Monday, January 31, 2005

Sometimes it rains even in Paradise

Painting project
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
1 February 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico -- The painters did arrive on time yesterday, sanded like maniacs and left promptly at 4:30 p.m., just ahead of a rainstorm. Yup, sometimes it rains in Paradise.

The rain, of course, was not the rain that falls in northern climes at this time of year. This was a gentle, warm drizzle for about one half-hour the first time the clouds rolled through. I know it rained for that long because I was talking to the captain and first mate of Sand Castle who are good friends with Capt. Dustin Fox. I dropped by their boat at 3:30 to wait for the harbormaster's office to open at 4 p.m. Two to 4 p.m. is siesta time in Mexico and most people take it quite seriously. It's something we should consider in the states, but there would probably always be some workaholic moron who would work through siesta to gain a one-inch advantage over other people in his company. No other industrial nation works the hours -- or takes less vacation days -- than the U.S.

We spent the morning (pre-worker arrival) getting the last of the debris off the deck: anchors, the life raft, the inflatable dinghy, oars, the boogie board, outboard motor tanks, coolers, miscellaneous awnings and covers, and finally some parts of the deck hardware. When David arrived at 10:20, his workers started sanding and scraping as soon as I parted with the money for the materials. The boat, above decks, looks like it snowed there is so much white fiberglass dust. The photo shows the taping around the forward ports and even some evidence of the rain. By 6 p.m., it was starting to rain harder. Downtown Vallarta got enough rain that street vendors closed up shop. No taco vendors and beer on the street corners?

Itâ??s a natural disaster.

Tuesday afternoon I'm on my way to the Puerto Vallarta aeropuerto where I will jump on a flight to San Diego and then a second leg to Sacramento. The weather forecast I'm looking at says that it is, well, phooey. I'm not going to look at it.

I prefer to be surprised when I get off the plane.


Some things need more than just a touch-up

Main anchor & rust
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
31 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico -- The painters are supposed to arrive any minute to start dressing up Sabbatical for its new coat of topside cabin paint and green non-skid paint. I've already been to the ATM, trying to coax as many pesos out of it as possible because in Mexico, people work for cash, not checks or credit cards, and they always need money upfront to buy the materials. In this case, materials is about half of the total cost of the project.

David Barba, the foreman/owner on the job has said he can do the impossible -- paint Sabbatical's cabin top and decks without removing a single fitting, winch, window, or hatch. Don Tiffin, who built Sabbatical from dream to reality, is more than a little skeptical, but willing to see how they do it. I'm skeptical, too, but knowing that David will only be holding the money for the materials until the job is done to my satisfaction gives me a certain amount of serenity. Thanks to Don, I will miss all the gruesome details of the project: sanding, scraping, taping and eventually spray painting. Also, Don will move Sabbatical from her current slip to another location for the actual painting. The painters are worried that a little overspray of paint might not go well with my yachtie neighbors.

One thing they are NOT going to paint, unfortunately, is our rusty bow anchor (in the photo) that looks a lot worse than it really is. Mostly it needs some cleaning up and then a coat of good rustproof paint. It's on Don's agenda, he says, after he gets done supervising the deck project and gets his own teak fix-up finished.

Sunday a weather phenomenon called the Pineapple Express rolled in -- right when we went to the beach for our dose of physical therapy (boogie boarding). One minute it was bright sun and hot, the next, the cloud cover looked like Cleveland when the fog rolls in of Lake Erie. (God, was that a grim comparison or what?) We had stopped work on the deck of Sabbatical (getting loose things cleared off for David) because it was soooo damned hot with the sun beating down on the deck. Several of our sailing colleagues were leaving the beach as we arrived to surf, because they feared a storm approaching, and, well, they had left a few hatches open to cool things off. We had a 10-inch diameter hold in the main cabintop open, too, the hole from the chimney Don removed. But we decided that a little freshwater was not going to hurt the inside of Sabbatical.

No rain fell, of course, but the waves were magnificent, several being of the bone-jarring variety, smashing both Captain Don and myself into the sand beach numerous times (we are slow learners). I took a very long hot shower to get all the sand out of my bathing suit.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I board an America Worst (sorry, America West) flight to San Diego late afternoon and then a Southwest Airlines flight to Sacratomato, where Admiral Fox daughter Anne and granddaughter Samantha await. The time change makes the trip pretty easy (my flight leaves here at 4:35 and gets into San Diego at 5:35). But I expect to get in at least an hour or so of boogie-board action in Tuesday morning before I leave for the airport, surf willing.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Life on the radio in Paradise

30 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico -- It's called 'lurking' and it's similar on a boat to the kind of lurking people are most used to in chat rooms on the internet. On a boat, however, the lurking is listening to people's conversations.

Here in Puerto Vallarta, when you want to contact someone on another boat, you hail them on Channel 22: 'MoMo, MoMo, MoMo, Sabbatical.' Then, provided MoMo has her radio on (and wants to answer your hail) she comes back and says 'Pick a channel Sabbatical.' And when we pick that channel and move off to say, Channel 21, Channel 23, or Channel 68, a lot of people sitting at their radios on their boats, (bored or just nosey) follow you from 22 to 21, 23 or 68.

