Archive for November, 2009

How to catch a shark

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Step 1:  Take a piece of old red and white line that came off a used boat you bought a decade ago.

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Step 2:  Ruffle it up a bit and add a hook.

(A red and white string walks into a bar. “You’re a string! We don’t serve your kind here” the bartender says. The string whips his bitter end into a bowline on a bight and shakes his whipping free, and says “A string?! I’m a frayed knot!”)

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Step 3: Add a stinky deck squid. 
(He died to be near his beloved green sheet.  It was an ill-fated match, he was a squid, she was a dacron staysail sheet. Love conquers many things but a union between squid and running rigging cannot be accommodated.)

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Step 4:  Deploy the candy-cane lure at 5 knots off the west coast of Baja, hope to catch a tuna.

Then cut the hook off with a pair of lineman’s pliers when your sure he’s too tired to take your hand off. He gets a cool piercing that the indie shark chicks will dig, we get a nice picture and the lure back.  It’s a win/win.

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To catch a mahi: repeat as above, in the Gulf of California, but keep the mahi. 

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The efficacy of this method is bourn out in the wide-eyed shock and disbelief this mahi suffered on succumbing to the candy cane lure trick (or was it the raspberry vodka we sloshed down his gullet at the coup de grace…wait…  a mahi walks into a bar and spits out a candy cane dacron lure…)

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23°23.85′N 109°23.29′W 21-Nov-09 08:00 PST

The Sea of Cortez

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

What a difference a few hundred miles makes. We started to see evidence of a change in the marine ecosystem in Bahia Santa Maria, reef fish were appearing among the rocks but the water was no warmer than the Channel Islands and we still had Garibaldis and other California coast rock dwellers.

Forty miles up the inside of the Sea of Cortez a full complement of Indo-Pacific reef fish, including a surprising variety of puffer fish, were enjoying their communities in extremely high salinity, very warm water, with a bit of live coral. We must confess that one big trigger fish is no longer enjoying his community (he was a glutton for deck squid on the one-eyed lead head hook). It will be little consolation but he played a very important role in tonight’s banana coconut curry. The deck squid was particularly hard working, we trolled him about 60 miles across the southern tip of Baja before converting the remaining part of him into trigger fish.

The range of fauna over the transition from north pacific to tropical waters in the past 48 hours has been remarkable. On the outside we caught two sharks, a baby Great White and a Blue shark, and we could have had a huge sperm whale. We did not keep any of the three although K is 30% regretful that we didn’t eat the Blue shark. The little Great White gracefully de-hooked himself after a look at the transom and the net. The sperm whale sounded right before we got to him, but we weren’t really trying.

It was a good passage with light winds and seas. The Leonid meteors were spectacular. We made landfall at Cabo Falso and sailed past Cabo San Lucas last night on a perfect beam reach. The city lights shimmered like a smudge of gold dust between two black mountains. The north wind was thick with 700 miles of desert heat and the smells of humans. Its a little hard to believe we made it even this far. As with all owner-operated organizations, great things are done in small increments.

23°22.82′N 109°25.37′W 19-Nov-09 18:59 PST

23°22.82′N 109°25.37′W 19-Nov-09 19:46 UTC

Bahia Santa Maria to the Gulf of California

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

We were entertained by a variety of wildlife on our final jump southbound along the west coast of the Baja peninsula. 

This pair of…um…black and white forky-tailed birds performed an aerial ballet for a while.

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Boobies of the red-footed type would buzz us repeatedly, fascinated with our rigging or seriously longing for a lounge in our spreaders. A particularly boobish one miscalculated a high speed approach, bounced off the jib and landed in the sea. Its a good thing we don’t have any big glass windows.

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Then one afternoon we heard some un-seabird-like chirping, and soon a small seafaring songbird came in for a landing.

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We assumed he stopped because he was tired, but the real reason soon became apparent. What do you do if you’re flying over the ocean and have an itch on your butt?  Find a ship of opportunity as soon as you can.  We were glad to oblige, it’s completely impossible to fly with your head up your arse.

