Michael says I worry too much, but in my defense there is a lot to worry about when you live full-time on the boat. She could start sinking. The anchor could start dragging. The damn cat, who balances like a tightrope walker on the boom, the solar panels, the barbecue, and the stern rail could slip and fall. The propane could get left on and turn the boat into a bomb. We could be leaking refrigerant and unknowingly be draining our batteries into useless chunks of lead. Is there a ground leak in the electrical system? Will all the motors start? Is there yet another fish in the toilet?

And now bees.

Rob was on our boat the other day enjoying a morning coffee/philosophical discussion  when a whining, searching little bee came in through hatch to join us.

“Scout bee!” yelled Rob, and, with a well-aimed swat, sent that little buttmunch back outside.  Apparently, in Springtime, scout bees are sent out to look for a new location for the hive, and, unless you make it clear that they are not welcome, they will begin to congregate on your boat. Rob’s already had one bee infestation and Tim on Rock Bottom has had two – once when some enterprising little bees built a nest above his sailbag in less than half and hour. He had to vacuum them out. Since Rob informed us about this new bee threat we’ve had at least three scout bees come and do a tour of Azul. We batted them away, no thanks to Tigre, whose only conceivable job is to protect us from small critters, but who is unfortunately sleeping during the middle of the day when the bees come. Stupid cat.

Mum, Dad, Hannah, Megan, Debbie and John flew down to La Paz for Spring Break, and based on the smiling, sunburned bodies that left after week, I think everyone had a good time. In an effort to keep stress at a minimum and relaxation at a maximum, we stuck to mostly land based activities for my family because Mum’s a little nervous around sailboats (though, oddly, she’s fine when there’s a motor running): a day in Todos Santos to see the crashing waves of the Pacific and then drinks at the Hotel California, a tour of downtown La Paz, a day on the Mogote watching Dad and Michael attempt to tune the new sailing rig for the little Walker Bay, a trip to Balandra to wade luxuriously through knee-deep, crystal clear water over white sand, and a final afternoon on a beach off the Malecon, playing a Jenkins classic, 3-13, and getting beaten by Megs at chinese checkers.

For the most part we ate and drank too much, especially on the last night when Dad was adamant we try some very fine tequila. We spent a good bit of time at the Shack. There was one attempt made to be culturally refined with a trip to the Museo de Anthropologie, but the curator only spoke Spanish so a lot of information was lost in translation. Great dioramas though.

After a tearful goodbye, my family left and we decided to take Debbie and John out to Espiritu Santo for a few days away from La Paz. We side-tied to Rob, gave Azul’s bottom a quick scrub, ate some delicious delicious delicious Pollo en Mole, and we were on our way. Almost immediately things started to go wrong.

As we were leaving Travis gave us a shout on the radio, wanting the 500 pesos that Mike owed him before we left. No worries, we figured we’d save time by driving Azul up to Marina de La Paz and meeting Travis on the fuel dock.

He wasn’t on the fuel dock, however, he was perched irresistibly close on a short little nubbin of the outer dock, sandwiched between a smaller sailboat, Susie, and O Star, one of two Mega Yachts that belong the TelCel billionaire Carlos Slim, currently the RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD.

“No worries,” I was confidant, “I’ll just tuck up between them.”

Always know your moon: a dramatic tidal difference meant that there was a vigorous ebb current setting us right onto that little nubbin, which was evident as soon as Azul began picking up speed towards the dock.

“Reverse…reverse…reverse…reverse…REVERSE!!”

Yes, it was a direct hit, and they don’t call me “Dock Smasher” for no reason. I left some impressive skid marks. Now – how to get off the dock without hitting the boat belonging to the RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD and then having to forfeit our tiny, uninsured boat to the TelCel empire. Wild-eyed, I threw her into a strong reverse and raged, backwards, in front of O Star’s bow, white-knuckled and heart thumping. Travis, who took off running as soon as there was a possibility that we might hit the boat belonging to the RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD, looked back to see me speeding back into the channel, still in reverse, with the Monster Dinghy bumping into Azul’s bow.

“Are you serious?” Debbie and John were aghast, “We did all that for forty dollars?”

No worries, we were on our way and we were safe… for now.

Then our autopilot, Austin Powers, stopped working. No worries, we thought, we’ll just hand steer until we anchor and fix the problem in the morning. The breeze was fresh and we were reaching nicely. Slowly.

If powerboats are Hares then sailboats are Tortoises – and the boating culture is a lot like the story about the Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady indeed, by evening we were still chug-chugging along the 20 or so miles to Caleta Partida and although it was slow going, everyone’s spirits were high, possibly due to the vodka-orange-mango-lime drinks I was making. Then the lights cut out.

Blown fuse.

Lights cut out again.

Blown fuse.

Lights cut out again.

Blown fuse.

Turns out the back of the 12 volt cigarette lighter had come loose and shorted the entire light circuit. Quick fix, but it took three 20 Amp fuses before Michael figured it out.

We finally made it, pulling into the finger bay under the fuzzy light of a clouded full moon. No fish, so we had a steak dinner at midnight, excited to have made it, excited to be out of La Paz. The next morning and we had a mission: go and swim with the sea lions on Los Islotes. Unfortunately, it being Semana Santa, there were pangas and people everywhere, and when we pulled up to Los Islotes in the Monster Dinghy, it was clear we would not have the sea lions to ourselves.