Moments ago, I heard two Paradise Village boats chattering about mounting a bus-ride expedition to La Cruz to hear some local band. Then, perhaps completely coincidentally, another boat called and asked if they were doing anything tonight, like, um, going to listen to any music anywhere.

The lurking is so commonplace, that you have to assume that someone is listening to your radio conversations, however banal they might be. Hmmm. Kind of like in the U.S. with the federal government.

As I write this, two more boats (besides the three I already mentioned) are now talking about the possibility of (this is SUCH a surprise) going to La Cruz to hear some local band. Oops. Just now someone just came on and said 'Attention the Fleet, Attention the Fleet, does anyone know if there is any music playing in La Cruz tonight.' Nice try, but we all know they were lurking and are trying to wangle an invitation to jump in someone's car instead of having to ride one of the buses that could have been used in the filming of Night of Iguana in 1954.

Sabbatical's crew is staying home tonight after a string of social engagements (no potluck on the boat tonight, either). Steamed vegetable and tamales from the local market are on the menu, in addition to a fine Mexican white wine -- Calafia blanco.

But then, the music doesn't start until 9 p.m. and it's only 7 p.m. and the vegetables are ready to serve and we don't have the cable tv hooked up anymore and...


'MoMo, MoMo, MoMo, Sabbatical. Any music in La Cruz tonight?'


Time to varnish? Or time to run for cover?

29 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico -- There is nothing like teak on a boat to both make the boat look absolutely beautiful -- and drive boat owners mad with the never-ending maintenance.

When we had the boat in Mazatlan last spring we sanded all the varnish off the topsides teak, with the idea of going 'au naturel' with the wood. It's very stylish for cruising boats to do that. And in fact, in Mexico, you can tell the new cruisers. Their teak looks way too shiney and kept up. By their third season, they give it up and strip the wood, sometimes going bare, sometimes putting on a touch of oil to keep the wood from cracking, or in extreme cases they paint the teak over with some kind of marine enamel. That solves the problem and you can always take the paint off and revarnish.

We never got to the paint stage -- though it was an option -- but now that Sabbatical is on the market ( the varnish is going back on, thanks to Captain Don Tiffin who insisted on tackling that particular job. It begins with cleaning the teak with some products that clearly are not good for human beings. Then a layer of stain is applied, followed by a final glossy-looking coat that most people associate with well-maintained vessels. Most new boats from the factory have very little teak above decks, opting instead for stainless steel in most spots.

In the photo with today's blog, you can see the chemically-cleaned dorade boxes on the stern, along with the handrails. Later in the day Don applied stain to some of the boat, with the hope of putting on the sealer today. Besides dressing up Sabbatical for some state-side buyer to ooh and ahh over, the sealing of the teak will mean that Monday when the painters start work on painting the cabin top, there will be less likelihood of damage to the wood.

We hired David Barba, a local painting contractor, to paint the cabin top and green non-skid, a project we considered doing before we left the U.S. in 2001 for Ensenada, but it was waaaaay too expensive, at least at Baja Naval, the boatyard where we were berthed for several months. The price here in Puerto Vallarta is about one-third of what we were quoted previously and David's reputation as a painter and businessman suggests he will be canonized some day.

The surf was up yesterday afternoon and after a morning of wood work, I talked Captain Don into taking some time off to go to the beach where the waves -- and the good rides -- have returned.

It was good salt-water therapy for my cold. Far better than Sudafed, I think. Probably another therapy session is called for this afternoon.


Friday, January 28, 2005

The (sometimes) dreaded potluck dinner

28 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico -- Potluck dinners are a staple of the cruising life, and as a side benefit (?????) of having the largest vessel among your friends, you get to play host.

But that also means (most of the time) that you don't really have to cook that much -- which Captain Don Tiffin and I certainly did not Thursday when we had a potluck dinner aboard Sabbatical. I bought a package of Spanish rice (you were expecting Italian rice?) at the mall grocery store and cooked it up as our contribution to a dinner that included fresh barbecued fish, steamed vegetables, mixed green salad, fresh baked bread (from the bread maker on one friend's boat), cut-up cold fruit, chocolate mints for dessert and, and, and...

We got off pretty easy, though I did provide some margaritas for the hardworking barbecue chef from the sailing vessel Serendipity, Captain Glen.

I previewed for the audience the director's first cut of Whales of Banderas Bay, a video I am working on. They loved most of it -- including some corny special effects that may or may not make it into the final version. It also includes a preview of boogie-board surfing movie that's still being shot every afternoon on the beaches in front of the Paradise Village Hotel.

('Lady! Lady! I'm shooting a movie about boogie boarding! Really! I'm not ogling your thong bathing suit! Really! Ouch!)

It was also a fun evening of 'let me tell you about MY cold.' Both Bob (captain of Promises which has the bread maker) and Glen have come down with the same symptoms I've been fighting since Admiral Fox left more than a week ago. And Captain Don arrived from Victoria with a hacking cough that keeps him awake some at night. Without putting too fine a point on it, everyone sounds like they have walking pneumonia, though no one I know is showing any signs of a fever. So we are assuming that this malady is a virus -- a nasty one -- and we will simply have to outlast it.

