November 30, 2010

Keeping Warm

no one sat in the central gazebo when last night's chilly wind blew

We’re past the ‘barefoot in the sand’ season. It’s still lovely and warm during the day—shorts weather really, but at night it’s cool enough that we need a blanket on our bed. And at night, when the northerlies are blowing, it’s cold enough that even the malecon loses its appeal. Last night we even fired up the heater.

Happily--after having our fill of outside activities all year—we don’t mind heading inside for a bit. Especially because the warmth inside comes not just from windows and doors—but from new friends.
sharing my birthday with the folks from Endurance

Guaymas is an interesting place to be as far as cruising friends go. It has some of the largest, safest and closest to the US boat yards found in Mexico—so cruisers here are a cross section of those who are just starting (or in one case still shopping), those who are finishing up and getting ready to sell their boats and those who are returning from a hiatus.

Being around so many people who are at different stages in their journey is both a privilege and an education. We get to share both the dreams and the memories, answer the questions and learn new lessons. It also makes us really appreciate the place we’re at—that we’re proud of what we’ve done but excited that there is still so much more to come.

November 29, 2010


the bus to Empalme

Evan has been head down in our bilge—turning the ex-water tank into storage, while I’ve been sending off stories and drumming up new work. Maia’s been content—working on writing a biography about an explorer who got lost and sorting through her toy cupboard for things to donate. But I can’t say that any of us have been having fun per se…

We treat the dock days in our cruising life as work days. If we’re going to spend money for the convenience of being in a marina we try to get as much done as we possibly can-which means that unless there are other kids on the dock, Maia doesn’t get much play time.
 But not only are we off the dock now, but a new boat with two little girls arrived. We had heard about Endurance from our friends on Savannah—and when we saw a new boat enter the anchorage on Thanksgiving morning, I think Maia may have decided her Thanksgiving dreams had come true.
Maia, Trinidad and Sammy perform Pippi Longstocking
 Three kids manage to find fun without any help from adults and after getting to know each other over a shared bottle of whipped cream at the potluck—they planned a week’s worth of activity. There would be a theatre production, a sleepover, a visit to the midway that has taken up residence on shore, some exploring and a whole lot of just plain play.
Those old metal slides get hot in the sun--but the old playgrounds still have plenty of merit

Giggles are contagious. 
And happily the three cheery little girls didn’t think three big playmates would spoil their adventurous fun. So for a few days we put down the tools, ignored the to-do lists, averted our eyes from any messes and played.

And played.

Adopted Sea Turtle

Ana Luisa being released in October

Today is my birthday—always a popular celebration in our family. And Maia made this year’s birthday even more special by choosing a gift for me that brought tears to my eyes.

She adopted a Sea of Cortez black turtle in my name through Maia and Evan went to a conservation lecture a week ago and learned what is being done in the Sea. They learned that there are a lot of people working very hard, with little or no money, to study and save the creatures and places we fell in love with this summer.

One effort that is happening is an effort to track and monitor both sea turtles and whale sharks. Maia chose me a black sea turtle called “Ana Luisa” who was named for the woman who gave the lecture they attended.
I can track Ana Luisa-and maybe even wave when we sail past
Ana Luisa was captured as part of the turtle monitoring of the Reserva Biosfera Isla San Pedro Martír (RBISPM). Fishermen from Bahía de Kino captured her last month and after having her vitals checked by an onboard monitoring team she was released a few hours later with a satellite transmitter to better understand how juvenile black turtles use the Sea. This project is supported by CONANP, COBI, GTC, Prescott College, NOAA Fisheries and Alliance, WWF and Telcel.

November 26, 2010

Doubly Thankful

 Boat ovens (especially our boat oven) aren’t very big. This became very apparent yesterday as Evan and I negotiated baking time and oven space allotments. If we both had our dishes prepared in advance and didn’t wait until the very last minute to make the pie pastry for example (and discover then that flour needed replacing because it was a little more organic looking than is acceptable …) it probably would have come together just fine. But as it happened—the time for the giant Thanksgiving potluck arrived and we were still cooking. So I began fretting.
 As Canadians, we celebrated our Thanksgiving over a month ago. It’s a holiday I really love: slowing down to savour a meal and the year—and just spend the day being grateful. What we missed in our little celebration six weeks ago were our family and close friends. For so many of our Thanksgivings we’ve been surrounded by the people who mean the most to us—our family by birth and choice.

