The recyclable boats by Northern Light Composites, just awarded at the Genoa Boat Show, reach the international audience and are one of the protagonists of the award that World Sailing, the International Sailing Federation, together with the foundation 11th Hour Racing, assigns annually to the marine-focused sustainability initiatives.
The innovative Italian startup presented to the world federation their ecoprimus and ecoracer projects – the first recyclable boats built from 100% linen and with a recycled core – which were chosen by the jury for the ambitious goal of creating a new circular economy in boating, for the recyclability guaranteed by the thermoplastic resin and the choice of using natural fibers.
Together with Northern Light Composites, on the shortlist of four candidates there are also the 49er and Nacra17 2019 World Championship organized in New Zealand, the American MarkSetBot which offers robotic buoys and Thai Starboard boards.
The initial judging phase was conducted by Jan Dawson, World Sailing Vice-President 2016-2020, Mike Golding OBE, World Sailing Sustainability Commission Chair, Todd McGuire, Managing Director of 11th Hour Racing, Julie Duffus, Head of Sustainability for the Olympic Movement, and Jalese Gordon, Emerging Nations Programme graduate and Laser Radial sailor.
To support the nlcomp candidacy it will be possible to vote on the World Sailing platform from November 27 to December 4, 2020, while the winner of the Sustainability Award will be announced on December 9, 2020.
The winner of the World Sailing 11th Hour Racing Sustainability Award will receive a $10,000 USD prize to help further their sustainability activities, as well as an iconic trophy made from recycled carbon fibre which was sourced from an America’s Cup boat and infused with bio resin.
The members of Northern Light Comp team are the three founders Fabio Bignolini, Andrea Paduano and Piernicola Paoletti, and the design team that involves Matteo Polli, Alessandro Pera, Mattia Sconocchia, Gianluca Salateo, Roberto Baraccani and Roberto Spata who will take care of the optimization of ecoracer.
Nlcomp’s partners for the project are Arkema, who supplied the resin, and Armare, for the ropes. Montura is clothing partner, while the technical partners are Shin Software, QI Composites, Eco-Technilin, Bcomp, Meg 3D Print, Onnit and AG Plus.
If you’re cruising, you must be flexible. The weather doesn’t adapt to your plans. Familiar products you know from home may not be accessible. And yes, the familiar must have features of your traditional holiday probably don’t exist in far flung places.
Next week Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Except in flexible cruiser tradition, we decided to celebrate it a week early. Why? Because right now we’re with my dad, and next week we won’t be. But Thanksgiving, being food centric, is a relatively portable holiday that lends itself to cruiser adaption. There may be some creativity involved; there are usually substitutions. Our daughters associate duck with Thanksgiving more than turkey because canard is more readily available in most countries. But there is no adequate substitute for cranberries. So each year in late November, we search the back corners of Totem’s pantry for a dusty can of cranberries purchased well in advance of the annual need.
Because… cruisers are adaptable, right? We tend to think so. That flexibility (to see a turkey in your duck, to enjoy LED light strands as much as cedar garlands, to trade celebration with extended relatives for the extended found-family of other cruisers) is part gift, part survival skill. So leaving Totem in Mexico for 1,500 mile road trip to Seattle for an unsubstituted, normal, predictable, family gathering and end up preparing a meal by candlelight due to a neighborhood power outage is what you call ironic.
Losing power on land is somehow more complicated. The toilets may not flush (no power to the well’s pumphouse). It’s not a battery-based low-power environment. No Honda 2200i generator on the aft deck. The planned dinner centered around using grill and oven, neither of which would ignite without electricity (despite being propane gas based).
But we are an adaptable bunch. And one of the ways we adapt is in how we bring holiday spirit into the changeable venues and limited storage of cruising.
In anticipating holidays while cruising, people seem to fall into two camps:
Embracing local customs 100% – a fresh start
Replicating the traditional day aboard – bring or buy
Our dock neighbors the summer before we sailed from Bainbridge Island had freshly returned to the USA from a couple of years in Mexico and central America with their young son. We lapped up their stories and learned from their experience. The first year, they skewed to option one: planning to enjoy a Mexican-style Christmas, and anticipating the pleasure and learning of experiencing it through the lens of another culture. Decorations, foods, and events would be found in a Mexican harbor or anchorage and add an exciting new dimension to the season.
What happened? They did discover new traditions to add to their own; they delighted in the differences, and expanded their ideas about how to celebrate. That’s #winning! Well… not quite. Turns out, their son was saddened by the absence of familiar hallmarks of Christmas from their home in California. It was a wonderful holiday, but something was missing.
Those in camp number two – bringing the holidays with them – are madly querying forums and making lists and might have more space dedicated to holiday kit than foul weather gear. “It’s a choice,” Jamie would say. And it’s a marker of someone who hasn’t been cruising yet. While it has the appearance of playing it safe, it’s going to be different and still require substitutions. But that’s OK!
Here’s the deal: once you leave the land of mass-marketed holidays, where commercial pressures of must do evaporate, celebrating the holidays gets a lot simpler while being no less joyful. It’s easier to center on what’s most important, which doesn’t take all the accoutrements to realize. Our celebrations take very little in the way of Stuff, to decorate or to gift; the focus instead is time together to take stock, revive family traditions, and share experiences and traditions with our found family.
This weekend, our road trip back to Totem begins. Another 1,500 miles behind a different kind of helm that means passing, but not visiting, with so many friends that we wish we could visit. Irony strikes again, in a Coronavirus spiked world. Back in the shipyard, we’ll be reminded again; missing the potluck Thanksgiving gatherings we enjoyed there the last couple of years.
Meanwhile, what’s in my online shopping cart? MORE HOLIDAY LIGHTS. Irony again! Are we unable to resist the consumer siren song? This trip home has been, more than anything, a really wonderful chance to spend quality time with my father. His newly pacemaker keeps the ticker ticking, and he healed like a champ. We’ve had lot of good meals (Jamie and I love playing with his commercial range and kitchen tools). We’ve played a lot of Chicago rummy. And at the tail end of a lovely stay, it’s been a chance to bring back to Mexico things that are easier to source stateside. So we’ll add a little extra luminescence with LED lights to share holiday spirit with an anchorage this year.
Coronavirus has thrown a lot of holiday plans off this year. Responses range from passing on the holiday (if the usual traditions can’t be indulged) to the other extreme. My brother and his family showed up for our Zoom last weekend with elf hats, reindeer antlers, and tinsel-tree deely bobbers: they’re starting NOW as a way to add fun into their lower-key year. Next week we drive back to Totem with Niall, and having our whole nuclear family together for the next couple of months is reason alone to celebrate.
Friday, Nov. 27th: release date for 80° North! Last year in Annapolis we had a chance to preview the filming our buddies on SV Delos did aboard Swan 48 Isbjorn with Andy Schell & Mia Karlsson. We’ve had a peek at the final documentary series and it looks awesome! As in, I’ve been looking into diesel heaters for Totem awesome (although as Jamie reminds me… I don’t like being cold).
They have a pay-what-you-wish pricing plan which resonates with us (our coaching service has karma pricing, too). I love these guys even if I can’t handle icebergs – the footage is simply stunning. See: www.80northseries.com.
Sunday, Nov. 29th: TOTEM TALKS – media on board. Back to chat and this time – with friends! Cruising buddies who are behind the the cool new tech setup on Totem. Without on-demand access to the cloud, cruisers manage media differently. Graham and Sam will talk about how they put together a media server using a Raspberry Pi to make images, books, movies, charts, etc. available to…whatever device on board needs it! Grab a cocktail and share some holiday spirit with us – 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern. This server setup fits in a Christmas stocking! Register here for Sunday the 29th.