Still, waking up with the outside air temperature at 70 degrees (warming to 82 or so by 2 p.m.) makes having the cold a lot more tolerable. But it is still debilitating. I could barely lift my beer bottle or eat my French fries when I went to Desperado Marine for boat parts yesterday afternoon.

I'm somewhat concerned about my Tuesday departure back to the U.S., where the temperatures should be about 20-30 degrees colder and there are even more sick people -- sick people with a different strain of cold than I have been fighting.

But it will be nice to be back in the USSA, and back in the company of Admiral Fox who promises that the condo on the river is toasty from the heat pump and that spring is right around the corner.

The question is what corner and in what latitude?


Thursday, January 27, 2005

The intrusions of reality

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA -- Reality intruded rudely yesterday while I was working at my yacht club office. The television was tuned to the Fox News Network, (AKA Fox Nut Network) and I was shocked to hear how far the network has slid towards becoming a propaganda voice for conservatives.

The 'newscaster' practically spit when he said the word "Democrat," and then, after giving a 10 minute harangue about how the (spit) 'Democrats' were blocking everything, he turned to offer what he said was 'commentary' about what he had been giving as news. It was hard to tell the difference.

I retreated to Sabbatical for a nice evening, somewhat troubled but I'm afraid it's time to dress for battle to take back the country from these wing-nuts, media wing-nuts included.

Also, for people interested in a great analysis of the war situation, Gore Vidal published a piece for the Independent in the U.K.

I can email it if anyone is interested. Just contact me at

Back to the boat for a dose of unreality.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

What's in a name?

Titanic Dinghy
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
26 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico - There are some names that are less attractive for boats -- the one on the stern of this dinghy perhaps as good an example as any.
This particular craft actually belongs to the workers in the Paradise Village Marina who seem to have a sense of the ironic.

Or it could be that they inherited the dinghy from some cruiser headed south or west who couldn't face crossing the seas towing a vessel with such a famous name.

The names of the boats in the marina vary from the pedestrian (Obsession), to the semi-riske (Nasty Habit), a fishing vessel, to Moon Me, owned by a retired California Highway Patrolman. And sometimes the names are almost hilarious (Breaking Wind). The wife of the owner of Breaking Wind won't let him use his boat name on the radio. Instead, they use the location of their on-shore residence to check in.

Every boat name seems to have a great story behind it. Sabbatical came with us from our last boat, also Sabbatical. And we came up with that name because we purchased the last Sabbatical from Stanford University's sailing program. And, well, we planned on taking off cruising while we took our sabbatical from the university. Sabbatical was called Ocean Girl when Don Tiffin owned it and it was only with great reluctance that he let us change the name.

We play with the name all the time. Admiral Fox will report to people at the university that I am on Sabbatical this semester. Quite true. And the license plate holder on my little red Nissan truck says 'I'd Rather Be On Sabbatical.' Quite true again.

And every morning during the VHF radio roll call of boats in the area marinas, I am thankful for having an easily pronounced name. People who chose Spanish or Hawaiian names quickly find out that saying your boat name three times quickly (the way you hail other boats) can be a real tongue-twister with a name like Huanacaxtle.

One of the boats down the dock from me is called Revenge, allegedly because the owner received a big settlement from a lawsuit against a California politician about 10 years ago and used it to buy the boat. Down the dock from him is a boat called Quetzal, named for a bird found in Guatemala which is considered a national symbol of freedom. And next to me is a boat called Golden Dahlfin.

Yup, you guessed it. The owner?s name is Bob Dahl, a very successful Alameda, Calif. businessman.


Bloggin at 3 a.m

Bloggin at 3 a.m
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
25 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico -- I took some Sudafed NON DROWSY formula with dinner.


No kidding.

It's 3 a.m. and I am sitting in the cockpit looking at the moon, typing a blog, because the non-drowsy formula is more than just non-drowsy. Long-haul truck drivers should buy this by the case. Forget what I said two days ago.This stuff SHOULD require a prescription.

After tossing and turning for hours, then cleaning both bathrooms, rearranging the navigation station and wondering if my neighbors would mind if I did some sanding in the middle of the night, I opted to grab my computer, figuring that the sound of tapping keys might be less annoying than grinding and scraping.

I also wondered if I should go for a row in the dinghy and look for crocodiles, but decided to stay aboard. If this non-drowsy formula wears off suddenly, I would rather be sitting up high away from the animals than at the oars, slumped over, trailing my fingers in the water when I finally pass out from fatigue. Right now, that seems unlikely. I'm typing at about 90 wpm. Mrs. King, my high school typing teacher, would be so proud.

This is a good time to watch for crocs, however. They hunt at night and I do have some left-over chicken I could toss out in the water to salt the channel and pull them over close to my swim step. Hmmm. Probably not my best idea, but my best ideas seldom come at this hour of the morning. Or is it night?