Since Los Islotes is such an established tourist site, there are many moorings off the northern end that the panga drivers tie to. There they deposit their load of tourists, clad in wetsuits, life jackets and snorkels, let them oogle at the lobos marineros for a little bit and then round them up when it’s time to go. Amidst the mayhem we managed to find and tie to a neglected old mooring ball about three feet below the surface, cracked a few beers and waited for the need to pee to become more pressing than the apprehension of the cold water.

Swimming with sea lions is cool, and even a little frightening. Just like dolphins, they’re pretty freaking smart, so you can engage one by diving beneath the surface and playing with her, until, of course, the bull comes and reminds you that these ladies are, indeed, his. I think they felt threatened by John the most, because he found himself face to face with a bull at one point, so close he could count the whiskers. And God they’re noisy – it sounds like each male is having a belch/burp/fart-off with the others – makes you wonder what they’re saying.

We had lunch in a shallow, secluded little cove about halfway between Los Islotes and Caleta Partida. The setting was exquisite; an azure sky down to the turquoise water, the sunburned rock rising from the sea like some giant, prehistoric rib cage. We were subdued, tipsy from the salt water and the beers, and when we were finally ready to go back to Azul we motored slowly, eying each crevice and cave as we went. We drank more cocktails in the dying light of the day and after tacos Debbie beat us all soundly at poker.

And that was it – just a short little gasp of fresh air before everyone had to go home and back to work. So we fixed the autopilot (loose wire) and set off at the crack of 10AM, cleaving a path through glassy, undisturbed water, planning to be back at the Shack for work at 4PM.

About half and hour after we had finished eating breakfast and right before Debbie and I were about to tie up our new lifeline netting, our tiny, 1 cylinder diesel, our little Yanmar, our glorious replacement to the-motor-that-shall-not-be-named (Volvo Penta) lost power and then died completely. Michael took off our staircase to reveal an engine compartment full of diesel; at some point we had sprung a leak and drained all the fuel from our tank.

Michael and I kicked it into gear. There was no wind to speak of so the boat was fine to wallow; we immediately set about draining the engine compartment, finding the leak, and resuming our journey. Turns out the vibrations from the turbulent little engine had loosened the primary fuel filter to the point where diesel was flowing freely from our tank into the engine compartment. As the tank drained more and more sludge got sucked into the fuel lines and ended up plugging the secondary fuel filter, and try as we might, we could not successfully bleed the engine.

Unfortunately, prior to realizing that the problem was a blocked fuel filter, I made the unwise decision of pouring our extra jerry can of fuel into our tank, thinking that our bleeding problem was a result of being out of gas. We could have run a hose straight into this jerry can of diesel and bypassed the secondary fuel filter entirely, but now there was no jerry can and we were, very literally, high and dry.

We had enough gasoline in the Monster Dinghy to side-tie to Azul and drive her into Balandra, from where we could potentially hitchhike into La Paz. The wind kicked up and we managed to sail her into the little bight, and as we got closer we realized we knew one of the boats.

Both Patricks, Brian, and Brian’s Dad all watched, impressed, off the stern of Brian’s Dad’s fishing boat Erika, as we came up and dropped anchor under sail. Recognizing them, I quickly dinghied over and used Brian’s phone to call Rosie, told them what was going on and promptly had a beer. Mike then came over and Brian’s Dad, kindly, gave us a couple of gallons of diesel, free, and then we were on our way.

Three things wouldn’t have happened if the engine hadn’t conked out: John wouldn’t have caught a fish, we wouldn’t have seen possibly the prettiest sunset I have ever seen in my year down here in La Paz, and we wouldn’t have come down the channel in the most perfect of perfect flood tides imaginable. Silver linings – I’ve heard they come in threes.

20 miles in 12 hours and we snuggled right back into our usual anchor spot at about 10PM, exhausted. We all had a beer and then set off to find some food. We filled our tummies, walked Debbie and John back to Casa Buena and just like that, we were just the two of us again.

We are so blessed to have such a loving and supportive family. Though we are doing something amazing I know it wears on the family to have us so far away and so out of contact and I appreciate beyond belief all the times when they have had to swallow their worry and trust that we know what we are doing. I love you family, and I can’t wait to see you in Tahiti.

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In the anchorage, right now, there is currently a boat called Scaramouch and a boat called Fandango. I assume that everyone, like me, is anxiously waiting for them to make contact with each other so we can hear this exchange on the radio.

“Scaramouch, Scaramouch, Fandango.”

God forbid I’m not around to hear it – I can only hope someone else will chime in with the next verse to that everlastingly awesome Queen song:

“Thunderbolts and lightening, very very frightening!”

A girl can dream.

There’s also a boat called Reality, which leads to these delightfully existential radio exchanges:

“Azul, Azul, this is Reality. Azul this is Reality calling.”

What’s in a name? We were searching through old paperwork the other day and found an old Ham license with our old California registration number and the name Topolina. Topolina? We’ve lived on little Azul for over a year now and I cannot imagine her with any other name. But let’s face it, there are much worse names than Topolina out there, and some people even like taking a brand-new-one-year-warrantied-so-nice-i-could-lick-the-gel-coat boat and slapping a name like Sea Chicken on it. Or Ook Ook Chuck Chuck. Or Special K. It’s like taking a woman of Catherine Zeta Jones-like distinction and beauty and making her wear one of those animal beanies. Ugh.

Some boat names make Michael and I behave like children.

“Wandering Puffin, Wandering Puffin.”

“Tee hee,” we giggle, “Wandering Muffin.”

“Seamentress, Seamentress.”

“Tee hee,” we giggle, “Semen.”

