disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

29Feb/128

La Paz, At Last!

Ok! Hopefully this will be the last big photo-dump update for a while and I'll be able to get back on track with regular updates - but really, how many times have I said that before? I do take a great deal of pleasure in having this adventure online, but at some point the adventures have to be simply enjoyed without worrying too much about documentation.

On January 29th, a solid two days before we'd be legally in the doghouse with US Customs for overstaying our welcome in the United States (well, technically only I would be in trouble, Miya is American), we left San Diego harbour, turned left and headed for Ensenada.

On to the photos!

Miya hoisting the yellow quarantine flag prior to crossing the border

Miya hoisting the yellow quarantine flag prior to crossing the border

The yellow flag, flown at the top of the flag halyard on the starboard spreader, represents the letter 'Q', which, flown alone with no other signal flags, signifies 'quarantine'. The quarantine flag is flown when crossing a border, to let the governing bodies know that the vessel has not yet cleared customs for that country but does intend to.

 

sunset as we cross the border into Mexico

sunset as we cross the border into Mexico

We left San Diego in the afternoon, and we figure we crossed the border just as the sun set. We had excellent weather and a beautiful moon for most of the trip down.

 

hula hoops and coffee

hula hoops and coffee

What a stark difference over sailing down the Oregon coast! The water was a startling sapphire blue and the mornings were warm and sunny.

 

pulling into Ensenada

pulling into Ensenada

Arriving in Ensenada late at night - apparently no matter how we plan our trip we seem to be completely unable to arrive at our destination during daylight hours - we followed the instructions of our guidebooks and anchored "inside the breakwater". In the morning we discovered we were anchored near the navy base, so we quickly pulled anchor and headed further into the harbour to find the sailing docks, just past the cruise ship terminal.

 

raising the Mexican courtesy flag!

raising the Mexican courtesy flag!

Customs was a bit of an adventure, but with our careful organization of documents and rudimentary knowledge of spanish (and a great deal of help from the Downwind Marine Cruising Guide), we made it through in about three hours of standing in various lines.

The courtesy flag (in this case the Mexican flag) is a show of respect to the country that a yacht is visiting - it's usually followed by personal colours, in this case an American flag because Miya is American, and then by club colours, in this case the almost-destroyed Bluewater Cruising Association burgee.

 

Miya with her latest catch

Miya with her latest catch

Miya set her lines every day - three lines, one per person on the boat, each of us having purchased a Mexican fishing license - and was finally successful in catching what was either a skipjack tuna or a bonita, we're not entirely sure. It was delicious, if a little bit oily.

Within a day or so of this catch, we found ourselves looking down off the side of the boat at a five-foot mako shark! The shark swam up to the boat, turned on its side, looked up at us for a moment and then swam off again. When Miya pulled up her lines later, all three were missing their lures and her downrigger/diver thing had a few deep scratches where it had been attacked by something with sharp teeth!

 

life offshore

life offshore

Sailing settled into an easy rhythm, with everyone getting ample sleep and the weather (mostly) cooperating. Our main problem during the long sunny days was a lack of wind - we had to be satisfied with trundling along at 2-3 knots.

Let me say that again: we spent days at a time on our 1200km sailing trip travelling at approximately 5km per hour.

It quickly becomes obvious that sailing is for people who love sailing, not for people who are in a hurry to get somewhere!

 

ghetto downwind rigging

ghetto downwind rigging

After a time, we realized that we could optimize our downwind sailing by dropping the staysail, switching the headsail to the 150 genoa and "poling it out" to fly the main and headsail in a wing-on-wing configuration. Unfortunately, we do not have a spinnaker pole! We improvised with our boathook as seen in this photo, but the collapsible boathook pole kept... collapsing. Eventually we tried an oar instead, and it worked very well - though we're shopping for a used spinnaker pole now, as a very large percentage of sailing in the trade winds is downwind sailing. In the photo you can also see us using a snatch block and the staysail sheet winch to pull the sail downward, giving us much better control over trim.

 

Miya with the dead whale

Miya with the dead whale

This photo represents an adventure! Miya heard about the Laguna Ojo de Liebre on the internet, and we made plans to visit the lagoon on our way south. We pulled into the large bay that houses the lagoon late one night, and shortly after I got up for my midnight watch we encountered our first squall of the voyage, with winds gusting to... oh, I have no idea, our wind instruments have never worked properly. Suffice to say we required a double reef in the main, and we were still doing eight knots under just the main and staysail.