Just after dark, I helped my neighbor dock his boat, watching him make the exact same navigational blunder I did when I brought Sabbatical in on a swiftly rising tide about two weeks ago. He swung too wide and the current carried him right past his opening, but, like me, he was determined not to make a second pass.

The sound of crunching fiberglass is soooooo sickening.

The nice thing about such landings at night, however , is that you really have to wait until daylight to get the full effect. I did Sabbatical's bump at midday and saw what I had done. But thanks to the miracle of rubbing compound and wax, my faux pas is quite passe.

And the next time I take the boat out of the slip, I'll pay more attention to the current.

Oh my God, I just had to stifle a yawn. There's hope for a nap before sunrise.|

And to all a good night.|


Monday, January 24, 2005

Don Tiffin on Sabbatical

24 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nayarit, Mexico -- The order, er, request, came through yesterday afternoon from the Office of the Admiralty in Sacramento -- return to base.
And given that early next week, a crew of 10 painters is about to attack the above-decks area of Sabbatical with scrapers, sandpaper and eventually with a compressor and spray paint, I'm happy to comply and run for cover, even if the temperature might not be as inviting in northern climes.

The boat will be in good hands while I'm back in Sacramento conferring with Admiral Fox about our plans. Our friend (and the former owner and builder of Sabbatical) Don Tiffin will arrive this week to take his month in the sun and oversee the painting project. Don lives in Victoria, B.C., not noted for much boating (or nice weather) in January.

In the photo with this entry, Don is attempting to loosen the clamps on our Honda outboard motor last season when he came down and helped us with the four-day haulout of Sabbatical at the boatyard. The clamps had seized tight over the summer and Don worked for two weeks to get our outboard operational.

While I await Don's arrival, my list of cleanup/fixup items is keeping me busy. Today's major project is to clean the engine room so I can take some photos of it for the broker. When the broker saw it, he said it was immaculate compared to anything he had ever seen. He never saw it when Don owned Sabbatical (then called Ocean Girl). I have to get the engine and area cleaned back to Don's standard. (Ever cleaned an engine with a toothbrush?)

Somehow in the cleaning of the boat, I've misplaced my coveralls. Well, it's too hot to put them on for the job anyway, but where is that Colgate toothbrush?


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Tequila therapy for sore throat

Serendipty on the bus
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
23 January 2005

ZONA ROMATICA, Puerto Vallarta --“ I went in search of the best margarita therapy in Puerto Vallarta Saturday to cure my increasingly sore throat and found several practicing tequila pharmacologists willing to treat me.

The results?

Well, for most of the afternoon and evening, I felt much better, even croaking out the occasional bon mot to my traveling companions, the crew of the sailing vessel Serendipity (in the photo) and the folks from the sailboat Wanderer. When you put together Wanderer, Serendipity and Sabbatical in a group, you really have a wild trio. (In this case I guess it is actually a quintet because Sabbatical's admiral is in Sacramento, preparing for the first day of the semester at the university.)

But this morning's assessment is that my throat is probably as sore as it was yesterday afternoon before we launched off on our bus adventure to downtown Puerto Vallarta. From the sounds of the hacking, coughing and wheezing on the boats up and down the dock, I am not alone in my affliction.

One odd pharmacological note about Mexico: You can buy Cipro, Penicillin, damn near anything over the counter here, but not Sudafed. That's right, Sudafed. I'm taking some well-expired Sudafed (which might explain why it's not working very well) and sought to purchase some yesterday. Not without a doctor's prescription, I've been told. This is a country where you can buy sterilized syringes for 5 pesos (about 45 cents each).

The weather here has cleared slightly, but today's report says that in Zihuatenejo and points south are getting hit with heavy rainstorms and 30-knot winds from the southeast -- the one point from which most of the anchorages have no protection. It must be lively cruising down there right now. 'This is very unusual,' the weatherman said.

Maybe. But last year Sabbatical got nailed in the same weather conditions just about this same time in January.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Boat maintenance -- the Never Ending Story

22 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, NAYARIT, MEXICO -- The price of procrastination on a boat is either a lot of money, or a lot of work. Sometimes it can be both.

What you see in the accompanying photo represents a lot of work -- about an hour -- to get one-half of the assorted sea life off the bottom of the admiral's inflatable dinghy. The boat has been in the water for at least two weeks -- probably more -- and during that time, enough sea life adopted the bottom that I could have simply declared it a reef and let it adrift. But, that would never do, so I yanked off the engine and pulled out the assorted cargo (a gasoline can for the engine, oars, a empty wine bottle, a sponge, assorted tools) and hauled it onto the dock for the amusement of my neighbors.

I watched many of them march by on their way to the beach, boogie boards at the ready. But most of the captains mentioned that within a day or so, they were due for some maintenance work on their inflatable boats. Quite a trendsetter, I am. And now my dinghy is high, dry, and best of all, quite clean on deck where I will deflate it and fold it neatly into its case and cover.

The day wasn't entirely lost to such chores, however. Three stories were written and one interview was conducted, even though I was almost sans voice the whole time. Lucky for me that source only needs one question to talk for 20 minutes. So I know a lot more than I really needed, but it will work its way into future epics, I'm sure.

