S/V Hello World's Travel Log

christmas in the islands

Bound and determined we were. Bound AND determined to leave La Paz for the holidays. La Paz was great but we were ready to get out of the city and head north into the Sea of Cortez for the rest of the season. And leave we did. We finally made it out of La Paz and were on our way to experience the rest of Sea of Cortez. Woohoo! We sailed north for Isla Espiritu Santo and it's many great anchorages. We chose Puerto Ballena to anchor over Christmas while a big norther blew through.

We spent Christmas eve and day by ourselves in a mostly empty anchorage. We read books on the foredeck, dinghied in to shore to walk on the beach and just generally lazed around. How is that different from any other day on Hello World? Well... ya got me there.

From Puerto Ballandra, we headed north once again to Caleta Partida to meet up with Stepping Stone crew. We hung out with them and our new buddy Kevin from s/v Pahto for a few days. We did a little spearfishing with our new spear CANNON. I missed everything I shot at but Sarah borrowed the gun and blew a barn door open in the side of an unsuspecting surfperch. Poor guy never saw it coming. Elias and Kevin also borrowed it during a session of night spearfishing (not for me, thanks) and came home with a decent catch.

From Caleta Partida, we said a sad farewell to Stepping Stone who set off for the warmer waters of the Mexican mainland. Hopefully, they will grow disenchanted with all the warm tropical weather, snorkeling, surfing and palm trees of the mainland coast and join us again one day in the Sea of Cortez.

We departed Caleta Partida and ran up to Ensenada Grande, our favorite anchorage in the islands. After setting our anchor, we were sitting down below when we heard the strangest noise outside. This kind of strange rhythmic concussion on the decks and cabin top. We poked our heads up out of the boat to discover... WATER FALLING FROM THE SKY. I believe in other parts of the world, they call this phenomenon rain. We searched our brains and drudged up fuzzy memories of this, this... rain. This was our first rain on the boat going back to October of last year. Fortunately, the boat needed a freshwater bath so the rain was welcome. I can handle rain every three months or so.

Doing some futzing around below decks, we discovered our bilge pump wasn't pumping water. Turns out our float switch - the switch that turns on the bilge pump when there is water in the bilge and therefore keeps the boat from sinking - crapped out. So. Head north into the most desolate section of coast in the Sea of Cortez without a working float switch? Or....

Head back to La Paz.


Christmas Day in Puerto Ballena.

Merry Christmas!!

Another good argument for never NEVER trusting your GPS in Mexico. The charts down here are a bit like all the stop signs in La Paz, more of a guideline.

Elias from s/v Stepping Stone and Kevin from s/v Pahto doing some night spearfishing.

After the rain passed, we had a great sunset at Ensenada Grande.

24°28.381'N 110°22.803'W

escape from la paz

We like anchoring out way better than marinas. The last marina we were in was San Diego and we only went in to a marina because we had new solar panels to install that we really didn't want to drop in the ocean. However, we need shore power to equalize our battery banks (equalize means to overcharge them and boil the acid in the batteries to knock the deposits off the lead plates inside). The last time we equalized our batteries was... um, never. Since we should be doing it about once a month, now seems like a good time. Our poor boat also desperately needed a bath. She's been covered in salt and bird poo for too long.

We had a few more projects that needed doing so we pulled into Marina Palmira in La Paz for a few days of living the high life. Flush toilets. Hollywood showers. Unlimited AC electricity there for the taking. Christy spit-polished Hello World into a gleaming shine. I worked on getting our decrepit, power hungry refrigerator insulated enough to hold some ice so we could at least run it while the engine was going and keep ice in it the rest of the time. I made a run to Home Depot - yes, they have a Home Depot in La Paz, just go to Walmart and hang a left - to purchase some foam insulation panels and spray foam. I made a hillbilly hackjob of it but at least our freezer box has marginal insulating properties now.

