Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Pineapple Secret
By Michael

July 30. It's 11:06 a.m. It's 101F outside
and 100F inside. Can you imagine your
house that temperature? We run the
fans a lot. Fortunately, the refer is still
going strong, keeping the pineapple cold. 
For all you pineapple-loving cruisers in the tropics, I’ve discovered the way to eat it perfectly sweet, every time. All you need is a pineapple, a knife, some tupperware, and refrigeration.

I’d heard before about choosing a ripe pineapple based on the ease with which a leaf can be plucked from the center of the head. But this knowledge has never been of much help to me in terms of choosing the best time to cut open this fruit. Sometimes I’ve been lucky, but more often than not, no matter how that leaf is to pluck, what I get is either not ripe enough or too ripe.

That was then.

Now I no longer fret. I buy a good-looking pineapple in the store, one that is more green than not, bring it home, and cut it up. It’s usually a bit tart or a bit bland, not quite ready for eating. I put it into the tupperware and into the fridge where, surprisingly, this fruit will continue to ripen at a good clip.

Two or three days later, I pull out the now refreshingly chilled and perfectly sweet pineapple.

In the same vein, we’ve learned to use our fridge to increase the lifespan of our avocado supply. We love avocados, but how long can you enjoy them aboard when in the tropics and away from grocery stores? We’ve gone a month.

We used to buy them hard and green and then they’d be ripe after three days. Then we’d stick them in the fridge and get a couple more days out of them—but no more than that. Like bananas, ripe avos never seemed happy in there.

But then we discovered this: hard green avos will live happily at the bottom of the fridge for as much as 25 days. We stick a bunch in there, removing two or three at a time as needed, to ripen as normal. In this way, we plan to enjoy a batch of fresh guacamole at the end of our future Pacific crossing.

So pineapples and avocados are taken care of. Now I’m off to solve a more important food problem: how do we stow ice cream without a freezer?


Big afternoon thunderstorm coming, our view from
the La Paz anchorage. We are seeing this every
day now. Sometimes they pack quite a punch, in
terms of wind and rain.
And this is how summer in the Baja feels. Fortunately, when
the beer is gone, I've got the next best thing: cold, sweet pineapple.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An Herbal Tale
By Michael

This is how I used to shop for basil.
We grew basil in our D.C. backyard garden. The plant was like a weed in that climate and for a few months every year, we ate basil on everything and made pesto by the quart.

And we didn’t take our basil bonanza for granted. For years before we owned our own home, we harvested our basil in grocery stores, a few non-organic sprigs packaged in thin, clear-plastic containers and waiting patiently with other, like-packaged fresh herbs. It was barely enough for a garnish and would set us back $2.50 a pop.

Long-immersed in the flavors of Mexico, I’d not given basil a thought for a while. Then I saw it. In Chadraui (one of the big-box stores here in La Paz). In the produce section. A large wicker basket bathed in fluorescent light and brimming with dozens of big, fresh bunches of basil.

My pulse quickened as the necessary components of a new meal came together. We had dried oregano and rosemary aboard. Pasta is widely available. Many of the bland, white Mexican cheeses could stand-in for mozzarella…onions, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, parmesan—check, check, check.

But how much was this bunch of fresh basil the size of a baseball mit gonna cost?

I looked for an Albahaca shelf tag, but there was none. The tag beneath the basil read Epazote: 4.50 c/u. This meant they sold epazote for four-and-a-half pesos a bunch. But this tag was misplaced, because while epazote is an herb, it’s nothing like basil (albahaca).

I decided to go for it. Surely this mammoth bunch of albahaca would cost an arm and leg, but it would be a nice treat.

Chadraui doesn’t have stickers on their produce with four-digit identifying codes. The cashiers just have to know them. Unloading my cart that day, I missed the cashier ringing up my basil and so I didn’t note the price. But outside, I scanned my receipt and found it. She’d charged me 4.5 pesos for epazote. How could this Mexican native confuse the two herbs? It didn’t make sense, but it didn’t matter; I’d just scored about a quarter-pound of beautiful basil for the equivalent of 35 cents U.S.

Over the next few months, I bought increasing quantities of basil. Each time I was charged for epazote. It was so consistent, I began to wonder if it was a La Paz thing, that everyone here just took a vote and decided to call albahaca, epazote. It’s what I needed to believe to ease my conscience. Because if it wasn’t true, I was a thief and the amount of money I’d cost the store to date, walking out with pounds and pounds of basil for pennies, was nearing the threshold of grand theft.