“Wind Pirate, Wind Pirate.”

“Tee hee,” we giggle, “Butt Pirate.”

“Land ho, Land ho.”

“Tee hee,” we giggle, “That’s just a girl with a house and a sense of humor.”

Gunther is way worse though; he has the disadvantage of English being his second language and he is the net controller every Friday morning, which means he has to acknowledge each boat by name before they get a chance to speak. There is nothing funnier than the ‘Arrivals and Departures’ segment and listening to Gunther respond to the unpronounceable boat names thrust upon him.

“… all I heard was ‘meow.'”

“Was that a sneeze? Go!”

“I’m sorry, Hot Sperm? Did you just say Hot Sperm?”

Poor Hotspur.

There are fewer and fewer boat names to make fun of, however, as the winter season is drawing to a close and people are beginning to leave. The Black Pearl boys are setting sail for Hiva Ova tomorrow, the first of many of our friends who are heading to the South Pacific.

On a relatively unrelated note, we have officially banned all drinks with the word ‘Russian’ in them from the Shack. The fallout from the last time Rosie and I drank Chocolate Russians was probably the reason Rosie quit drinking, and I don’t know why we thought White Russians would be any better.

The White Russians were part of a promotion for the Big Lebowski night we had last Monday, which, in turn, came from an idea Travis had at Slade’s memorial.

Everyone’s hopes soared when Slade briefly regained consciousness and mumbled, ‘I have a headache,’ but he quickly relapsed; the stroke had done too much damage and it was soon evident that the Slade we all knew and loved wasn’t coming back.

The memorial was held a few days after he passed and we all indulged in celebration of a man who was kind, quirky and quiet (compared to the more dramatic personalities you find at the Shack), but who lived a decidedly unapologetic life. Some dealt with his passing better than others; Travis was hit particularly hard by the loss of such a good friend but he found comfort in that age-old mantra ‘life goes on,’ taken and twisted by Coen brothers to the oft-quoted ‘the Dude abides.’ Naturally, we then had to have a Big Lebowski night.

We sold $25 (peso) White Russians to anyone who showed up in a bathrobe and $40 White Russians to those who didn’t and I was behind the bar mixing the drinks. In between making drinks for the customers and making sure fucking Tom behaved (he finally got his hands on a bathrobe and was trying to get drinks for unrobed people at a discounted rate), I was making drinks for Travis Scott, Mike and myself: ice, four count of vodka, two count kalua, cream. It was easy. It was fun.

Later on in the night Travis ended up sitting at the bar, and asked me to make him another drink. As he watched me mix the liquor and cream, his eyes grew wide.

“That’s what you’ve been feeding me? Jesus Nia, no wonder I can’t feel my hands!”

Many bottles of booze have a suicide cap on the them that tempers the flow of alcohol down a better, more countable stream. The Oso Negro vodka I was using had one of these caps, however, it let out more alcohol than I was used to and my four count pour put more vodka in the glass than was necessary. Much more.

So, no more Russians.

We are in parent-coming mode, where we clean everything so we can pretend that we don’t actually live in a construction zone 24/7. It’s the nice, understandable, healthy panic of trying to impress your parents, and I am really excited for them to come.

So that’s it, we’re alive and the boat is still floating.

P.S. Although we don’t want to jinx anything by speaking too soon or even too loudly, it…appears…that…the…fridge…is……………..working. Yay!

Does your toilet smell like fish? Do you ever wonder if your engine will fail to start because there’s too much cat hair in the air intake? Do you ever ask yourself, ‘Is it windy enough to run the fridge?’ Do you have an unsustaneably large collection of empty bottles, kept exclusively for sending messages in? Do you ever wonder why there is so much sawdust in your bed, until you walk in on your boyfriend happily sawing away at a piece of veneer?

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Tim, our seventeen-year-old coworker, went up to the States to take his GEDs, so I had to go from actively looking busy to actually being busy, which was irritating and I resent him a little for it, that hard-working bastard. Despite the added stress, we’ve had an incredibly productive couple of weeks and little Azul is getting closer and closer to her next big adventure.

Many of our larger projects were focussed on alternative energy. We built an awning over the cockpit which doubles as a source of shade for us and an unshaded mount for our two solar panels. This awning helps turn the cockpit into another room, bringing our grand total up to three! Take that, studio apartments.

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About a month or so ago, Michael bought and installed a wind generator for pennies from our friends Zak and Suzi, however, like most second-hand things that are going for cheap, it didn’t work. Undaunted, we took the little turbine down again and brought it to an electrical repair shop, where a very jolly gentleman fixed the wiring issue for a very generous price. In total, including all the materials required to install the system properly, our wind generator cost just under $1,500. That’s pesos, not dollars, and yes, most people spend 1,500 dollars on a comparable system.

Unfortunately, the fridge is still not working. Don’t worry, I’m not mad, I’ve almost made piece with that over-priced little energy sink and even though I really do believe I’m fundamentally against everything a fridge represents in the sailing world, I really want to catch some impressive fish out at sea and I don’t want to have to eat the whole thing in one sitting. So come hell or high water we will fix this fridge. Since it isn’t working yet however, we have literally no use for the prolific amount of energy we are creating; after 10 in the morning our little needle in our ammeter sits at 0 like a twitching, quiet little crackhead, desperate to pump more juice into our saturated batteries. We’re listening to our music real loud these days.