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Now, K has reported supposed “whale” sightings on his watches before, but this time he had some pretty good documentation to back up his claim.  No one was hurt in the observation of this whale by smacking their heads on the bulkheads during an all- hands call to enjoy whale watching.

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We were glad this huge sperm whale showed no interest in our bits of string and hooks. He did sound on one side of the boat and surface on the other but he probably cleared the keel by a thousand vertical feet.

23°36.98′N 111°39.46′W 18-Nov-09 12:00 PST

On the Eating of Trash Species

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

This afternoon we took one of our ripest deck squids and dinghied over to an adjacent reef to try and extend the meat larder. S saw grouper (or something similar meeting the ” lurky fish” criteria) under rock ledges while snorkeling. It weighed on K’s mind for a day. It took a couple of days to get back in that saddle after loosing a beautiful candy cane colored trolling lure to something bigger than we honestly wanted to deal with.

It was truly sad, the lure was on its inaugural deployment having been fabricated the night before on the night watch. We were sailing in from offshore, the sun was rising, we were crossing a steep pinnacle at the edge of the continental shelf. It was a sweet, sweet arrangement. “Get ready to catch something in about a half an hour” K told S as she came on watch. 20 minutes later she saw a flash of fins, a full extension of the hand line bungee and pow! that baby was gone, leader, lure, swivels. everything back to the 600 lb longline mono K found drifting on some ocean long ago. Whatever it was straightened a split ring meant for the lifeline shackles, maybe a big tuna, sailfish, or a shark.

There was mourning for the loss of the candy cane Dacron lure (actually a bit of old jib sheet from the marina dumpster, probably hanging off the trashed HR sail). That thing was the bomb. But we still have our deck squids and it was off to the reef we went with an ancient spinning rod and a lead-head hook with an eye painted on it. The second cast hooked up an Arrowtooth Flounder.

Those of you who fish the North Pacific may appreciate this fish for its hard won reputation as a turd-hustler. These fish will eat anything stinky faster than almost anybody else in the ocean. Two months ago we would have cut it up for bait, but under the present circumstances, not feeling in a position to be throwing things back and with dinner time fast approaching, we hustled that turd-hustler into the hot oil.

And so we stand tonight with hands on hearts in honor of all the Arrowteeth Flounders we have maligned and misused when in fact we should have been frying them. Frite Arrowtooth es delicioso.

24°45.82′N 112°15.80′W 17-Nov-09 00:15 UTC

Cruising Yin and Yang

Monday, November 16th, 2009

We’ve discovered there’s a definite dichotomy to our cruising life, and lately we’d been feeling a bit heavy on the “ordeal” side.

Life is good when we’re at anchor, filled with simple pleasures: a full night’s sleep in a horizontal bed, coffee in the morning, reading, swimming, going ashore, etc. But our overnight passages have definitely become the yin to the anchorage yang. We’ve had some great sailing and witnessed some spectacular beauty at sea for sure, but our recent passages have been something of a grind. It’s probably because they’re too short – usually just a couple days – not long enough for S’s stomach to adjust to the constant motion, and we suspect, for us to become exhausted enough that we can sleep heavily on our off-watches through all the noises and motion. On our last passage, 50 hours from Bahia Tortugas to Bahia Santa Maria, we had fluky winds, pesky squalls, and the ever-present northwesterly swells to carefully present our backside to (or else roll obnoxiously). At the end of it we were sleep deprived, queasy (S), rather low on humor, and quite ready for some R&R.

Thankfully, we have little doubt of our anchor set here in Bahia Santa Maria. When we arrived Saturday morning the 18-knot winds blew the boat sideways downwind as K deployed the anchor and chain, but we felt the anchor bite hard as it whipped the bow around to face it. We slept soundly well into the afternoon.

