Sunday, January 27, 2008

Getting Down with the People

We've been in La Paz for five days now. Our friends Jamie and Kelly are down from Haines, and we're setting off tomorrow for a week-long joint sailing/kayaking trip. The passage to the Marquesas, French Polynesia, which we will begin in March, has also appeared on our planning horizon. Our five weeks of cruising the west coast and eastern cape region of Baja were very good, and one of the fun parts was being away from daily internet exposure. We didn't find out about Benazir Bhutto's assasination until a month after the fact, and the blog became sorely out of date. So, here are some more of our doings from last month.

* * *

12/29 Bahia Tortugas

I was on the bow, fixing the running lights, when he waved to me. He was on a ketch, about forty feet long, that had anchored next to us the evening before. Hi, he shouted. It’s good to see you again. Glad you made it. It’s good to see you I shouted back. We met in San Diego, at the police dock he shouted. He then held up a radio and shouted what channel?

We talked for ten minutes or so on the radio, everyone else in the anchorage who had a radio handy doubtless listening in. I had a bad storm when I was anchored off Cedros he said. Thirty five knots, bent my anchor tray. Had to pull into the little harbor there, I was tied up along a lobster boat and oh! the smell. Anyway, it’ll only take me fifteen minutes to get the anchor tray off. I’m going to go in and see if I can find a little machine shop that can help me out.

He stopped by an hour later in his little grey inflatable. I liked the way he pulled right up to talk, without too many preliminaries. I was pretty sure that we hadn’t met in San Diego. Have you been into town he asked. Any idea where I might find a machine shop? I just need a big vise to straighten that three-sixteenths stainless. I thought about the dust streets in town and failed to picture a machine shop that had ever seen a piece of stainless. Still, a vice was all he needed and it didn’t matter how clean it was. Someone could help him out. He wore a new hat from a yacht supply store in San Diego, and a new sweatshirt from another yacht supply store in San Diego. His face had gone leathery in a way that suggested an age of fifties or early sixties. He had a trim little bottle brush mustache and a neatness around him that made me think of the epicene. No I didn’t see anything like that I said.

He buzzed off in his inflatable and I was surprised to see him buzzing back in ten minutes. Any luck I asked. No he said those guys at the fuel dock just wanted to know how much diesel I needed that’s all they were interested in. Maybe they just didn’t understand you I said people seem to be really helpful here. How’s your Spanish, do you know the word for vice. No Spanish he said. But I said el clampo three or four times and they didn’t get it. I think they were just embarrassed that they don’t speak English.

The delicious possibility that clampo might be the Spanish for some gynecological instrument came to mind. I pictured the poorly disguised alarm of the men on the dock at his inscrutable, one-word request, repeated several times, for a speculum that was urgently needed on his boat. God, I thought, I hope that’s what it means. He buzzed back to his boat and I went downstairs for the Spanish-English dictionary. A vice, I found out, is a tornillo de banco. And clampo, to my disappointment, was not there.

* * *

As Christmas approached a trickle of yachts was filling into Bahia Tortugas, to the point where we had a little community of ten or so boats. Paul and Ann came over for dinner Christmas Eve and we had a great time, hearing among other things about the Dutch traditions of Black Peet and First and Second Christmas. The next morning we had a few presents to open, and I got to thinking about a get-together. “No one else is going to do it,” I said to Alisa. “Let’s invite a bunch of people over for a potluck.” So I rowed around the anchorage, leaning hard into the oars in the gusty winds, inviting the boats near us to come over. Everyone accepted, but when the appointed hour rolled around the wind had come up to gust in the high twenties. Pelagic shied one way and the other against the anchor chain in her mouth. The chafing gear on the snubbing line squealed against the anchor roller. The stars were bright. One by one people came up on the VHF to cancel.

Christmas morning on Pelagic, Bahia Tortugas.

Elias quickly learned about unwrapping.

Alisa with her new sweater, and the one it replaced, much darned but still full of holes.

Elias with his Christmas present.

The only person who did make it for Christmas night was the single-hander Grady, who paddled over in his inflatable kayak. We had a great time telling stories until 0100. Grady has a very modest boat, and told us that making it to Bahia Tortugas was a major milestone, that he wanted to kiss the ground when he got here. Looking at the boat, I believe it.