Fun fact: with Azul’s original plumbing, she carried as much shit as she did water. Let that sink in – when we bought Azul she had a 20 galleon water tank glassed beneath the v-berth and a 20 galleon holding tank wedged under one of our seats. Not only did the tank itself take up a disappointingly large amount of space, the plumbing was a roller coaster, the hoses spanning almost half the length of the boat. And it stank. I mean, seriously? It was a box full of poo. So we ripped the whole stinking mess out soon after we came to La Paz because holdings tanks are gross and are not required in Mexico (Viva Mexico!). It was horrible, but we kept calm, carried on, and now we have a simpler system, even though a surprising amount of fish get sucked up into the lines. The other day Michael had to rebuild the toilet’s pump and pulled and not one but two whole fish out of the valves. Tigre ate them both.

Last week we installed a 12 galleon water tank in our lazarette which, including our jerry cans, means we carry 61 galleons total. At half a galleon per day per person this will last us almost 2 months, and the new tank is much more accessible for catching rainwater with a simple tarp/funnel system. Both Michael and I have a healthy paranoia about running out of water and we are currently debating whether or not we are going to buy/install a watermaker. Like every piece of electronic equipment, it’s great to have, if it works, and we are weighing the energy involved in installing (this is a second-hand water maker) and maintaining the system versus the accessibility of potable water and our capacity to store it. A watermaker needs to be run every couple of days to keep the membrane free from cloggy salt deposits which is an energy draw, and it needs access to salt water which means HOLES IN THE BOTTOM OF THE BOAT – or we could tap into the water intake for the engine and the sink discharge. But then we can’t run the watermaker the same time the engine is running. This list goes on.

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After grinding Mike looks like an old man

Finally, and actually, at this exact moment, Michael is installing the antenna for our new SSB radio. Our very newest toy will allow us to receive and transmit over long distances, which is ideal for long ocean passages. The install should be complete when our friend Max brings us our automatic tuner and grounding plane back down from the States.

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If you don’t know what this is… your grandparents probably do

We also bought a barometer shaped like an anchor.

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A Very Seamanly Purchase 

On a brighter note, there’s been an incredible amount of bioluminescence in the water. When a certain little type of sea bug gets agitated it releases a neon green glow making our night trips on the dinghy a cross between Waterworld and Tron. Bioluminescence is the only arguable reason to have an electrical toilet – when you flush the bowl turns into a meteor shower. On our passage from Catalina Island to San Diego I started seeing what looked like underwater comets that turned out to be a dancing pod of dolphins leaving trails of phosphorescence as they zig zagged with the rhythm of the boat.

“Beauty… Nature’s coin, must not be hoarded, but must be current, and good thereof consists in mutual and partaken bliss.”

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Back in October of 2012, my friend Scott asked me if I would be interested in escorting an intrepid kayaker as he attempted to paddle solo across the Sea of Cortez. Even though I’m pretty sure Scott asked me along more for my skills as a female companion to the kayaker’s girlfriend than my skills as a sailor, either way I was still excited for the chance to get out of La Paz and do some sailing on (and this is very important) someone else’s boat.

Toni and Adriana, both kayakers, had met on an expedition a few years previous and had managed to keep a long distance relationship going. They organized this crossing in an attempt to raise awareness for their mutual friend Carmen, one of Mexico’s premier female mountaineers, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. At the last minute their scheduled escort had backed out, and rather than let Toni kayak alone, they contacted Baja Expeditions to see if they had a boat available.

Luckily for us, Tim Means, the owner and founder of Baja Expeditions, is a regular at the Shack. Being fully booked, Tim, who is both physically and spiritually the human version of the Lorax (one could argue that through his conservation efforts Tim, literally, ‘speaks for the trees’), did not have any boats available, and told Travis about the situation. Travis immediately thought of Scott, who has the most chartable boat out of all us impoverished sailors, and the rest, as they as say, is history. And by that I mean Scott and Mike O’Neill were given 24 hours to ready a boat that had been sitting, at anchor, bottom unscrubbed, for about 4 months.

We were underway Sunday morning, trying to catch the tail end of a weather window that would hopefully give Toni smooth, calm seas over which he could easily paddle. He wanted to connect Isla San Jose and Topolobampo, a journey of about 80 nautical miles, and was expecting the journey to take about 48 hours. We pulled alongside Isla San Jose right as the sun was sinking below the horizon, making the dusty sandstone blush with the fading light. Toni readied his kayak, said his goodbyes, paddled over and touched the now murky dark rock, and we were on our way.

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Scott’s autopilot decided to stop working shortly after Toni started paddling. Unwilling to fiddle around with electrical connections in the dark, we decided to wait until morning to fix it. Fortunately, Scott was able to trace the problem and the steering system was functioning again by breakfast, but not before a night of hand steering combined with the frantic push to ready the boat left everyone tired and tunnel-visioned.

Toni paddled close to 60nm in the first 24 hours, which was much more than expected and probably due, in part, to the seas being so calm. By the second evening, however, both the wind and the seas were slowly starting to pick up and Toni started to tire. When he wanted to rest he pulled up and tied to the big boat, Sojourn. Whoever was on watch would mark a GPS waypoint and then drift until Toni felt able to continue. I’m pretty positive Toni added at least a couple of  miles onto his journey when, early on the second morning, he began to paddle away before I brought him back to the waypoint I had marked.

