disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

13Dec/124

Rest In Peace, Alice

Alice, opinionated as usual

Alice, opinionated as usual

A few months ago, Miya and I adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten, named her Alice, and welcomed her into our home on the sea. A scant five weeks later, she became sick and ultimately died. We were devastated - it was incredible to us just how deeply she'd ingrained herself into our family and our hearts. This post is her memorial.

First though, the back-story - when we returned from our visits to Canada and the US, respectively, I found myself making the daily trek back and forth to the public library in the Teatro de la Ciudad (known on our boat as "the office") about ten or twelve blocks from the docks. One day I stumbled across a large-ish cage by the side of the road, containing a mother cat, six or seven tiny newborn kittens, a bowl of dry cat food and a litterbox. The cage was slightly out of the sun, but it was filthy and the mother cat was obviously malnourished, and even in the 36ºC heat (96.8ºF) there was no water in the water dish. I walked away, wondering about the situation - there was a veterinarian's office across the street, but it was clear that this cage full of kittens was not actively being taken care of.

I can only guess at the motivations there - Mexico takes a bit of a dim view on cats, as unlike dogs they do not offer any real work in exchange for food, and as such they're looked at as a luxury, or at the other end of the spectrum, a pest. Even as I write this, I know that when I walk home from the library today I will pass the flattened, dried corpse of a run-over kitten directly in front of a nice, well-appointed home - it has been there for weeks, and nobody has bothered to pick it up.

picking up Alice from the vet

picking up Alice from the vet

So why was this cage full of kittens shuffled off across the road, out of the way? I can only assume that they were letting nature take its course, to avoid having to care for seven kittens that may or may not have ever found homes. I stopped at the first store I came across, purchased a large bottle of water and returned to the cage, cleaning and filling the water dish. The skinny, dirty mother cat was incredibly affectionate, purring loudly and rubbing against me before attacking the fresh water with a fervour.

For the next few weeks I stopped in every few days, bringing water when the cats had none and noting sadly that the number of kittens in the cage was slowly dropping. At one point there were two kittens down - one obviously dead, with flies starting to swarm, and one passed out in the litterbox obviously too weak to move. I tried to tell myself that I was doing what I could for these animals - the cage they were in was a prison, but it also provided protection against the many roaming street dogs in the neighborhood, who would happily make a meal of the little guys given half a chance. Each visit, I hoped to see the kitten count unchanged, but the numbers continued to dwindle.

in the dinghy, coming home for the first time

in the dinghy, coming home for the first time

At some point we left for our visit to Wasteland Weekend in San Diego, and I told myself that if there were any alive when we returned, I would do whatever I could to provide a good home for at least one of them. The first day back at the office, I walked over to the usual spot... but the cage was gone! I looked around and noticed that it had been moved across the street, in front of the vet's office, and I went over to take a look. The cage had been cleaned up and the water and food dish was full, but there were only two kittens remaining - a grey-and-white one, and a black one. I made arrangements with the veterinarian to come and pick up the grey-and-white kitten the next day.

When I returned with Miya, hoping to surprise her with a new kitten, the grey-and-white kitten was gone, the vet had given it away to the very next customer. I was annoyed, but willing to take the last of the litter - but Miya was hesitant. We'd talked a lot about the folly of having pets aboard and agreed not to have pets until we live on land again someday, and so we left, kittenless. Over the next few hours, however, she gradually came around to the idea and the next day we went after work to pick up the new furry member of our family.

Alice immediately made  herself at home, and offered her opinions on everything and anything. We had attempted to make the boat a kitten-proof environment, but we soon found out that there would be nothing safe from her explorations or critiques. Take for example this video, in which Alice discovers the Dia de los Muertos decorations and promptly destroys them:

The next few weeks flew past at an alarming rate - Alice accompanied us on a trip north into the Sea of Cortez, bouncing between anchorages and finally coming to rest for a week just shy of Puerto Escondido in a quiet bay called Bahia Candeleras. She seemed to really enjoy boat life, spending time running around the decks or going below to nap during the rough, rocky portions. We slowly trained ourselves to look carefully before jumping down the stairs into the cabins, as Alice asserted her ownership of the boat by sleeping wherever she damned well pleased... which often meant the middle of the floor in whatever room she occupied.

a pirate's cat for me

a pirate's cat for me

It became clear that we'd taken Alice from her mother a little too early - certainly she was able to eat solid food and run around the boat. Still, we began to notice some behaviours that marked her as something of a unique cat... for one, she had no problem communicating her discontent vocally. Alice would make very well known her needs, howling in her tiny kitten voice for more food, or more attention, or less food, or less attention, or her will to be picked up and moved to a higher location, or a lower location, or... well, anything. She was incredibly vocal, and we quickly learned to distinguish between her cries for food over her cries for attention or assistance climbing the steeper set of stairs.