The tyranny of the sock has returned to our crew. We have road tripped from Mexico back to the Pacific Northwest, and it is cold! Family pulled us back; we’ll spend most of the month of November back on Bainbridge Island with my father. Our travels were unfettered, and border crossing easy. We had over a thousand of road miles to contemplate this freedom, as border crossing is complicated by covid in so much of the world.
Getting into the USA
During October, we drove north to Phoenix twice from where Totem is hauled at the Cabrales Boatyard in Puerto Peñasco. Clearance (for US passport holders) is a breeze; never more than a few minutes wait at the Sonoyta/Lukeville border. CPB checks passports, has a couple of questions about our home and our plans, then waves us through.
What about boats: can they get in as easily? Not a single boat we know of has been turned away. Officially, boats arriving from specific covid hotspots and Schengen (most EU) countries are barred from arrival. But that’s arriving from those countries, vs vessel flagged / crew being nationals of those countries. But homework required for non-US-flagged boats, because some ports (e.g., Miami) have reportedly not issued cruising permits. US border crossing restrictions are not uniformly applied on land or sea.
Getting back to Mexico
Driving over the border is even simpler. This corner of Sonora where Totem is parked is a tourist zone, so unless we get the unlucky red light – meaning, pull over for a customs inspection – we drive right through with a wave to the official. No passport checks. No questions. Nothing. ¡Bienvenido a México! Will it be as easy later in November, when we return? One hopes. As a precaution, we have the port captain’s clearance and Totem’s vessel documentation; I don’t think we’ll need it.
For boats, Mexico has never closed to cruising arrivals at any time during the pandemic. Repeat: Mexico has never closed to arriving boats during the pandemic. For some reason, there is misconception swirling around this – at least three people in the last few weeks expressed their perception that boats could not enter Mexico. WRONG, and not just now, but at any time so far this year.
On the road
The road trip a rush north in some ways: the raisons d’être for our visit is to be with my dad for surgery, and spend time with him. When the date was moved up, so was our travel timeline. The procedure is minor, but what’s minor when you’re 85? The time with him is because we can: in the current pandemic environment, I don’t feel comfortable flying. Not for my father (who would love to return to visit us in La Cruz again), not for us.
For our teen daughters, it’s first time they’ve traveled to spend time in the States since… I have to think about it, for a minute. While Jamie and I have had a few trips, it’s been about two years for them. Culture shock is real. “Everyone is going so fast!” Well, our life is definitely one of slow travel and slow mode. Our reverse culture shock sinks in, tempered by rolling landscape, spiked with occasional hostility – like the gas station attendant in Oregon telling a coworker who upset a customer she “should have coughed on them.” We found another gas station.
Covid era road tripping
Safety: check. My dad’s age and health mean it’s imperative we avoid bringing a virus to his doorstep. Forced by our return to civilization in Peñasco to think through precautions and risk mitigation, we had a good warmup for traveling. In the car with a duffle of clothes and tote bags of gear was a trug for tools of the covid trip: gloves, KN95 masks, hand sanitizer, alcohol spray, wipes. We avoided enclosed spaces, had a protocol for the hotel room we used, and practiced caution in general.
Food: check. We anticipated avoiding restaurants. Just enough snacks (trail mix in bulk, wasabi peas). Water bottles. A bag of apples and loaves of sliced bread with jars of jam and peanut butter would make meals on the go. Except… I forgot a utensil for the spreads. FAIL! Lunch on day one was Cheetos and apples instead, but the kind of in appropriate treat to appreciate? And then there was the irresistible (for me) lure of In-n-Out burger’s drive-thru…
Entertainment: check. Mairen and Siobhan were in charge of the mixtape and podcasts. We sank into the gory history of royals in Noble Blood, paired that with a musical about Henry VIII’s wives, and listened to a bare minimum of news while the scenery rolled by.
Nature’s call: check. This is a tad more complicated for our women passengers, so to the horror (but function) of our daughters I bought a “urinary device for women” called pStyle for relief while standing. Recommended by a friend… and a winner, as I’m entirely uninterested in braving public restrooms right now.
Friends and touring
As soon as plans to road trip north were made, Jamie and I saw this as an opportunity to visit our mentor. Jim Jessie lives aboard in Alameda, CA, and we haven’t seen Jimmy since he and his late wife Diana visited Totem in Zihuatenejo…more than TEN years ago. Much too long!
Jamie first met them aboard their Lapworth 48 Nalu IV on the docks of Dubrovnik, then Yugoslavia, in 1989…the beginning of a long friendship. Their invaluable support and guidance inspire the coaching work we do today.
I grew up in a few localities, but San Francisco and the northern California landscape are cemented as my homeplace. The girls don’t remember much from when we passed through on Totem in 2008; this was a priceless opportunity to share some history. After bidding farewell to Jim, we came over the Bay Bridge (whoa, it’s DIFFERENT now!) into the city. Admiring the skyline and bay views on our way to Yerba Buena island, I began my family brainwashing program: “isn’t this the most beautiful city in the world?!”
Winding through neighborhoods, down Lombard’s hairpin curves, and around the corner at the bottom to drive by my childhood home on Chestnut street. I wanted to ring the doorbell, but it wasn’t the time, and not just because of the tears in my eyes!
There were countless flashes of nostalgia: where I went to my first movie, a childhood friend’s home, streets and neighborhoods that color the quilt of my early life.
My only regret was that we couldn’t spend more time, to check in and find a way to connect with old friends. We were fortunate to intersect with a few. Possibly on the way south? Our plans are indefinite.
Such are covid era plans: indefinite. Our border crossing has been simple, and this seems likely to continue between the USA and Mexico. Our goal to return to the South Pacific remains, but for 2021… it’s indefinite. French Polynesia remains accessible to boats, and Fiji has opened, but… then what? And is this really a time to go to the South Pacific?
Australia and New Zealand shut their doors hard. Heading to Hawaii for hurricane season is an option, but an unattractive one to us. Plenty can change between now and the optimal window to depart next spring, but with cases in French Poly taking off again and winter virus trends more likely to be worse instead of better (this from your resident optimist), we think the South Pac is off the menu for next year.
Join us for TOTEM TALKS: the Shipyard Checklist. Next Saturday’s livestream talks about what we’re doing… and not, and how to avoid hardstand heartache! 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern; Register here.
Behan presents the Women’s Sailing Seminar keynote, on the last of three days of classes and interactive sessions; there’s something for every level of sailing experience. Join the full event (Nov 13-15)! Details here.
Cruising is rife with romantic ideals. Exploring faraway places and pristine environments; living in harmony with nature as we make potable water from the sea, power from the sun, and forage for dinner… what a life! Gazing out across turquoise water from the cockpit, trying to keep upwind of a bag of putrefying garbage waiting on the aft deck for a place to get disposed…ew. So, how do cruisers deal with garbage?
Well, there’s a stinky problem. What do cruisers do on an everyday basis? How do we cope in remote locations? It’s not difficult, takes minimal planning, but requires almost all of us in from privileged homes to rethink habits and practices.
Sometimes, it’s as easy as a nearby bin to toss your trash bag in; here in the shipyard, we’ve even got recycling (not common in Mexico) and oil waste options.