But, at the same time, it’s people like Grady and Ann and Paul, who bought their 39 foot ferrocement boat for less than $10k, who I find myself drawn to. What could possibly be more boring than someone describing the process that led them to choose between the twelve volt and engine-driven models of watermaker? The-I-spent-a-quarter-million-on-the-boat, sailing-magazine-inspired approach to cruising can be painfully short on the spirit of adventure. By far the more interesting stories come from the people who got a hold of a boat one way or another and are seeing how far south they can get it.


After our Christmas came and went we started to think about moving down the coast. “I’m getting tired of hearing the same boats on the radio,” Alisa said. Weather and wind vane repairs delayed us a day, and then we had a great day of sailing down to Bahia Asunción
in company with Free Spirit, their tanbark sails complementing the deep blue Pacific to starboard and the forever brown desert mountains to port.

The water in Bahia Asunción was more clear than that in Bahia Tortugas, and we could see the bottom clearly at dusk where we were anchored in twenty feet of water. It felt disconcerting in a way, as we could never see the bottom when we were anchored back home in Alaska. There were also two sheer mountains in view from the anchorage, far away across the plain on the south side of the bay, promising spectacular scenery to come.

Ann and Paul took off at noon the next day, planning on taking the two hundred mile trip to Bahia Magdalena in a single jump. They motored by close after pulling the hook, and we waved, knowing it was unlikely we'd see them again in Mexico, as they were going all the way to Panama and had to travel faster than us. Alisa and I waffled over our immediate plans – stay here, move on to Punta Abreojos or jump down to Bahia Santa Maria, just outside Magdalena? It was a classic travel moment – with any of the three equally possible, and nothing to really distinguish one course from another, it becomes difficult to decide.

We ended up staying. We rowed in after lunch, with a stiff breeze blowing off the beach. I wondered for a minute if I should give the dinghy a try before Alisa and Eli loaded up – we had lost one of our oars in Bahia Tortugas, and our replacement was the extra little aluminum oar that we had saved back from the inflatable that we sold to Free Spirit. We all piled in, though, and I had the briefest moment of fear when we cast off and I could not quite keep pace with the wind blowing us past Pelagic and towards the open Pacific. It all came good though, and although it was much more difficult to row with the mismatched oars, I could make progress.

A man and his nearly grown son helped us in through the gentle surf, keeping Alisa and Elias from getting wet, and then the boy helped me pull the dinghy up the beach. I was armed with the word for oar, remo, that I had gotten from the dictionary. The same book informed me also that remo also meant a hard job and the leg of a horse. No, the man and son informed me, no store in town that sells remos. The man who ran the tractor that pulled the big pangas, twenty or twenty five foot long fiberglass skiffs, up and down the beach, came up to talk. He concurred that there was not place to buy remos, but he did show us a hose to wash the sand off our feet.

Bahia Asunción proved to be much more of a town than Bahia Tortugas. Paved roads, street signs, and less of a contrast between flash motor vehicles and houses that were halfway to shanty. “This is more what I pictured a Mexican town to be,” said Alisa. While I was taking my turn at email Alisa wandered up the street with Eli to check out a report of a fishing supply store that might offer up a remo to ones such as us, in need. When I caught up with her she was having an animated chat with the couple who owned the store. She had pantomimed the need for an oar, been told that no, there were no oars for sale, and then had persisted, saying in her rudimentary Spanish, really, just one oar six or seven feet long, there’s nowhere in town we can find that? She asked three or four times, and then reached the pivotal moment just as I walked up. The man went in back of his store, back towards their house, and came back with a well-used blue oar, and a few minutes later, one shorter and rougher, but just as serviceable. No, he said in answer to my question, he wouldn’t think of taking payment. We had a fun chat for fifteen minutes, as well as we could with our terrible Spanish. Alisa found out that local women breastfeed until their children start to get molars, at about a year and a half old. We said goodbye, and a big thanks, and after I started to walk away with only the blue oar the man insisted that we take both.