The boogie boarding was actually dangerous yesterday. The waves were larger than anything I have ever seen at Paradise Village. The red flag was back up but anyone tall enough to reach the counter got a boogie board. I saw a few injuries and on my last run (it's always on that last run) I managed to get the tether that's clipped to my wrist wrapped around my ankle. I rolled a half-dozen times and end up on the beach knotted up like a kindergartener's shoelace. Only my pride was injured, but I decided to keep the tether loose for future adventures.

Because even higher surf is predicted with a new weather front this next week.



Second surf dude

surf dude No. 2
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.

Surfers at play

surf dude no. 1
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
The surf was a lot lower this morning -- maybe half of what it was yesterday, but the surfers were out in force just off the rock wall at the Paradise Village Marina.

The weather forecast is for high surf again later today, however, so these guys are going to get some great rides if they don't stick their boards in the sand first.

I'm taking the day off from boogie-boarding after yesterday's tumble.

Hasta luego.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Storms make for great surfing

Surf's up, dudes!_1
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
21 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, NAYARIT, MEXICO -- Some big weather somewhere way offshore has kicked up the surf to near-dangerous proportions. And with a logic that escapes me, the beach authorities have taken down the red danger flag and are handing out boogie boards like candy to 5-year-olds.

The swells are as high as 15 feet out in the bay, which translates to 10-12 foot waves crashing on the beach. Yesterday was the best surfing of the year, though I'm still picking sand out of my teeth from the pounding one wave handed me.

The photo with this entry was taken a week ago, when the waves were about 3-4 feet at their absolute highest. Imagine one that fills the frame entirely,

Rain is also falling all around western Mexico, though not here in Puerto Vallarta just yet. Last year at this time we were caught in a thunderstorm off the coast of Manzanillo that's still fresh in my mind.

Yesterday's surfing made the bee sting feel better, until I got out of the water. The formerly thumb-sized pinky has grown another centimeter or two with a neat-looking purple bruise where the stinger went in. If I didn't have stories to write today, I would take the benadryl and simply sleep until Saturday.

CNN last night was full of Bush inauguration news. What's interesting in Mexico is the CNN feed in the international version --“ quite different from what you see in the U.S. The international CNN feed gives you a glimpse of what the world is thinking out there. Not all pretty by the way, when they make comments about Americans.

Uh-oh...I just heard some thunder booming... Time to get away from the boat (and the 50-foot mast that makes a great lightning rod).



Thursday, January 20, 2005

Morning in Paradise

Sabbatical at Paradise
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
20 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, NAYARIT, MEXICO -- Admiral Fox has left the building, (er, boat), and is back in the frostbite land of Sacramento where she reports the weather is damned cold and the ground fog thick and damp.

Here the weather is anything but damned cold, with the temperatures still in the 80s (sorry all you folks in the U.S.) but if it's any consolation, the humidity is 100 percent and working in the direct sunlight is a little like exercising inside a sauna turned up full blast. The sauna-like weather is probably good for my cold, which seems to be slowly improving. Several of my neighbors came down with much more serious versions -- one woman believes she has pneumonia but refuses to go to the doctor. The first sign of my having a fever will get me moving to see Dr. Ortega downtown in a heartbeat.

This morningâ??s project was supposed to be to wash the boat, then take some pictures for the broker of the exterior. But, as always seems to be the case, I got sidetracked first in a search for the sextant that Captain Sanders Lamont donated to the vessel several years ago. A boat in the La Cruz anchorage, Mo-Mo, is looking for a practice sextant so the captain and first mate can learn celestial navigation before they do the 'puddle jump' to the South Pacific later this year. So where did I find the sextant? Well, I didn't just yet, though I have looked in every locker I could think of. For two years, it was in the same forward locker, which was cleaned out in anticipation of selling the boat. Then for a few days, it lived underneath the stairs into the main cabin.

For all I know, Roscoe the Rat offloaded it before his demise yesterday. I kept the trap for an extra day, just in case Roscoe brought a date on board Sabbatical, but today it will go back to the marina office to tell them 'mission accomplished.' (Hmmmm? ... might that be bad luck to declare?)

There were no animal sightings (or sounds) overnight, except perhaps for the crashing of my next door neighbor, longtime friend Bob Lyon from Oakland, who returned to his boat, 'Lyon Around' last night after going back to the Bay Area for the holidays. Bob and his wife Judy took the boat from Oakland, California, down the coast, through the Panama Canal and to Maine in the past five years. They are on their way home to the Sea of Cortez for the summer.

But just as I started to wash the boat (until being interrupted by the request for the sextant) I managed to get a bee sting. A very painful bee sting that has the pinky on my right hand swelled up as big as my thumb. I can't bend the finger at all anymore, and I suppose I should take some benadryl, but I don't want to sleep for the next 24 hours.

The bee, like Roscoe, was buried as sea, but sans a name that I can print here. I'm waiting for the full shock factor to kick in. I don't do well with bee stings, especially since last year's episode when we had bees in the mast of the boat.