We got most of the items on our list complete and left to anchor out in El Megote, the cruisers anchorage off the La Paz waterfront. We spent a few days waiting out the norther and then a few more days struggling to reach escape velocity. La Paz is a hard place to leave. On Saturday, one of the boats in the area hosted a party on the beach including roasting a pig. We all hung out on the beach as the sun set, drinking home made apple hooch, playing bocce ball in the sand and eating succulent fire-roasted pig.

We had to get some more Mexican paperwork in the form of a Temporary Import Permit. Given the effort it takes to deal with the Mexican government and the possibility of getting grifted like we did the last time, we hired an agent to handle this bit of administrata for us and we're happy we did. We also spent an evening with the hilarious crew from s/v Pisces, Jacob & Julia and tried to convince them that going north would be way more fun than their plans of going south.

Our last task in La Paz before leaving was Christmas presents! Don't get too excited, the presents were for ourselves. Mainly one:

If you are currently a fish residing in the Sea of Cortez: BE VERY AFRAID.

The first time our shore power cord has seen the light of day since we left Shilshole Marina in May. Solar power = the awesome.

Bimini and dodger (canvas coverings over the cockpit and companionway of the boat) from our friends on s/v Fly Aweigh. We're envious of their copius solar array and comfy out-of-sun seating.

Wynn from s/v Tynamara throwing down on the bocce court.

Elias and Sarah from s/v Stepping Stone mixing it up.

Kayaking the mangoves of the Megote.

A trimaran sitting on the beach looking not very good.

A mangrove occupant.

24°09.639'N 110°19.978'W

give us a shout!

We finally have a way for you to get ahold of us again. If you look under site navigation to your right, there's now a link called Contact Us.

Take a minute, hit the link and say hey. We'd love to know who's out there reading the blog and how you found it.

i like cold beverages - part 1

(This post is gonna be hyper boat-nerdy so if you came for the sunset pictures, best skip this one.)

We don't use the refrigeration system on board Hello World. It's a water-cooled AC system that pulls down 60 to 70 amps which positively kicks the stuffing out of our batteries. We don't like to run our engine for anything other than propulsion. Diesel engines don't like to be run without a load placed on them. In British Columbia and even going down the Pacific coast, traveling sans refrigeration was fine. Our water tanks were cold enough to drink out of and not having cold beer around means I lost most of my beer belly. We don't need refrigeration!

And then came Mexico. Actually, Cabo San Lucas. The water was 80 degrees which means the water in our tanks were also 80 degrees. An ice cold Coca-Cola was heaven in a bottle. We were getting dehydrated because we weren't drinking enough. And we started to actually catch some fish. That meant whatever we caught, we had to eat right away. Some friends gave us a sierra that we actually had to throw overboard because we couldn't eat it in time.

So we're getting a new refrigeration system. Yeah, I know, we tell everyone we're hard as coffin nails but the truth is we're actually as soft and squishy as Dom DeLuise's underbelly. We've come to accept that life is just better with ice in your gin and tonics and cold milk in your cereal.

Our Requirements

We've cruised for awhile without refrigeration and learned lots of tricks to provision without stocking perishables. We don't need a lot of space for refrigeration. We want to keep drinks cold (really cold), keep fish we catch longer than 4 hours, and have access to fresh food we would otherwise not be able to buy.

Our main requirements for this system:

  • We want to be energy neutral for days on end. I do not want to be in the business of running our engine in order to keep our fridge running.
  • We want to keep our fridge cold. Very cold. 35° would just fine with me.
  • We want to make and store ice.
  • We want to cycle lots of drinks in and out of the fridge.
  • We want this system to work in hot, tropical places.

Sizing the System

Our current fridge/freezer box is a highly under-insulated 11 cubic feet. That's alot of volume to cool and even more so when there's not much insulation around it. So we're going to pull out that box and replace it with a smaller box of around 4.7 cubic feet. Then we can fill in that entire remaining void with a two-part polyurethane foam insulation which should give us a minimum of R30 insulation around the box.