Another unique feature of Alice was her immediate recognition of the humans on the boat as other sentient beings, by making regular eye contact. I took this behaviour at such a young age to be a sign of intelligence, but I was later corrected by my friend Tom, who said that constant eye contact was another sign of her having been taken too early from her mother. Apparently eye contact is a taboo in cat society, and Alice had just not learned that. "Proper" or not, we enjoyed her eye contact and vocal communications greatly.

effective camouflage

in our bed, perfectly camouflaged

The less-welcome habit began a few weeks after she arrived on the boat - suddenly, as though a lightswitch had been thrown, Alice decided that she needed to nurse on us. No body part was safe - we'd awaken in the night to find Alice suckling on our necks, or arms, or ankles. We were as firm as possible in trying to curb this behaviour - it wasn't damaging or painful in any way but hey, creepy. Eventually Miya offered up her favourite ultra-soft blanket, and somehow Alice decided that this would be her new suckling target - the blanket went into a shoebox and Alice began sleeping in that shoebox almost exclusively. The suckling on our necks and arms stopped overnight.

The end came quietly and without warning. We had sailed to the Isla Espiritu Santo with our friends Tom and Dan, and there was an incident on a Thursday in which Alice discovered a wedge of 'Laughing Cow' spreadable cheese and absconded with it. She was chased down, and when we attempted to take the cheese from her, she flipped - she went completely feral, with gutteral growls and all four paws flailing like windmills with claws outstretched. Taking this tiny wolverine by the scruff of the neck, I dropped her in the kitchen sink and turned on the water - she was shocked, and immediately stopped fighting and dropped the cheese. Alice spent the next few hours cuddling up to us, as though trying to apologize for her horrible behaviour.

obligatory cat-on-the-keyboard shot

obligatory cat-on-the-keyboard shot

Days later, on the Saturday morning, she seemed somewhat lower-energy than usual. She wasn't yowling, but she seemed mostly normal, if a little tired... we let her go back to bed and went about our day. When we returned at 4pm however, she was noticeably weak and shaky, not at all herself. When Miya realized that her food bowl was at the same level, she asked when I'd last fed Alice... I hadn't fed her in two days, and neither had Miya, and so Alice hadn't eaten in at least a day, possibly more. Kittens need to eat about every three hours, so this was a very bad sign!

We took her immediately to the vet from whom we'd adopted, and the vet told us that Alice had some kind of blockage. She gave the kitten a suppository and told us to feed her canned tuna juice and a special energy gel for animals recovering from surgery, and to call her the next day if Alice hadn't gone to the bathroom yet. Unconvinced, we took Alice home. When we examined her litter box closely, we found traces of aluminum wrapper - could she have eaten a larger chunk of the foil cheese wrapper?

We watched her carefully, like fitful parents, trying to get her to eat tuna juice and the energy gel - but at around 10pm, Alice stood to walk to her litter box, made it a few steps and collapsed. We immediately got on the VHF radio and polled the fleet, looking for recommendations of a better veterinarian, someone who could help us in our emergency. A call came back; a strong recommendation of a young local veterinary surgeon with excellent english and modern education. We immediately called her, then jumped in a taxi.

sad kitten on the way to the first vet

sad kitten on the way to the first vet

The new vet was amazing, putting Alice immediately on an IV of saline and glucose and trying several procedures to assist with whatever was blocking her intestines. We stayed with her until after midnight, until the vet said there was nothing further to do but wait and see if the procedures would take effect. She offered to take Alice home with her for the night for observation, and let us know in the morning how things went.