Then I found myself in Chadraui with Carla, another cruiser on her Big Shop before sailing north.

“Do you guys like basil?”

She answered enthusiastically in the affirmative.

“Oh my god, have I got a secret to share…”

Summer was dawning and I walked Carla over to the football-sized leafy bouquets and showed her the Epazote shelf tag beneath them. I encouraged her to buy half-a-dozen bunches. “Pesto will keep forever,” I said.

I tossed a couple into my own cart and when we checked out, Carla was several registers away. I watched my basil move along the conveyor belt until the cashier plucked the bag up and held it to her nose. With her eyes closed, she took a deep inhale before a serene smile brightened her face.

“Ahhh,” she moaned, her eye lids fluttering in ecstasy, “albahaca!

I swallowed, on the verge of yelling out to contradict her: This is epazote! Don’t you remember the vote?

The gig was up. Now in a panic, I worried about Carla paying god-knows-what for an obscene pile of this expensive herb I’d promised her was almost free. I missed the price of my albahaca that flashed on the display. When the cashier was done, I paid and slowly wheeled my cart outside before looking at my receipt. Carla was right behind me and I’d already started apologizing before I saw it: Albahaca 2@ 3.25……6.50—or about fifty cents U.S. for my two bunches.

I’d been ripped off for months.


Eleanor in her spot, ruins in Puerto Escondido.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Myth of the Cruising Kid
By Michael

My girls with a few of their D.C. friends
who don't even own a boat. Windy,
Eleanor, and Frances just returned to
Mexico after three weeks in
the homeland.
There is a belief, widely held and oft-repeated in many forms, in many cases almost by rote. I call it The Myth of the Cruising Kid. In short, it is the assumption that the cruising lifestyle is an antidote to pediatric ills, a magic pill that is sure to turn out a master race of former cruising kids.

My introduction to this myth came as soon as we tossed our kids aboard Del Viento and sailed into the unknown. Thereafter, in nearly every port since, we’ve been met with heaps of assurance that the cruising life will benefit our kids beyond measure.

“It’s so great you’re doing this,” cruisers tell us, nodding and smiling at Eleanor and Frances, “getting them out here, away from the shopping malls and the video games. They are going to thrive.” Then they often add wistfully, “If I had it to do all over again…”

Others may offer, “All the cruising kids I’ve meet are so mature, they look you in eye and they talk to you like little grown-ups,” they say smiling down at our two non-eye-contacting mutes.

These are really nice things to hear, and I strongly agree that this life is a good one for our kids, for our family. But though these messengers are well-intentioned, I don’t think this cruising life setting automatically produces successful, independent, happy kids. And that is really the sentiment we hear from people.

Cruising kids enjoy an inherent, increased exposure to nature and to other cultures and ways of life. And this exposure is what’s often cited in support of The Myth of the Cruising Kid. But I believe that the nice cruising kids I meet are not the way they are because of the cruising-specific elements in their lives. Rather, I think the magic sauce that these kids drink liberally is available, land or sea. I think it’s the role they’re able to play as crewmembers—important, productive members of a household—and the increased time they spend with parents and siblings. These things give kids an important sense of connectedness.

And while it’s generally easier for cruising parents to offer this role and this togetherness, we know shore-based families that also successfully make this a priority, even given their busy shore-based lives. We know many non-cruising kids that shine, kids being raised on land in settings very unlike our cruising world. On average, these kids are no less congenial, sensitive, approachable, informed, or interesting than the dozens of cruising kids we’ve met.

Seeing the sights with their D.C. buddies.
Too, there are obvious problems with The Myth of the Cruising Kid. First, for at least 90 percent of cruising kids, this life is temporary, often fleeting—very few kids are actually raised aboard from start to finish, making them a bona fide product of this life. Second, kids are individuals and they respond individually to the cruising life, some adversely. As ashore, we’ve met cruising kids who’ve not yet learned to be kind.

So what accounts for this perception?

I think part of the answer may be the context of the exposure people have with kids in the cruising life. Did they ever before get stuck sitting next to a 10-year-old at a beach-side pot-luck and then ask questions about their life? Back home, they’d not have paid any attention to the blonde-haired kid helping pick out produce in the grocery store simply because that kid is obviously a foreigner like them. Perhaps some of them had little direct interaction with kids in their pre-cruising life.

Again, I think the cruising life can be rich, especially for families. But kids are kids just as people are people, none as much a product of their environment as of the loving relationships that surround them.