Don’t count on recycling
Despite the evidence above, recycling has only rarely been available along the path of our circumnavigation. Hopefully this is changing, but since most recycling is probably a false panacea of trading garbage from one place to another less visible one. Don’t count on it; better to grow practiced at refusing, reducing, and reusing. It was great to see nice big bin at the yard here this year, next to the tip for garbage.
And then, there’s all the time we spend where outlets for trash and recycling aren’t available at all. What do we do at sea, or in remote locations?
Only organics overboard
This should be obvious – what’s not obvious is you still can’t just toss that apple core anywhere. First, there’s a practical side to that: it’s gross to walk a beach and know the pamplemousse peel at the hith tide line was probably from breakfast on a boat in the anchorage. Pretty disrespectful for anyone living nearby!
Second, there’s a legal aspect. In the US, federal law prohibits tossing ANY garbage (including organics) from a boat while you are anywhere in lakes, rivers, bays, sounds, and offshore in the ocean less than 3 miles. Once past the three-mile mark, organic waste should be in small (less than an inch / 2.5cm) pieces. Realistically? We don’t all figure out the rules of every country, but use common sense for the appropriate time/place. Federal regulations are detailed in this USCG boater’s guide.
Beyond 12 miles offshore (international waters), you’re in international waters; food waste no longer needs to be ground/chopped into small pieces. For a good reference on international regulations, download a summary of the MARPOL discharge provisions. Note well: discharge of “glass, metal, bottles, crockery and similar refuse” is always prohibited. That soda can? That glass bottle? Should not go overboard.
Keep it clean
Clean stuff doesn’t smell: that aluminum can you won’t toss over just needs to be cleaned and stored until it can be properly disposed. It’s not hard: a bucket of seawater serves well. If you’re remote, it can take a while to find a place for disposal – but if you had room to bring it on, you have room to store it until you reach that place. That’s when thoughtful provisioning comes in handy, and considering what you can eliminate from packaging for storage aboard before casting off.
Cut it up
Small pieces compact better: cutting up waste massively reduces the space it consumes. Soft plastic is the main culprit on Totem for waste – the bags and wraps for everything from sugar to tortillas – but those are easy to store for weeks or months until they can be thrown away. We use a larger bottle (say, one from juice or that liter of soy sauce or an oil container); it’s astonishing how much they can hold! Just put a few cuts into any bag that goes in so it doesn’t hold air, and compacts tightly… a chopstick helps squish it down.
No plastic over, ever
This sounds easy to adhere to, but remember that plastic hides n things you shouldn’t (but might wish) you could chuck over. You’re already not going to throw away those cans and stuff, right? But did you know that most cans have a plastic liner your eyes aren’t catching, as do “paper” tetra packs? Just, no.
Beware the burn
Beach burns are a tempting way to deal with waste when you don’t have options. But remember those cans and tetra packs are plastic, not metal and paper, and burning plastic is about the most toxic thing you can do with it. Seriously, it’s better to bury it, and you wouldn’t do that – right? EPA studies now show that the relatively low temperatures of beach or backyard fires (as compared to commercial incinerators) for burning create staggeringly toxic emissions, and not just from plastics.
It was a bummer to find this burn in an anchorage that was only a morning’s sail away from a place all that junk could have been disposed.
Pretty frustrating to see that kind of carelessness.
Finally, Where there are people, there is a method for tossing waste. Ideally, it goes to places where it’s managed in a way that’s responsible for our health and the planet. Realistically, it often isn’t. Below is the daily burn at the main anchorage in Anjouan, Comoros; this serves as the town dump and was unavoidable.
Here in Puerto Peñasco, we wake up in the shipyard some mornings with sore eyes and dry throats because the toxic smoke from the garbage dump burns has drifted our way. Aside from the discomfort, low-grade burns like this are damaging method for the atmosphere. It all adds to a case to be aware of any packaging/future waste and minimize as much as possible.
TOTEM TALKS, Saturday Oct 17: Drones and photography underway. Drone yer heart out! Livestream this Saturday has Q&A with expert Vivian Vuong, talking all the things and answering all the questions. Register here, feel free to send questions ahead!
WSS returns with Seafaring Storytelling, Monday night, Oct 19: by women, for women; the theme this “The Lighter Side.” This was a ton of fun! Details at iyc.org/wss.
Cruising is steeped in freedom. Thanks to coronavirus, that makes it more appealing than ever, while at the same time it is more circumscribed than ever. Sailing north and deeper into the Sea of Cortez is to enter a disconnected world, one that feels untouched by pandemic concerns. Limitations on behavior from the mainland stops drifted away. No more everyday decisions to make based personal safety. No more monitoring shifting regulations. No local case count to track. Instead, life unfolded again with a pace and features that represent some of the best of cruising.
We migrated slowly north, enjoying the freedom to roam. At the outset I was trading emails with cruisers who continue to face restrictions on movement or options, while far from home. A sharp contrast, and reminder to be grateful.
Free to move about the region, we progressed between open bays, remote coastlines, and uninhabited islands. We got the lines out and were rewarded: it’s dorado (mahi mahi, dolphinfish) season in the Sea, and this sustainable fishery fosters some tasty dinners.
The company of friends
Cruising can be solitary if you choose, but for many – ourselves included – it’s very social. Keeping company with a handful of boats who shared our practices in managing risk returned that social vibe to the everyday rhythm. Arriving to a new anchorage with a catch, one boat served up sushi bowls – dinner for 10 with the shared bounty.
Our diverse group includes American, Canadian, Hungarian, South African, and Croatian cruisers; it is the mix of views and experiences and skills to share. Pablo’s talented illustrator has led regular afternoon classes on drawing with the teens from a couple of boats, bringing discipline and technique to elevate the artwork they love to practice.
Free to use the beach again, a potluck centered around a driftwood bonfire gathers our little fleet. On a shared grill, dorado steaks join skewers of marinated vegetables; delicious sweet bread dumplings are roasted like damper on a stick for dessert.
As the moon rises, a pack of coyotes – those footprints we followed earlier! – yipped and howled in chorus.
There’s an intensity to recent wildlife encounters: are there truly greater numbers of many species, or we just seeing them with fresh eyes? Hardly a day passes without a turtle, if not many of them; I’ve joked that mornings on the bow are like watching Turtle TV.
I don’t think we saw more than a few the entire summer in 2009. We saw more coyotes one week than I think we’ve seen in the entirety of our time (cumulatively, about three and a half years) in Mexico.
Bahia de los Angeles held a particular lure: this is one of a shortlist of places around the world where whale sharks seasonally loiter. Summertime brings them to feed from the rich waters at estuaries on opposite ends of a 10-mile-long bay.
When we spent the summer here in 2009, we always seemed to be at the wrong end of the bay and never caught more than a distant glimpse – despite their slow pace and significant size (up to 40’). This misfortune followed us literally around the world through a succession of other locales where “everybody” sees the magnificent fish.
We hoped to finally break that unlucky streak. Foraying to explore by dinghy, our eyes were drawn to splashing and saw…not whale sharks, but the distinctive coloration of orcas. ORCAS! We had similar misses seeing resident pods before sailing away from the Pacific Northwest in 2008; this was the last thing we expected, and an overwhelming delight to the crew. Drifting close to shore, the small pod swam to, and around, and even under us – before departing with a tail slap that showered the crew.
Wildlife cravings utterly sated, whale sharks or not, we began thinking about our next move. Perhaps no longer feeling pressure that contributed to the change in fortune: investigating ripples in the water while out on the SUP, I found myself next to a whale shark. Hanging near the surface, the giant head bobbed enough to bend the water without breaking it as the fish’s maw yawned to suck and filter plankton. It held station to feed, head up and tail down, the only other movement a rippling along large gills. Slipping into the water to hang alongside and watch it was an experience I can best describe as reverential, and enjoyed in peace for a few moments before joined by our crews in company.