We went home and slept fitfully, knowing that our kitten was in the best possible hands and wishing with all our might that she'd recover... but in the morning we were met with a the worst possible news. An email arrived at 9am, saying that Alice had had a terrible night, and that she was not expected to live through the morning. In the vet's opinion, she was now too weak to survive surgery, and as such she recommended euthanasia. With extremely heavy hearts, we discussed it and ultimately agreed.

Alice was perfect in her imperfections, and she made her way instantly into the hearts of any who encountered her, either in person or through Miya's and my regular Facebook blatherings. She was opinionated and audacious, and brave until the end. We were able to take her in from probable death on the streets of Mexico and give her everything a kitten could possibly hope for - but sadly, our time with her was cut far too short. In five short weeks Alice changed our lives for the better, and we miss her deeply.

goodbye, Alice - you were the perfect sea-gypsy kitten

goodbye, Alice - you were the perfect sea-gypsy kitten

4Dec/121

Catching Up, Part 4: Return to La Paz

Ok! Part four of updates, and then hopefully I can return to a more regular style of blog posts. I know I keep saying that. *sigh*. Without further ado:

gorgeous weather in La Paz

gorgeous weather in La Paz

The summer brought some intense weather shifts, including some of the first rain we'd seen since our arrival in La Paz in February - I guess I should have been tipped off by the cactuses and tumbleweeds, but the amount of precipitation here still took me by surprise. Once the season shifted into high summer however, the heat of the day combined with the extremely warm water (sometimes it would be 38º outside and the water would be 23º, warmer than most swimming pools!) made for some crazy meteorological events. We were treated with regular lightning storms and sudden shifts in wind speed and direction, not to mention a couple of hurricanes that narrowly missed us.

In this photo, a storm cell is crossing nearby to the south. At the time this photo was taken, the wind was blowing briskly towards the cell, but about five minutes afterwards the wind abruptly died and then within two minutes was blowing probably 40kn in the opposite direction! We were caught unprepared, and several items blew off the deck and I had to dash out in the RIB to retrieve them.

 

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

 While I was in Canada, I ordered a low-power Fit-PC3 computer to build into the walls of the TIE Fighter. The Fit-PC3 is a 12v-native computer very light on power consumption - set up with an internal SSD drive, it draws only  6w (1/2 an amp) at idle. I paired it with a two-terabyte external drive that automatically spins itself down when not in use, and am quite happy with the results.

Unforutnately, when I went to install the machine I didn't pay close enough attention to the polarity of the power supply, and hooked the power connection up backwards. Immediately there was a flash and a pop and suddenly the air was filled with the acrid smell of burning electronics.

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

Fortunately I'm no stranger to electronics repair, and with a bit of research and an email to the manufacturers of the Fit-PC3, I learned that the component that had exploded was a simple ferrite bead, meant solely to keep stray radio-frequency energy out of the computer. This bead is just a failsafe, sort of like a fuse, and I could just 'jump' over the section with a bit of wire for the time being. An hour or so with the soldering iron, and the computer lives.

...of course, that computer also now lives in a cupboard with a strong radio. I still need to track down a replacement ferrite, as I've seen three crashes so far when I've keyed up the mic on the ham radio on certain frequencies.

 

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

One morning as we left the boat in the RIB to go for coffee, we realized we'd forgotten something at the main boat so we turned around. When we arrived at the TIE Fighter, we found the boat swarming with bees! We estimated around 10,000 honeybees in the air around the boat.

Not knowing what to do, we went for coffee and solicited opinions from a few other cruisers, who brought to light one very important point that we somehow hadn't thought of... if the bees were to get inside the boat, they might not want to leave! We had to return to the boat immediately to close up the doors and windows, hoping that they hadn't already moved in.

 

the bees, landed

the bees, landed

When we arrived back at the boat, the bees had landed... but outside. The internet tells us that this means the queen bee is somewhere in the middle of the literal pile of bees on the boat. We figure they were stacked six or seven deep in this photo! Fortunately, they decided that the boat wouldn't make a great spot for a new hive, and within an hour or two of this photo they'd all moved on.

 

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

While I went back to my day job schedule, Miya undertook the massive task of painting the TIE Fighter's decks with anti-skid paint. We had collected a large pail full of white sand from a nearby beach, and then sifted and washed it, allowing it to dry overnight in the boatyard on a clean sheet of plywood. In the end though we decided that we'd get a better-looking result from "marmolina"; fine crushed white marble available at the local fereterias for about $0.50/kg.

