Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and more recently, our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded the boat (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016 Sockdolager found new owners, and we are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. We are currently cruising in the Pacific Northwest, and hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Heading into the Sea of Cortez

Island-bound:  We just left La Paz and are headed north to see the islands.  This is a photo of a map in the excellent cruising Guide called Sea of Cortez--A Cruiser's Guidebook by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer.  One of the best cruising guides we’ve ever used.  Right now we are anchored near the south end of Espiritu Santo Island, which is a Mexican National Park inside the little orange square we drew on the map.  To visit here for longer than a day or two, they ask you to buy a park pass, which costs about US $25 and is well worth it.  Funds support species and habitat restoration, and the Mexican government has partnered with several US-based conservation organizations to make this happen—we heartily approve!

The charms of La Paz: This is our marina, seen from the mountain just above it.  La Paz is on the left.  Warm sunny days, cool starry nights, humidity very low—what’s not to like?

Here’s an impromptu dock concert that Karen and a fellow cruising sailor named Mary Lee, who is an excellent jazz musician, gave one evening.  Being part of da gang on Dock 3 was da bomb!

Here’s the view down the dock from our slip.

This is La Paz’s Malecon, a lovely paved seaside walkway that goes for a couple of miles.  Mexican families love to come out and walk here in the evenings and on weekends.

La Paz treated us well, and we’ll be back there in a month to reprovision, visit friends, and go to the annual Carnaval (from what we understand, sort of a Mardi Gras on steroids.)  

You haven’t lived until you’ve tried real fish tacos, and (oh yes, trust me) bacon-wrapped hot dogs on homemade buns with salsa.  So. Darned. Good.  Mexican food in Mexico is much different, varied, and way better than what you get in the States.  That’s the good part.  The bad part is what chile rellenos and other scrumptious delights can do to, shall we say, one’s digestive composure.  But to tell you the truth, it’s been worth it.  They use the same symbol for pesos and dollars, but there are about 14 pesos to the dollar.  

 This is one of the spires at the historic cathedral.

Shopping at the well-stocked “Mega” store, we were amazed to see the grocery cart’s wheels grabbed by the escalator’s grooves; even a fully loaded cart can’t roll until deposited off the escalator’s other end.  Cool, no?

A Cruising Crossroads:  With exceptionally friendly people and several thousand land and sea-based American expatriates, La Paz is a mecca for cruising sailors, and also a crossroads. 

 In the foreground is Cetus, a Fantasia 35 with author (and fellow Good Old Boat writer) Terry Kotas and his wife Heidi aboard, from Gig Harbor, Washington.  Very experienced with two Pacific crossings under their belts, they left yesterday to sail to Zihuatenejo, and then on to the Galapagos and the South Pacific.  We hope to meet up with them down the ocean road.

 This is Clover, a wooden Lapworth 36 sailed by Shane Barry from Santa Cruz, California.  He bought her for one dollar last spring, put 2,000 hours of work into her, and then sailed her to Mexico.  He’s never sailed before, but he just figured it all out on the way.   And he’s fixing her up to go even further.  Wow.  We first met Shane in Los Muertos, where Clover, Sockdolager, and Luckness rode out the gale together.

Here’s part of the gang we named “Team Muertos” back ashore after the Christmas gale:  that’s Craig McPheeters on the left, Shane Barry in the middle, and Karen at right.  Jim, the 4th member, snapped the photo.

 This part of the world is so lovely that to see it as quickly as we’ll see it can cause regrets.  “You need to spend a whole year in Mexico,” friends tell us, and they’re right.  

Many cruising sailors make it this far and say, why do I need to go further?  This is the perfect cruising place.  You learn a lot about your boat and yourself sailing down here, because it's not a cakewalk.   Several sailors we know, who sailed down from the Northwest, have  sold their self-steering wind vanes and other gear, intending to make this their home base for cruising.  Some have realized that long offshore passages are not what they like doing, and have readjusted their plans.  Others have honestly assessed their boat's capabilities and found the boat not up to the rigors of more offshore work.  It takes honesty and courage to re-think your dream when experience tells you it's not what you expected.  Other sailors have come back to the Sea of Cortez after crossing oceans, because they like it here.  Still others stay at the dock and rarely leave it, which gives an RV-Park flavor to some places.

Immediate and future plans:  There is so much to see in the Sea of Cortez, and we’re off to go explore for a month, with books by Steinbeck, Ricketts, and Sylvia Earle in tow.  We do regret that we won’t see it all.  But sailing is about choices, and we’ve had to make some. 