Connecting with people
Bees chased us to a new anchorage; arriving, we remarked on the two fishing pangas anchored below a small cliff. Rumors of poaching and misbehavior from Bay of LA made us wonder about the pangueros activity. Watching one roll out a bedroll above the high tideline, and noticing the improved marker (a plank replacing last year’s driftwood cross) on a rough grave site on shore, it was easy to lead with compassion. Lo, the pan brought over with a cinnamon loaf – hot from the oven! – was miraculously transformed into a pan full of scallops and a lobster tail.
Mortified by prior suspicion, we learned where they were from (the mainland, Sonora), how long they were out (about a week), and shared news of the weather forecast (they had no access, and a norther was coming; we all relocated to another island for better shelter). Once again, those with the least to give humble me with their generosity.
Time to just Be
Our internet break ended this morning with arrival in Puerto Peñasco. We keep up with coaching clients and writing assignments and faraway loved ones through the Iridium GO, but removing the option to “just check the news” has been refreshing!
We’ll draw on that energy in the weeks ahead, as plans are brewing. Projects on Totem: which do we tackle? Shopping run to Arizona: how do we manage it? Gonzo road trip to the Pacific Northwest? Maybe, yes, that too.
With busy days looming, I appreciate anew these joys of cruising.
Did you see?
Cruising families in the news! While our crew was off-grid, Totem was featured in articles in the New York Times and Forbes magazine. Thanks to the awesome journalists who helped to share our story. It is really encouraging to see this beautiful life afloat normalized!
TOTEM TALKS: The drone shots here are superior for conveying a sense of landscape…to communicate the literally nature of the places we visit. Join us for the next livestream on Oct 17th: Drones and photography underway. Special guest, FAA drone pilot and sailor Vivian Vuong sharing her expertise. Register here, feel free to send questions ahead! A link to replay the session will be sent to registrants.
WOMENS SAILING SEMINAR. Join me for this event empowering women in sailing! I’m speaking on Sunday morning, November 15, and looking forward to joining in as a participant other days.
How do you stay cool in the Sea of Cortez? Summers place it among the hottest cruising grounds in the world. We’ve spent time during four different summers in the Sea of Cortez. From June through October, average daily temps are in the 90s F (33-36C), the water reaches this range as well, and the heat index we enjoyed the last few months was typically a daily 105-115F. Sure, it’s hot, but there are a range of ways to stay cool and enjoy the summer.
Embrace the siesta
A summer here ingrains the practicality of an afternoon siesta. A break in the afternoon to just… do… nothing, or do as little as possible, is practical in the steamy heat. Beyond trying to avoid going ashore during peak heat, there’s so much to do in cooler afternoon and evening hours.
Wildlife spotting ashore is best in the early morning; the beach is inviting at golden hour; a pueblo’s food carts fire up the grill for evening treats; card games nestled between sunset and cruiser’s midnight (that’s 9pm, by the way) in a friendly cockpit; dark Baja skies are illuminated by the milky way for stunning stargazing and navel gazing with friends.
Throw shade: on the beach
Our first summer in the Sea with Totem was 2009; the kids were 5, 7 and 10 years old. Getting off the boat was key to avoiding cabin fever! We used a popup, open-sided tent on the beach for instant shade that let the breeze through.
This summer one of our BBBs—bubble buddy boats—had a great setup for easy beach shade – love this open-air shade! Perfect for a kid’s birthday party on the beach with our ‘bubble’.
Sometimes, you can’t get any shade. Easy DIY tactic: make your own mister. Spraying water on and around your body will help keep you cool. Add water from the fridge or an ice cube for a bonus hit!
Throw shade: on the boat
Keeping decks shaded makes a significant difference for lowering temperatures below deck. One of our BBBs, bubble buddy boats, is the lovey Island Packet Galatea; they added deck awnings with a sewing assist from fellow BBB Pablo. Initial reports: literally a 10°F temp drop in the cabin! What’s key is that the awnings can also be taken down quickly if the wind pipes up.
Adding to our (work in progress) bimini has opened up the coolest “room in the house,” our cockpit! While a custom shade solution can be best, even a little bit of quickly assembled tarp makes a big difference – like this blue UV material over the Totem’s forward hatch.
This is where a disadvantage of aesthetically pleasing teak decked boats comes to life: it’s great in Sweden, but hot in the tropics! The dark wood heats up and helps turn your boat into an oven during the day, then taking hours in the evening to cool. It’s also tough on the teak planks. The sealant between them is pliable, but if the planks dry out the sealant bond can fail.
Sluice the deck
Sluicing decks with salt water is good for teak, but helpful for cooling any deck; cool the deck, and you cool the boat. For teak, once the water evaporates, the salt left behind holds some moisture and may help keep teak from drying out.
When the heat of day begins to wane, Jamie often dips buckets of water to sluice Totem’s side decks. As I write this – 3pm on a sunny afternoon in mid-September in Santa Rosalia, Jamie recently measured our genoa track temperatures with an infrared laser thermometer at 141°F! That’s a great, inexpensive tool to have, by the way- for engine temp checks as well as satisfying curiosity about whether you could in fact cook an egg on deck.
Ventilation below deck
Good ventilation matters at least as much (maybe even more) than shade. If there’s no airflow, below deck can be truly stifling. This is partly a function of the number/size of deck hatches aboard, and partly how air flows through them and through your boat.
Here’s where being at anchor is a huge help; our boats naturally orient into the wind, and hatches on most open in a direction that helps funnel that breeze below. The exception is the forward hatch. Ours, like many, opens aft to enable opening underway in light conditions without inviting water below. A windscoop helps in any case, funneling air below.
Winter in Sydney, Australia was brisk, so Jamie installed hull insulation to hold heat in better. He used thin closed cell foam with a foil skinned surface. Without air conditioning, the foam’s ability to block thermal conductivity has no benefit. But the foil does block the sun’s thermal radiation, just as shiny car window shades do.
Fans fans fans
Sometimes there’s just no breeze to funnel! But even when there is a breeze, fans below deck help with moving air and keeping life more comfortable. We have a fan hard wired over every berth on Totem, and additional fans at key locations in the galley, nav station, and main salon table. It’s a survival essential. The Caframo 747/757 cageless fans push a lot of air with little power use. Unfortunately, with full time use the motors burn out in 10 to 14 months…a very frustrating situation, as warranties are worthless when international shipping is involved.
Stay cool in the water
The farmer’s almanac says the “hottest ocean area is in the Persian Gulf, where water temperatures at the surface exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.” Cruisers in Mexico chuckle: that’s what we have here, too! But that’s still quite a few degrees lower than normal body temperature, and soaking in the comfortable saltwater has a wonderfully cooling effect.
Going for a swim helps, too, unless you’re really exerting yourself – a nice snorkel is good for cooling down. Just watch the sun protection during peak hours. If the water is too warm to feel refreshing, then bust out the freediving techniques, because it cools quickly the deeper you go.
We joke that this is when it’s good to have friends with a catamaran, so you can be in the shade AND in the water!
Happily, we love this region now as much now as we did in 2009. Learning how to stay cool in the Sea of Cortez was a big part of that! It can be an adjustment, but to those who persevere the rewards are precious.