I got to ponder this as our food cooked slowly and the 50 plus people I was to share several turkeys and hams with gathered on shore. For the most part we’ve only known these folks for a short time—a few weeks, and in some cases a few hours. I wondered if this would make the Thanksgiving ritual a little hollow (especially because as I mentioned before, only a handful of us are actually American…) And I worried I’d have no one to talk to and would simply eat too much, while thinking too much about the people I’d rather be with.
this is a special life for kids--especially because there is always someone there to help fill a plate with dessert
 But then we arrived and space was made for us in this circle of people. Names were learned and stories were shared. I discovered who was ending their cruise and who was just beginning; who were planning to travel great distances and who plans to stay in Mexico.
kids don't need any help in figuring out how to make the most of a new friendship
And I was reminded again of one of the magical elements of cruising—that despite our differences in age, nationality, beliefs and experiences we share a commonality that makes for a special camaraderie. Maybe some of the people we’ve met in our weeks here will be folded into the fabric of our lives rather than left behind and forgotten. And maybe not—but as I watched Maia and the other kids seize the moments of friendship offered and shared, I stopped holding back.
 Being grateful isn’t about perfectly prepared food or gathering just the right crowd—it’s about grabbing every moment with both hands and our entire heart.
So thanks to Phil Perkins on Mannasea and Sharon on Castaway who organized the event and all those who attended yesterday’s lovely meal.
And Happy Thanksgiving.

November 24, 2010

Planning for Christmas

"Dear Santa, You might remember me from last year. I'm the little kid on a boat who is sailing around the world?"

 Maia is working on Christmas cards and Christmas letters today. We want to pop them in the mail before heading out of Guaymas. We've actually decided on a destination for Christmas. For a variety of reasons we're not heading south as quickly as we first planned. So Ceilydh is going to go Christmas caroling in La Paz this year.

For the past hour we've been debating the options for our Christmas destination, but it was the happy memory of getting mail at Club Cruceros when we were cruising 15 years ago that really sold us on the little Baja city. So for friends and family (and any random strangers who want to surprise a homesick little girl with a Christmas greeting) we can receive letter mail or *very* small packages at this address:

Maia Selkirk
S/V Ceilydh
Apdo. Postal 366
La Paz, CP 23000, BCS, Mexico

Expect things to take 2-4 weeks to arrive. Roughly about the same amount of time it will take us to get there…

November 23, 2010

Watching the Weather

We left the dock yesterday. Somehow every time we do that, it feels like a bit of a milestone. Which I guess it is. We now have a functioning head, a new water tank, a few more freshly painted bulkheads, several clean lockers and a myriad of other little tasks completed.
A grib file showing a norther blowing down the Sea of Cortez
 The next step is to decide where to go next and then wait for the right weather window to get there.

We’re actually not in a huge hurry to head south—even though it’s getting cooler (I had to wear socks and close the hatches last night). But the season up here is winding down. The anchorage has dropped from a high of eight boats to two, and the marina and boat yard are both emptying out. There is still a really nice group of people here though and the marina is throwing us a Thanksgiving party on Thursday. Which is sort of ironic considering about 75% of the boats here are either Canadian, or some other non-US nationality…

Despite the longer than expected stay in Guaymas and the fact we had zero expectations for the city, we’ve consistently enjoyed our time here more than any other period so far.

Part of it has been the endless celebrations. There have been so many that when it came to the lovely parade commemorating the 1910 revolution on the morning of November 20, we only watched it in passing--admiring a few of the floats as we headed up to the movie theatre to catch the new Harry Potter movie on opening weekend. I think I enjoyed the post-parade period more than the parade itself. There was something vaguely surreal about watching everyone wander through town doing errands—still dressed in period costumes and sporting bandoliers and toy rifles.

I’m not entirely sure what else accounts for our contentment. But a big part of it is we feel no pressure to be anywhere else. That realization brings another epiphany: the understanding that other than the dictates of weather and season it’s been our own impatience that’s made us miserable at times.

