely noticed an increased size swell as we passed over it. Depth was 39 feet. This was at end of flood and at turn to ebb. Bar not a factor at all in these conditions. To Westport Marina. Into bay, turn right at second (wrong) entrance to harbor. Tie up Pier 6. Walk about trying to find a “marine’ electrican. We get one (sort of) he says “well we can take one off and take it to Aberdeen 20 miles away where they have real Marine equipment and facilities. Smaller harbor there, go figure.
Starboard alternator put on port side by dean, Port alternator ok, no fuse. Or was it Starboard alternator no working? Switch alternators back again. I am totally confused.
End “Reparis” result: 2 engines running 1 good alternator. One put back on starboard engine but not hooked up because no engine pulley to water pump belt. Need 3 pulleys to operate, at the moment anyway.
Don’t try to figure this out unless you have been on boats a lot or just missed your old mechanics school classes. Question remains, is it ok to use nylocks on engine or alternator. To be answered later, or now by email to dean.conger@ if you know the answer.
Pork Curry w rice (of course) and red wine. Your on deck, I am going to hit the bunk and savor that curry.
Crew Jason finishes first 24 hours of seasickness (it’s ok he does this everytime) and enjoys unique cure plus some Bonine. (he becomes a Bonine addict over the next 48 hrs)
Continue on at about 5pm. Just in time to run thru the Cargo ships exiting Columbia River at night.
Lesson in range lights on ships. Green or red helps if can see those tiny lights.
One passes in front. Another. He turns south. Another behind. Another towards coast estim 5-10 miles out. We are about 15miles out.
Sep 9 Tue. Winds up to 30 knots. Cape Blanco nearby. Hey, there is no propane. What? No hot cuisine? Jason (recovered) and I did not sign on for this! Mutiny looms it’s ugly head. Let’s go into Port Orford, OR. Anchor, moor, moor, yell and scream, anchor (no this is too close to the rocks), and finally anchor. Dean and Jason to shore w empty propane tanks and return with no local info/wisdom.
Off in 30 knots (what the hell, the weather guy said it would be the same for 3 days, worse, we believed  him) 30 knots to 32 knots, boy we are moving now. 35 knots. Hope that was just a gust. 15 minutes later 38 knots. Boy, some wind huh? 40 knots. Wait a minute, we are in a %*&^ gale! 42 knots. Goodby loved ones at home. Rise up 12 footer and get weather helmed to starboard, sideways to wave….Ease the sheets. Can’t, they are already eased. Put in 2 reefs. Can’t they are already in! Take in the cockpit windows and protection. Can’t. Might cause lift under dodger/bimimi. Ok, a little jib out please. What the hell, you want more sail up? Discussion ensues.
3 hours of terror running broad at 150 degs to wind and waves. Not enough terror to not eat pesto! Please pass a bowl up to the helm. Boy it was great.
Gale Pesto recipe: Olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, S and P, Ground Fresh basil over Tagliatelle. Presentation was not the focus. It looked great in a plastic bowl. Who’s to complain.
Magical stuff pesto, or pasta. When you eat it the world changes. Happiness ensues, Tummy full. Pleasant thoughts. The wind just dropped to 35 knots. Heavens to Mergatroid! Who would thought 35 knots was like a Sunday sail? Faces brighten. Is there any more Pesto? Whoa, we entered N Calif waters hrs. ago. Crescent Bay behind us. Trinidad Head behind. Eureka behind.
Sep 10 Wens. I dunno, a blurr. I wasn’t on watch. 
Sep 11 Pass Cape Mendocino? Lat 40 25’ 24N by 124 23’47W  Punta Gorda Light. Point Cabrillo light. Point Arena light.
Thu Motor south. Dean catches dead cormorant but keeps his dignity. Burial at sea.  It’s hereditary. Nancy caught a live Booby. No! Not me!
Sep 12 Fri Motor into Bodega Bay and Harbor for fuel and a little rest before Golden Gate and it’s activities and weather. Daylight trip tomorrow. Veg Soup. Delicious.
Sep 13 Sat. 4 am Toast and Jason motor out of Bodega Bay without getting stuck, lost, or confused. Strike last comment. Me-range lights? What range lights? All I see are red and green lights here and there. Was it red right returning and green out? Which green? There must be 10 of them...
Point Reyes 18 nmi. Motor.
Pt Reyes Light FIW 24 mi q 5 secs. Left turn to Bolinas Bay and chute N side of 24 fathom bank. How deep is it? Uh, 6 times 24 is 144 feet minimum. No breakers, swells or terror there today. Point Bonita light and Cove port side. Cargo container ships starboard side. Saturday boaters bouncing like rubber ducks in a bathtub.
Thru the gate. Pictures. Call everyone to internet the GG cameras. Dale calls via cell phone and replies, “Are you anywhere near a Cosco freighter?” Yes, it just passed south of us (about 5 times faster) and spoiled your view.  Sailboat races all over the bay. Spinnakers galore. Hallow luya! We have arrived.
Into port at Emeryville near the Bay Bridge and murdered Hell’s Angels leader. This must be near Oakland!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Long Shlep