 

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

The celebration of 16 de Septiembre (Mexico's Independance Day) came along, and rather than hole up in our little box on the ocean, Miya and I decided to brave the crowds and go see the fireworks display. The display lacked a certain... safety standard? that we had grown accustomed to in North America - the main celebration was in a town square flanked on three sides with two-story buildings, and the fireworks were launched from the roofs of those buildings, exploding directly over the square!

 

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

Our Honda EU2000i generator has given us incredibly reliable service for the past four years or so, but apparently one should not leave it for a Mexican summer with a third of a tank of gasoline... when I went to start it up for the first time in many months, it would not start. I quickly realized what the problem must be, and using this very well-written step-by-step howto, I tore the generator apart and cleaned the carburetor. Just like that, the little Honda purred back to life.

 

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

The heat of the summer was intense and constant, and often we had to spend the hottest portions of the day in the water just to maintain our sanity! The underside of the TIE Fighter made for a convenient gathering space, and using a series of ropes and floating toys and platforms we created a place of refuge from the afternoon sun.

In this photo Miya is swimming with one of the schools of fish that regularly gathered under the boat. Actually, if I go looking I bet I have a video that might show the situation a little better:

Crazy how you can see them avoiding the anchor line! We'd like to identify the species of fish, and then see about catching some for grilling or pickling.

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

Miya found an inflatable toy at one of the swap meets; three inflatable bladders joined at the center by a square of mesh, forming a floating recliner. This, paired with a Canadian Tire 'Party Platform' that we picked up on clearance just before leaving Canada in September 2011, formed the seating portion of the underwing. You can also see my Traynor TVM-10 cordless rechargeable guitar amplifier in the nets above, hooked up to an iPhone and playing appropriately chilled house music down into the watery tunnel.

flips off the TIE Fighter

flips off the TIE Fighter

Of course, with freshly-added antiskid on the topsides, the boat herself - having a good meter of freeboard - made an excellent water toy. Miya had only really learned to swim in the last year or so, but managed to learn to dive in one day!

 

 

She was so impressed with her diving that she decided to try her first-ever backflip off the boat also... to a little less success.

 

Mal serenading us on his banjo

Mal serenading us on his banjo

One of my absolute favourite parts about the cruising lifestyle is the willingness of the participants to pick up new musical instruments and throw themselves into learning. Our friend and neighbor Malcolm, an Australian vagabond living on 'Wind Pirate', picked up a banjo in a trade with another boater and within days was plucking away.

 

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

When we heard about the Wasteland Weekend festival in California, the idea immediately spoke to both of us - a four-day party in the desert, sort of  like Burning Man but more Mad Max themed, if that even sounds possible. With our Wilderness First Responder first aid certifications, we figured if they were interested in having us on as volunteer medics we'd kill a few birds with one stone; go on a road trip, pick up some much-needed supplies from the states, get some practical medical experience and go to a rad party! We rented a car and prepared to head out... but of course, what with it being hurricane season, a tropical storm had formed south of the peninsula and was threatening La Paz. We couldn't leave the boat unattended until we were sure that it wouldn't turn into a hurricane.

Fortunately, the system weakened, but not before dumping rain on southern Baja - and if you haven't seen what a major rainstorm does to a desert, it's a crazy thing indeed!

In this video, we have been stopped by a washout - the road in front of us has been replaced by a river of brown water flowing at a pretty fast clip. We watched as a compact car was swept a few feet sideways - but in the true spirit of "drive 'er like a rental", we decided to take the risk and we crossed. If you watch closely you can see water come up over the hood of the car at one point!

 

Wasteland Weekend 2012

Wasteland Weekend 2012

We arrived late to Wasteland Weekend but wasted no time whatsoever getting into the groove of things. Having come internationally we had no weapons to defend ourselves from the mutant / zombie uprising, and so we decided that we were clearly 'wasteland aristocracy' and as such had no reason to carry large weaponry of our own.

 

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

With this thought in mind it wasn't long before we ran into some kindred spirits, fellow patricians of the aftermath, with whom we shared libations and cheer. The Party Hard Corps crew are a fascinating group of partiers, gamers and drinkers from the midwest, who like us traveled to the desert for a few days of debauchery.