Jamie will be the first to tell you he’s not a weather router. But weather advice has crept into the work we do with coaching clients, as we seek to help them cruise happily. Getting caught in bad weather due to misjudging a forecast or failing to read conditions – common errors for new cruisers – can kill the dream. Here, he writes about what it’s like offering weather guidance, and offers a hint at the visceral experience of fending off dragons.
Unicorns and Dragons: confessions of an amateur weather router
On this June day, I have two boats galloping north at 10 knots. The sailing is nice, boosted by 3 knots of Gulf Stream current along Florida’s east coast. This has elements of a unicorn passage. After dark, it’ll be all dragons. I’m anxious for both families. I didn’t exactly send them out into this night. But I didn’t stop them either. Realtime weather radar shows heavier rain approaching. Florida now has tornado and flood warnings. Damn. Lightning hotspots continue to increase along the coastline. The dragons are coming. 1,700 miles west, Totem bobs in softening afternoon wind waves in the Sea of Cortez. We haven’t had a drop of rain in 6 months. No dragons either. We’ll have a gorgeous full moon rising over Isla Carmen in a few hours. Nothing like my Gulf Stream boats speeding through darkness and dragon fire. I am the chess master, sliding pieces past danger. I am the fool, thinking I control the board.
I’ve only recently come to accept that through extended support to our coaching clients, I provide a weather routing service. I’m not a meteorologist, not even a pretend one. I’m never the assertive voice when a group of sailors debate a weather window for the next passage. Information sharing is helpful. Selling an interpretation only masks a hidden agenda. I thought I understood weather forecasting pretty well when I was a racing sailor. Weather had tactical value and I was competitive. Then came the first big and very unexpected squall while delivering a J/35 to Newport, RI. Didn’t see that coming, but could have if I’d known where to look.
Family cruising in Puget Sound and beyond shifted desired weather traits from tactical to comfortable. The unicorn passage: fully at ease with surroundings in the magic and enchantment of glorious sailing. Unicorns are rare, elusive. Waiting is tedious; not getting you to that next beautiful anchorage you’ve dreamt of, frustrating. Instead, interpret the forecast and go. Rarely expecting unicorns, always hoping not to see dragons. Sometimes getting it right. Sometimes not, always comparing and contrasting forecast and reality after the anchor dropped. After hundreds of passages and assessments, my technical weather knowledge is hopelessly mediocre. My particular weather superpower is translating meteorological data into “this is what it’s going to be like.”
My Gulf Stream boats aren’t off to the next dreamy anchorage. They’re retreating to neutral territory. Like many, they’d been COVID-19 restricted in the Caribbean. Uncertainty of a global pandemic and hurricane season looming like a nightmare monster set them on a path to Maine. It’s a return to home for one family. A gorgeous new cruising region for the other. A big step closer to predictability for both. The path is about 2,500 NM long. Beginning in turquoise water of the US Virgin Islands, where warming temperatures bring increasingly volatile weather. Going north in May and June quickly bumps into colder weather and frequent gales springing from the east coast out into the cold Atlantic.
A few weeks before picking a good enough window to depart paradise, we began the conversation of which route home. We sailed Totem from the Caribbean to New England in 2016, on a direct route via Bermuda. This shaved 1,000 NM from a path along the US coast. Bermuda was closed and the likelihood of gales was high, so, no go. A less offshore route meant skirting the Bahamas, but they were also closed – even for vessels in transit. This longer path without bailout options suddenly got riskier. Fortunately, Salty Dawg Rally organizers stepped in to help. They worked with Bahamian officials to create an innocent passage status list of boats for cruisers repatriating the US and Canada. Once on this list, crews could stop in Bahamas to wait out weather, or procure food and fuel.
With a bailout in Bahamas possible, most of the dozen boats that sought out professional weather guidance from this amateur router preferred to skirt east of Bahamas and make landfall in Chesapeake Bay. This unlikely outcome wasn’t realized by any of them. Through the weather window, I could point out dragons lurking. Boats began peeling off to take innocent passage through the Bahamas. Better to make some progress than wait and wait for the unicorn passage. These boats leap frogged through the Bahamas, unable to step ashore but grateful for the respite. Each made landfall in Florida.
My last two boats, patient or stubborn I won’t say. As their weather router, it’s not my role to tell them when or where to go. It has to be their choice. It can be frustrating, when they don’t follow what I think they should do. Then I remember the times I choose poorly. This includes last night on Totem. I thought the afternoon swell would fade for a flat night and easy sleeping. Instead it was a restless, rolly night at anchor. There is no crystal ball. I don’t push my interpretation, only describe what I see.
A huge low off of New England, with trough extending to the Bahamas, blah, blah, blah. I picture myself with the young families. One with some offshore experience; the other, relatively minimal. Both boats added experienced crew to ease their burden. With a gift of better weather, they managed nicely. Weather got more complicated as they went, but a Florida landfall was made without drama.
On this night, northbound along the Florida coast, finesse is the key. I described volatile conditions before they set off. No bad wind or waves, but potential squalls to 40 knots, and lightning. Those dragons are real and can be terrifying. A quick start guide to successful family cruising would do well starting with Rule #1: Avoid Terrifying.
My guidance was for a slow start to let the band of unsettled weather pass ahead. I watched the satisfying progress on their satellite tracker positions. They were only 50 miles offshore, within real-time weather radar range. With Blitzortung, an online resource, I could track real-time lightning strikes. On another browser tab I rechecked the GRIB Rain forecast for the 20th time. Lifeless grey blobs, with smaller pink ones denoting rain intensity. Lifeless, almost meaningless until you see the dull blobs as the smoke and flames from dragon fire. That gets the heart rate up. As does this time lapse video Kevin took of the lighting, which I think might violate Rule #1 above.
The tools I used aren’t all meant for piloting, but that’s how I used them: to navigate around hazards. Crudely plotting the lightning’s advance (radar and lightning screens didn’t show lat/long lines) I went against my own rule not to tell them what to do. “Speed now please, all you can make. And change course ten degrees to starboard,” I typed into the InReach message box. The screen confirmed the message sent. Several minutes passed before the reply arrived, “Headsail out, sails trimmed, and course changed. Making out lightning in the distance.”
Virtual chess and mythical creatures. I could feel their tension as lightning approached. Almost hear the voice crack, if there was a voice in the next message, “lighting is getting intense, will we miss it?” With a few more course adjustments, volatile weather passed just south of the two boats. Actual conditions reflected forecast conditions pretty well, except for being 40 miles closer to my boats then the lifeless grey blobs showed. I learned along time ago that the weather isn’t supposed to do what the forecast says. The dragons that were supposed to strike fear deeper into the night, was now gorgeous lightning safely astern. Another experience. Another assessment. Another way to express lifeless grey blobs.
Epilogue: after these safe arrivals, the crew perspectives were a relief to hear. It might have been tense at times, but the takeaway from Abeona‘sever-positive first mate was how startlingly beautiful the skies were as the line of lightning passed behind them. Serendipity’s crew probably only missed having to prioritize routing for weather instead of fish! These vessels continued north and treated us to a stream of photos from Chesapeake up through Maine on their summer adventures. Abeona crew’s family sabbatical adventures are drawing to a close; their Catana 42 is for sale.Regular readers will remember Serendipity’s Kevin is FearKnot Fishing; he shared his tips/tricks on a recent TOTEM TALKS, after which we finally caught a dorado again.
