May 30, 2010

Your Average Family

 We were all out for pizza, four boat families, eight kids, the conversation ranging from mini vans, to home decor, to the oil spill—when it hit me—we are utterly ordinary.

This may not seem like that much of an insight. After all, every cruising family we’ve ever met, including ourselves, has gone to great lengths to convince friends and family that moving aboard a boat, yanking kids out of their lives, leaving secure jobs and a loving community, just so we could cut the dock lines and go off in search of adventure, is a perfectly sane thing to do. In fact--we’ve probably all pointed out--there are lots and lots of rational, ordinary people out cruising. Families who are just as normal and average as the ones we went to play groups and birthday parties with.

The thing is--none of us really believes this.

Sailing lore is filled with stories of larger than life characters: People from the fringes of society who do outrageous things and have exceptional adventures. The stereotypical image of a cruiser more closely resembles a character who might populate a Carl Hiaasen novel, than a mini-van driving soccer mom.

But the reality of the modern cruising family is that there is often a mini-van (or some other sensible four-door sedan with an excellent safety rating) lurking not too far in the past. And that living and travelling on a boat is pretty much as crazy as it gets.

I’ve got to admit, I was a bit disappointed with my epiphany. The last time we were out cruising, the anchorages seemed to be filled with those slightly offbeat characters--ones who were busy dancing to their own sound tracks. And while out shopping the other day, I was thinking about how much I miss those people; the ones whose thoughts aren’t contained by boxes and whose dreams aren’t limited by common sense. I was thinking that I missed them because without a few of them floating nearby, life seems sort of boring.

Then I ran into the father from a boat we’d met earlier on our trip in front of the dairy section. We were both thrilled that the Tillamook butter was not only in stock, but on sale. While we each grabbed a few packages I asked if they had recently changed their boat name. I explained we’d heard their voices on the radio, but not recognized the new boat name they were using.

“We’re on the run,” he told me. And as we rolled our carts through the aisles, debating Chilean versus Argentine wines and exchanging recipe ideas for our favourite Mexican brands, he cheerfully told a story of misunderstandings and miscommunications that had put his family of four on the lamb. “It’ll be fine though,” he said, “we’ll sort things out.” But until they do, they’re laying low and using fake names.

Concern for their well-being aside, his story made me strangely happy. And it made me decide to listen more carefully to the other boat parents when they tell their stories. Maybe all those mini vans are simply camouflage. And maybe each and every one of them is a little bit extraordinary and slightly odd...   

May 27, 2010

Epoxy work in the heat

A technical post from Evan

I use epoxy with a medium hardener.  This works well in BC but not so good in Mexico. 

According to the supplier, a 100 gram volume will gel (start to thicken fast) in 35 minutes, at 24°C (~ 9AM temperatures around here).  I've been making up batches of about 200 g.  Then I add fillers.  Both will make the epoxy cure faster.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minute.

You know the epoxy is starting to go when the stuff coming out of the mixing tub gets runnier (as it heats up it gets less viscous).  Then it starts to get REALLY REALLY HOT.  Like burn your fingers through latex gloves hot.  Like strong language hot.  So I start to panic and slather it on faster and faster, so as to not waste the expensive goo.  And I burn myself more.  Then I run into the cockpit and put the now literally smoking tub of epoxy outside to fume and vent.

Thankfully today I finished the last epoxy work for the starboard water tank.  Whew and yay!

Gotta get some slower hardener and a bit more resin on our trip back to Canada/US.  I buy my epoxy from  It's lots cheaper than West system and offers a better mix ratio (2:1).  Less chance of mixing errors that way.  Good material properties and no amine blush that West always seems to get.  I've used about 20 gallons of it on our boat building project and recommend it.  Disclaimer:  I sell some of the boat plans at but don't get anything for mentioning their products!

May 25, 2010

Want a 24' Diameter Sea Anchor?

We made the trade locally, so the Sea Anchor is gone.

Under Cover

You can always recognize a boat that has spent some time in the tropics by its sun awnings. I’m not talking abut your basic canvas bimini, but rather a series of awnings and shade cloths that make a boat look like it’s wearing a burkha…

The goal is to cover the boat—shading every hatch and swath of deck from the sun. The difference this makes to liveability is immense. Good awnings can lower the internal temperature of your boat by several degrees Celsius, and when daytime temps are topping 40°C—having the boat 5° cooler goes a long way…
The challenge is finding a way to suspend these awnings in an easy way—there are times when you need to get them down FAST. Usually at 3am, in the dark…
Also, because every boat has a different layout, no single awning system is universal. Every single one is a custom effort—making them awfully expensive to have them made professionally. We know one boat that spent more than 8k on canvas coverings—and considered it a bargain…
Because most cruisers are on a budget, most of the sun awnings are cobbled together as need arises. We started with our bimini, which we had made in La Cruz. Then added a few Ikea awnings to cover the hulls and then added shade cloth to screen in the aft part of the cockpit.
No doubt we’ll keep adding cloth as the summer heats up, eventually we’ll be unrecognizable—but hopefully cool.