What do you think?

This is the garage I designed and built myself before we left.
I asked Windy to take a picture of it for me, Frances obliged.

I'd forgotten I bought this brick in Eleanor's name, shortly after she was born,
to support the local public pool. "But she was born in 2003," Windy said when
she first saw it after it was laid. Doh!
More good times geocaching with more good friends.

Okay, if you've gotten this far, I take it all back. Clearly, land-based
kids are jaded and mean and clearly my girls have learned from
them after just three short weeks. We need to get all kids
out cruising.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Farewell Bean!
By Windy

Bean glowing in his new home
aboard Nomatia.
This is a story about doing something good.
This is a story of a determined little girl.
This is a story of a broken-tailed, bat-eared, goat-legged pup, born on the streets of Guaymas, Mexico.
This is the story of Frijolito Negro De La Calle, more often called Bean.

On a dusty street, in a busy Mexican town between the desert and the sea, lived a broken-tailed, bat-eared, goat-legged pup.
When he was hungry, which he always was, he ate a wind-blown tortilla chip or a scrap of something dropped and forgotten.
When he was thirsty, he drank from the car washer's bucket.
When he was tired, he slept in the shade of a rusty blue truck.

At the tortillaria, the shopkeeper hissed, "¡Vas!" Go! and wielded her broom.
At the bus station, the buses surged, and roared, "¡VAAAAAAS!" GO!
At the tienda, an old woman paused with her bags of groceries and whispered, "Pobresito." Poor little guy.
But mostly, he was invisible.

Bean and Frances, about a
week after the rescue.
Frances liked to explore the dusty streets of Guaymas with her family.
She liked the icy paletas from the bicycle vendor.
She liked the steamy tacos from Julio's stand.
She liked the crispy churros wrapped in paper.
She didn't like seeing the broken-tailed, bat-eared, goat-legged pup.
To her, he was not invisible.

"Can we help him?" Frances said.
"I don't know sweetheart," said her mom.
"If we can help, we should help," said Frances.
And so they did.

She fed him chicken and rice.
She washed him, thrice.
Dr. Franzoni said, "He's too thin. Feed him more!" and gave him three shots.
"What shall we call him?" said Frances's mom.
"Bean," said Frances, "because he looks like a little black bean."
And she placed a shiny green and blue collar around his neck with a big plastic heart on which she wrote, ¡Adoptarme! Adopt me!

And the paleta man said, "¡Que guapo!" How handsome!
And the security guard said, "¡Hola Frijolito!" Hello Little Bean!
And Frances said, "¡Sientate!" Sit! and "¡Abajo!" Down! and "¡Hablas!" Speak!
And Bean did.
Dominga was a woman with a strong white dog.
Dominga saw Bean with his broken tail and his big, big bat ears, and his long, long goat legs and his big plastic heart with the words, ¡Adoptarme! Adopt me! and she said, "¡Precioso!" How lovely!
The strong white dog said, "WOOF!" and Bean said, "woof" and they played and played and then Bean went for a sleepover at Dominga's house.
And then another.
And then another.

And Frances said, "I will miss Bean."
And her mom said, "I'm glad we helped."
And Frances said, "Yo tambien." Me too.


NOTE: This is a very simplified version of Bean's time with us, written in children's book form, absent illustrations. The point is that Eleanor and lots of other folks were heavily involved, not just Frances. Though certainly it's Frances's sentiment that carries great weight when it comes to this family helping animals. Also, Dr. Franzoni, a Sociedad Humanitario de La Paz (SHLP) boardmember, volunteered his time and resources in terms of getting Bean vaccinated and fixed and cared for.

Frances and Bean kayaking.

Bean with his stuffed animal, just before he left
Del Viento for good.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Answering the Call
By Michael

NOTE: Rather than use the real name, I made up the boat name Pantheon for this story, simply because it’s a personal matter and I don’t know the boat owner well. Of course, everything is otherwise true. And in case you missed the previous post, you should probably read that first.

It's hard to work on a boat at this angle.
But at least the water, inside and out,
was warm.
I lost VHF contact with the Pantheon crew before dusk, the same day they wrecked ashore. Nobody in La Paz had heard from Will, the guy who jumped in his SUV after my first contact with Pantheon and headed north to San Evaristo to make contact and retrieve crew. Nobody knew exactly how bad the roads were and we weren’t even sure Will ever made it there.