The clock tells me it's time to make several phone calls to Sacramento for stories I'm working on. This is supposed to be a work morning.

The sextant and Mo-Mo will have to wait until this afternoon. But as you can see, I did get some exterior shots of the boat after sloshing some water around.

Hasta luego, amigos y amigas.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Rats in the pantry, oh my!

Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
19 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, NAYARIT, MEXICO -- The telltale signs of the problem were the tiny black, pellet-like droppings around the cabin floor. Sabbatical had been scrubbed the day before so we could take a set of photos for the broker. The pellets were definitely not in residence then.

But having a mouse come aboard uninvited -- or a gecko -- is not entirely unknown. One friend down the dock struggled to get rid of a six-inch gecko who had adopted them. They eventually gave up and named the critter before heading south to Bahia Tenacatita.

As we wondered 'mouse vs. gecko' yesterday, we heard a stirring in the cabinet that holds the pots and pans. We knew right away this was no little green gecko. (I was wondering if we might have a small raccoon stuck in there.) We debated about mouse versus rat. And the more we talked, the more we realized that whether it was a mouse or a rat, if it was pregnant it was going to be an extremely long spring for me aboard the boat.

When I popped the door, the animal was gone, of course, and we went in search of a trap -- a good one.

The marina office (which supplied us with a nasty-looking trap) told us that it was unlikely the animal came from the docks. The garbage is picked up every morning. But a construction project across the channel might be displacing lots of animals, we figured. Later we found out that other boats have been having visitors.

The problem with having a mouse or rat on board (besides the obvious health issue and the "OH MY GOD IT'S ON MY FEET!" is that mice and rats just love to chew on electrical wire insulation. That chewing sometimes cures you of the rodent infestation, but also leaves you with a dead animal, often in a place you can't reach. Ugh!

So after slamming my finger twice, I managed to set the trap with a dab of peanut butter, leaving the device in the same cabinet where we heard the animal doing the samba earlier in the day. I went to sleep last night with little hope. On our last boat, we were invaded by a family of mice who lived with us until they all died of old age.

But in the pre-dawn hours, TWANG went the trap and there was a rat I've since named 'Roscoe,' slammed tight in the jaws of the trap. Why Roscoe? Well, before I buried him at sea, I needed a name. There's protocols for everything on a boat.

Vaya con dios, Roscoe. If you show up in a seance with your family, tell them Sabbatical is off limits.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Waiting to capsize

Waiting to capsize
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
BANDERAS BAY, 150 fathoms -- The tour boat pictured here was in fast pursuit of the whales we found yesterday while out cruising on Mi Amor, a 49-foot powerboat owned by a friend of ours who previously was a pilot for Delta Airlines.

We were trying out his new transmission -- which took us all around the bay. We saw several pods of whales well away from the tour boats. The video is spectacular -- I just have to figure out how to upload some clips.

I've been receiving emails from folks in California decrying the cold weather and associated illnesses that have people in foul tempers and foul health. It's doubtful that it's any consolation, but about a third of the people here in Paradise have colds and sore throats -- me included.

Still, after the research is done this morning on two stories and some photos sent to the broker handling the sale of Sabbatical, the best tonic for stuffy sinuses has to be a hour of boogie-boarding, followed by a dip in a pool so doused with chlorine it makes you sneeze even without a cold.

Salud, amigos.


Monday, January 17, 2005

Whale(s) ho!

Whale(s) ho!
Originally uploaded by Alex Cameron.
17 January 2005, 2 p.m. local time


Even in Paradise, Mondays come around and today is a writing day (for consulting jobs) so we can pay the rent on our casa in Sacramento.

The work, however, is this afternoon, now that we are back from a morning Banderas Bay tour aboard a 50-foot power boat called 'Mi Amor.' Mi Amor just replaced one of its transmissions (at a cost of $6,000) and the captain wanted to take the boat out for a test run and to check the bay for whales. Smart idea, this going out for a test run before making a major passage. Not all the people here are that smart.

We traveled straight out from Paradise Village and found two pods of whales, surrounded, of course, by pangas and tour boats. I guess none of the people on the tour boats have ever seen the film 'Moby Dick.' We shot a half-hour of video, some of which I'll upload later this week.

The photo with this blog is from about two weeks ago when Sabbatical was treated to a viewing of cavorting whales for nearly an hour during a tour of the bay with our newest crew member, Kathleen, and her family from Boston and Chicago. Kathleen helped Dustin bring Sabbatical south from Mazatlan in early December to deliver the ship here to Paradise Village. (You will see her picture in a future blog)

The whales are all over the bay this month and always put on quite a show. Unlike the U.S., where approaching these behemoths is probably a felony, the Mexican pangas zoom up close to get a good look, the spouts of the whales sometimes soaking the panga passengers. We usually shoot video of the whales, instead of stills, so we can catch the wild sounds they make. One our trip two weeks ago, two whales used their flukes to slap the water -- hard. You could hear the sound a mile away and it looked like two teenagers at a beach splashing one another. Maybe that's exactly what they were doing.

Today the sound of the whales spouting was pretty impressive, too.