Next, we have to calculate how many BTU's (British Thermal Units) our system needs to pull out of the box. Fortunately, we found kollman-marine.com, a website run by Richard Kollman who specializes in boat refrigeration. His simplified formula for a well-insulated refrigeration heat load for a boat in tropical waters suggests 600 BTUs per cubic foot per day plus 1,000 BTUs per crew member per day.

600 * 4.7 + 1000 * 2 = 4,820 BTU's per day = ~200 BTU's per hour

What Kind of System

There are several ways to skin the frosty-cold-cerveza cat. Holding plates are basically large stainless steel boxes filled with a eutectic solution (for the purpose of this blog post, a eutectic solution is a solution with a lower freezing point than plain water). These plates have coils running through them filled with a refrigerant. The holding plates serve as a battery but instead of electricity, they store negative BTU's. It's like having an ice block that can refreeze itself. Holding plate systems are designed to run just a few hours a day to freeze the plates. But they generally require bigger more power-thirsty compressors. They work well for systems that have large amounts of energy available for a couple hours a day. Folks running an AC genset or their diesel engine a couple hours a day would benefit from holding plate systems.

The other option is to install evaporator plates in the cold box. Evaporator plates cool the refrigerated space they are in directly. Systems with evaporator plates cycle on and off frequently throughout the day as the temperature of the cold box surpasses the threshold of the thermostat. They usually draw a lot less power than the holding plate systems but run off and on throughout the day. They are better suited to boats with smaller, well-insulated cold boxes, large battery banks and/or passive energy like solar and wind generators.

A 12V air-cooled system based on the venerable Danfoss BD50 compressor can pull 330 to 500 BTUs per hour depending on speed the compressor is running and the temperature of the cold plate. That exceeds our requirement of 200 BTU's per hour by a comfortable margin of error. Which means it would be running around 40% to 60% of the time. That should pull 50 to 60 amp-hours per day.

Which brings us to...

Electrical Requirements

In the year and a half that we've owned this boat, I can think of one hour that we've run our engine strictly to charge the batteries. We don't like to do it. It's hard on diesels to run without a load on them and not terribly efficient to run a 46 horsepower engine to put a few hundred watts back into batteries.

We have 240 watts of solar panels on board that keep us in power pretty much as long as we want to sit in an anchorage. We can even run the watermaker for a few hours every couple days and our solar panels keep replacing what we use. We're anticipating refrigeration to add a worst case scenario of 100 amp/hours per day but more likely somewhere around 60 amp/hours. Our current solar array won't keep up with that. We can either add a wind generator or add one or two more 130W solar panels. Or both.

We don't have the cake for both but what a luxury that would be, hey? We're leaning towards replacing the solar panel regulator we have with a MPPT regulator which should wring some more amps out of our current array and support up to two more 130 watt panels.

Our Solution

So what's all this lead up to? Here's the direction we're heading right now:

  • Have someone vacuum out the refrigerant out of our current system. Once the refrigerant is out of it, we should be able to pull it out ourselves.
  • Pull the galley counter off - hopefully without destroying it! - and yank the existing 11 cubic foot cold box out.
  • Replace the existing cold box with a smaller 4.7 cubic foot cold box. Insulate the remaining void with a combination of polyurethane boards and two-part polyurethane spray foam.
  • Install two evaporator plates into the new cold box.
  • Run the two evaporator plates from a small 12V air-cooled system, probably based on a Danfoss BD50 compressor.

Next up? Now we have to choose which refrigeration system we're going to go with.

(8 super bonus round points awarded to anyone who identifies the source of the post title - without googling it, McKenzie...)

apple cider? good. hard apple cider? even better!

That's right - we can now make our own hard cider. And I'm going to share the secret. You're welcome :) This is thanks to John on s/v Alias who gave us the idea. He carries with him an entire beer making kit and a hookah. This guy is not messing around.

So, here is the recipe I used. We've decided it comes out better than what we get at the bar - can't beat that!