Adriana had been dutifully documenting the whole event despite being noticeably seasick. As someone who gets seasick myself (both Adriana and I would throw up during the course of the journey) I admired the way she was unwaveringly supportive and positive – any time Toni came within shouting distance she yelled a stream of motivational Spanish in his direction, which, if nothing else, kept him awake. Every time he came in to rest she conducted a mini-interview, asking Toni how he was feeling, what he was eating or drinking, and what kinds of wildlife he had seen (answers: tired, lots of water, lots of birds, respectively). Sadly, painfully, however, Adriana fumbled one night in an attempt to film Toni and a new GoPro went tumbling overboard, introducing Adriana to the face-slappingly brutal sense of loss that you feel watching your stuff sink before your eyes.

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Above: not taken with GoPro

It took Toni a full day to paddle the last 20 miles into Topolobampo and he fought for every single mile. He tried for hours to head for the channel into the inner estuary, but the wind and waves were set against him and eventually he decided to seek refuge closer into shore. This was a good decision on his part, because the water was calmer closer to land, but it meant we couldn’t follow because of the severe shoaling.

A few hours later and we were rocketing down the confetti strip of a channel into the inner harbour of the industrial little shrimping town of Topolobampo. We stayed in contact with Toni through VHF and connected him to the press; when we saw him again a small tourist panga carrying a photographer and a journalist were following him over the sandbar into the bay proper.  Seasickness cured, Adriana and I were shouting, cheering, in Spanish and English, caught up in the excitement of  his success.

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It took Toni almost 48 hours exactly from Isla San Jose to the mainland. Spectacular, really, given the last, grueling 24 hours. His arrival attracted what little crowd there was in Topolobampo and he rose from the kayak with the help of Adriana and Mike. He was exhaustion coated in adrenaline and when he stood he could not help leaning back at a disconcerting 30 – 45 degree angle, the contorted result of a body squished into a kayak for two days. Dazed, he gave a couple of interviews and then we escaped to dinner, much to the relief of my two-day-empty stomach.

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Toni’s feat had attracted the attention of the local department of tourism, and they used this opportunity to show off Bahia Topolobampo. The following morning Julien arrived with the press panga of the previous evening and we all jumped in for a panga tour of the Bahia.

The town itself is striking. It’s built up on this knobbly little peninsula making it look like a smaller, less prosperous Sausalito. The architecture is familiar, small, square houses with Spanish influence thrown on like seasoning, and it’s Mexico where the lack of zoning means an absolutely exquisite house can be next to an absolutely exquisite pile of shit, the abandoned lots like freckles on the cement face of the town. The smoke coming from the plant rises up and gets blown across the harbour; when it meets the ridge on the other side it condenses and tumbles back down into the bay – a beautiful, elegant demonstration of pollution and the water cycle.

We zoomed through the deep harbour and continued into the inner estuary, where the channel opens up into a large, four leaf clover-like bay. The water was packed with fishermen in pangas searching the bottom for the shrimp that is the staple of Topolobampo. We did a full circuit of a protected island in the middle of the estuary that has been set aside for the pelicans. The tour guide was speaking Spanish here so I’m not sure but they may have anywhere from 2 – 5 endangered (?) species of pelican that call this island home.

Next Julien took us back to the harbour and out towards the ocean, however before we reached the channel that took us out into the Sea of Cortez he turned into the mangroves. As he steered the panga deeper into the maze of canal-like waterways, he told a story to Toni and Adriana, in Spanish, who then relayed it to us, in English.

A few years ago the locals noticed a pregnant dolphin come into mangroves to give birth. After giving birth to a baby boy dolphin, the mother died and the baby dolphin remained in the mangroves, never knowing that there was a big wide ocean out there to explore. The dolphin’s name is Pechoco, and to this day he lives in a secluded lobe of the mangroves, presumably surviving on prey that comes his way and the fish the locals bring to feed him.

Once we reached a dead-end, Julien cut the motor, threw the anchor overboard and began splashing the water enthusiastically.

“Pechoco, Pechoco, Pechoco!”

Within a minute his noise brought Pechoco to the surface, the beautiful gray dolphin bumping his head against Julien and letting him run his hand down his body. We all scrambled for a touch, tipping the panga precariously over to one side. To all our disappointment, Pechoco then swam away, but Julien was not going to let him off that easy and within seconds he was down to his boxers and in the water. Not to be left behind, everyone jumped in after him, even though I’m almost positive no one brought a bathing suit.

If you stayed under the water long enough, Pechoco would come a find you and play with you. He came at you with a big open mouth grin on his face, using those little clicks to locate you, and then he would swim above you and give you a nice bump from the top. I have never swam with a dolphin ever before, and even though Pechoco was probably the least wild a wild dolphin can be, he was still a wild dolphin and swimming with a wild dolphin was beyond cool. Cool cool cool.

When Pechoco had had enough we left and finished our day at a beachfront restaurant that served the local specialty – shrimp. Amazing. After stuffing our faces we were returned to Sojourn; we said goodbye to Toni and Adriana, who were taking the ferry home, and made to leave Topolobampo.

Navigating the channel in the falling light was definitely exciting; we were helped by two pangeros who I remember fondly, however most of the return journey is a nauseous blur. The wind had picked up so we flew home, doing the entire journey from Topolobampo to La Paz in about 15 hours, many of which I was, again, seasick. I did develop quite a taste for ginger candies though. We pulled into marina, went and had a burger, then called it a night. Mission accomplished.