Now it's time to log on to and other news sites to get ready to draft some stories about California.

But I better steady myself with a Pacifico, first.

Hasta manana.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

The smell of diesel in the morning

16 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, NAYARIT, MEXICO — The smell of diesel mixed Saturday for hours with the normal aromas of Coppertone, food cooking on barbecues and the lime from margaritas, when someone spilled at least 10 gallons of fuel into the harbor, prompting a massive cleanup effort. But nothing could eradicate the odor. The marina workers ran around like characters from a Monty Python movie throwing soap out into the water to disperse the oil. It works, but the effect on the aquatic life is devastating.

Today, one of my projects is cleaning the bottom of my inflatable dinghy that is no doubt slimed with diesel. It was sitting neatly tied to the dock when the oil scum came floating down the channel. At least the diesel might kill some of the barnacles that have taken up residence on the boat’s bottom. The bottom of my sailing dinghy took hours to clean this past week and it’s going to sit on the dock — safe from grip of the little salty bastards — until I decided to go rowing or sailing next.

Sabbatical is starting to look better than it has in several years. Amazing how spiffed up all things get when you think about selling. The teak is golden, the topsides shiny and most of the lockers (formerly crammed with stuff) are mostly empty. The only holdout is my bookcase which I hate to face. Some of the books probably should be given away, but they are all like old friends.

We drove through some of the small villages near Paradise Village today on our way to a storage unit in nearby San Vincente where we are stashing some of the treasures we have taken off the boat. These towns are the real deal — dirt streets with potholes big enough to lose a Buick in, barefoot children all over the place and tiny stores on every corner offering only the most basic of groceries. We also saw some new housing developments, 600 to 800-square-foot homes that sell for the equivalent of $10,000 U.S. These are not the beachfront condos we see here at the marina. These are one or two bedroom homes without yards or garages or much of anything. But, like other villages we saw along the coast in our travels last year, the people seem happy. They have jobs, food, and a roof over their heads. They also are polite, not just to gringos, but to each other, in a way that is charming and makes me wish I spoke the language better so I could be more gracious, too.

I’ve been contemplating doing an immersion course in Spanish in the next month or so while we finish getting the boat for sale. The pueblo of San Vincente might be quite the place to learn the language and culture.

Or maybe buy a $10,000 house to use as a place to write the Great American-Mexican Novel.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

A serious writer

A serious writer
Originally uploaded by Alex Cameron.
I ran across this photo of myself while cleaning up the photo files from last summer's foray into the wild's of upstate New York. I wrote quite a bit there -- the dreary weather seems actually to be a good incentive for writing. Going outside is not usually a good idea except on rare days when the sun comes out for a few hours and the days become radiant.

I remember re-reading a few chapters of book I started years ago called "The Class of 66," about growing up in upstate New York.

A lot of what I wrote was funny, some of it serious, all of it more than a little painful to resurrect, even when you control the narrative.

I've considered calling in a co-author -- an amiga who lives in England, of all places -- who graduated with me and seemingly put as much distance as she could from her roots in the Rust Belt. And several of my friends (also members of the class of 1966) want me to finish the book, too, no doubt sure Tom Cruise will play them when I sell the movie rights.

Who knows? But if I have trouble finding the time to blog every day, how-in-the-hell am I going to finish a 200,000-word book?

Enquiring minds want to know...


Friday, January 14, 2005

The writer at work

The writer at work
Originally uploaded by Alex Cameron.
After fooling around with a new photo program for two days, I finally figured out how to post a picture of me at work in one of my many offices in Mexico.

This one is at the Hotel Tonala in La Manzanilla, three hours south of Puerto Vallarta by car, or a 24 hour sail by boat.

Actually, anywhere I have a laptop I have my office, which is why I'm sitting in a yacht club bar, eating a breakfast of machaca getting ready for a day of video shooting on the bay.

More on how the Great Video Shoot went later.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Fearless sailing in a motorhome

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, NAYARIT, MEXICO — We watched a documentary last night called “Fearless” in the company of maybe 100 other sailor/cruisers. The film is based on a book by the same name about a woman who survives 40+ days at sea in a dismasted boat after the boat took a knockdown — a knockdown that also tore her boyfriend off the boat. He was lost at sea and his body never recovered.

The power of the sea is on everyone’s mind all the time anyway, but with the tsunami and now this film, there’s probably more thoughts about trading in the sails for a motor home than ever.

In an odd way, the tale actually made me think about how nice it is out on the ocean, away from land and all the politics and general b.s. we have to deal with. It’s certainly cheaper to live on the sea. Yes, you have to fill the food lockers and water and fuel tanks before you go, but once out there, forget about buying anything. And forget about television and all but the most rudimentary of broadcast radio. What you do rely on is the HAM radio, but what you hear is mostly people like yourself and you are not concerned about how much the latest Ipod costs, but what the weather will be like until you make your next landfall.

The weather here in this part of Mexico has been so benign it’s almost eerie. The wind blows from the north in the morning, the west in the afternoon and the south at night, almost like we are circulating the same air over and over. It’s about 70 degrees when we awake, 82 degrees at the middle of the day, and perhaps 75 degrees in the evening, an hour after sundown. The water temperature has warmed up, too, so even the ocean is probably close to 80, though the swimming pool with the ever-popular crocodile slide is more like 82.