“That was so nice,” said Alisa. “They were so nice. I wish we were staying here another day so I could bring them some fresh bread.” Alisa had been feeling the loss of the oar keenly, thinking it was her fault that the rolling hitch holding it in the oarlock had been loose. We had also lost a floating cushion in Bahia Tortugas, and she was hard on herself about the two items in the way that you can be hard on yourself about mistakes on a boat. When we got back to the dinghy, that the man had called our lanchita, it turned out that the blue oar was exactly the same length as our remaining wooden oar, a perfect match.

We let Elias run around on the beach and get his fill of the one-year-old’s joy of running free, although stray dogs and the flotsam of a town beach required close supervision. An American family with land outside of town had told us that a grocery store on the main drag would exchange dollars for us. As we trotted around the beach, keeping Elias out of trouble, I coached Alisa on some Spanish phrases for the transaction and a good approach for bargaining to a good rate. After a few minutes of this she suggested that I just do it. Which I did, buying a can of coffee and enquiring of the girl behind the counter if they could change one hundred dollars. When I tried to negotiate the rate, though, my Spanish took a sudden holiday and she thought that I was just having trouble understanding the numbers involved in the transaction. Which I kind of was. So, amidst some blushing and giggling on her part, we struck a deal right at the first number she had suggested. So much for bargaining, but it was also a classic travel situation where I was making an effort to save a buck fifty, where another day might see us blowing forty dollars on an unplanned dinner out. The great consolation, aside from the friendly laughter over my bad Spanish, was having the girl tell me that she was learning English, even though she didn’t venture to try any on me. I always imagine a bit of a contest when communicating with a Mexican with rudimentary English, as we quickly determine which language is easier to communicate in, and thus whose grasp of the other’s language is more sure.

Back at the beach, we gathered up a protesting Elias and set launched the dinghy back through the low waves. The wind was behind us for the ride back to Pelagic and the new blue oar gave us full power.

“What a great town!” Alisa said. We agreed that we were finally Getting Down with the People.

* * *

Elias on the sail from Bahia Tortugas to Asunción: playing with the winch...

...pointing at birds...

...and busting a yoga move.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

La Migra

Our cruising guide listed Cedros as a Port of Entry, which led us to avoid the big town experience of Ensenada, where most yachts check in, and boogy all the way to Cedros before dealing with formalities. The cruising guide didn’t list any Immigation office for Cedros, though, which left me with a lingering doubt – the Port Captain could check our boat into the country, but who was going to stamp our passports and check us in?

On our first trip ashore, the man who gave us directions to the Port Captain confirmed that there was no Immigration office on Cedros.

After finding the Port Captain’s office closed, we returned to the barky. Once there, we fell prey to a curse of the traveler – irrational concerns, blossoming in a vacuum of facts, and multiplying as we batted them back and forth.

“If there’s no Immigration, doesn’t that mean we can’t check into the country?”

“If we can’t check into the country, doesn’t that mean we’re here illegally?”

“So not only did we bring diarrhea with us into Mexico, but we’re also illegal American immigrants in Mexico?”

“Could they fine us?”

“I guess. I mean, if we broke Mexican law, I suppose we could be fined.”

“They wouldn’t arrest us? Or take the boat?”

“Maybe we should call the American embassy on the sat phone and ask for advice.”

“I’m not too sure that you would get any meaningful information on the time scale of a sat phone call. Remember those poor people who used to call our office in Kodiak for information about starting new fisheries?”

“Are we even allowed to go ashore without having our passports stamped?”

“Are we even allowed to anchor?”

“Maybe we should just sail down to La Paz without going ashore.”

“Yeah, but I’d hate to miss the whole west coast. I was really looking forward to it.”

There were no other yachts at Cedros to get information from. Sleep that night was fitful. In the morning we rowed ashore, grim-faced, to face the music at the Port Captain’s.

The Port Captain and the woman who handled our paperwork, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were enraptured with Elias. No, no problem, they said, in between cooing at Elias and chucking him on the chin. You can just check in with immigration at La Paz. Did we have to go to the Customs office in Cedros, which was at the salt-loading dock, five miles from the town. There was some disagreement on that, a brief exchange of contrary opinion, then, no, we didn’t have to.