 

winning the archery competition

winning the archery competition

There were many (semi-)organized events, including robot battles and jugger matches, but the one event I was most looking forward to taking part in was the archery competition. The rules were fairly simple - scoring was based on points awarded for your five arrows to a mannequin about thirty paces down a range. I was relieved to find they had bows available for loan, as I hadn't owned my own bow in many years.

There were three divisions, for different sorts of bows: recurve, compound and crossbow. I can say proudly that out of about forty or so competitors, not only did I win the recurve division, but I also had the highest score over all three divisions - 28 out of a possible 30. The prize was a little disappointing however; a large black t-shirt. Not my size and I refuse to wear cotton t-shirts. In retrospect I should have taken the shirt and re-gifted it to one of the Party Hard Corps guys or something.

In case you're wondering, we did stop at an archery supply store in San Diego on the way back to Mexico, purchasing two bows so that we can practice on the beaches. At some point in our travels we met a guy who swore by iguana meat; as we get further south we're thinking maybe that might be a good source of free protein...

 

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

Our medical shift was Saturday night from 10pm until 4am - arguably the worst possible shift if your goal is solely to party, but we got enough of that in during the previous night and the Saturday afternoon, and as both the new jacks on the scene and late to the party to boot, we were happy to help out and glad to feel useful. We were surprised at how few emergencies there were, to be honest - the partygoers seemed to self-regulate very well, and aside from a few scalds from fire-show screwups and a few cuts and scrapes, we weren't actually very busy! There was always something going on, but we never felt overwhelmed.

 

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

After Wasteland Weekend, we had a couple of days to spend in San Diego - we slotted one of those days to provisioning and shopping, but the second day was spent touring the San Diego Zoo. This was something Miya had wanted to do ever since we left Vancouver but somehow we hadn't found the time during the two months we spent in San Diego back in December 2011. Many photos were taken, but surely if you'd like to see a photo of a giraffe you can find one on Google Image Search. 😉

 

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

After a long but uneventful drive back down the Baja Peninsula, we settled back into our routine by immediately having people over for another party. In this photo, Scott is demonstrating his ability to do a full split!

In the foreground of the photo, next to our friend Mike, is one of Miya's margueritas, made in the "proper Baja style". For a perfect Baja cruiser marguerita, combine:

  • one part decent tequila (100% agave only, José Cuervo is NOT acceptable!)
  • one part triple sec
  • one part freshly-squeezed lime juice

That's it; serve with ice cubes if you have them. Do not blend. Do not rim with salt. Do not use lime bar mix or Fresca. Do not add simple syrup. Mix and enjoy!

 

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

Whoops - we left the party platform deployed under the boat while we were in the states! When we pulled it up, the side-pockets were full of life. If you click on this photo, you can clearly see the large fish at the top, and several big, transparent, shrimp-like invertebrates swimming around in the captive pool.

 

the new addition to the family!

the new addition to the family!

There's a really sad story here - but before it was sad, it was a very happy story. We adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten and added her to our boat-gypsy family. I'll tell the story of little 'Alice' in another blog post.

 

zombie walk La Paz 2012

zombie walk La Paz 2012

It turns out that the 'Zombie Walk' phenomenon is wider-spread than we'd previously thought, and La Paz actually played host to an entire horror-themed film festival entitled 'Morbido La Paz'. There are few things that Miya and I like better than an excuse to get dressed up and silly, so we put together the best zombie costumes we could with our limited boat resources and shambled out into the town.

Best part: wandering around for at least an hour looking for the meet-up point for the zombie walk, soliciting help from the other boaters over the VHF radio and getting drastically contrasting reports of where to find the rest of the undead. Fortunately when we finally did find the other zombies, we found to our surprise that instead of the expected dozen or so fellow walkers/biters, we found a huge herd of probably two hundred! We moaned and shuffled our way through the night in search of cerebros...

 

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

One of the things we brought back to La Paz from San Diego was a long-coveted item - an icebox conversion kit which would turn our little built-in icebox into a proper refrigerator, complete with freezer! The kit cost an arm and a leg, and came as a box of parts and a series of cryptic instructions, including a bunch of crazy tool requirements. I had to track down someone in the boating community who would be willing to loan me an industrial vacuum pump and a set of refrigerator manifold gauges. As it turned out, none of the tools were far away and even though the build took much longer than expected, our friend Bill on s/v Wandering Puffin was a huge help in getting the system up and running.