Leaving Puerto Peñasco’s harbor in our wake last December, I really expected it would be years – many years! – before we returned. But, 2020! Now we’re preparing to haulout at Cabrales Boatyard again. The hurricane safe location offers us a chance to work on some minor projects for a couple of weeks, while readily accessing goods from the USA. Besides, yard manager Salvador and his wife Lara have a new baby girl that I want to meet! From a safe physical distance, of course (oh, that’s going to be hard! Not much beats fresh baby snuggles).
Meanwhile, other boats around us have started talking about plans to haulout there also. Some are ready for a break on land. Others have work that’s easier and more affordable to do at Cabrales compared to further south in Mexico. This is our third time hauling at Cabrales and sixth time hauling Totem, which leaves us with notes to share.
One of the reasons we like going up to Puerto Peñasco is – no hurricanes! There are gales though. Either way, know what harsh conditions affect the area and prepare as if they are certain to come. Whether big winds and reducing windage and perhaps extra jackstands makes sense. Big rain and you should make sure your cockpit scupper can’t clog. Or freezing temps – which are so far from Puerto Peñasco we’re not going to touch here!
Preparing the engine
Initial engine preparation can be done while you’re still in the water, then a freshwater a flush is all that’s left once you’re on the hardstand.
Engine service: Check engine manufacturer service intervals. Is it at or nears hours for a bigger service job? It’s nice to go back in the water with the engine in top condition.
Basic maintenance: Unless recently changed, it’s best to replace consumables: engine oil, oil filter, transmission oil, impeller, alternator belt (if any wear), and fuel filters. Flush and replace the coolant, too.
Fresh water flush: Seawater water cooling system is very corrosive. Flushing with fresh water is easy is good for longevity.
Remove the raw water hose from the seacock, then put into a 5-gallon bucket filled with fresh water. Have a land supplied water hose led to the bucket and ready to turn on.
Start the engine and turn on hose, adjusting the flow rate to keep the bucket nearly full.
Run for 5 to 10 minutes. When nearing completion, add a gallon of white vinegar to the bucket and turn off the hose; let this vinegar solution get pulled into the engine. Acetic acid in the vinegar dissolves some accumulated minerals inside.
Make sure the engine goes off BEFORE the bucket empties!
Lightening the load
Totem has 605 square feet of bottom and weighs in around 38,000 lbs. That’s a lot of mass taken almost entirely by the keel, balanced by jack stands. Emptying tanks and offloading anchor gear provides nearly 10% weight savings.
Diesel tanks: Some favor full tanks for storing; less room for moisture that can enable diesel bug growth. We prefer to treat diesel with biocide (we’ve used BioborJF) and run the fuel down in the tank for less weight aboard. Diesel weighs about 7 lbs/gallon; big tanks mean big weight on the hull. One scenario when weight is a benefit is catamarans hauled out in high hurricane risk areas.
Water tanks: If not living aboard, then empty water tanks (excepting catamarans as above). When near empty add vinegar to the tank and run through fresh water system, including hot water tank to prevent growth.
Holding tanks: Empty! Flush toilets with a water and white vinegar mix to prevent the swamp monster from eating your boat.
Anchors and chain: We offload these high mass items to a pallet below Totem. She sighs when 450’ of chain and three anchors reach the ground.
Sails and rigging
Sails: If you’ll be away for an extended period, sails should come down for storage in a dry place out of the elements. Less sun and wind exposure equals longer life. For shorter periods, it’s more of a judgement call based on the risk of high winds or rodents/birds taking up residence.
Standing rigging: Ease rig tension.
Washing turnbuckles with fresh water
Mark threads so you know how tuned
Remove cotter pins and back off tension until at slight-tension (not sloppy), then put cotter pins in place
Shut down the boom motel: birds love to live inside the boom. Stuff rags in the ends to prevent.
Preparing the exterior
Puerto Peñasco is dusty! When the wind is up, fine dust reaches winch innards, sheave pins and other moving parts that don’t benefit from grit. Boats left for long-term storage can be shrink-wrapped to help protect them from the sand that blows in.
A common cover technique is aluminum foil wrap. In hot dry places like Puerto Peñasco the foil bonded to what it covered. Now we start with a wrap in thin cloth, then foil, and finish with duct tape to ensure it stays in place.
Deck hardware. Start with a good deck wash to remove salt and dirt. Then cover moving parts: winches, clutches, blocks, and plastic hardware. Cover as possible for dirt and UV protection.
Outside electronics: Covered! Including GPS and other more easily accessible antennas.
Wind turbine: secure the blade from spinning and cover the unit to protect from dirt and UV.
Rudder: rudders are a sealed environment, and when heated by storage environment the interior may expand to the extend that it causes damage – cracks that later mean water intrusion. We don’t see these protected often, but it’s a good idea (see wrap on Kenta Anae, below).
Everything else: In high risk hurricane areas, assess every piece of hardware and every item affixed to the boat in terms of possible windage and consider removing them.
Power/ electrical system
When we were in Malaysia a boat down the dock had a neighbor minding it while the owner was away for months. One day she asked for help dealing with a strong odor: Jamie cracked the sliding doors and nearly got smoked out. The batteries had boiled off their water, were super-hot and bulging. After carefully venting hydrogen sulfide gas from the cabin, he disconnected the batteries. A potential disaster, averted.
Shore power: If not living aboard, we disconnect shore power that could have a power loss or spike that upsets onboard systems.
Boat batteries: Our solar panels keep the batteries topped up. We have AGM batteries (for now) that don’t require water or other maintenance. Do know your batteries’ maintenance needs; arrange with the boatyard or a cruiser to manage in your absence if required.
Other batteries: The myriad of electronics we own often have batteries that may be best stored in a cooler environment. Lithium batteries don’t love high heat, and closed-up boat in Mexican summer can exceed 160F may cause damage. Remove batteries from devices and store in a cooler spot if possible, and expect to replace.
Puerto Peñasco is very dry during summer months. When Totem was going to be closed up tight during a three month absence in 2018, we added about 10 gallons of fresh water into the bilge (with a cup of white vinegar to prevent growth). We were concerned that the dryness would shrink cabin sole planks and other wood parts. We were concerned the water would make it humid enough to cause other issues, but we tried anyway. On return we found most water evaporated, the wood fine, and no mildew problem.
Leave the interior clean. Returning to a dirty boat is no fun!
Wiping all surfaces with a vinegar/water solution from a spray bottle (or straight vinegar on a rag) kills the mold spores you don’t see yet to prevent them from blooming in your absence.
Fine sand and dust that can cover the deck hardware, may get inside – even in closed-up boats. Consider covering harder-to-clean items like books and settee cushions with sheets.
We left clothes in lockers and aired them out on return. Other swear by packing them in plastic bags, but be certain they are 100% bone dry first. An old school suggestion is to throw a dryer sheet in the bags but I find them toxic with a “fragrance” that makes me sneeze!
Just before leaving the boat, we open all lockers and bilge access covers to improve air circulation.
Cockroaches and rats love boatyard! We’ve gotten a rat in nearly every boatyard except Cabrales. Start by assuming their presence and take action to avoid some of the rat stories that are to icky to include here.
Access: we don’t have an airtight boat (solar powered dorades fans keep turning!), and don’t want to – that doesn’t mean there’s a welcome mat out.
Ports, hatches, and companionway are closed up.
Bronze wool (steel wool rusts) or sponges block vents and thruhulls that may enable a pathway in otherwise.
Rats are amazing climbers. Prior to leaving get rid of the ladder; and an inverted funnel around a power cord will dissuade any climbers (they may laugh at this attempt!).
Temptations: bugs and rodents have a single focus: food. Remove perishables and as best you can, non-perishables (see below), so as not to lure any critters to come aboard or linger.
