Monday, April 7, 2014

Rebel Heart Assistance
By Michael

Nine-hundred miles off the Mexican coast, the Kaufman family had no choice but to sink the boat that has been their home for the past seven years. I don’t know whether they carried hull insurance (we don’t carry hull insurance for Del Viento). I don’t know their financial situation (though I know they saved for years to make this attempt at their dream a reality). But I do know that a friend is soliciting financial support on their behalf. If you’re inclined to help the family with a donation, the information is here:


I’ve seen still pictures from their rescue and read the error filled news reports of their circumstances. I’ve read strong negative bias in news reports about the family’s decision to sail across an ocean with their children. I’ve read hateful comments from lay persons all over the internet. All of it hits close to home. For me and other cruisers I know, it evokes a bunch of emotion.

In The Right Stuff, author Tom Wolfe describes test pilots’ responses to the crashes of fellow pilots, a defensive response that tended to always assign blame to the other, fated pilot, as opposed to the experimental aircraft. This mindset was their assurance that they were in control up there, that so long as they had the skill to fly the plane, so long as they were better than the guy who bought the farm, they would be okay.

I tend towards the same mindset and have processed every bit of information I can from what is yet known of Charlotte’s and Eric’s circumstances, in the context of how I would have done better or done differently. But the truth is, I am no less likely to commit errors or fall prey to rotten luck than they are. That’s not to say that I don’t aim to make our own ocean crossing passage one day, just that it could have been us out there too.

I wish the crew of the former Rebel Heart all the best.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Rebel Heart Distress
By Michael

I just read an alarming news item on Latitude 38's 'Lectronic Latitude site and am spreading the news in case anybody misses it there. This hits close to home and my family and I extend our best wishes for a good outcome. Following is a reprint of the Latitude 38 report, written by Ladonna Buback:

Sick Baby Awaits Mid-Ocean Airlift

April 4, 2014 – Pacific Ocean

A well-known cruising family from San Diego were awaiting evacuation from their boat about 900 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas this morning after their one-year-old daughter Lyra fell ill. Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, 35 and 34, left San Diego in 2012 aboard their Hans Christian 36 Rebel Heart with their young daughter Cora (now 3). The family has spent the last two years cruising Mexico, and along the way, baby Lyra joined the crew. They keep a popular blog at
The Kaufmans' plans were to cruise the South Pacific this year before continuing on to New Zealand, and by all accounts, the crew and boat were well-prepared. Rebel Heart left La Cruz on March 20 as part of the Pacific Puddle Jump, but yesterday they called for help when Lyra became critically ill. Four pararescuemen from the National Guard parachuted down to the boat yesterday to provide medical assistance.
Details are still sketchy, but initial reports by the medics say that Lyra was suffering from a serious heart ailment and required more medical care than could be provided aboard Rebel Heart. At last word, she was in stable condition. The crew of an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter is underway today to transport Lyra to a nearby Navy frigate, which will take her the rest of the way to shore. It's unclear whether the entire family will be evacuated.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Celebrity Ahoy!
By Michael

Esta historia es una broma...
Note: This post was published on April Fools day--oh, the power of suggestion. The woman pictured is my sister.

In the post I published yesterday, I included a picture of Venus, the yacht of the late Steve Jobs. Well today, I learned who is in town to charter the 256-foot vessel:
Celebrity in La Paz.

That’s Stefani Germanotta—aka Lady Gaga—walking along the La Paz boardwalk (and that’s Eleanor’s head off to the right). The megastar singer was dressed conservatively and without makeup, she looked normal.

Cruising pals of ours (Pete and Kathy) aboard Citla are good friends with Venus’s captain and got a tour of the boat the day before. They told us they heard guests were arriving today but that they weren’t told who they were. They assumed it would be the owner and family.

Then, this afternoon, walking past Marina Cortez, we noticed a small army of photographers standing idle. I asked them what they were shooting and they said Lady Gaga was on her way. I don’t really know much about the woman or her music, but the girls know her hits and were very excited at the news, both begged me to stay and wait and see. I normally would have obliged, but we were late meeting another cruiser to pick up some solar panels I bought from him.

Then, an eighth of a mile down the malecon, three black SUVs pulled to a stop in front of us and out climbed Lady Gaga and a couple other folks. They walked right towards us and I wasn’t sure it was her at first, but she smiled at the girls and Frances called out, “I love your song ‘Born This Way.’” This stopped Ms. Germanotta in her tracks and she came over and thanked Frances and asked her if she could sing a bit of the song and Frances clammed up, but Eleanor belted out a couple verses. Lady Gaga laughed, asked the girls their names and ages, and then thanked them and then continued on at the urging of some of her people. And that was it.

I realized I had no picture and ran ahead with Eleanor to snap this one. Seconds later, the singer was enveloped in a scene and disappeared, headed for her cruise on Venus.