Now, for the first time since moving aboard in 2009, we have the ability to store food for longer than a couple of days at a time! What a huge step forward... though admittedly so far my favourite use of the fridge is making ice cubes. Sill though - just because nothing in our world can ever be completely normal - the fact that our fridge is a top-loading icebox means that we're forced to use an expensive vertical ice cube tray.

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

One of the sad facts of cruising life is the realization that no matter how much you like your new friends, everyone is traveling, and sooner or later we all have to pull up the anchor and move on. This photo is of some of our friends from the summer; Malcolm and Lowell left on s/v Libertatia for California, arriving recently in San Francisco, and Mike and Nia left La Paz for Mazatlan in their boat s/v Azul, making it across the Sea of Cortez without incident... and without an engine!

Well, I think that pretty much brings us back up to current. More updates to come soon!

5Oct/121

Catching Up, Part 1: Pre-Boatyard

OK! So! It's been over six months since the last posting, and I'm finally just now finding myself with enough free time motivation to update the blog with what we've been up to. Miya and I just returned to La Paz after a month-and-a-half whirlwind "vacation" back to Oklahoma and Vancouver, respectively, culminating in a return to the Black Rock Desert for the incredible Burning Man Festival.

Regardless, we're back now and I haven't updated since March, so it's time to bring you up to speed about where we've been. There were four distinct chapters to the past six months: pre-boatyard, boatyard, post-boatyard and traveling back to the first world. I'll break these parts up into four pasts just to keep things logical.

So! Without further ado, here's some photos from the pre-boatyard chapter.

 

dehydrating fruits and veggies

dehydrating fruits and veggies

Miya picked up a food dehydrator online in San Diego and started drying fruits and vegetables. It's a lot of work, but the results are worth the efforts. Flashing forward a few months, Miya's mother actually bought me a hand-cranked apple peeler/slicer, which is something I'd been envying for a long time now, and Miya just dried the first batch of Red Delicious apple slices, which we've been eating all weekend.

 

another gorgeous sunset in La Paz

another gorgeous sunset in La Paz

La Paz certainly has no lack of natural beauty, and each evening we're treated to a spectacular sunset. It's gotten to the point that we're not easily impressed anymore, which is both amusing and sad; it's strange how quickly you can acclimatize to any situation, and no matter how otherwordly, sooner or later anything can become "normal".

 

Miya fishing near the Isla Espiritu Santo

Miya fishing near the Isla Espiritu Santo

We did manage to pull ourselves away from La Paz for a few days, and spent an amazing ten days or so living in anchorages on the Islas Espirtu Santo and Paritida, just north of La Paz. Uninhabited, the islands are beautiful rocky deserts surrounded by blue waters teeming with fish. Here Miya is pulling in one of her trolling lines - the colors above her are the woven hammock we found in La Paz.

 

dinner acquired!

dinner acquired!

Aside from trolling from the TIE Fighter when we're underway, Miya also enjoys trolling behind the inflatable dinghy when we're exploring, and in this case she landed some sort of fish that we have never managed bothered to identify. Is it a bonita? Who knows! It was delicious.

 

another sunset, from an anchorage on the Isla Espiritu Santo

another sunset, from an anchorage on the Isla Espiritu Santo

Certainly sunsets at anchor in the city are beautiful, but they've got nothing on sunsets in (nearly) empty anchorages out on the islands! This was taken in the northernmost anchorage on Isla Partida. Not shown is the 35kn winds that picked up after midnight - we had a 15kg 'Delta' anchor down, but I jumped into the dinghy in the pitch black night to kedge out a second anchor just in case... we're able to anchor the TIE Fighter very close to the shore due to her shallow one-meter draft, but when the wind picks up the rocky shoreline starts to look terribly dangerous...

 

the anchorage in daylight

the anchorage in daylight

The anchorage on Isla Partida in the daytime - nowhere near as scary in the daytime!! Funny how howling winds and pitch black with no moon can turn even the prettiest tropical anchorage into a scary place. Here we could swim to shore and hike up into the hills, which were riddled with sandstone caves, some of which showed signs of being inhabited hundreds of years ago.