The squall was a northerly, and the lagoon was to the south - when we went to enter the long, shallow mouth of the lagoon we found ourselves swiftly approaching sand dunes, surfing down steep three-meter breaking waves. We broke our all-time speed record, hitting 15kn, before realizing that if one of those waves were to cause us to dig an ama bow into the sand the entire trip would come to an abrupt end. We quickly turned around and headed back out into the open bay.

In that bay, we saw something floating off in the distance, and I was curious so I took us on a fifteen-minute detour out to find out what that something was. It turned out to be a dead, bloated grey whale, which Miya found endlessly fascinating. The whale was blowing a steady stream of some sort of decay-gas from its mouth, and as it bobbed up and down in the small waves the gasses would alternately hiss into the air and bubble into the ocean.

 

shower time!

shower time!

Once back out into the open ocean, the water took on that unreal deep sapphire blue hue again, and we all took advantage of the warm, clear water to jump in with a handful of shampoo and get ourselves clean. With a pair of swim fins, it's surprisingly easy to keep up with a sailboat travelling at about 2kn, even with both hands occupied with shampoo.

 

Miya trimming my hair

Miya trimming my hair

By this time it was almost three months since my last haircut, so we figured it was time to let Miya have a go at it. She's performed probably thirty haircuts before, so I wasn't that worried - and besides, even if it was botched utterly it would just be an excuse to give myself a nice, easy-to-maintain buzz cut.

She did a fine job - arguably one of my best haircuts of the past few years.

 

a friendly visitor

a friendly visitor

Just after breakfast one morning, Miya called me up on deck excitedly - a sea turtle was swimming along behind the boat, apparently following the thick white fishing lines. The turtle came closer and closer to the boat, eventually seeming to play in the slipstream of the main hull - it stayed with us for probably an hour, coming close enough for us to look it in the eyes and have a lovely conversation about fishing. Miya named her 'Marguerite'.

I took a video of the turtle, and Miya posted it to her YouTube account.

 

20kn winds near Cabo San Lucas

20kn winds near Cabo San Lucas

Finally, as we rounded the tip of the Baja Peninsula, we saw some reasonable winds! We estimated around 20kn, and rather than start putting in reefs and taking down the headsail, we decided that it would be nice to "open her up a little", and we spent most of the afternoon flying past Cabo at between 7.5 and 9.5 knots, splashing through whitecaps in the Mexican sunshine.

 

jumping waves near La Paz

jumping waves near La Paz

After rounding the peninsula, we had about 12h of good winds to ride north to La Paz - but then the winds shifted, and we spent the next day trying to beat our way northwest into northwesterly winds, gaining little ground. We were running low on fuel, so we couldn't just motor the whole way - luckily we had time, so the next day or so we sailed to weather as best we could, with the winds taunting us, switching between "utterly dead" and "decent but in the exact opposite direction from what we'd like, regardless of our current tack".

Finally, we had had enough - I looked at the fuel tank and decided that we had enough fuel to make it into La Paz by nightfall, and so we turned directly into the wind and motored for the next eight hours. The wind had been blowing steadily from that direction for at least a day, so the wind waves had built up quite a bit, and we were motoring right into them. We discovered at this point that if we harnessed ourselves in and went to stand at the absolute tip of the bow, the bow would dive down into the wave trough and then leap eight or nine feet straight up with the next wave! We all had a few turns; it was a fun diversion for an otherwise gruelling day.

 

a giant moth found in the sink

a giant moth found in the sink

The closer we got to land, the more Mexico started to show up in the boat. This was a giant moth that was found sleeping in the sink drain the last morning before arriving in La Paz. It was huge!

 

Miya's garden starting to grow

Miya's garden starting to grow

On the long trip down from San Diego, Miya's garden began to thrive! Her carrots, broccoli, spinach and lettuce all sprouted, and the chives and parsley came up soon after. Combine all of those with her regular sprouting of a 'salad mix' of sprouting seeds, a 2kg bag of which she found on the internet, and her new sprout-in-a-towel technique for her micro greens, and we've got a very solid influx of green leafy things in our diet.

 

breakfast in La Paz

breakfast in La Paz

Finally we arrived in La Paz - we anchored out near the 'Magote', which as far as we can tell means "sand bar" (upon which someone decided it a wise choice to build timeshare condominiums; the mind boggles). The air is warm, the water is blue, and we're settling in for a month or so while we get used to living in Mexico.

