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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cruising with Teens - Part I

Carolyne filling out registration forms at the local vet clinic in La Cruz

An apprehensive patient
In June we will have lived full time aboard a sailboat for 6 years in Mexico (and a short time in El Salvador and Guatemala). In that span, our 12 year old (now 18) is on his own – independent and figuring out different loops and knots – the ones associated with adulthood. We are so proud of Tim! And for anyone worried about homeschooling on a boat, Tim took the GED at age 17 and scored in the top 1%. He is currently taking basic college level courses and waiting tables in Arizona.
Kitties in recovery - they sleep for hours after anesthesia

This frisky pup is settling down after his injection
Our 8 year old daughter (now 14) – is our sole focus now that her brother has left the nest. Our homeschooling is designed around what she enjoys learning – math, reading and writing the only exception. Luckily, she enjoys math, reading and writing! She has also taken a special interest this year in photography, video, art and cooking.

Within 48 hours of dropping the hook in Banderas Bay, Carolyne was already volunteering at a local spay and neuter Animal Clinic. It's the first time in weeks we've seen her get out of bed before 8am. If there are no teens about, no worry - she is in her element among the puppies and kittens. The organizers love her because she speaks Spanish and she is not shy about making herself available any way she can help out.

These animal clinics are paramount to decreasing the enormous number of unwanted puppies and kittens. It's not been a customary practice in Mexico's past – to have animals spayed or neutered – and the number of street mongrels and feral felines is slowly dwindling.

And it wasn't long after Carolyne's volunteer service that word got out that she was in La Cruz. And it was then that other teen cruising kids became thick! And so Hotspur still finds itself anchored in La Cruz while Carolyne attends beach sleepovers, silk dancing classes, plays World of Warcraft, swims, shares dinner with her friends at the local taco carts... and plain “hangs out” with her cluster of peers.
Teens acting goofy at Marina La Cruz beach sleepover

Eli, Carolyne and Hannah

Bonfire on the Beach
I want to say a special thank you to Katrina and Marina La Cruz for sponsoring a fun beach party sleepover for the teens. Katrina chaperoned the event and slept on the beach with the kids. Katrina provided the beach pics, too!
Creamy Potato Soup Carolyne made for dinner from scratch

An albino hedgehog Carolyne has been begging to have as a pet... NOT going to happen!

Look, Mom! No more braces!!
Jim and I are a little itchy to leave. But getting the best out of your teen crew members means giving them a break – especially now that Carolyne doesn't have her brother aboard. This time with other teens is paramount to her... so as I write this on day 20-something in La Cruz... Jim and I shrug and say to ourselves that it is worth every precious minute.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

PAN PAN! It Doesn't Mean the French Baker is Coming

Jim answered a PAN PAN call on the VHF radio. We were anchored in Bahia San Gabriel on Isla Espiritu Santo preparing breakfast and then planning to head south to Los Muertos. That PAN PAN call changed our plans immediately!

A boat passing by had seen what he thought were 4 kayakers stranded on the beach who sent off a distress signal - a short flash of fiery light - a flare that didn't go off correctly? The caller couldn't get into the bight, he said, to check it out and he was on his way to La Paz. So, he issued a PAN PAN call for help.
Marni, Keela and Peter - cruising friends from the early days!

I bumped into Chris, who I met in El Salvador - small world!

Chris and Steve - taco night in La Cruz
Kayaking is very popular in the Sea of Cortez. It is not uncommon for one or more of them to get in a situation. Sometimes the outcome is heartbreaking, as in the case of Victoria Seay a number of years ago.

Jim and I were anchored 4 miles south – so we put out a call on channels 16 and 22 to any boat on the island that might be closer to Ballena - the coordinates that the caller gave of the kayakers' location.
No one responded.
Not one person.
The radio was silent.
Time was a wasting.
So we started the motor.
La Cruz-ers - having a fun taco night!

Sweet Grace

Sweet Cora
As we hauled up the anchor and headed out to see if we could offer assistance, a sailboat crossed our bow... coming from the direction of the needy kayakers. As we rounded the point, we spotted 2 more sailboats north of us... much closer to the coordinates than we. Two miles from our destination, we passed 3 sailboats quietly anchored in the neighboring coves, dinghies lazily bobbing behind the transoms. Less than 1/2 a mile from coordinates - a  ketch anchored. And unbelievably - right around the corner from the kayakers - a catamaran sat silently.

Eight boats closer than we – EIGHT! -  and not one person responded to the distress call.
What excuse could someone have not to answer a call for help?
Did they all have their radios off?
Were they all sleeping?
American and Canadian flags were flying - they spoke English!
Could it be... could it be that they didn't know radio protocol?

After this experience I can tell you I revisited radio procedure and now I want to share – because I find it hard to believe that there are cruisers out there that “don't want to get involved”.
I am hoping that lack of experience had everything to do with the lack of response we witnessed.
But still, that is no excuse... no excuse at all!
A PAN PAN call (Pronounced "pahn pahn") is not life threatening, but is an Urgent call – and it
is not to be ignored!

So, a message to the boat that hailed the original PAN PAN... you were right there!
Unless you had mechanical problems or are the size of a cruise ship, you shouldn't have passed the buck. Certainly you could see the other boats anchored nearby - you could have hailed one or two of them by name or boat description or by anchorage name.
Shannon and Jasmine 

And to the 8 boats who failed to respond, here are a few sites with guidelines and instructions for PAN PAN and MAYDAY calls. If none of these sites appeal to you, there are thousands more!