Shortly after sunrise, Christian on Mana Kai offered to drive his extended cab Ford F-350 on the four-hour trek north to San Evaristo and to the wreck of Pantheon. Tom on Eagle and I gathered tools and food and water and joined him. Thirty minutes into the trip, my handheld VHF crackled and we all learned that Pantheon’s crew and skipper arrived back in La Paz at midnight the night before, that some of his stuff was in a pile on the beach. We hailed him and said we were en route and asked if we should continue and if so, when we arrived should we continue salvaging stuff from his boat.

It was obvious from his response that he was still in shock, but he did ask us to please continue on, to salvage everything we could from his boat, and then he thanked us profusely. He said he planned to retrieve his jeep and trailer, drop family off at the airport, and head for San Evaristo a few hours behind us.

It was a long, rough road and the suspension on the F-350 is jarring. We were taxed when we arrived at about 11:00 a.m.

The sight of a 40-foot cruising boat on the beach, her port lights underwater and sand berms forming around her, is disquieting. Climbing aboard to find familiar things like the galley oven, underwater, is worse. Doing so when the boat is heeled over 60 degrees is surprisingly difficult.

So we got to work, unscrewing solar panels, winches, cleats, blocks—anything of value, and making an ever-larger pile on the beach. The thought that kept going through my mind was how great the difference was between the time I spent removing things and the time that someone spent years before to purchase and measure and tap and bed and attach each of these same things. Where things had been carefully installed, we pried and cut and ripped to remove them as quickly and easily as possible. Screws regularly fell and hit the deck and disappeared into the surf and it didn’t give me pause. We cut standing rigging to retrieve the Norseman fittings and then watched the mast buckle and crash to the sand.

But other things, like a new, 30 GPH CruiseRO watermaker, had to be disconnected carefully to preserve its value. Tom spent nearly two hours waist-deep in sea water, on his head, with one hand behind his back and a flashlight in his mouth to untangle the system—especially the engine-driven compressor from the Perkins 4108.

Inside, I alone was the arbiter of what to take and pass up through a hatch; I couldn’t get it all. Some items were obvious, like a small, ornate keepsake box filled with black and white photos and war medals. But I left piles of books, any one of which may have held meaning for the owner, but which may be wet and irretrievable by the time he returned.

In the end, we did an amazing job, literally stripping the boat nearly bare in four hours, then loading trucks for the longer, slower ride home.

The San Evaristo residents, largely members of a small fishing co-op, will use and repurpose most of what we didn’t remove. The mast and other aluminum parts have intrinsic recycling value. All of the stainless we didn’t remove will be repurposed or sold—along with the few winches we didn’t remove. The engine will be a bear to extricate, but they’ll do it and its service life may outlast many of us. I’m sure that by now they’ve removed the 8D battery that was still high and dry and that they’ve pumped the diesel tanks empty. The other, submerged batteries will be sold as cores. All of the teak bits will be reused.

And that leaves the hulking fiberglass hull. I remember when I interviewed Jeanne Socrates ahead of her record-breaking trip, she said that one year after she wrecked her Najad 36 on a Mexican beach (just south of Zihuatenejo, roughly 60 miles short of completing a circumnavigation) she returned to thank the people who helped her. All that remained visible of her boat was the tip of the mast, poking up through the sand, the rest of it subsumed. Pantheon was already, obviously starting that journey only hours after she washed ashore.

Oh, and what caused the loss of a boat and dream? Well, when the same front that passed over La Paz hit San Evaristo, Pantheon’s CQR held fast, set in about 25 feet of water. The rode was about 50 feet chain and then rope, secured to a Sampson post—a Sampson post that was hollow and appeared cast. It sheared under load, leaving the boat hanging on the rode where it had been attached downstream of the post. But the jagged metal base of the sheared post quickly chaffed through the rode and set Pantheon adrift and unplanned events in motion.

It’s likely, at the next cruiser’s swap meet here in the La Paz, that much of the stuff we removed from Pantheon will be sold for a fraction of what they cost. Her former owner will get a bit of relief, but he won’t be close to being made whole. As I suspected, his boat (like ours and many others) is uninsured. Maybe he’ll gather the resources and the disposition to start anew, with his next boat. More than likely, he’ll close the cruising chapter of his life and move on.

Livestock, ever present on Mexican highways.
This is Christian and Tom, retracing our tracks on foot to
recover stuff that we realized was launching off the
truck as we bounced along. I'm following them in the
truck, shooting as I drive.
The drive was always beautiful though--this is Baja.
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