So here we are—happy to be in Guaymas, but ready to carry on. So we’ll watch the weather and wait for a good moment to head out of the harbour and go.

November 22, 2010

Failed Chainplate--for folks who like the close up shots...

When an okay looking chainplate like this one....
has a crack like this hidden in the rusty areas or under the fittings,
you can end up with something that looks like this.

Which results in this very unhappy looking experience.

November 21, 2010


Thankfully—not us.
But whenever a wounded boat limps into harbour, every boater tends to pause and imagine the what-ifs…
The story of this trimaran is a bit of a sad one. The boat is owned by a long-time Baja sailor. He decided that this was the year to sell it. He’s got a place on land. And as everyone knows, boats are a heck of a lot of work--especially if you’re a single hander on a budget and your boat is getting on in years.

Enter the family with a dream and a pile of cash in hand.

Old plywood trimarans are a favourite within a subset of sailors--mainly because they’re cheap do-it-yourself craft that (if you get lucky and get a good one) can jumpstart you into the cruising life.

The trick with buying a cheap DIY boat though is to go into the deal with your eyes wide open. Unfortunately a lot of people who buy the cheap boats are actually people trying to buy the cruising dream with out paying the full price and without a full concept of what it really takes. And in the case of this boat, the family that came to buy it decided to save money by not having the boat surveyed. The fellow buying the boat felt he knew enough about boats to survey it himself.
 There are places to save money with a boat--but most people agree the survey isn't one. I know some very skilled and hugely knowledgeable boaters who would never survey a boat for themselves. It's too fraught. You're too emotionally involved right from the outset. It's too easy to overlook the obvious when you want a deal to work out.
one of the chainplates--at least two have cracks like this

But sometimes Neptune looks out for innocents. Because the owner put off sealing the deal. He wanted one last sail on his old boat before he decided if he was really ready to part with it.

So they all set out this morning. They were headed on an overnight passage to Escondido. Once they got in he would sell her. But five miles out the wind piped up. The old boat was making seven-eight knots. Then the starboard shroud chainplate came apart and the mast came down.

Fortunately it happened close to shore—before they hit the larger seas and stronger winds. And before night fell. No one was hurt and with careful actions they saved the sails. Happily the singlehander wasn’t on his own, and luckily for the family their nest egg and sailing dream isn’t currently in pieces.

But hurt boats suck.

Los Tianguis Empalme—the Sunday Market

  While Guaymas has a Walmart, Sam’s Club and several other large grocery stores, this is still very much a market/bartering culture. We’d heard about the Sunday market in Empalme from a few other boaters (especially the one boater who scored some excellent new Patagonia shorts for $1). Called a tianguis, vendors at these open air markets sell new and second hand merchandise, fresh fruit and veggies, cheese and local honey.
 This morning we headed by bus with the folks on Sea Turtle to the tianguis in Empalme (a small town about 15 minutes away, at the southern end of the Guaymas basin). The Empalme market is huge. It took us a solid 2 hours to get from one end to the other – and we still missed most of the side streets that branched off.
 Initially I found the experience of ploughing through mounds of stuff overwhelming—but when I found my first pair of REI shorts (tags still on and in my size) for ten pesos (< $1) I was hooked. From that moment, the hunt was on. Searching through what must be the equivalent of a half dozen huge second hand stores we found Maia brand new shoes and a bunch of new clothes and Evan got several pairs of shorts and a shirt—and the damage was less than $15.
 Beyond clothes, we could have easily stocked up on power tools, toys and household appliances, not to mention Christmas decorations, CD’s and cleaning products. But it’s still really odd to consider buying a washing machine or sectional couch from street vender…
I do wish I had bought some of the honey though, and some of the coconut candy that I love so much. I guess if we’re still around next Sunday we’ll have to go back. You never know quite what you might find…

November 18, 2010

A (soft) bow padeye--Technical cat stuff

Our boat didn't come with any strong bow padeyes for an anchoring bridle.  We use a couple of spinnaker blocks for our bridle.  But they have a couple of drawbacks:  the blocks use chainplates that are not oriented the correct direction for an anchor bridle loads, and they are on the outboard side of the hulls, so the bridle chafes the hull a bit.  So we need a strong connection point on the inside of each hull.  It would be great if this was strong enough for our parachute sea anchor as well, and the existing spin block chainplates would be nowhere near strong enough for that.