“Well, that was a huge relief,” said the more sanguine member of our team (Alisa), after we dismounted from the pickup that the Port Captain had provided for our return to the harbor.

“Yeah, we’ll see,” said the one of us who more habitually looks at the potential down side (me).

“If there’s any trouble in La Paz we can just say the Port Captain told us what we were doing was OK.”

“We’ll see how far that gets us. The Port Captain here doesn’t care if we get our passports stamped or not. That’s not his problem.”

“Well, we’ll just have to make sure we take Elias with us to the Immigration in La Paz, and hope that the people there like him as much as the people here did.”

Residual worry over our situation remained with us. It’s hard now to remember how concerned we were, as we have since met other cruisers who have done the same thing, and report that it was no problem. Thus our oft-repeated truism, the things you worry about the most turn out to be the least problem. Alisa takes from this that worry is best avoided, while I conclude that if one could only worry in equal measure about everything, nothing would go wrong…

Our “this reality” selves concluded that there was little for us to do with Elias on Cedros, and we set off on the day sail to Bahia Tortugas after two days. Before our trip I had a mental picture of Baja as offering pretty weak sailing, with the light winds of Southern California growing even lighter this far south. But our sail down through the Canal de Dewey, between mainland Baja and Isla Natividad, turned into a rip-roaring downhill ride in a steady 25 knots of wind. Good fun.

Pulling into Bahia Tortugas, we were delighted to see Free Spirit already at anchor just in front of the town, with Paul and Ann on board, whom we had met in Morro Bay, and again in San Diego. Paul and Ann flew into San Francisco from Holland a few months ago and, after three weeks of searching, found a 39 foot ferrocement boat, owner deceased, that they bought from the marina where it was sitting for considerably less than ten thousand dollars. (Paul and Ann, if you read this, I hope I’m not giving away your secret.) After a few weeks of hard work with expert advice and help from their friend Yap, they were off down the coast, bound for Panama, the Galapagos and New Zealand. On our trip we’ve met plenty of people who have been getting their boat ready for a big cruise for the last six years or so, with no firm departure date in sight. So I really like Paul and Ann’s approach of getting a boat together on the cheap and just jumping into the trip.

We motored up to their boat to say hi before anchoring. “Anchor close!” Paul said. “It’s not so easy to row far in this wind.”

We dropped the hook a hundred yards from their boat, and then sat there for three days. The wind came up to a steady 30 knots, blowing spray off the tops of the waves. Pelagic was fine, we didn’t drag an inch, but it was too windy for rowing the dinghy, so we just sat on the boat, staring at the town and waving at Paul and Ann whenever we saw them on deck.

Here’s a picture of Paul and Ann after the winds died and we were able to meet up. Paul turned out to be pretty good at reading to Elias, and generally entertaining him. We did all of our visiting on Pelagic, since Free Spirit isn’t one-year-old proof.

The town of Bahia Tortugas was dusty and crumbling. There was one paved street and no street signs. With Elias we weren’t leaping into the eating out experience, but Paul and Ann reported that when they tried for an evening meal all the restaurants they found were closed. Everything looks poor and speaks of a town on the way down, but the streets were also full of thirty thousand dollar SUVs. Paul says that the town is fifty kilometers of dirt road from the highway, maybe that explains the vehicles. Anyway, the contrast between Bahia Tortugas and Cedros on one hand and San Diego on the other could not be more pronounced. It’s one thing to talk about different standards of living, but actually walking the streets and shopping for groceries in an isolated Mexican town really makes the difference vivid. When we were talking to Paul and Ann about it I ventured that the crossing from San Diego to Tijuana might present the sharpest material change over the shortest distance of any border crossing in the world. I should stress that everyone we dealt with in Bahia Tortugas, and Cedros as well, was very nice to us. People were more than pleasant, they would go out of their way to be nice, like a fisherman wading out from the beach to help us land our little dinghy through the waves. I also thought, when wading through the streets of Bahia Tortugas, of the compensations that a life in that little town might have, things like closeness of family and a social warmth that we might lack in the U.S. Hard to really know anything concrete about that, or about the culture at all, as we made brief forays into town and then retreated to the boat when it was time to feed Elias, or when we could sense the approach of a baby meltdown in the skiff if we didn’t get moving.