Yesterday we set out to increase the fun quotient of our trip, and it was a resounding success. This bay is beautiful. The blue water is warm, and there’s a spectacular sandy beach that extends for miles. We collected pretty shells and went body surfing and snorkeling. We were also pleased to find we could successfully land and re-launch our dinghy through the surf – an important but intimidating cruising skill to learn. Today we started getting ready for the next leg, the 345 miles to La Paz, down around the corner in the Sea of Cortez. We scrubbed the flora and fauna off the boat’s bottom, to the delight of the local population of juvenile jacks, and switched out our big genoa for the lighter version – a former Halberg-Rassey headsail K salvaged from the Shilshole dumpster giveaway pile last year and recut to fit Khamseen. It ain’t pretty but we have high hopes for its billowy power. We’re refreshed, S is armed with a full pack of Stugeron, and we’re eager to go again.

24°45.89′N 112°15.67′W 16-Nov-09 23:15 UTC

Big Birds

Monday, November 16th, 2009

This post is dedicated to our friends at Pelican Packaging Inc.001

Everyone loves a pelican, in most places they are the comical residents of the local pier looking for easy chow.


The pelicans of Baja are more serious, they are an organized fish killing army of thousands, annihilating schools of bait fish with disturbing efficiency.


We watched as The Six Pelicans of the Apocalypse gathered a pterodactyl legion of menhaden death.


A horde of pelicans and cormorants smelled the blood and gathered from miles around, covering the surface of the bay with waves of low level birds.


Soon, thousands of circling birds plunged into an area the size of a swimming pool as the bait school made its way past the point and into the bay (probably a mistake on their part).


These birds were operating under VFR with no flight traffic control authority and yet we documented no midair collisions.


The fisherman’s coop also mobilized to cash in on the bait bonanza.


Two skiffs put out a small purse seine.


Then they noticed a lot of pelicans.


AGHHHHHHH!! It’s a pelican nightmare!

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By the time they got to the end of the net they had one fish box of bait left and were floating in a sea of bloated, burping birds.

27°41.00′N 114°52.70′W 15-Nov-09 20:00 PST

Bahia Tortugas/San Bartolome Bay

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

We came into Turtle Bay to work on the wind vane and stayed a while waiting for wind to take us further south. It was a beautiful sunrise landfall.

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We picked up borders overnight who did not fare well but will make some sweet, sweet bait.

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Squid Girl with all but one; the stinky one that we didn’t find for 3 days. She thought it was me, I thought it might be me, but it was a dried deck squid. 

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We sailed into the  channel with Monte Bartolome to the north. 

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Sargazo Point is a lonely posting for the lighthouse keeper. They pass the time by whitewashing rocks and spelling things out and lining the road with them.

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Gritty downtown Bahia Tortugas.


The new cemetery.

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Most towns have a fuel dock. Bahia Tortugas has an entire fuel hill. We didn’t get fuel but we did eat fish tacos and saw some great puppy washin’.

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We saw a lot of interesting dogs. None of them appeared to have rabies in spite of the convictions of our travel medicine advisors at UW.

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This one was too sleepy to show signs of any pathology.

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This one is ready for winter even though it was 85 F in the shade.


During our entire four days here we were unknowingly running one hour behind all the locals.  That explains the Angelus Bells ringing at 5 PM from the little church.

We knocked out two good days of boat projects, plus a day of cleaning and laundry, and we’ve re-stocked our fruit and veg bins with some great items (S is flaming off a load of bananas foster as I write).   We’re ready to move south.

27°41.80′N 114°52.82′W 11-Nov-09 21:10 PST


Sunday, November 8th, 2009

El Molita tiene un chichone sobre su cabesa: The little mola has a lump on his head.

We know that we hit him on the head because heads are all they have, a grave liability if you are to be hit. Maybe if they invested a little more into swimming gear and a little less into heads… Anyway, if it seemed unlikely that we could find two molas in the foggy waters of central California then it can be nothing less than divine intervention that we should bonk into one off the coast of northern Baja. We never would have known except that I heard a thump and saw Twitchy’s steering oar twitch in an uncharacteristic spasm.

When I told S she said “Ohhh nooo!” in a tone reserved for women learning of an injured baby fox or upon hearing that a baby plopped from its crib onto the floor. She was adamant that her concerns were 50/50 for the mola and for Twitchy but I read 80/20 in favor of the mola in her eyes. I freely admit my concerns were 95/5 for Twitchy over the mola. When you hit a mola at sea who has somehow dodged the keel and rudder to be clipped by the little appendage hidden behind the boat it safe to say, “It is written”. Clearly the will of God.