I've noticed that older production cats often are missing these too, but newer ones are starting to incorporate them into the boat, usually at the ends of the forward cross beam.  I would be wary of using some of them for a parachute sea anchor though.  Most don't appear robust enough.  For ordinary anchoring bridles they should be o.k.

I could just go the easy way and get a couple of very high strength s.s. padeyes, add some internal fiberglass reinforcing to the bow and call it good.  But these padeyes are costly (> $100 each).  They also concentrate the load in a fairly small area which is not good for cored construction since there is no existing high strength core in that area.  It would be better to spread the load a bit.  And that's what the soft padeye design is designed to do.  The drawing below tells the story pretty well, but a bit of background in order.

The design load should be greater than the breaking strength of the 5/8" double braid nylon sea anchor rode, or about 15,000 lbs.  I will use a 1/4" spectra rope lashing for the connection to a bridle.  6 turns of 1/4" spectra have a breaking strength of around 44,000 lbs if you don't use knots on the loaded portion.  A lashing with a number of half hitches keeps the loaded part knot-free.  I'm sure I wouldn't get close to a 44,000 lb strength, but I'm also sure it will be stronger than the anchor rode too.

To secure the lashing inside the boat, a 6" length of aluminum pipe is used.  These are sometimes called "dogbones".  This gives the spectra a nice big radius to go around and spreads the load over a bigger section of hull.  The inside of the bow will have extra glass reinforcement added in the load bearing area.  Then I'll use a bit of grp pipe I have to protect the core and prevent any localized compression failure.  I'll also use a bit of round grp cover plate glued on the outside to spread any shear loads into the hull skin.

On a racing sailboat I'd just bodge a whole bunch of silicon caulking into the fibers of the rope and the opening and accept a bit of inevitable leakage.  I'll try that first, but if it leaks too much I'll probably fabricate a very light grp box to contain the leaks with a drain hole at the bottom.

Any questions?  Want me to design one for your boat? (Click on the picture for a better size drawing)

Is Mexico Safe?

 It probably shouldn’t surprise me so much—but a lot of the comments I’ve gotten about our life in Mexico this past year have had nothing to do with the incredible wildlife, or beautiful landscape, or even learning Spanish— but instead with whether a latent death wish is a requirement for sailing south of the border. Typically the comments come from people who haven’t delved beyond the hype and hysteria of headlines and are as likely to spend a vacation in Iraq as in Mexico. But enough of them come from people who would probably really enjoy Mexico that I thought I would share what I’ve learned.

Putting the headlines in context:
Mexico is clearly facing security challenge as the government grapples with the drug cartels. But this is not a country in the throws of a nation-wide violent war. Mexico's murder rate has actually been falling. The National Public Security System reports that in 2008, the murder rate was 12 people per 100,000. But in 1997, that number was 17. And most of these murders are concentrated in Mexico’s most dangerous locations: Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Monterrey and Cuernavaca. Murder rates among average citizens continue to fall.

And because I tend to like looking up stats I can also tell you that Mexico's congress pegged the national crime rate at 1,248 violent crimes per 100,000 in 2007. There is no arguing that this is high — the average U.S. rate was 467 per 100,000 that same year. But parts of the United States are just as violent or worse; Detroit, Michigan’s rate was 2,289 per 100,000, while the big city we used to live near, Baltimore, came in at 1,631.

Looking at a map:
Mexico is a huge country that covers 758,449 sq mi—making it about 1/5 the size of the US. So reports of drug-related violence in Ciudad Juarez don't mean you're at risk in Cancun or Cabo. In fact both Cancun and Cabo (along with pretty much every other area popular with tourists (except Acapulco) are among the safest places in Mexico—and statistics indicate they’re often safer than similarly sized US cities. To put this in context, does knowing that Memphis has one of the highest violent crime rates in the US keep people from visiting Yosemite, or even Graceland?