Of course, Pechoco is not the only animal to seek refuge in the mangroves. As we were discussing whether or not chickens and turkeys could fly the other day at the Shack, Rosie cited the time Travis got a turkey as a pet as incontrovertible proof that turkeys cannot fly. Apparently, this freebird hopped (not flew) over the fence to freedom and ran away to the mangroves. Not to be discouraged, Travis and Jon Wood set out to hunt this turkey who proceeded to avoid being caught for a couple of years before Travis and Jon finally gave up trying. Maybe the mangroves offer something like a witness protection program for animals, I don’t know, but after Pechoco, I think they are a magical place.

I thought Carnival was going to be rowdy – masked and costumed people filling the streets and dancing to the steady, infectious beat of many, many congas. And, apart from the Brazil float, which was rocking, business as usual, I was wrong.  Carnival is rowdy, but it’s a Tecate-sponsored, kid-friendly event which starts with a parade and ends with something like a cross between and old fair and the downtown market. I think this year’s theme was ‘under the sea.’

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You can see all these things at Carnival

Women everywhere sell these hollowed-out eggs filled with confetti that you can throw at the parade floats, and these colorful, irregularly shaped bits of paper cover the Malecon like a layer of dry skin. It’s also Mexico, so everything is delightfully under-regulated compared to U.S. standards. At the shooting range you can be dangerously casual with the loaded BB gun they hand you, and the men who run the stalls sporadically walk in between you and the targets with nothing more than a raised hand to protect them from the BBs. A whole block of stalls lost power about halfway through the night, and it took a good twenty minutes to get it back on. The re-illumination was greeted by a cheer from the local polka band, who until that point had been soldiering on bravely and playing all their electrical instruments acoustically.

But we all know what carnival is really about.

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Delicious delicious food. The smells come in waves – you get the fried dough warmth pulsing from the churro and gordita stands and the saliva-inducing bacon on meat action that is a Mexican hotdog. Every now and then the wind changes and you get a visceral reminder of the hundreds of hastily constructed porta potties that will be the final resting place of all these churros, gorditas and hotdogs, but for the most part everyone stays in deep-fried happiness.

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Also mangos

Just like any fair-like event, every single game is rigged. The basketball hoops are just centimeters larger than the irregularly shaped basketballs you are given to throw, and the pop gun you are given to shoot down the 500 peso note with will undoubtably skew to the left. If you are lucky enough to actually win something the prizes range anywhere from morally ambiguous to downright distasteful.

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I love it. Viva La Paz.

In other news, Michael and I are gearing up to wage a full-scale siege on the city of La Paz. Until recently we were a respectable, two-dinghy family with both Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (our little plastic Walker Bay) and our Zodiac, which from now on shall be referred to as the Deflatable. I’ll give you three guesses why.

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As some of you may know, we were given the leaky Zodiac for free and used it to successfully tow Azul into her slip in Marina Mazatlan, but we unfortunately lost the inflatable floor on the journey home to La Paz. For a while the Deflatable was nothing more than an ornament, dangling artfully off the back of the boat, but we managed to borrow hard plastic floorboards from a friend and naively thought we had solved all our problems. We put the hard floor in and within hours the PVC bottom that I had meticulously glued to the pontoons using 5200 (it’s a permanent sealant that is to sailors what duct tape is to college students) started pulling away and our little boat became little more than a puddle. Then one of the pontoons got a hole in it and deflated and now it’s nothing more than a forlorn bit of PVC hanging off the back of the boat. Seriously, you’d think we’d pull it on deck to save face, but no, it floats like a proud dingleberry, a testament to both our laziness and our sharpened hatred of inflatable dinghies.

Then one of those small, underappreciated miracles happened and our friend Slade gave us his 14′ fiberglass skiff to use. Since Slade keeps his boat in a slip at Costa Baja, he has no use for what we have affectionately christened ‘Monster Dinghy,’ and in order to keep the outboard working and in good shape he is letting us use the dinghy until the wind blows us away from La Paz.

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It’s, like, half the size of the big boat

Monster Dinghy is fast. Like, let’s-go-whale-watching-this-morning-no-big-deal fast. And she’s big. But she has a very energetic leak that the driver has to put a foot over otherwise some surprising bidet action goes on. No worries, we are used to things being almost perfect (actually we are used to things being far from perfect) so we are unbelievably happy and grateful.

For those keeping track, that’s three dinghies – one for everyone including the cat. Then Zak came by the other day and brought with him a shrunken pair of pajama pants and a two-man inflatable kayak. The pajama pants were for Michael – before being washed they fit Zak at 6’3”, and now, post-wash, they fit Michael at 5’5”. Another reason being small has its advantages. The kayak was a gift to both of us, and like every gift horse it’s missing a few teeth (i.e. it leaks), but Zak gave us a patch kit and a little bit of motivation, and now we are going to use our flotilla to take over the city. We are finally giving Crazy Carl a run for his money, and he uses all his little boats like a nautical set of golf clubs.

I was walking up to the Shack the other day and, as usual, paused to look at myself in the tinted window of the travel agent. I was shocked from my hasty hair brushing by the honking of car horns and looked up in time to see Travis, hands outstretched, running through the intersection after a streak of white fur. This cute little bundle of energy is the Schnauzer-poodle mix (Schua-poon? Poonhauzer?) named Princess and she is the newest addition to the Shack family. I could use this opportunity to rail on Travis for owning a little white poodle with bows in her hair, but believe me, the man has gotten it from all angles and honestly, Princess is adorable.

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Drew and Miya left this week, which was unexpectedly hard. As travelers, we are all addicted to moving and are all familiar with the itchy restlessness that comes from staying in one place too long, but all this comes with the dull, uncomfortable pain of saying goodbye to great friends. So we don’t say goodbye, we say see you later, and may we share a drink together when we meet again.