And that, my friends, brings me nearly up to date. The reality is that we've been here in La Paz for almost two weeks, and we've had a few adventures already, but at least I'm writing about the same country now. More to come, soon I hope, and with more regularity!

 

 

 

 

10Aug/110

Adventure Time!

Drew and Miya, pirates at large

pirates at large!

Lately it's been difficult to find time to post here on the blog, as things have been moving forward at a fantastic (or even alarming) rate. It has come to my attention that I haven't even posted about the moving-forward Plan, and a deadline is approaching fast!

One major change: Miya and I have gotten back together.  Though at times we're at odds with one another our bond is fierce and beautiful, and we'll face the upcoming years shoulder-to-shoulder. She will soon be again living full-time on the boat.

So! Without further ado, the Plan:

  • Stop being a directionless cubicle drone
  • Purchase and move onto a sailboat
  • Live aboard in Vancouver
  • Make the boat offshore-ready - almost complete
  • Sail south until the water gets warm
  • Continue sailing with no destination or schedule until it stops being fun.

Obviously with a plan this grand in scale, there has been constant hustle on both of our parts, sorting out the remaining ties to the land, legal considerations, health and dental priorities, and of course continuing to repair and upgrade the s/v TIE Fighter to a point where she'll be stable and strong on a long offshore voyage. I've come to terms with the fact that the boat will never be "finished", but we're almost to the point of "good enough".

There have been many jobs on my list for the past few months, and slowly but surely they're being finished. All of the major jobs fall under one or more of three major categories, which are, in order of priority:

  1. Ensure the boat is safe,
  2. Ensure the boat is sustainable, and
  3. Ensure the boat is comfortable.
electrical system ongoing

electrical system, now with solar

One job which I have nearly completed is the addition of two massive solar panels to the roof of the aft cabin - well, I have nearly completed it, anyhow.  The wiring is all in place, the solar charge controller is mounted and configured and the system is tested and active... but the panels aren't yet mounted on the boat itself. I still have to figure out how to properly attach them, and the hardware available just isn't up to the kind of abuse the ocean tends to throw at things! Hopefully this weekend I'll be able to sort that out, and with around 20a of current flowing into the batteries on sunny days we shouldn't have to run the generator anywhere near as often anymore.  This both removes a point of failure (the generator could die, leaving us without power) and adds to the boat's sustainability.

Another job which has yet to begin is the installation of a watermaker. While not critical, in the strictest sense, the watermaker will remove our need for constant connections to the shore for fresh water. Here in Canada that just means motoring up to a nearby marina for 300l of fresh water from the city supply, but elsewhere that might mean getting tainted water, or more likely having to purchase water in disposable plastic jugs - either way leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

Miya, apart from all of the stresses of packing up a life on land to pursue a life on the ocean, has been working to make the boat a more beautiful place to live.  She's converted the spartan master and crew berth situation into what she calls the "master nest" and the "guest nest", lined with blankets and pillows and hung with silks like some Afghani tent. She's crafted curtains for the windows and a privacy curtain for the head, and begun sprouting miscellaneous seeds in the kitchen. Together we built a box across the back of the aft cabin, housing eight large plastic bins, in which we will eventually plant a garden full of green leafy vegetables.

a Searunner (not TIE Fighter) close-hauled near Hawaii

a Searunner (not TIE Fighter) close-hauled near Hawaii

There are projects that won't be finished before we leave; the boat still has bare exposed ceilings, for instance, and rough uncarpeted floors. Some of the paint from last years' intense labour in the Shelter Island boatyards has chosen not to stick to the primer, and there are ugly scuffs and scrapes and chips around that make us wince to see them.  The anchor line is still tied to a cleat at the bow, retrieved hand-over-hand instead of a proper windlass and bow roller, and the edges of the bow have been worn through the fiberglass down to the bare wood underneath in several large patches.

Still, most of the remaining projects are cosmetic, and the vast majority of the critical tasks are already complete. The resounding chorus of cruising sailors remains "just go". There are plenty of sailors who spend their lives getting ready for a great adventure only to discover that they've waited too long and now they're made fast to the shore by family or work obligations. There are no projects left on the TIE Fighter than cannot be completed at some marina in Mexico, probably for significantly less than they'd be up here.

Our planned leave date is September 12th, 2011.

15Sep/094

Breakfast!