We’re not the targets:
We’ve all heard the stories about innocent bystanders being hurt. But considering the surge in crime has been fueled almost entirely by a turf war over the lucrative trade channels that funnel drugs from South America into the US (Mexico itself isn't a big producer), the targets are rival drug dealers, police, political figures, and wealthy businessmen and their families. Foreign victims are usually caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Out of the more than 1.2 million Canadian tourists who visited Mexico in 2007, the Canadian Consulate received 97 requests for assistance related to arrests, 22 requests related to assault, 23 related to deaths and 117 for medical assistance.

Traveling Smart:
From a purely personal perspective, I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere we’ve traveled in Mexico. We use public transit, go out at night and often walk long distances through unfamiliar places. We’ve also crossed the border at both Tijuana and Nogales several times this year and have been impressed by Mexico’s rigorous security precautions.

We’ve found Mexicans to be friendly, hospitable and helpful. But we also know there are dangerous places—we’re skipping Mexico City for now, and when we reach Acapulco we’ll be cautious about where we travel. We also take basic sensible precautions: not driving long distances at night, not wearing flashy jewelry, avoiding protests… That sort of thing

Don’t take my word for it, but also don’t get your info from the headlines. The US State Department has an excellent section on Mexico—which is kept up to date and highlights dangerous areas. Canada's strikes me as a bit more sensationalized and doesn't highlight the safe from unsafe as clearly but it also has good info. 

November 17, 2010

Something to Wine About

 I’ve mentioned (okay whined about) the lack of good wine available in Mexico a few times on this blog. While I’m not a serious oenophile—I do love wine with dinner. The problem with the vino in Mexico is multifaceted and goes back to the beginnings of its life as a country. 

Wine making began here when the Spanish first showed up. They planted European grapes in the 16th century, technically making Mexico the oldest wine-growing region in the Americas. But in 1699, King Charles of Spain noticed the colony wasn’t importing Spanish wines anymore, so he prohibited all personal wine making in Mexico and effectively shut down the industry.
 So from 1700 until Mexico’s Independence (which we all now know was 200 years ago), the only wine produced in Mexico was nasty church stuff. After Independence wine production rose again. But then just when the vino was getting good the Mexican Revolution came along and the farmlands and vineyards were destroyed in the uprisings. Everyone gave up on grapes again and ended up knocking back cerveza and tequila.
 But then in the 1980’s wine started to get trendy, and middle class Mexicans started to get interested. Wineries began popping up (about 2,500 ha. are planted to grapes in Mexico) and production increased. While waiting for the quantity and quality to come on line with demand, Mexican stores began importing foreign wines—mainly from South America. But the problem is, wine is still unaffordable to typical Mexicans—it’s taxed at a rate of 40%. So mostly only really cheap wine tends to be imported. And when all you can get is plonk, it’s hard to win over new fans.

A visit to the local supermercado (things improve in big cities) will typically yield a selection of 15-20 wines (compared to 20+ tequila options). And the number of those where the price is inline with our cruising budget (120 pesos or less) is about five or six. And of those only a couple will be local. At home a $10 wine can be pretty decent. Here it’s a bit of a risk.

But the way I look at it is I’m helping Mexico by taking this risk. Only 2 glasses of wine per person are consumed in Mexico each year—so by going through a few bottles a week I’m no doubt bringing up the national average, perhaps significantly. And by helping support the burgeoning wine industry I’m also helping future cruisers, by making wine more affordable and available. And if you’d like to thank me for this altruistic sacrifice—send wine.

November 15, 2010

Living la Vida Local

 In my life before living aboard Ceilydh I was a bit fanatical about eating local. Part of it was as a writer for local foodie and eco mags—it was my job. But local eating is also something I’m passionate about. Stuff simply tastes better when it’s fresh and in season.

Living in Mexico tends to be a lesson in eating local to the extreme—and not always in a positive way. The food that's available in the regular tiendas comes from here. The big mercados do have imported goods—but you pay dearly for everything from cheese, to chocolate, to crackers. About the only import that seems readily available and affordable are Washington State apples—go figure.

The problem with a local diet in a country of endless summer is there’s not much seasonality to the food. You get tomatoes, onions, cucumber, carrots, iceberg lettuce and limes everywhere. All year round. And if you come from a place where there is more diversity, lots of craft farmers growing wacky stuff, and you can get just about anything anytime—the short mango, strawberry and asparagus seasons in Mexico can seem oh so brief.