And the circle never ends; Rudderless Richard is back in town, and he has a girlfriend. He just strolled casually into the Shack, arm around her, like it was no big thing, for Christ’s sake. The reunion was a happy one, and even at the Shack, where they know us, everyone was unsure for at least an hour whether or not Michael and Richard were actually brothers. So we’ve been on an impromptu vacation for the past few days: down to Todos Santos for a day of surfing, oasis-finding, tequila-buying and pizza-eating. Yeah…don’t feel too sorry for us.

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Hermanos

So that’s it, we’re still alive and 3.5/5 boats are floating! Also – we scrubbed our bottom so the toilet is fixed!

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He is absolutely covered in Brine Shrimp

 

 

Michael put a heart around Slade’s name on the chalkboard the other day because on Saturday, February 9, a neighbor found Slade lying, clearly in distress, on the floor of his apartment. The neighbor called an ambulance, waited until they came, locked up Slade’s apartment and came to the Shack to tell us what had happened. This was around 5 o’clock, so the whole family was there, enjoying the pre-dinner lull. Mike O’Neill and Rosie immediately set out in Mike’s truck to find him in what would turn out to be an epic hunt through most of the hospitals in La Paz.

It appears that Slade had a hemorrhagic stroke. He is stable right now and the doctors are waiting for the swelling to go down to determine the extent of the brain damage.

I raced with Slade on his boat Moonshadow in December and we won our class. Michael and I were set to race with him again on the 17th. He lent us Monster Dinghy. He has given us countless rides around town and always gave me a hug and a smile when he walked into the bar. My thoughts are with you, Slade.

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Street Art in La Paz

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Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride t/t Azul

Surprisingly, our first real surf landing wasn’t until Santa Cruz and we went for it with that blissful ignorance that so often accompanies our more epic endeavors. We decided to spend one night at anchor in Santa Cruz in order to save some money before a high surf advisory would force us back into the marina. We also, for some reason, decided that that night would be the night we did our grocery shopping.

I think it hit us about halfway to shore that the waves were larger than they seemed from Azul, but a burst of adrenaline and a stroke of luck combined and we made it onto the beach. The real test came hours later when we were staring at those same waves and contemplating a surf takeoff. First off, the grocery store was quite a bit farther from the pier than the little map on Michael’s smart phone would have us believe, and second, a ‘normal’ amount of groceries when you have a car parked close by becomes an unreasonable amount of groceries when you have to carry them three or four miles, even with backpacks. Tired and frustrated, we finally got back to our little dinghy, turned to face the ocean and began to understand the consequences of indiscriminately landing dinghies on beaches.

I was slowly and painfully coming to realization that a successful surf takeoff in these waves would mean getting wet up to our armpits and I suppressed the feeling of impending doom by marching the dinghy up and down the beach, always trying to find the mirage of calm water that was consistently 50ft to the left. Eventually we decided to try our luck with pier and Michael set off to find a ladder while I dragged the dinghy back towards the pier. The only ladder at all accessible during the ‘off season’ was one about halfway down the east side of the pier; the only obstruction was a short length of chain with a sign saying ‘BE BACK BY 3PM.’

The hard part was now walking the dinghy to this launch, seeing as the pier stood 20 – 30ft above the ocean. We decided to tie the painter (the long dinghy dogleash we use to tie to docks) to both the line we use to lash the oars and one of the stern lines – essentially making an extra long painter – which meant we could walk along the pier while dragging the dinghy along the water below us. If this wasn’t hard enough, the pier had 10ft struts sticking out the bottom that we had to artfully whip the painter around to continue making forward progress. One particularly annoying strut was too close to the water and eventually the two of us literally had to hoist the dinghy up out of the water and over it. We finally made it – but not before having to weave the painter over and around a few stacks of kayaks. It was an impromptu obstacle course done while carrying two 6ft oars and pounds of now very compressed groceries. We made it back to the boat at 1AM, having left on our adventure at 5PM. Our only casualty was one cadbury creme egg.

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This was, like, the only picture we took in Santa Cruz

This ordeal was still a very vivid memory when we made our next stop in San Simeon. San Simeon is a tiny little alcove of an anchorage that has one rickety pier extending out into the water and though our Charlie’s Charts maintained that there was a ladder attached to the pier, we couldn’t see one through the binoculars and, again, a surf landing seemed our only viable option. I, understandably, was hesitant so I stayed on the boat to work on my weather cloth while Michael, heroically, decided to row to shore. I made him put his valuables in the dive bag – thank God – but otherwise he was confident in crocs, shorts and a wool jumper. He set off and I watched him approach the shore through binoculars. If he was going to crash I wanted to see it.

He got to the ‘takeoff zone’ quickly and paused to catch a wave into shore. On the big boat I was watching him in between stitches; I had him in my sights when he was about 15ft from the sand, and one second he was bobbing before the froth and the next he was completely gone. Mildly shocked, I scanned the water line and saw him emerge, totally soaked, next to the upturned dinghy. He shook himself and bent over to pick up the oars and the dive bag, which had survived the crash. He walked a few steps up the beach, dropped everything, stripped to his shorts, turned around and made to flip the dinghy over. His entrance had drawn the attention of the couple walking along the beach who, at this point, joined Michael to help him flip the dinghy. They quickly turned it over and dragged it up the beach; they parted ways and Michael put his sweatshirt back on and headed into town.