That’s where traveling on the barky really is different – whenever we want to, we can retreat back to our own little capsule of the U.S. It’s an invaluable asset for traveling for with one so young as Elias. I also think about how much time I’ve spent on other trips looking for hotels, checking the rooms before paying, etc. The downside to traveling on the barky is that we lose the experience of being immersed in a foreign country. So far, between boat and baby, Alisa and I have not had any chance to really Get Down With the People here in Baja.

The marine life in Bahia Tortugas was amazing. Hundreds of brown pelicans in the bay, putting on an incredible display of plunge diving all day long and well into the dark. They’re such big birds – Sibley lists them at 8.2 pounds, and it’s really exciting to see them diving into the water from a hundred feet in the air, making adjustments early in the dive and them commiting into a streak of hurtling piscivore. At times as many as twenty dived simultaneously on a single school of fish. They also continued to plunge-dive well after sunset, up to the point when it was almost completely dark. Rowing back to the barky in the deep dusk, with the explosion of a diving pelican suddenly close by, we wondered how they could possibly see the fish that they were after. Our only guess was that there was some bioluminescence in the water that was tipping them off.

There were also common bottlenose dolphins in Bahia Tortugas, Tursiops truncatus. They are much bigger than the other dolphins that we’ve seen so far – our guidebook lists males at twelve and a half feet long – and it was remarkable how slowly they moved, even when they were feeding on fish schools that were also being worked by the pelicans and sea lions.

Bahia Tortugas moonrise.

Thursday, January 17, 2008




The wind came up again last night here in Bahia Tortugas and made the chafing gear on the anchor snubbing line squeal and moan as we were going to bed. But the wind is down this morning, and it looks like we’ll finally get ashore, on our third day here. Alisa is nursing Eli up forward, it’s 0600, and with any luck they’ll both fall back to sleep. So I should have a chance to catch up on our trip to Cedros, a large island off the coast of Baja.

We sailed all the way from San Diego to Cedros in one whack, about 330 miles, finally leaving San Diego harbor at 0945 on December 16th. The Coronados Islands are Mexican possessions just ten miles or so south of San Diego, and a great indication that you really have crossed the border. We sailed outside of the islands under spinnaker, moving along smartly in only seven or eight knots of wind. Check out the Mexican courtesy flag under the starboard spreaders in this shot.

We had a beautiful ten hour sail under spinnaker, the longest time we’ve had that sail up on the whole trip. After all the weeks of dockside torpor it was great to be moving, to feel Pelagic as a capable traveler under our feet. We were rolling gently back and forth with the swell, myself in the cockpit, keeping an eye on the windvane, which can’t quite be trusted when we’re reaching with the chute, Alisa down below with Elias. One particularly sharp wave gave Pelagic a quick lurch, and simultaneous to the motion I heard a sharp thump that I knew, with a parent’s intuition, was a special someone’s very young skull impacting on the hard hard teak sole. This was followed immediately by a long, loud wail. Alisa had taken a minute to do something in the galley, Elias had climbed up on the starboard settee, and the wave sent him tumbling. I came below and took my astonished, What happened? What could have possibly happened when I wasn’t looking after things for just a few moments? air with Alisa. Self-awareness may or may not be a route to true happiness, but it does give you the strange sensation of understanding the stock routines that you fall into in your marriage, even as you’re playing them out.

No harm done to the squirt, and we started leaving the lee cloths up to deny him access to the settees.

We motored a few hours that first night after the wind died, but then got enough breeze back to set ourselves up wing and wing and sail all the way to Cedros. We got back into the routine of each staying up through half the night and then not napping enough the next day on our floating day care center. Elias is getting better at spending time in the cockpit with the on-watch parent, especially in the morning, allowing the other parent to nap. But he needs to be attended every moment he’s awake, as we were reminded on that first day out. Since he is the only one to sleep the whole night, and since he is naturally possessed of a one year old’s energy, equivalent to that of a hundred monkeys set free in a nuclear power plant, this gets to be quite the job. Most of it falls to Alisa, as I tend to be on deck, sailing the barky. I look down below to see her nodding off as he is reading a book in her lap, or to see her desperately trying to cajole him into taking yet another nap so that she can sleep unmolested. He gets cross with the confinement, we get cross with the lack of any escape at all from the simultaneous demands of sailing and parenthood, and, only thirty hours out of San Diego, Alisa and I lose sight, simultaneously and completely, of why this trip ever seemed like a good idea.