Happily it’s autumn here (well sort of, it’s as autumny as it’s going to get anyway) and this means that for a few weeks, at least, there are new things available—including spinach, swiss chard, yams, thin-skinned fall oranges, green beans and shrimp. Yup it’s shrimp season.

Guaymas is a huge shrimping port and when the boats come in, fresh prawns as big as chicken legs go for about 100 pesos a kilo (or $4.50 per lb), while the little ones are 70 pesos. It’s not cheaper than chicken—but it’s affordable enough that we’ve been indulging.

To celebrate the season I made a killer roasted broccoli and shrimp dish (you know it’s fall when you can actually use the oven again…)—and in an effort to embrace the Eating la Vida Local lifestyle I served it with a Mexican Sparkling wine. I was pleasantly surprised by my 74 peso ($6.50) Vino Blanco Chambrule from Baja California—it was crisp and slightly tart. Veuve Clicquot it's not, but it is drinkable.
Roasted Shrimp and Veggies
500 ml diced yam
1 kilo broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
1 pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
15 ml mixed warms spices (cumin, coriander etc)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
hot chili sauce to taste.
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss yams with tablespoons oil, coriander, cumin, salt, pepper and chili powder.
2. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes.
3. Add broccoli and peppers to the oil mixture, toss and add to baking pan. Roast 10 more minutes.
4. Toss shrimp in the oil (add more oil if needed. Add shrimp to baking sheet. Roast, mixing once halfway through, until shrimp are just opaque and broccoli and yams are tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more.

Tonight it's Shrimp Etouffee. Mmmmmm.

Mexico: Another Day, Another Fiesta

  We’ve been celebrating Heróica Ciudad de Guaymas’s 200th birthday over the past three days.

Pancho VillaEmiliano Zapata? Not sure, but this is one of the heroes of the 1910 revolution.
 While Mexico will celebrating 200 years as an independent nation all year—the bulk of the celebration happened on September 16th. This weekend Guaymas joined the party with a cultural festival. I’m pretty sure the town has been around for more than 200-years and I know they had quite the party on the 16th—so we’re not actually sure which significant date we’re actually commemorating. My guess is they still had all the decorations from the bicentennial and decided to get good use out of them. But who are we to look a gift fiesta in the mouth—especially when it occurs about 100 metres from our boat…

The main draw for Maia was the bouncy play section—for a small donation she’d be let loose for 40 minutes in a playground of bouncy slides, bouncy walls, bouncy castles and trampolines all set over concrete (which always seemed more amusing in its casualness before it was my child who could launch to her death). She was pretty thrilled to discover her Spanish lessons are having an effect and quickly invited a few local girls to be her friends. From there we headed to the clowns—you know you’re pretty much the only tourists at an event when a clown can scan a crowd of 200+ and pick you out as the English speakers…
mmmm... churros
Maia watches as her corn is slathered in mayo and cheese
From the clowns we hit the food. There were all the high-fat favs: churros, elote (corn cobs brushed with mayonnaise and coated in cheese) and nachos (a heart murdering concoction topped with mayo, cheese sauce and corn) as well as wheelbarrows of dulces (sweets) and cotton candy. There were a few stands selling jewellery and handicrafts, as well as ones selling small toys and balloons--but there were none of the typical event souvenirs (t-shirts, caps or coffee mugs) we’d find at home. A testament to the fact that Mexico hasn’t totally embraced mindless consumerism yet, and that nobody really has money for stuff they don’t need (as evidenced by the fact that the place we got our pumpkin still has them for sale—at full price…)

The culture part of the festival occurred on the main stage—where a mix of plays, dance and music represented, “the birth of Mexico as an independent nation, with all its possibilities, vices and virtues.” We could sort out some of what went on (the revolutions were always easy to pick out) and enjoyed the skilled dancing, but the more sophisticated plays were lost on us.

The final night included a beautiful display of folkloric ballet. For the most part it’s kids who dance the old dances, and the only adults who dance typically perform at kitschy tourist shows. But seeing the familiar choreography, with specific costumes and dance styles representing each region of Mexico, performed by skilled adults to a crowd of Mexicans on a weekend when they were celebrating their homeland gave the dances a new poignancy.

And we learned that they really do dance the Mexican Hat Dance in Mexico.