One of the biggest challenges to moving onboard has been feeding myself.  I'm no fan of junk food, but more days than I care to admit I find myself rowing to shore and biking up to Cambie and Broadway for a slice of pizza instead of trying to sort out some sort of decent home-cooked meal.

So why is it such a challenge?  Well for one, I don't technically have a refrigerator.  I do have an icebox about the size of a bar fridge, and I can purchase a block of ice for $2 nearby - but the irregularity of the ice supply at the store, combined with my slackful demeanor and busy social calendar, adds up to a box that isn't often cold.  There's ways around this of course, and longer-term I hope to install a small fridge - though that will have to come well after I replace the electrical system, as it currently barely supports the power drain of my running lights, much less an always-on, power-hungry appliance!

I have also been cooking pretty much exclusively on a single-burner Coleman propane camping stove.  I do have a large diesel stove with an oven, but it takes a good fifteen minutes to get started and heated up, and being a proper stove it heats the cabin very effectively - I will certainly be using the stove in the winter, but for summertime it's proven to be much quicker (and far more comfortable!) to just light the small propane burner to make my coffee.  One unexpected side-effect of cooking over fire: I've had to replace all of my cheap non-stick cookware with stainless steel.  I was hesitant to do this until I figured out that cleaning steel pots is trivial if you use steel scouring pads; now I want everything to be steel!

Boat food: dried, preserved and canned

Boat food: dried, preserved and canned

Food-wise I've taken a lot of inspiration from memories of my friend Jake's farmhouse as a kid; specifically the large family pantry with big glass jars filled with dried fruit, rice, flour, pastas and other dry goods.  I've populated my pantry with foods that can last a long time, or foods that could feasibly withstand a soaking in saltwater should something terrible occur, like canned goods.  I've purchased many large, airtight plastic containers, and have begun buying most of my basic foodstuffs in bulk.  I've actually really been enjoying the return to more 'traditional' kitchen values, and I know I'm not alone in this; several times this fall I've been gifted with preserves packaged by friends, from foods they've grown in their gardens or prepared from scratch.

Despite the challenges I've found many workarounds, and while I'm still not very good at cooking lunch or dinner, I feel I've honed my breakfast-making skills to a keen edge.  My two best dishes are apple-blueberry buckwheat pancakes - usually reserved for days when I have a guest for breakfast - and oatmeal.

I've been cooking oatmeal for myself for a while now, pretty much since moving aboard.  My old 'default' breakfast was a high-protein, low-carb frittata; a handful of spinach, a dollop of fresh salsa and a cup of liquid egg whites, microwaved for three minutes on high and served with a dash of hot sauce.  I loved this breakfast, but the real benefit (ie. speed of preparation) is lost when you don't have a microwave.  "Quick" oats are fast and easy and tasty and filling, but it wasn't until I switched over to steel-cut oats that my oatmeal breakfast really got going.

So without further ado, here is my recipe for a wholesome, healthy breakfast without the use of a refrigerator:

In a stainless steel saucepot, combine:

  • one small handful(*) of steel-cut oats
  • one small handful of quinoa
  • one small handful of raisins
  • one small handful of dried cranberries
  • one small handful of dried blueberries
  • one small handful of dried cherries
  • one small handful of mixed almonds and cashews
  • one midsize handful of ground flax seed
  • several shakes from a shaker of ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • a cup and a half or so of water - as much as you think should be in there, then another half-cup for good measure

Cooking instructions: put the pot on a Coleman propane burner, stirring occasionally, and boil until it looks like oatmeal.  Usually takes ten to fifteen minutes to complete.

(*: American readers, I'm referring to a metric handful, not an imperial handful.)

Mmmm, steel-cut oats!

Steel-cut oatmeal! OM NOM NOM NOM

The real glory of this recipe is the quinoa - I have become a huge fan of this grain!  When I was cooking with regular or "quick" oats, the oatmeal would be finished cooking within a few minutes, nowhere near long enough for quinoa to properly cook.  Since the steel-cut oats take ten to fifteen minutes, there's enough time for the quinoa, which adds a huge amount of nutrients and makes this pretty much a perfect meal.  Bonus: the longer cooking time stews the dried fruit, extracting the flavour into the oatmeal.

As a final bonus, serve the oatmeal with a liberal drizzling of molasses.  I've been using molasses for pretty much all my sweetening needs, be it breakfast, coffee, or a snack with peanut butter and soft, fresh bread - and to top it off, check out the label on the side of the molasses container: DO NOT REFRIGERATE.  Sweet.

Damn, now I'm hungry again.