After he falls asleep we have a brief rapprochement in the cockpit.

“This is hard.” I begin. “Sailing to Australia with a one year old, and all.”

“This is so hard,” Alisa says. “We have to watch him every minute.”

“I know. Why didn’t some of our family with child-rearing experience warn us?”

“Why didn’t they say something?”

“The bastards.”

Such bastards,” Alisa agrees. I can feel the marital bond beginning to strengthen as we consider the perfidy of our family members, who, despite their gifts every Christmas and other shows of loving us, failed to step in and save us from ourselves when we first began to talk about quitting our jobs, selling our house, and sailing to Australia.

“It’s like we live in an alternate reality to the other cruisers,” says Alisa.

“I know,” I answer, warming to her theme. “Look at them. Working on boat projects whenever they want to. Having drinks in the cockpit. Having sex in the cockpit. Organizing their digital photos. I hate them.”

“Bastards,” says Alisa.

Such bastards.”

We look up at the perfect roof of stars overhead.

“Still,” I say, “I guess we’re kind of commited.”

“I guess so.”

“I always said that having a kid would ruin our lives, so we might as well have ruined lives in the South Pacific.”

“You did.”

“So I guess we’ll just have to suck it up until we get to Oz, then reevaluate.”

“I guess so.”

We both felt better. Alisa went to bed, taking her traditional first half of the ten hours that Elias sleeps each night.

I spoke to a passing yacht that night on the VHF, hailing them by coordinates. A woman came back as the sailing vessel Blind Luck, with a man’s voice in the background, correcting the set of corrdinates she was reporting. No, she said in reply to my question, they were northbound, not southbound. I thought about telling her that the 360° white masthead light they were showing made it look like they were traveling away from any observer that might see them, but then I figured, no, let it go. Blind Luck then told me they had lost their transmission and were sailing back to Ensenda for a tow into San Diego.

A Mexican freighter bore down on us a few hours later. I woke Alisa to gybe, but hesitated, although it was clearly what we should have done. He tried hailing us, but Alisa got no response when she replied. Finally, and much too late, we prepared to gybe. Just before we commited to changing course I looked up and saw that his red light had changed to green, meaning that he had changed course to miss us. A gybe would have brought us back onto a collision course. I got a hold of him on the radio after all this and conveyed my apologies.

The next day, first Alisa and then I got sick. Alisa in particular was hit hard with diarrhea – who takes a case of diarrhea with them to Mexico? – and we were both off our game during the rest of the passage. But we’re used to a little discomfort at sea, and this was just a little more.

The passage was, as always, made up of a thousand moments of waves rushing up behind our stern, burning out their energy in a flash of foam, of wind flowing smoothly past the sails and the wind vane hunting out our course as the seas swung us one way and another, of dolphins riding on our bow and leaping free from the water (common dolphins, Delphinus sp., though we’re unsure if long-beaked or short-beaked), and our first fish for the whole trip, this critter below, which volunteered for lunch, poor thing. We have no idea what species this is, but we can report that it was delicious.

I kept an eye on the chart and our speed with the idea that we might make the anchorage on the north end of Cedros before dark on the 18th. At first I gave up the idea, but then it looked like we had a chance after the wind came up and we were making a steady seven knots. The allure of setting the hook and sleeping the night through was powerful. But then we ended up falling just short, since dark arrives at 1700, even this far south. Here’s our view of the north end of the island, just out of reach for the day.