Not bad for a Tuesday.


Monday, March 31, 2014

The Little Mallet
By Michael

Pelicans are cool, but they are so
numerous her in La Paz, that they
come to seem like sea gulls; we
shoo them off every chance we
get. See the giant white stain in
corner of our dinghy floor?
And I waved back, just to emphasize how happy I am, and how great this is.

I wrote that, just weeks ago. I was relishing the joy of doing laundry on the foredeck, basking in the warm air of paradise as I stomped on clothes in a bucket of cool soapy water.

The joy was short-lived.

A few days ago I was at it again, stomping, stomping. But then I reached into the bucket to pull a piece of clothing from the bottom and…I don’t know. It happened quickly, my pinky finger on my left hand caught something and I felt a small tweak or snap. When I pulled my hand up, it hurt a bit, but worse, my little finger just felt odd, a combined numbness and stretched feeling.

And it looked odd too. The very tip hung limp. I could easily lift it with my other hand, rotating that tiny joint so that my finger was straight, but as soon as I let go that tip would just fall down again. I played with it a bit and decided I must have ripped a tendon off the top of the little bone at the tip of my finger.

I went below to consult Dr. Google and right away it was clear that my diagnosis was spot-on: I had ripped the tendon off the top of the little bone at the tip of my finger. The injury is called mallet finger. Treatment rarely involves surgery, a splint for eight weeks is the indicated approach. I made a splint. That was the end of it.

Until it made me think about my healthcare decision-making process as an out-of-country cruiser. First, though we do carry international health insurance, our deductible is $10K per person; we are self-insured for the small stuff like mallet finger. Seeing a doctor for this injury would be easy and cheap, not even an appointment would be necessary. If indicated, an x-ray would be more of a hassle, probably a referral and more walking and waiting, but I wouldn't expect the total cost to exceed $40US.

So those were my options for care. I decided not to seek care. I think my decision is primarily due to the fact that the information I found online seems to align perfectly with my injury, the treatment approach seems universal, and I don't feel like taking the time to visit a clinic and then an x-ray lab.

But I want to contrast this with the approach I may have taken in our old life, complete with a steady income and employer-based health insurance coverage. Let's put me at home with this injury, it happens during a Saturday of yard work. Ice would have been so easy to get out of the freezer that I would have likely done that first. Then, without a thought to inquiring online, I'd have driven myself to nearby urgent care. I'd flash my insurance card, fill out forms, see a doctor or P.A., get in the queue for an x-ray, watch a nurse put a $25 splint on my finger, and then get sent home--with a prescription for pain medication I probably would not have filled.

All totally appropriate, and with a more certain diagnosis and a smaller risk that a rare complication went undiscovered. Old life or new, the out-of-pocket expenses would be about the same.

In our current, very-low-income life, every dollar spent moves us closer to the end of our travels, so maybe my decision making in this case is just a matter of $40US looming larger than it otherwise would. (Yet I know that if one of the girls suffered the same injury, I wouldn't think twice before bringing them in.) But whatever the reason, and whether it's foolish or prideful, I appreciate the self-sufficient approach, I embrace it.

Back in my Washington, DC professional life, I remember several times over a decade, returning to work after missing a day because a cold or flu had knocked me out. Invariably, throughout that first day back, one or two coworkers would ask if I'd been to the doctor. "No, of course not," I'd reply, "it's just a cold--maybe the flu--just had to wait for the fever to break."

"I had that last week, my doctor gave me an antibiotic that just knocked it out."

The whole over-proscribed-antibiotics issue aside, I couldn't understand the knee-jerk response to seek medical care for something minor. The last thing I want when feeling sick in bed is to leave the bed to visit a doctor's office. But I think that mentality is pervasive in a system in which there is an almost complete disconnect between health care seekers and the market that sets prices for that care.

But I digress. The worst part about my injury isn't the care, it's typing. I’m a writer, I type constantly. And my self-splinted left pinky finger can no longer manage its important job on the <SHIFT> key and the letter <a.> (It's in charge of the <q> too, but I’m not a big user of the letter <q.>) Fortunately, I’m not a quitter. I will quietly suck it up and learn to type quickly with my temporary disability. Damn, that was three q’s.


Here are Eleanor and Frances with the 256-foot yacht Venus.
It's owned by Laurene Powell, wife of the late Steve Jobs.
Jobs commissioned this boat, but it wasn't finished until
almost a year after he died. It cost $250 million. The
quality of the photo is terrible because I didn't have my
camera with me when we saw this, only a second-generation
iPhone from 2008, kind of appropriate actually.
This is Frances in her berth with Stella, a dog we sat for a couple
days while the owner was in Cabo. She is a nice dog, a former
La Paz stray they picked up a couple months back. But she must
have been beaten by some guy with a 35mm camera in her street
dog life because we couldn't get her to look at the camera
for anything.