May 24, 2010

To Do Mañana…

 Yesterday we headed into town with a list of seven things we needed to do. Then we spent much of the day walking—searching for this and looking for that. But when the day was over our list still had a bunch of things left on it. Plus a few new things we thought of while out.

Part of it’s our own fault. We’re pretty bad at getting going first thing, so by the time we got to town it was lunch time, which meant we needed to stop and eat. And by the time we were done lunch it was nearly time for siesta: that chunk of time from 1-3, or 2-4, or even 11-4:30 when the shops close.

And it was hot, well over 100°F hot, so we had to stop for ice cream and strategize over which order to hit the shops once they opened again. But the thing is, not every shop reopens after siesta. It’s one of those things that depends. On what? I’m not really sure. 

So yesterday we managed three out of the seven things on our list—then we gave up and went to a beachside palapa for margaritas. In the scheme of Mexico, getting almost half a list finished is actually not half bad. But it means we need to head back out today: with four of yesterday’s to do items and three new ones we added.

You see where this is going don’t you? By the time we actually get everything checked off our list we’ll either know every ice cream shop and palapa bar in town, or we’ll just stop caring about getting things done. After all, we can do it mañana...

May 19, 2010

Bird Watching

You and I might see the limitation, but Charlie just sees the possibility

May 16, 2010

La Paused

Call it harbour suck, or being stuck, or life. But we’re anchored in La Paz. Still.
 This isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s mostly good. There are a half-dozen kid boats here and Maia is enjoying a rich social life. And, for the first time, the girls are out numbering the boys. The kids have got a routine down. School or chores in the morning, then they meet at the playground at Club Cruceros in the afternoon. Throw in a sleepover, a beach clean-up day and a few other activities--and from the perspective of the under ten set, life is grand.

While the kids are doing kid stuff, the adults are doing all the things you’d expect them to do in-the-last-chance-for-civilization before four months of islands, beaches and more islands. Basically, we’re fixing stuff. And in Evan’s case it’s him we’re trying to mend.

He did one of those missteps that are awfully easy in the land with no smooth pavement and sprained his ankle. Which means he’s been the parent sitting in the shade, watching the kids play, while everyone else works. It’s an important role. But it means we still lack one water tank, haven’t quite got a functioning scuba compressor and have a few other items that need to be checked off before we head out.
 On the good side of the scale it’s giving me a chance to knock off a few deadlines, so that when we do finally get back out there I can savour the life of an unemployed bum with way too much time on my hands, I mean a cruiser, for at least a few days. Before the projects start again.

May 14, 2010

Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season

The Eastern Pacific Hurricane season starts tomorrow (May 15) and pretty much on schedule the weather report shows a tropical wave has formed. For those who asked, we are indeed spending the summer in a hurricane zone, and as the water heats up (and the season heats up) we'll be making our way north to more protected harbours.

 Historical hurricane tracks-August
This time of year hurricanes don't tend to make it up this way. There have only been two unnamed tropical storms through the area in June. The Baja's earliest Tropical Cyclone was TS Calvine on July 8th, 1993. And the earliest hurricane to make landfall was Hurricane Doreen on August 15, 1977.
 It's September and October we need to watch out for. This is when the water in the Sea has really warmed up and the the jet stream has dropped well down into Baja Sur. By mid-September storm watching will become an important part of our schedule.
The good news (for us) is most hurricane activity happens around Baja Sur. But last year's Hurricane Jimena
reminded us not to take the whole hurricane thing too lightly.

May 11, 2010


 I've alluded to the fact I have kind of a cool job. Aside from living on and cruising our boat, I also work as a freelance writer. While this occasionally puts me in really sucky situations (which is where the freelancer mantra 'bad for me, good for the story' comes from), much of the time my life is just a little bit charmed.

Antigua Sailing Week should have been one of the charmed experiences. But, well, 'bad for me, good for the story' sometimes turns into, 'this sucks but I  need to get the freaking story anyway.'
One of my only tourist shots is of a sail loft, yup, I'm a geek.
Which is why I don't have many pictures of Antigua. Actually, I never planned to take more than a few personal snapshots. My magazine sent me with the most amazing photographer, Paul Wyeth (Look for me in the back row-and check his link below and see me sailing on Brian Thompson's boat) but because, well, most of the trip really, really sucked (except for the rockstar sailing and meeting the awesome editor from Sail, David Schmidt) my pictures are more limited than planned.
Somewhere, over there, is our boat. The problem is it was faster than us. We were low on gas. And the boat didn't know it was being chased...
Paul is at the mast, taking pictures of Brian Thompson, who is on helm. For my story. I'm, umm, in a chase boat. Chasing my story.
In fact, my photos are limited to the day when David and I needed to finangle ourselves a chase boat, so we could chase down our race boat before the race started, because it left without us. The story about why we weren't on it when it left is one of those journalistic tales best left untold (but it did include a stoner journalist, a defective alarm clock and a PR team that should be doing something very, very different their lives...). It's better if you all have an unsullied view of what it is writers do, just enjoy the pretty pictures and wait for the magazine to come out.
We really don't sell our souls to get the story--unless we have to.