 

dinner with greens from our garden

dinner with greens from our garden

Summertime brought excellent growth to the garden, and Miya explored the local grocers to feed us with the best things she could find... here is avocado, tuna, eggs, potatoes and peppers served on green lettuce from the garden.

 

another round with the dehydrator

another round with the dehydrator

Nothing quite like harnessing the sun to help with food production!

(sure, that's what I like best about this photo... the dehydrator... right...)

 

I... well... joined a volleyball team.

I... well... joined a volleyball team.

Leading up to "Bay Fest 2012", a call would regularly come over the VHF radio - "Volleyball practice today, 5pm, no experience necessary!". Back when I was a young pup I enjoyed beach volleyball every summer at camp, so it wasn't too great a stretch to think I might enjoy it again. Despite not having volleyed, bumped or spiked in well over twenty years, I got back into the routine very quickly and greatly enjoyed the activity.

 

Miya as the demonstration-babe for a safety seminar

Miya as the demonstration-babe for a safety seminar

During Bay Fest, one of the seminars was put on by our friends Rob from s/v Keetya-1 and Will from s/v Shaman - they enlisted Miya to help with their "Safety Aloft" session, teaching us the basics of working safely on a mast.

 

our friends Tim and Meredith from s/v Luckiest, and Jody from Avatar

our friends Tim and Meredith from s/v Luckiest, and Jody from s/v Avatar

The end of Bay Fest was a big costume party blowout, but very few of our new friends had costumes - this wasn't a problem, as both Miya and I travel with a big tickle-trunk of costumes each. We were able to costume Tim and Meredith from s/v Luckiest, though Jody from s/v Avatar already had his own costume planned out.

...and that brings us up to the 2012 haulout, which I will have to present as another blog post.

 

5Mar/1210

Delicious Ham

"TIE Fighter, TIE Fighter, Estrallita."

"Estrallita, TIE Fighter, go two-one, over?"

I have to say, one of the things I've been enjoying most about La Paz is the active community of sailors monitoring and communicating on their VHF radios. Most of the boats have their radios on listening to channel 22 full time, and there is a popular radio net every morning, giving updates on weather, tides, lost and found, boat arrivals and departures, local news, swaps and trades and more. Seeing how effectively it creates a bond among the sailors in the harbour, I think if I were back in Vancouver I would try to encourage a local False Creek radio net.

the navigation table on TIE Fighter

the navigation-slash-comms table on TIE Fighter

The great thing about VHF is that the hardware is cheap and easy to use - the downside is that the functional range of the VHF signal is somewhat low. The signal can go a lot further, from land-based transmitters or larger installations, but for a ship at sea you get about ten kilometres and that's it.

That's where higher-power radios come in; on the TIE Fighter I've recently (finally!) finished a long, expensive ham radio install. Since then I've linked the radio with my laptop, and have been able to use it to send and receive emails from sea and update our current position with the WinLink.org tracking site. Through the emails I've also been able to have weather reports and even up-to-the-minute satellite images sent to me, giving us a view of what's happening over the horizon and letting us know what to expect during those stressful nights at sea when the winds just won't stop building.

It's not like data over ham radio is a new concept, though admittedly the number of active hams has been somewhat in decline for the past twenty years and the interest in packet radio doubly so. Ham radio in general has been picking up a little lately, probably in part due to more and more people taking interest in emergency preparedness and doomsday scenarios - nobody really seems to have a land-line telephone anymore, and if there's a big earthquake or natural disaster of some type, history shows us that the cellphone networks cannot be relied upon. Still, the concept of linking ham radio with the internet has fallen somewhat, due to cheap, fast and ubiquitous internet access. I have not been able as of yet to get a straight TCP/IP connection to the internet over the radio; I've only been able to send and receive messages.

my grandfather, 'Marconi' Moe Smith

my grandfather, 'Marconi' Moe Smith

For what it's worth, ham radio is apparently in my blood! Two of my uncles are active hams, and my grandfather on my mother's side was the Chief Engineer of CBC Radio for many years. "Marconi" Moe Smith was responsible for the design and construction of the huge Radio Canada International 500,000-watt curtain array antenna, broadcasting CBC radio international - to most of the planet - from Sackville, New Brunswick.