We spent the night hove-to in the lee of the island. The mountains were lit up in front of us by the nearly full moon, the wind came gusting down from their slopes, and the barky sliced towards shore at three quarters of a knot under heavily reefed main and backed staysail. The waves were big until we were in the lee of the island, and then we had flat water for the rest of the night. At one point I put out some jib and got under way to give a passing fishing boat room. Every time I see a fishing boat heading our way at night I picture one particular Kodiak aquaintance of ours behind the wheel, a very affable but not at all confidence-inspiring fisherman. Every time the idea gives me a little frisson of nerves.

When dawn came we had this view of the island.

We anchored just off the little harbor, and had this view of the village ashore.

Cedros gave us a chance to explore the alternate reality / parallel universe nature of those cruising with and without children below the age of reason.

Our “other reality” cruising selves spent a week on Cedros. We found someone who could show us the black-vented shearwater colony on the island, and spent a few hours there one night, listening to the whistling sounds of the nocturnal birds’ wings as they came ashore. The next day we rowed in early and climbed Cerro Cedros, the 1200 meter peak just north of the pueblo, stuffing our backpacks full of water bottles and following the path that confidently left the pueblo as a full-fledged dirt road, then faded to a track for off-road vehicles as it climbed the steep mountain shoulders, then faded once again to nothing more than a goat trail as we forced our sailors’ legs up the final hundred meters to the summit, where we profited by a once-in-a-lifetime view of all of bony Isla Cedros beneath us, rising out of the blue blue Pacific. Later we beat back to windward in the lee of the island to reach the north anchorage that we had missed on the way in, where we watched California sea lions from the nearby rookery carving perfect curves through the bioluminescence around our boat. And we sucked it up and beat the 30 miles to windward in the open Pacific to reach Islas San Benito, the spume from the big ocean swell soaking everything on deck from stem to solar panels. On San Benito we went ashore to view the grotesquery of the elephant seal colony, and we spent an evening around a campfire at a fishermen’s camp, singing Spanish fishing songs and drinking warm beer.

Our “this reality” selves actually made two trips ashore – one to check in with the Port Captain (the office had just closed) and another to check in with the Port Captain (open this time, and the Captain and the woman who handled our paperwork could not have been friendlier, or more solicitous of Elias – our plan for dealing with irregularities in our paperwork while in Mexico relies heavily on the goodwill created by Elias). The few people we talked to were incredibly friendly. “I’m impressed by your Spanish,” Alisa said after we walked a ways up the main drag with a man we met in the harbor on our first trip ashore. (Note for book project, working title “Captain Mike’s Guide For Finding a Mate”: value a partner who is easily impressed.) In seriousness, though, I did enjoy the chance to use my Spanish again, which for the record is right on the bubble between terrible and unintelligible. I am keen to improve. “Other reality” me has set aside two forty five minute chunks for practicing every day, one in the morning and one at night. “This reality” me looks at a vocabulary list for fifteen minutes after Elias goes to sleep.

We're here... Ensenda de los Muertos, Baja California Sur, the Sea of Cortez; about fifty miles south of La Paz. It's been a month since we last posted, and I'm sure that only our most faithful readers are still checking the blog. Wifi connections were scarce on the west coast of baja, and I must admit that I very much enjoyed the time off from over-communication. Once, when I was checking email in San Carlos, in Bahia Magdalena, I wondered what in the world I was doing, typing away through the same old Microsoft interface, when there was an entire provinical Baja town all around me, with genuine ankle-deep dust in the streets, waiting to be explored...

Fear not. The whole crew (Alisa "Four Packs" Abookire, Mike "The Perfect Husband" Litzow and Elias "I Can Now Point At My Crotch When I Fart" James Abookire Litzow) are all well and speaking to each other. And we have lived, at conservative estimate, three lifetimes since we left San Diego. There has been tribulation, but there has been triumph in equal measure. We have Gotten Down With the People, we have come to grips with our fate (37 feet of fiberglass, a one year old, and no escape), and we have developed a certain philosophical detachment that allows us to enjoy ourselves almost all of the time. The highlights will all be shared over the next few days, for the edification, and occasional smug, I-could-have-told-them-so-but-I-was-too-polite-to satisfaction of our house- and office-bound peers back home. We'll start with the story of the first leg of the trip, from San Diego to Cedros Island, which follows immediately. More to come soon...