In the method of a classic tragedy we (K) may have brought this upon ourselves by mocking the fishy deficiencies of the mola in an earlier blog entry. If so, there is justice for molas and for those who defame them. I was mollified to see the mola swimming away after the collision but Twitchy had been fully molinated and was no longer turning the boat to each zephyr crossing its vane. For one sad hour we thought we had lost the system for the rest of this leg, leading to some very unpleasant immediate options:

1) Hand steering for 48 hours to the good bay where we could hide from the oncoming surf event of the century generated by a wicked Gulf of Alaska Low pressure system.
2) Hand steering for 5 hours to a crappier bay where we would have to enter in the middle of the night and then wait out the surf event.

Happily we were dealt only a warning blow. After some brute straightening of the oar, Twichy was responding to anything over about 12 kts which was fine because the seastate was at the “Frisky” level on the Khamseen Scale (somewhere between “Booorrring” and “We Ain’t Leaving Port Yet”).

Then we ate chicken mole’. Coincidence? Perhaps. And yet, what two words are better suited in the entire realm of culinary possibilities than mola mole’? In a slightly different scenario with a less well stocked meat ration we might have known, but as I said, the mola swam slowly away and we substituted with chicken. S did catch a tuna in spite of her terrible disbelief in my 15 year old homemade mahi/tuna lures and dumpster reel. The whole system worked splendidly including the dumpster landing net and the salvaged vodka that we used to (somewhat) anesthetize the little fellow before processing. But that is another fish story.

A subsequent day of lighter air convinced us that we needed to come in from offshore and try to improve our wind steering performance so here we sit in Bahia Tortugas waiting for a clear mind and a calm sea to perform an examination and repair of Twitchy’s delicate ligature.

30°19.00′N 116°25.00′W 08-Nov-09 14:39 PDT

27°41.28′N 114°53.13′W 08-Nov-09 17:02 UTC

SD to Ensenada

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

We took a few pictures on the very uneventful leg from San Diego to Ensenada via the Coronado Islands.011

The Oracle America’s Cup boat was heading out to practice as we got ready to leave the Point Loma anchorage. Check out the roller furling, very cushy!


South Coronado Island was damp and wintery until it kicked its fog blanket off late in the afternoon. Of course it pulled the fog blanket back on in time for our 0300 departure. We spent quite some time idling away from the islands between rocks and fishpens without seeing either. Half the day required fleece, Extratuffs, carharts and watch caps. Shocking!

Ensenada is full of helpful marina people and truly wretched gringo bars. We found a nice grocery store stocked with the coveted UHT refrigeration-free box milk and more. Now we (really just K) need to find the meaticeria. And some diesel. And the customs house since we didn’t check in yet.

31°51.57′N 116°37.53′W 04-Nov-09 21:01 PST

San Diego Exit

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

San Diego was a great stop for us. It could be one of the best urban anchorage experiences we’ve had so far.

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We’ll miss the friendly coast guards with their awesome machinery. We probably saw them deploy on 50 missions of various types. In one they saved 5 sailors in another they lost 7 of their own.


It helps to have family in in town when you sail in. Actually its mostly about having family in town… living in the same town with my brother for the first time in 20 years cannot be understated as a recipe for an excellent port call. Add a groovy sister-in-law and a clever niece and one might wonder why we migrate around the country all our lives.


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But migrate we must… I saw many beautiful things on the way out of town…


We all know that chicks dig sea lions, but everyone loves a sea lion with his nose in the air.


Sause Brothers towing escorted us down the channel on their way back to Portland (a trip best made in a tug).


The sunset called us out to an offshore anchorage for a pre-departure night. Its nice to slosh around in your sleep for a night before heading offshore.


We anchored in the moon light and settled in for a not so quiet night with a background buzzing of navy helicopters practicing their hovering technique and the occasional low level strafing run at mast top level by something to fast to see.


32°40.38′N 117°13.10′W 02-Nov-09 20:01 PST