Since we don’t relish the idea of being here in summer when, as one friend told us, the temperature can climb to 135 degrees in a boat's cabin, and since summer is hurricane season, and since Mexico gets its share of them, some of which reach the Sea of Cortez, we won’t be spending the summer here.  But you already knew that.  The South Pacific beckons.

 We signed up for the Pacific Puddle Jump, and will be departing Mexico this spring for the Marquesas, the westernmost islands in French Polynesia about 3,000 miles away.  And we’ve moved the departure date up a bit, to early March, perhaps as early as March 1st.  The reason is that 2012 is so far a La Nina year, and there has not been a named storm in the part of the Pacific where we’ll be sailing during La Nina; only El Nino.  We’d like to arrive as early as possible so we can spend as much time there as possible before the southern hemisphere cyclone season arrives.   
Our friends mark and Nina on Woofie, and Livia and Carol on Estrellita have also signed up and will be sailing to the South Pacific this spring, ya-HOO! 

Another choice we made is to leave from the Baja side rather than sail over to Puerto Vallarta.  Although we have some VERY DEAR friends we’d love to see, and we know that’s where the majority of cruisers are preparing for their crossing, plus that’s where the seminars and departure parties are taking place, we chose to stay on the Baja side because:

1.  The Mexican mainland is a couple hundred miles east of here; our course to the Marquesas will be west-southwest.  The distance out to the trade winds from the Mexican mainland is several hundred miles, with calms predominating; we can’t sail very far or fast in a calm, and we don’t want to use up all our fuel (only 20 gallons) so early in the voyage.  This could add several days to our passage.  From Cabo San Lucas it’s less than a hundred miles to the trade winds, with reliable northerlies taking us there.  The distance to the Marquesas is also shorter from Cabo than from the mainland; we estimate a 30-day passage but will have provisions and water for 50% more.

2.  We carry 40 gallons of fresh water in our main tank and will have another 15-20 in portable containers; our average consumption is 1 gallon per day on passage because we wash dishes, ourselves, and do other chores with the clean salt water you find at sea.  A longer passage would stretch our supplies, so it’s in our interest to not lengthen the time at sea.

3.  Sailing over to the mainland would mean we’d have to miss the Sea of Cortez almost entirely or rush around like madmen, neither of which we want to do.

So what’s left to do to get ready?  Well, not much, actually.  We’ve done most of our big projects and are left with cosmetic maintenance and fiddly bits, which we’ve described in a new page on the left side of this blog.

 Two coats of paint and varnish made the bowsprit and platform shine. 

A few days’ worth of snipping and sewing was all it took to make a set of chaps for the dinghy (oh yeah, and one very sore right shoulder—this was all done by hand because we don’t have a sewing machine aboard.)  They really should be made of canvas, but Karen decided to experiment with cheaper fabric first, which can then be used as a pattern later.  Chaps protect the inflatable dinghy from tropical sun (our dinghy’s made of hypalon, which is more sun-resistant than PVC) and they also protect against chafe and wear against rough docks.  Plus, they’re unique and colorful. 

 Inkslingin’ continues:  Karen’s article, “Rode Show” is in this month’s Good Old Boat magazine (page 34) and she is working on a series of feature pieces for GOB, on solo sailing. 

You’ll also notice another new page to the left of this column, called “Book Reviews.”  Karen will be posting them every so often,  We hope you enjoy the reviews, and perhaps even the books themselves.


  1. Oh yeahhh! Nuku Hiva, here we come! There's a small cohort of Baja-based boats (who may be leaving in early March) assembling for the crossing, including Buena Vista, Picara, Zulu, and a few others, and we may set up our own informal net. Seems all the info seminars and gatherings are taking place on the mainland exclusively, so we may as well stick together over here, no? BTW, see you when you return, we're in the slip next to you!

  2. Hi Karen --- noted the pink shark rock !! Enjoy your blog.

    Sorry to send you some bad news , but thought you would want to know. Keith has been diagnosed with stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. He is in a very experimental chemo clinical trial, which may give him 14 months.He is 45 yrs old. Two sons ages 5 and 9. He was working as a licensed marine pilot with Northeast Pilots. Can no longer work.His e-mail address is in case you would like to send him a message.
    Bill and I wish you fair winds in your voyage to the South Pacific. Jane Kelsey.

  3. Jane and Bill,
    I wrote to you and to Keith privately; so very sorry to hear this news. Am keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers.
    Much love,

  4. Wonderful writing! Enticing photos! Your sail loft pals are thoroughly enjoying your adventure tales! We love your t-shirt in the last batch of photos, Karen!

    Love to you both.