Coastal Boating
Boat US
Sail Online
Boat Safe

Boaters, Cruisers, Kayakers, Water Lovers...
Spread the word!
Pull out your radio protocol today and review it.
Remind your friends of a cruiser's obligation to people who call for help.
If you have children, then incorporate radio etiquette and distress calls in your cruising homeschooling programs.
Play "what would you do if..." games at dinner.
Heck, if you don't have kids - you can spice up your cruising life with a little Radio-Strip-Poker. Be creative! But please... Do it!

As for the kayakers with the distress call?
They were making breakfast with a campfire. They did not send off a distress signal.
(Yes, it was a big waste of time!)
But it doesn't matter... it might be YOU who needs help next time!
(And Jim says my people-photos I posted don't coincide with this particular blog post... but they do - they really do. Because these people are friends... just a few of the many precious friends
that you or I would want helped or rescued if they called for assistance.)

And I really hope that one of those 8 boats never calls a PAN PAN or a MAYDAY...
and has the same response they offered.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Killer Crossing!

Hotspur sailing downwind!
Vas Kirheim!

Marko was wide-eyed and pointing fervently - he was a bundle of sheer human excitement!
But neither Jim nor I could understand what the heck he was saying - I think it was a combination of German and French and Honey Boo-Boo... we couldn't make him out at all.
As he kept jabbing his index finger towards the water we turned to look and finally he exploded some English words through his thick German accent,
"Free Willy!"
Sure enough, surfacing from the deep Mexican waters, an Orca's head appeared.

Jim and I have heard rumors of Killer Whales in the Sea of Cortez, but we have never actually seen them. What an exciting moment - breath-taking and exhilarating - to see 6 of them right next to the boat. We were fully under sail... and the whales were fast! The only photo we were able to capture was the last time we saw them come up for air... blurry - but definitely their black, sharp fins standing tall against the horizontal waterline. A most excellent siting!

Our two German crew members, Marko and Anja, couldn't have been more delighted. Sea turtles, dolphins playing in the bow's wake, flying fish (which they had never heard of before and thought must be some kind of joke), some-kind-of-whale or two along the way - and now - a positive whale ID...
Free Willy and his family.
Marko napping - he had a small case of sea sickness but we fed him some
Stugeron tabs (30 mg 6-8 hours) and he bounced back nicely.
Reading on their Androids and typing letters.
They liked the freedom of our Fatty Knees and rowed to the beach while we waited at
Isla Espiritu Santo for wind to take us across
But if that wasn't enough, we sailed into Banderas Bay with another sight to behold. Humpbacks! How many? I couldn't tell you... but their aquatic displays of whaleness were some of the most phenomenal and beautiful that we have ever seen. Lying on their backs and clapping like seals or slapping the water with their enormous pectoral fins (we understand it is to call food towards them) - whatever the case, the Humpbacks were very numerous and we all enjoyed their welcoming us to the bay.

I tried wholeheartedly to catch a fish during the 6 days we were out after leaving La Paz (2 nights we spent on Isla Espiritu Santo waiting for wind, night 3 we spent at Los Muertos with a good forecast for the next morning, and 2 nights underway), but the fish in La Paz were too cold to eat and the ones we sailed over in 79*F water on the other side of the Tropic of Cancer were apparently picky eaters. I did so desperately want to catch a Dorado and cook him up to share with our friends, but we had pressure cooker stroganoff instead - absolutely delicious... but not fresh Dorado seared in butter and garlic and lime.

The closest I came to catching a fish was when a flying fish landed on deck with a loud thump during my night watch - about 1:00 am. Thankfully, we had the side panels up to cut down on the chill or he would have definitely been my new hair ornament. The next morning I gathered him and and the 2 little squiddies he was chasing and placed them in a gallon baggie in the freezer. They will be very nice fish bait next time we troll!


  • Jim lost his expensive brand new prescription eyeglasses overboard - why he wasn't wearing his lanyard? I dunno. We have another ugly "just in case" pair on board and now he will be stuck with those until we can order replacement lenses.
  • Our Icom M710 took some figuring out - a long time not using and we have forgotten lots. The radio is a fine SSB for those specific pre-programmed channels... but not a great Ham rig. Switching to random Ham frequencies to listen only is easy. If you want to also transmit then it becomes a real pain to use... SO many button presses to program the transmit frequency that we have to have a cheat sheet because we can't remember all the steps. Takes a little while as well. Can't just go up 3 Megahertz and start talking... gotta program it in. Here is the cryptic procedure:
Program RX channel
  1. Select the channel to use (Like 160)
  2. Push [CE]
  3. Enter the 5-6 digit frequency
  4. Select the mode (Like USB)
  5. Push the RX button and hold for 1 second
But wait! Your not done. Program the TX channel
  1. Select the user channel (ex. 160 again)
  2. Push the [CE] button. A right pointing triangle will appear on the screen.
  3. Enter the frequency.
  4. Push and hold the [TX] button for 1 second.
  5. Push [TX] again to clear blinking TX on screen.
  6. Hope to hell the frequency is still clear because NOW you can transmit:) 
  • We experienced some weird electrical anomalies... what I imagine would be Bermuda Triangle type experiences: Radar and auto pilot and depth sounder problems - the GPS sender shut off and reconnected several times - the depth gauge disappeared completely - and the auto pilot (which is wired into a completely separate system) began to steer wiggy and then completely shut down. A bit scary to depend on your electronics and have them start going schizoid on you.
  • The refrigerator cycled and re-cycled - 5 minutes later it cycled and re-cycled - again... and again... on and off (day and night) - yet another boat chore.