Deterrent measures: we put cockroach bait/poison in places they are likely to lurk. In Mexico, I buy a boric acid based paste and smear it in suspect areas (caution if there are young kids or pets aboard). Sprinkling straight up boric acid powder can do the same; best mixed with something to sweeten it to bug-yummy goodness (powdered sugar to stay powdery, sweetened condensed milk if you’d like a paste).
We’ve recorded deck temperatures at 160°F! Below deck, the boat is literally an oven.
Deck covers: Shading makes a big difference, but keep weather conditions in mind. High UV degrades plastic tarps in a couple months; and a wind event can flog them to shreds. We bought rolls of inexpensive UV shade material, with 80% sunblock to shade and allow airflow. Secure low and tight over lifelines and supporting lines like a “ridgepole” between mast and the bow.
Ventilation: Stagnant air makes it hotter below and more likely enable mildew and mold growth. Some boats are tighter than others and may need dessicating agents like Damp-Rid inside, even in the dry heat. Totem’s solar vents keep turning over air and help prevent mildew below.
Air conditioning: In extreme heat, consider installing a household air conditioner in a hatch or the companionway, and plugged in to a land-based power source. When we did this in Peñasco, it didn’t make it cozy and cool below, but it did take the edge off extreme heat.
Remove all foodstuff: Almost. Perishables of course – but even most non-perishables. First, because ANY food is a lure for vermin. Second, because enclosed conditions below can be tough on even long-life goods. In Peñasco’s extreme summertime heat canned food could explode, then rot until cleaned week (months?) later.
Packaged foods can stored a larger sealed container or tub. I’d go as far as taping seams on a heavy-duty tub with a gasketed lid.
Close propane tank valves.
Gas in jerry cans doesn’t store well and is hazardous. Consider giving it to launching cruiser or local for the karma win!
Preparing for in-water vs. hauling
The focus here is dry storage (and warm locations), but storing a boat in-water is sometimes a preferable option. In areas of extreme heat, remaining in-water is gentler on the boat than hot hot air. In the summer of 2009, we stored Totem for about three months at a berth in San Carlos, Mexico. On the mainland side of Mexico, this area remains prone to hurricane risk.
Our preparations to keep Totem safe in-water were twofold:
Reducing windage: sails off and below, along with just about everything not permanently attached to the deck (including our kayak)
Securing well: we macraméd Totem to dock structure
Remnants of hurricane Jimena passed over the area with some bluster and epic rainfall, but Totem did perfectly fine in her slip. Ironically, a number of boats on shore were washed off jackstands due to flooding.
Join Totem crew at these events!
TOTEM TALKS: buying a boat! this Saturday we’re discussing common mistakes in the purchase process, broken down for you to avoid. Register here. On Oct 17th, TOTEM TALKS: Drones and photography underway. Special guest, FAA drone pilot and sailor Vivian Vuong sharing her expertise. Register here.
Wooden Boat Festival. We’re excited to join the Wooden Boat Festival’s virtual event, live on September 12 (with seminars accessible to participants for a month).
Seafaring storytelling! Monday, September 14, 7pm Pacific; a prelude for IYC’s Women’s Sailing Seminar. I’m joining four other women sharing short stories around the theme of “Mother Nature” in our sailing lives. A prelude for the big event in November.
Women’s Sailing Seminar. I’m thrilled to keynote this event during the weekend of November 13-15, 2020. In their 28th year, WSS organizers are transitioning their two-day program online with an eye on the camaraderie that defined their gathering the pre-COVID world. Details coming soon!
The flavor of places we visit as cruisers is a meaningful part of the joy of cruising. The literal flavor: the sourcing, preparing, and enjoying of food connects us to sweet memories. What’s more local and connected than foraging for sustenance?
I remember toddling after my aunties to eat more blackberries than I could pick, and savoring the pies from what they collected later. There was that time my grandmother said “oh LOOK! pull over, quick!” because she saw shaggy mane mushrooms in a drift on a lawn near my father’s office. I can remember wearing a baby while chatting with a friend and snipping nettle leaves into a paper bag to turn into soup at home, and the morels in our yard that first spring we moved to Bainbridge felt like an auspicious sign.
Going cruising meant leaving foraging behind, other than fishing (and isn’t that more hunting more than foraging?). Without local knowledge – what to look for, what’s safe, what’s not – how could it come with us? And yet it can, and has crept back into our life recently.
A book, a gift, and an accidental discovery have returned this flavorsome pastime. It began with rereading Gathering the Desert, which reminded me how foraged ingredients, botany, and human ecology come together here in the Sonora desert. The book explores twelve different foods in terms of their botanical and cultural connection – including the tiny, wild chiltepin pepper. The following week, Don Juan and senora Cuquita, the lovely couple whose food service we regularly patronize, gifted a small bag of these fiery little chiles (not much bigger than an actual peppercorn) with our purchase. Around the same time, I had spotted greens growing behind the high tide line that proved to be the same “sea bean” we frequently foraged in Puget Sound. Foraging interest… rekindled!
Sea beans (also called sea asparagus, pickleweed, or samphire) are a succulent that thrives in an astonishing range of environments, subtropic to subarctic. Prior to finding it behind a recent anchorage, I’d never have expected this low-growing plant we’d gather in Puget Sound to be present in the parched desert of Baja. And yet there it was, looking and feeling so familiar…roots reaching into brackish water, the sectioned stems snapping neatly between fingers.
Soaked, blanched, then sautéed in butter – they are delicious. The plants naturally have a high salt content: blanch first, then no additional salt is needed. Collectors tips: snip the tender top shoots, lower stems are woody; don’t take whole plants, as it grows from a rhizome that should be left behind. It’s very much a fresh green bean flavor, and lends itself to both salt fermenting and pickling if you’d like to preserve a jar for later.
I mentioned to Don Juan (we chat via Whatsapp, the easier to use Google Translate!) that Jamie appreciated the spicy peppers; last week, he tucked a bag of several dozen for us to discover when unpacking our order aboard Totem. They’re said to lend a unique flavor to Sonora salsas; folklore connects them to creation stories and medicinal use. We’ve made them into a homemade chili-garlic sauce, heated up a chimichurri, and will try the last few in another traditional style- ground in a mortar with salt and sprinkled directly on food.
The CSA box we get from San Javier farmers often contains a little surprise, too: something new to try. The crowd favorite on Totem is the fig jam that Farmer Bastida has brought recently. Last week’s basket had something I couldn’t quite identify. An email to the CSA’s organizer, Cecilia, led to illumination that these are ‘tuna’ – not the fish, but the fruit of the opuntia cactus.
We cook and eat the nopales, the green paddles from this same cactus. The fruit was more challenging: eating around the generously sized seeds is likely an acquired practice. The taste, however, is not: the prickly pear is refreshing, delicious, and very similar to their namesake.
I’ve loaded up my kindle with more books to connect with the environment around us. In Coves of Departure, I’m seeing Baja through the eyes of a professor guiding an annual group of students through southern Baja waters and ecology. Into a Desert Place is the entertaining and occasionally poignant trek of a bumbling Scot who set out to walk the coast of Baja. He did it, and cactus was common to his diet. It makes what we can find and eat locally that much more interesting, and help us feel more connected to the place.
Meanwhile: here on Totem, besides stuffing ourselves with Baja goodness – Siobhan has turned our jicama bounty into “jicama fries” and they are better than you think; we have cornbread cooling and to go with the arrachera that will get dolloped with chiltepin-infused chimichurri tonight; there’s a plate of chocolate chip cookies (thank you, teens who bake) on the counter.