It was hilarious watching all this through the binoculars but after a little while I did start to feel bad. I figured he’d only be gone an hour or so and I decided that as soon as I saw him start to come back I’d get the water boiling for some tea. In the meantime, I’d put out a fresh set of clothes for Michael and work on my weather cloth. Well, a couple of hours later the sun started to set and there was still no sign of Michael – I was now no longer curious but hungry, and therefore, angry. Finally I spotted his blond head on the beach and, relieved, put on the water to boil. I planned to watch him takeoff but as I lit the stove I heard cries of elation that could only mean one thing – he had gotten past the breaking waves.

Now I expected a cold, pissed-off, broken man to return to my warm, loving arms. And as Michael jumped excitedly back on the boat, I realized this man was anything but broken. This man was drunk.

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Above: Not Sober

The story goes that after he capsized, the friendly couple who helped him pull the dinghy onto shore offered to give him a ride down to ‘new’ San Simeon, a few miles down the road, after he inquired about a general store. He politely declined and made his way to ‘old’ San Simeon, which sits in this little bite under the watchful eyes of the Hearst castle. He stumbled into the one public building which triples as a deli/general store/wine bar and, luckily for him, the wine bar was the only thing open, with one other couple seated at the bar. Upon telling them his story, the man exclaimed “Get this guy a drink!” and the bartender, Elmer, dutifully began pouring Michael samples of the various Hearst wines. About ten samples later, Michael realized the sun was setting and attempted to pay for the tasters. Elmer refused to be paid so Michael decided to buy a bottle of wine to share with me instead. At that point in the story he presented me with the wine and… he was right, it was very good.

The next day we decided to find out once and for all whether or not there was a ladder up the end of the old pier. We rowed in and actually did end up finding a slimy, barnacle covered ladder, but the damn thing ended about 8ft below the floorboards. So we were forced to land the dinghy on the beach yet again, however this time it went much smoother. Both Michael and I got to have samples of all the Hearst wines this time, even a fortified zinfandel that turned out to be both delicious and potent. At about sunset we figured we were fortified enough for our surf takeoff and with liquor fueled determination we walked the dinghy past the breaking waves, jumped in and rowed back to the boat.

The most recent surf landing we’ve had to do that required any sort of skill was in Santa Barbara. We arrived in Santa Barbara at 1:30 in the morning, exhausted after 36 hours around Pt. Conception. We set our hook just east of Stearn’s Wharf and fell into a deep sleep, only to be woken up at 11:00AM by an impatient knocking. “Who’s Babs Beckwith?” was the question posed to a sleepy, shirtless Michael as he poked his head through the hatch. We explained our registration dilemma for the first time south of Pt. Conception and realized quickly that down here, where the weather is nicer, people care a lot more about if you have things like proper documentation and insurance. After verifying that we do indeed own Azul, the harbour cop pointed us a mile east to the free, year-long anchorage; anchoring in lee of the wharf was now only allowed in the summertime. No worries, and pleased we didn’t get a ticket, we motored over to the free anchorage and settled into what was to become our neighbourhood for the next week.

We decided to do a surf landing the first night because the sea was calm and we didn’t want to row a mile back to the wharf. The landing was smooth and graceful and, luckily for us, the bartender who served us $3.00 happy hour nachos also really wanted to buy and move onto a boat. Having learned we just came around Conception, he gave us two sangria ‘mistakes’ for free. Again, liquor proved to be the answer, and we launched the dinghy successfully, with little to no drama.

The next day, however, was a different story. We finally decided to do some climbing, and we chose to go to the ultimate climbing destination in Santa Barbara: San Ysidro. 8 – 10 sixty foot pitches sit side by side on this small but busy bit of rock. Pockets and slab climbing are the name of the game – it’s no Eldorado Springs but it did give Michael and I some needed verticality. Unfortunately, San Ysidro is a good 5 mile walk away from the beach. We had only time to do a few climbs before it started getting dark and we had to head back.

Hungry, we stopped by Von’s to pick up dinner – 1lb of crab, some sherry and a delicious delicious smelling loaf of french bread. Tired, but anticipating a hearty meal, we walked back to the beach with our packs weighing heavy on backs.

It took us a few minutes to break through the denial and admit to ourselves that the surf was quite a bit bigger than it was that morning. Neither of us said anything because it was inevitable – we had to do this surf takeoff or we were not going back to the boat. The closest thing we had to a plan B was dragging the dinghy a mile along the beach back to Stearn’s Wharf and pull our patented ‘elongate the painter and drag’ technique. Yeah right – pulling the dinghy that far would take hours and we had french bread that was rapidly becoming stale. We stripped and untied the dinghy before turning to comment on the situation.

‘Shit.’

I watched the big waves crash and realized that a capsize was a very real possibility. But there was no other option.

You don’t feel the cold water during a surf takeoff because of the focus it takes walking a dinghy over big breaking waves. I was in up to my armpits when I heard Michael shout, from behind, ‘Get in!’ I dove into the front half of the dinghy (hard to do when the dinghy is at head height) and managed to center/flip myself in time to see a big wave rise and begin to crest.

‘Oh fuck – Michael it’s breaking!’ With a crazy combination of movements, Michael pushed the dinghy down and forward in order to make it go over the wave, while simultaneously jumping up to keep his head above the water. Miraculously, we stayed upright. I set the oars and Michael jumped into the dinghy. He fumbled with the oars for a moment and with two strokes we were off – successfully out of the breaking waves and back on our way to Azul.

And that’s the last real dinghy surfing we’ve done.