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.