It Doesn't Get Any Better
It Doesn't Get Much Better
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
There is only one way to see San Francisco; You must walk it. I lived in the Bay area while attending college for nearly five years. I’ve visited by car, train, bike, and foot. If you only have one day, in my opinion the best way to savor the city is The Long Shlep. Dress in layers, wear really comfortable shoes, and bring a big appetite.

Start by taking the BART to the Powell Street Station. When you come up from the station, you’ll be confronted with the city at it’s most bustling and busy. You’ll be tempted to take the Trolley as the fare station is right in front of you, but frankly, that’s for tourists. It costs a lot and you miss some of the most interesting bits of the city. Enjoy the view of the Trolley, take pictures as it goes by, and feel smug in your knowledge that you’re seeing the better bits without paying the extortionist fare.

Follow the trolley line north on Powell Street. This will take you through the commercial district, past a million tourist shops, and up to Nob Hill. From here, you will see spectacular views of the TransAmerica building and the Bay. Just past Nob Hill, drop east from the top of the hill on Clay to dive two or three blocks into Chinatown. Wander freely through this area marveling at the shops, restaurants, and commerce. If you start late, you might find this a good place to grab a dim sum lunch. I can’t recommend a restaurant since all the names are in Chinese. They are all absolutely terrifying from the outside; The food is always outstanding on the inside. Don’t think too hard about what you’ve accidentally eaten.

Make your way north on any street paralleling Powell through Chinatown. This will send you directly into North Beach. North Beach is to Italy what Chinatown is to China. The smells wafting out of the restaurants shift to pasta, sausage, fennel, garlic and onions. On Columbus is one of the ten best chocolate truffle makers in the country. Stop for a cafe or cocoa and truffles. My favorite is lemon but the girls were partial to cinnamon (Mera), hazelnut (Jaime), and coconut (Aeron).

Continue north until you hit Fisherman’s Wharf. There is only so much of this massively touristy street you can stomach, but a little bit is a lot of fun. You’re probably not hungry, which is good. The seafood here is excellent but very very expensive for small quantities. If you do choose to eat, get a place that lets you sit outside and watch the people go by. An fun stop in Fisherman’s tucked over to one side is the Musee Mechanique. This is a warehouse full of old amusement machines: pachinko, cinemascope, the original Pac Man. The collection is eclectic, but tremendously enjoyable. There is no charge to enter, but be prepared to drop a roll of quarters in the machines.

Now that we’ve hit the water, we start drifting westward towards the Golden Gate. You will pass through a series of historical landmarks, each offering their own attractions. First, you’ll see the Cannery. This monument has been converted into a shopping mall. If you like to shop, I recommend here or at the next stop -- Ghiradelli Square. At Ghiradelli, you need to at least enter the ice cream salon as you’ll get a free square of chocolate just for walking in the door. In the main dining area, you can watch the chocolate being made. You’d think you would be full, but good luck getting out the door without splitting a hot fudge sundae or picking up a pound of mixed chocolates.

Head for the water front and walk around San Francisco Maritime Historical Park. As a sailor, it’s hard to resist marveling at all the boats at anchor or on balls who managed to get themselves situated without the use of motors.

Up up UP the hill and over, you are now enjoying a bird’s eye view of the Marina District. As boaters, we now yawn a bit at the beauty of the marina and yacht club. Just how many boats can you see in one life without coming somewhat jaundiced. However, a walk down the small streets near Marina Blvd will reveal some of the most expensive and beautiful real estate in San Francisco. The long walk through this residential neighborhood is rewarded on the west end by the Palace of Fine Arts. Currently under renovation, you can not walk under it or through the park, but you can enjoy the view or visit the new Exploritorium.

Marina District
Marina District
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Do you have any energy left? If so, keep walking another mile and a half up the hill to the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a serious hike up a very long hill. Remember that you have to gain roughly 250 feet from the Marina District. From either a block from the Palace of Fine Arts or from the parking area at the end of the bridge, you finally get back on a bus back to your origin at the Powell Street Station.