Hurricane Genevieve is in the neighborhood! She’s wobbling to the outside of Baja, but we did make a short jaunt to an anchorage with better protection, along with other preparations. The action is south, and all’s well aboard.
TOTEM TALKS: Stop Fishing, Start Catching!
Fishing is more like hunting than foraging, but it’s something most cruisers aspire to do… and most of us don’t do it very well! Our friend Kevin Ferrie (of Live the Voyage and Sail Fish Tales) is That Guy: the one who always has a picture of the incredible catch, and not just the story but the footage to show the one that got away, the sailfish he released, the mahi bigger than his kid, etc. He’s going to tell us what most cruisers get wrong about fishing, and how to have skill instead of luck.
Join us to hear his best advice over a sundowner: Saturday, August 22 at 5:00 pm PT, 8:00 pm ET. Register here to attend.
We ran out of propane last night. Inconveniently enough (is it ever convenient?) it happened in the middle of cooking dinner. That’s preferable to seeing burner flames fizzle out before morning coffee is finished brewing, however.
There was no crisis; a full second tank was waiting. Gauging consumption over time has helped us anticipate needs and avoid heartache (or forego coffee). Jamie swapped out the hookup and in a matter of minutes, dinner was bubbling away.
Getting a fill
Propane is overwhelmingly what cruisers rely upon for cooking fuel. Where to fill, how to fill, and how much propane costs are common topics when cruisers meet in a new place and the more recently arrived get a download on the local scene.
Propane is widely used on land along our cruising route, too, and has been readily sourced almost everywhere we cruised. In Australia, the tank valves had to be replaced and the bottles certified before local filling. The method of sourcing a fill varies by country. Lugging propane tanks is awkward (not to mention the explosive contents!) so the simplest, safest option is typically a marina service where you drop off empty, and pick up full.
In other countries we’ve brought them to hardware stores or the local depot. Sometimes getting bottles to/from a fill location is the hardest part, as public transportation with a bottle is awkward if not illegal. In more remote places, the fill process may be by decanting from a full tank to ours by gravity feed rather than pressurized system. There are important details in doing this for safe and efficient filling this way. The US-standard fittings on our bottles have rarely been a problem. Where local fittings differ, there’s typically a way to make it work. In St. Helena, the supplier said filling tanks was a problem unless we brought the right adaptor. Fortunately, we did and once filled left it with them so future yachties could fill easily.
For a great primer on how to set up tanks for filling, there’s a summary by the Jacaranda crew about the extra bit of kit to pack along when filling US tanks in French Polynesia. Scroll to “Refilling your propane tank in French Polynesia” on the Other Good Stuff portion of their website, or download the PDF directly.
Cost of propane
In a typical year, we spend between $150-$200 on propane.
Because propane is widely used for cooking fuel, it’s not just readily available – it’s also relatively affordable. Our cheapest fill was in Mexico recently: about US$9 for the 22lb tank that we used more than two months. The most expensive was in Bali, where our smaller (then 20 lb) tank cost $50 to fill (due to a pricey service provider; the local market rate was a fraction of this). Australia was also very high at nearly $50 per tank. In French territories, they use butane or a propane/butane mix. Fortunately, our stove/oven works fine with both fuels; and we prefer butane as it burns much hotter than propane.
How much we use
Our long-term average use is just under a half pound of propane per day.
In 2016, our aluminum tanks had some pitting so we replaced with two Viking 10 kg (22 lb) fiberglass cylinders. Each last around 45 days. Calculating consumption is slightly fuzzy math, because not all fills are equal (the perfect top-up isn’t guaranteed) and everyday usage can fluctuate quite a lot. Habits do, too; in cooler weather the oven gets more use. Sometimes the oven is literally a heat source and provides and incentive for roasting or baking! We’ve tracked this for so many years, the curves are smoothed.
The tank we just emptied went 65 days, or, about a third of a pound per day. That’s about 30% less than our norm, and not because we were eating off the boat. Thanks to covid, we haven’t had a shoreside taco since March! Baja summer weather is the factor: we are using our solar ovens more, since they do a great job of cooking without heating up the galley. We are hardly baking at all; the oven hasn’t been used since Totem had birthday season in May. And we’re skewing towards meals that use less stove time (like couscous instead of rice: a few minutes to boil a kettle for couscous, vs. much longer to cook a pot of rice).
Sometimes, keeping propane use down has been a deliberate choice based on the uncertainty of the next fill. Leaving Australia, we knew it could be difficult or impossible to get propane along our outer-island route in Papua New Guinea. From there we’d cross into eastern Indonesia, which we’d also heard was complicated based on incompatible fittings. In addition to filling tanks just before departure from Bundaberg, we lowered our everyday use by using the solar oven more and choice of meals – picking those that needed less cooking time.
Other ways to lower propane use include stovetop ovens, like the Omnia, or pressure cookers. We make active use of our pressure cooker to this end; see our favorite in Totem’s galley essentials list, or read about our love of solar cooking.
Propane is among the most volatile items onboard, and needs careful management.
Tanks: metal tanks should be in good conditions – watch for rust or corrosion.
Hoses: Propane is under high pressue! A regulator reduces this to about 2 psi. Give a routine inspection for corrosion and wear to the regulator, fittings, hose, and clamps.
Storage: because of the volatile nature of propane, the locker where tanks are stored should be isolated from interior of the boat and vent overboard. Propane is heavier than air, so any interior leaks sink to the bilge – a potentially explosive situation.
Use: all installations should rely on a solenoid switch, with the propane flow off unless it’s in active use. Bonus: you save power! A solenoid uses about one amp.
Smell: the rotten-egg smell of propane smell of rotten eggs is distinctive for a reason! If you suspect a leak, test by mixing up very sudsy water and laying bubbles over component parts. Even a small leak will show by making bubbles move around. An electronic “sniffer” and alarm system are further peace of mind.
Can you cut out propane?
Some boats are switching from propane to electric-powered cooktops or ovens, whether they are induction or radiant (coils). The reasons vary, but include the goal of all green-power generation, or greater self-sufficiency by eliminating a fuel from the provisioning lists. Alcohol stoves were popular decades ago, but today aren’t even the minority option – they’re the rare outlier.
Those are laudable ideals, but it’s a tough fit. Induction and radiant stoves require a lot of electricity. One “burner” can pull 120 to 150 amps of 12volt DC power. This requires a lot of usable battery capacity, supporting charge system, a big inverter, and a whole lot of solar capacity to remain “green.”. Cats have the benefit of more real-estate for solar capacity. Or it can be run directly from AC power generator, if you don’t mind turning the generator on every time you want to cook. Some boats are AC-centric and not as much burden to do so, but it does get back to burning dinosaurs to make coffee.
For all but boats with the real estate and budget for a substantial green-power generation setup, propane remains the practical choice.
Seminars and speaking engagements
Wooden Boat Festival. We’re excited to join the Wooden Boat Festival’s virtual event, live on September 12 (with seminars accessible to participants for a month)!
Cruisers University at the Annapolis Boat Show. Cruisers University runs from October 5th-8th; Jamie and I plan to teach a virtual program. Details TBA; for the latest from the US Sailboat Show in Annapolis, visit the show website.
Women’s Sailing Seminar. I’m thrilled to keynote this event during the weekend of November 13-15, 2020. In their 28th year, WSS organizers are transitioning their two-day program online with an eye on the camaraderie that defined their gathering the pre-COVID world. Details coming soon!