This morning was a ‘get-up-early’ morning to do several boat projects before the prime boogie-boarding hits — high tide at about 11 a.m. That’s three hours from now and it’s amazing what you can accomplish in a scant three hours with a little determination. Up first is emptying the locker behind me, so that potential buyers can actually see how much space there is. Then another shot at cleaning the teak rails is probably in order, followed by a quick trip up the mast (well, part-way) to see about cleaning off the oxidation.

At some point today, I will have to sit down and start work on my next set of magazine stories. But that will mean logging on to see what the latest news is regarding education and what the latest assault is on the integrity of teachers, the pension system and/or organized labor.

Don’t be surprised if you see a move to repeal child labor laws sometime in the next few years — after wages have been depressed so far that Wal-Mart looks like an attractive employment option, and Social Security has been destroyed.

Enough of those thoughts. There’s a stuffed locker behind me crying out for my attention.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Sad rainy days in California, not Mexico

11 January 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, NAYARIT, MEXICO — The days flow together here in Mexico, even with boat projects taking up a good portion of the morning. This year is different than the last two; far fewer cruisers getting ready to sail to our favorite places like Tenacatita, Barra de Navidad and Zihuatenejo.

The boats this year are mostly populated by people who, like us, are using Banderas Bay as a homeport. For us, the Bay is its own paradise with great sailing, warm water and enough great restaurants along the shore to break even our peso-based budget if we are not careful.

We try not to read the news much, except for when we have to write stories for one of our magazine contracts. Today’s news, about Guvenator Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed California state budget, is about as depressing as can be. If there was one thing most people believed about Arnold, it was that he would keep his word. They were wrong, again. After promising K-12 education the money the people of the state have voted to give schools (Proposition 98), he’s going to renege on giving it to them. (People with good memories might remember that during the election campaign, he promised to have a full investigation into the allegations made by the women who said Arnold is a world-class groper. He dropped the idea after being elected and the spineless news media barely bothered to mention it.)

But the good news is that the schools are going to sue the state to get the money — and the courts generally don’t like it when governors refuse to obey the law, even action-hero guvenators.

The other less-than-bright idea that’s in the budget is removing most of the money from the transportation budget, guaranteeing that already overdue road maintenance will be deferred yet again. Perhaps the governor is thinking of opening a chain of wheel alignment shops around the state (they will be needed).

And don't get me started about how he wants to gut the California Public Employees Retirement system, one of the most successful in the world. I used to think Arnold Schwarzegger was a shrewd. Now I have serious doubts.

But enough of this. It’s time to transit to the beach where the surf is up and Dick Dale songs are ringing in my ears. Writing some stories about the guvenator’s education massacre will have to wait until this afternoon.

But I’ll be back.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Yelapa gets power -- and calls it progress

YELAPA, Jalisco, Mexico — We visited this isolated Mexican village a few days ago only to find that in the four years since we first landed through the surf after a wild panga ride to get there, the pueblo now has fulltime electricity (they used to turn off the generator at 10 p.m. each night, restarting at 8 a.m.), satellite television (which the kids all cluster around) and even a small video arcade area. A rough dirt road now allows autos to be within a mile or so of the village. Previously, the only way there was via small boat.

Progress? Doubtful.

Still, a short walk up the jungle river takes you away from the tourists with cell phones on the steep beach to a tropical existence we dream about in the U.S., a tropical existence that is certainly at poverty level by American standards. But the people here in Yelapa are rich in ways we strive for. The locals have a tranquility you will never see in a shopping mall in the U.S. (or most living rooms), and even though they sleep in a hammocks, they don’t seem to worry if their hammock is a little threadbare compared to their neighbors — if they even see their neighbors who might be in a hut a hundred yards away.

Returning back to Paradise Village Marina (sometimes called Southern California South or Gringo Gulch) was a shock, where the talk was all about how the governor of California has decided to take out after already dispirited school teachers by instituting a dog-eat-dog merit pay system and try to dismantle the public employees’ retirement system which is one of the most successful in the world. With the teachers, he has an easy target. After all, a California teacher confronted with a classroom of students, only half of whom speak English, is assumed to be a slacker. Why can’t she/he teach the Russian, Hmong, Vietnamese, Chinese or Spanish-speaking students and meet the wacky standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. (An act which the federal government has not funded, just demanded results.)

The pension fund provides a greater challenge because the people running it are about a smart a group as you can find. If they actually ran California, the state wouldn’t be in such bad shape financially.

All of that seems quite distant from Yelapa, where 10 pesos (90 cents) still buys you a cold Pacifico beer and the fresh fish at the palapas on the beach is delicious and almost as cheap as the beer.

In fact, it’s time to pick up my boogie board and head out to the Paradise Village beach for one of those beers and perhaps a hamburguesa con papas fritas (yup, burger and fries). It’s not Yelapa, but it sure beats the alternatives to the north or listening to the Fox Nut Network.