The Long Shlep is 5.6 miles if you leave from the Palace, 7.2 if you start home from the Golden Gate. By the end of the day, you will feel as though you have truly seen San Francisco, enjoyed some amazing food, and started to fall in love with this wonderful city. I could spend weeks in San Francisco and never run out of things to do. But one spectacular day with my girls was enough for this trip.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

That Didn't Work

It's Always Something
It's Always Something
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
If Murphy owned a boat, he would have been considerably more pessimistic. Our haul out experience in San Francisco was not particularly successful.

PHASE 1: Select a Yard
Jason: You can haul a catamaran in Napa.
Napa Shipyard: That will be a jillion dollars, please.
Toast: Let’s go somewhere else. Ooo... Bay Marine will do it.
Don Quixote: Okay, whoppeeeee, I’ll take you to Bay Marine.
Bay Marine: What a beautiful boat! Tie up here. We’ll haul you as soon as you get done with our pricey and unhelpful electrician. (In fairness to Bay Marine, they were really helpful... except for their electrician.)
DrC: Where are the parts?
Toast: What parts?
DrC: The parts I ordered which are critical to us hauling out.
Toast: Oh. Those parts.
Seattle Parts Guy: OH! Those parts. You wanted THOSE parts. We back ordered those parts. They’ll be in Emeryville in two weeks. When did you want them?
DrC: I wanted them yesterday in Richmond.
Parts Guy: You can have them Thursday...
DrC: We’ll be gone by Wednesday.
Parts Guy: So sorry.
DrC: *deep sigh* Okay, send them to Sacramento. We’ll have our land contact forward them to a yard.
Bay Marine: Not hauling? Oh. Here’s your bill, what’s your hurry.

PHASE 2: Find a Mechanic
DrC: Let’s fix everything else over here at this yard where all the boats look like they dropped out of Sail magazine.
KKMI: Sure! Come on over! We’ve got your basic economy package. Tie up to this incredibly rickety dock with no water and power and we won’t even charge you! We also have expensive mechanics and electricians. But here’s the deal... ours know what they are talking about!
Don Quixote: Whoopppeee! I’ll move you 20 yards.
Girls: Why? What? Huh? Do we have to do school?
Ron the Electrical Guy: You wired the alternators wrong. See if you’d just followed these cryptic installation instructions you wouldn’t have burned out two alternators and 15 fuses. Yes those instructions -- the ones written by a complete dimwit possessing the IQ of a rock. The one Toast would have fired 15 minutes after delivering the first draft and that’s assuming she hired the illiterate to begin with.
DrC: Toast, I really think you should go into the business of rewriting boat gear manuals and selling them to cruisers on the side.
Toast: I’ll take that under consideration.

PHASE 3: Convince the Experts
DrC: So about this auto pilot... It’s the brain or the panel computer.
Toast: I think it’s a mechanical problem.
Kurt the Hydraulic Guy: It could be the pilot brain. Or an electrical problem.
Toast: No. It’s a mechanical problem.
DrC and Kurt in harmony: If we only had a brain.
Toast: NO. It’s. A. Mechanical. Problem.
Kurt: Hey! Look at this ball joint! It totally can’t move.
DrC: Oooo.....
Kurt: HEY! Look at these brushes in the motor. They are completely gone! The motor can’t operate.
DrC: Ooooo..... Toast, look at Kurt the Hydraulic Guy! He figured out our problem with the autopilot. You’re not going to believe this, but it’s a mechanical problem!

PHASE 4: Wait for the Mechanical Problem Parts
Toast: So how long to fix the brushes and the alternators?

KKMI Guys: Oh we can get you out of here by Thursday, maybe Friday.
Toast: Not Wednesday?
KKMI: Nope. Gotta build these babies from scratch. Love the French.
Toast: So we could have gotten the magic sail drive parts and hauled Thursday if we’d had them sent to Richmond?
DrC: Yep. Looks like it.
Toast: If we only had a brain.

PHASE 5: Find a New Yard
Toast: I’ll call every yard between here and the Mexican Border.
Long Beach: This boat’s too long.
Newport: This boat’s too tall.
Ventura: This boat’s too late.
Santa Barabara: This boat’s too fat.
San Diego: This boat is just right and we’re going to charge you three times more than the boat yard in San Francisco! And you’re just going to take it up the bank account because You Have No Choice! Isn’t that great! Aren’t you happy! We’ll throw in a paint job with really really bad paint for an extra $700 if you’d like. What day will you be here?

* *

The cure for the disease of Boat Envy is to spend a week trying to get one fixed. If you have a friend, relative, or spouse who needs a vaccination, just send them to live with us for awhile. We are highly contagious.