It took me thirty years to finally take the plunge and get my ham license, but when I took a certification class with the Bluewater Cruising Association I found myself slapping my forehead in disbelief at the parallels. I have been a certified pocket-protector computer nerd since a very young age, dabbled in homebrew electronics and spent countless hours in front of a bank of analogue synthesizers, all of which contributed to me receiving an honours grade on my ham radio exam.

For the ham radio install, I chose an Icom IC-7000 radio - I considered the Icom IC-706, but I figured if I'm only going to buy the one radio, I should buy one with ample room to grow and features geared towards using the radio specifically for data. In retrospect I'm not sure I gained much going with the newer model, but I'm not dissatisfied with my decision. For a tuner, I was recommended the SGC-230 Smartuner over the matched Icom AT-180, because the SGC-230 can be used with any radio, not just the Icom, and I figured that might come in handy someday if I upgrade (or otherwise destroy) my IC-7000. On other recommendations, I also added a marine voltage booster and a tuner interface device to make the radio and tuner work together even smoother.

attaching the new backstay, insulator visible against my foot

attaching the new backstay, insulator visible against my foot

For the antenna itself, I had a secondary, non-structural backstay constructed by Ed at Sailing Supply in San Diego. The 3/16" stainless backstay is somewhat overkill, given that it will never see any serious loads, but at least it's nice to know that it's there in case my main backstay ever breaks, and I don't have to worry about my main backstay losing strength from being cut to add the insulators.

Lastly, I had to add a radio-frequency ground - this is similar to an electrical ground, but for radio-frequency energy. Normally on a sailboat you would connect the RF ground to a series of copper straps that are eventually bound to the huge chunk of metal in the keel, but with TIE Fighter not having a keel I had a bit of a problem on my hands. I would have to add a lot of copper strapping, creating a counterpoise of a few hundred square feet - and with the price of copper currently through the roof, I wasn't looking forward to dropping hundreds of dollars on copper alone.

I had a recommendation of a new kind of counterpoise, a "KISS-SSB" - apparently a thick rubber hose with over 600 feet of carefully-sized wires inside. It was about a hundred bucks, so I figured I would gamble and give it a shot before forking over for the copper ground. It worked, though I'm not entirely satisfied with the results... I think the real goal of the KISS-SSB is to provide a counterpoise very specific to the small number of frequencies used for Marine-SSB, not the enormous spectrum available to ham radio. I've been experiencing a lot of RF feedback in the signal and in the other electronics on the TIE Fighter - everything I read says that this is because my antenna tuner is not properly grounded.

RF grounding for marine radio, as it turns out, is a huge can of worms with many fiercely-defended opinions. I've got a few lines out to experts, and I think the next step will be to try replacing the KISS ground with a thick copper wire going to the bolts holding my propellor-shaft strut to the bottom of the boat - it's one of the very few metal items that make contact with seawater. If the information in this PDF is accurate, I should be able to get away with it - otherwise, I might have to drop the money for copper strapping.

the vmware desktop running various ham radio software

the vmware desktop running various ham radio software

Once all of the parts were installed (including a new VHF radio, a Standard Horizon Matrix AIS+ hurriedly purchased in Sausalito when our previous VHF quietly died the day we were leaving for San Diego) in a newly stained, varnished wood panel, we left offshore for two weeks, giving me a lot of time to spend bent awkwardly over the nav table fiddling with the radio dials. Within a couple of days I had figured out enough to get into Winlink and start sending and receiving emails, which made the trip down feel immensely less isolated. I don't think I've welcomed email from friends and family as much as I did on that trip since my first internet emails almost twenty years ago.

The grand overall cost of the radio equipment and installation was somewhere around $3,000. I was careful to select components that are modular enough that I could migrate the system to another boat or to a land-based station in the future, and I feel like I've succeeded in making the setup somewhat "future-proof". Admittedly I could have spent a third of that on a satellite phone and had $2000 leftover to spend on a data plan, but I don't feel like a satellite phone would give me the same sense of being a part of a global community as the ham radio has.

Arguably our most important guiding tenet on this boating adventure is to actively strive to be as self-sustained as possible. It would be difficult to call ourselves self-sustained while paying a monthly phone bill to a satellite service! Now that the ham radio is installed, the bills have been paid and the licenses acquired, we're free to use it for the rest of our lives without any further fees - communicating from virtually anywhere in the world, using power that we generated from the wind and the sun. That's a good feeling.

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!