Paul Wyeth : Marine Photography
(I'm in the middle)

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Just before we hauled out the other day, we pulled up the anchor--like always. And found this: a knot. For the uninitiated to anchoring, knots are not something normally found in an anchoring chain. You see, to anchor, you drop the anchor, then as you go in reverse you pay out anchor chain (the rode). The result should be knot free.

The difference is we're in La Paz: home to the famous La Paz Waltz. The Waltz is caused by a combination of wind against tide, which can make boats do any number of odd things--from sailing in slow circles, to drifting sideways at a great rate, to spinning in quick circles. What the Waltz typically doesn't cause is knots. Technically the whole knot thing shouldn't be possible.

So how do you think we got it?

Best answer shared in our comments section will earn travel writer swag. Seriously. When we get back to Vancouver in July I'll offload something from my acquired swag stash--I may even let you choose.

May 7, 2010

The Hard Life

 I realized this morning that the last time I lived on the hard on a boat was when Maia was 13 months old. Back then, going up and down a ladder with a toddler, who wanted to do it, “all by myself”, added a special element of terror to the experience. The time before that, I was seven months pregnant, and that wasn’t much fun either.

It’s still not fun.

Boats aren’t meant to sit up in the air. And no matter how much they might need that annual maintenance (which this time was put off for nearly three years…) the hard life, is, well, hard. Not only are you living life on a bit of a tilt, and going up and down a ladder and across a boat yard every time you need access to things that flush, but boat yards are not clean places—they’re actually quite filthy. And the people who spend time in boat yards are really not the kind of people you want influencing impressionable eight-year olds—there were more Spanish swear words flying around yesterday than I knew existed...

The reason for the swearing was our haul out on the marine railway probably didn’t go as planned. In fact, I’m almost certain the fact that the boat lost steering immediately after picking the crew who were securing us to the rail car caused some concern. I know I yelled.

The problem is Mexican hand signals. I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but they can be confusing. Come here, can look an awful lot like ‘get the hell out of here, death is imminent’. Even the signal to cross the road seems a bit ambivalent, it sort of looks like ‘sure, go, maybe, or not.’

So when we headed into the marine railway, there were several groups of workers who seemed to wave us away, then wave us back, then wave us one way and then the other. Meanwhile as we tried to sort out what we needed to do Evan spun and reversed, and spun the boat some more--all while in a narrow, current filled channel. Finally we realized we needed to pick up some of the boatyard workers before driving into the railway car. The pickup worked okay initially, and then it didn’t. With no warning, our engine went wonky and the boat stopped spinning and reversing on command and the next thing I knew the crew were jumping overboard.

Happily rather than swimming off in fear from our boat with no steering, they had a go at manoeuvring us into the railway car: pushing us in sideways and backward, while swimming. Amazingly the technique worked. And we’re here. And Evan has a small fix to make on the motor.

May 1, 2010

Don't drink the water continued

After tearing into the water tank, I discovered - blech.  Rot, and lots of it.  The tank has 4 internal baffles, considerable overkill for a 7' long tank.  Each one of the baffles had a cleat on top to support the tank top.  And each baffle was starting to show signs of moisture damage.  The cleats (a 1"x1") were mostly spongy and totally soaked.  Obviously they hadn't been coated with enough epoxy because the baffles themselves were in much better shape, but all wet.

The suction point for the tank is not quite at the bottom - Maia and I had to bail out the few gallons left after the pump sucked dry.  

Then we find this mess (at both ends of the tank).  These end bulkheads keeps the water in the tank  - and these were very spongy.  I'm surprised they weren't leaking.  The solution is to tear away all the old rotten or spongy wood and apply a plywood doubler patch over the squishy area.  Then coat liberally with several coats of epoxy.  It has to be multiple coats to make sure no pinhole leaks occur.

Out comes my favorite tools for this endeavour - a 1" chisel and a hammer.  It allows you to (carefully) peel off the tabbing from the wood baffles and the hull without damaging the underlying laminate.  It is also a lot less messy than an angle grinder.  If I was working on this tank with nobody aboard the angle grinder would have come out, I would have tented off the rest of the boat with plastic in the work area and had at it.  But we are living aboard and the noise, inevitable glass dust escaping, and general unpleasantness of grinding glass means the slower chisel is the way to go.  I got good enough by the end that I was peeling off strips of mat tabbing a foot long.  
The hull internal laminate is in good shape by the way - a few osmotic type bubbles but nothing to worry about really.

You can see the white patches of mat where the baffles were located.  Each baffle took about 2 hours to totally clean off.  New baffles are sitting on the foredeck with the first couple coats of epoxy on them.  Di is coming home tomorrow.  Better keep at it...