1. Start with 1 gallon of good apple cider (I was able to find Tree Top in Mexico)
2. Drink about a cup out of it to make room for sugar, yeast and gases
3. Mix in 1/2 cup of sugar (more if you want it more alcoholic)
4. Dissolve 1/4 tsp yeast in water and then add it to the cider
5. Put on the cap and leave it just loose enough that CO2 can get out (you don't want air getting in)
6. Let it sit for 4 days and then...poof! Hard cider!

There are all sorts of fancy tricks, like getting a one way valve that lets gas out but not in and siphoning off the hard cider to avoid drinking the sediment. We have no such fancy tools, and we're just as happy with our trailer trash cider - it's yummy.

In addition to cider, we've also been making our own yogurt and cottage cheese. Recipes can be found on our faaaancy recipe page!

isla espiritu santo

For reasons beyond my infantile knowledge of geology, at some point in recent history, a chunk of crust that used to be the floor of the Sea of Cortez got ripped off and shoved skyward. Whatever caused this, the result is two stunning islands about 20 miles north of La Paz known as Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida.

We were ready to leave La Paz and get out to somewhere a little more natural so we headed north to the islands. We got some skinny from fellow cruisers who had just returned from the island that Ensenada Grande was the shiznit so we picked that anchorage to start out and north we went.

Over the last two years of planning and preparation for this journey, we've read tons of blogs and none have been more helpful than Gary and Marianne from the good ship Gallant Fox. We've never actually met them but have traded several emails. They have been awesome with helping us prepare for what to expect down here and several of their emails to us were so cool and full of good info, we posted them on the blog last year.

As we pull into Ensenada Grande, we notice one other boat in the anchorage. Of course, it's Gallant Fox (no kidding - we run into way more people that we know in Mexico than we ever did in Seattle). Our first meeting was shouting introductions boat to boat as we circled them in the anchorage. We immediately dropped the hook and ran the last of our beer from the Pacific Northwest over to our fellow Pacific Northwesterners. We spent the evening trading tales and cruising tips. Christy went over to GF the next day and Gary taught her the finer points of making both flour and corn tortillas. They don't call him the Propane Chef for nuthin', folks.

We also got word of a great hiking trail in this anchorage. We pulled up to a beautiful beach and found a promising sign marking the trailhead. We wondered back on the trail as it peetered out into an arroyo (dry creek bed) that zigzagged it's way up the western slope of the island. We spent several hours scrambling up and over boulders, shuffling and kicking the gravel all the while to warn off the snakes and keeping a sharp eye out for scorpions and lizards. We arrived at the eastern end of the island which terminates into a cliffs that drop several hundred feet down into the Sea of Cortez. After climbing back down the "trail", we got back to the boat to find the anchorage emptied out. All hot and sweaty from the hike, we shucked off clothes and jumped into the crystal clear water. We still can't get it in our heads we're skinnydipping in December.

After a few days, we weighed anchor and made a side trip to up to the very north end of the islands to a couple of bird shit covered rocks known as Los Islotes. We've seen plenty of bird poo on rocks but what makes this place special is the sea lion rookery. And not just any sea lion rookery. These sea lions have been visited by humans for long enough that they've grown not only tolerant of people but will actually play with them.

After dropping anchor and dinghying over to the rocks, we tied off to a mooring ball a 100 feet off the shore. We donned snorkel gear and hesitantly slipped into the water. I think I half expected this to all be some knee slapping joke the pangueros play on the gringos and that these sea lions were of the man-eating genus. Have you seen the teeth on these things?

After swimming for 10 minutes or so, I saw a little guy swimming along the bottom underneath about 20 feet down. And just like that, he came rocketing up towards the surface, swam a circle around me about a foot away and shot off like a dart. Show off. The next hour we spent bobbing around in the water as a few of the younger sea lions came out to swim around us. Most of them didn't pay us much notice but a few of them had to check us out. They would dart around us, poke their heads above the surface and stare at us, and were all sorts of fascinated We spoke with another boat that kayaked around Los Islotes. At one point, one of the sea lions grabbed the rope on their kayak and pulled them around. Once he was done pulling them around, he hopped right into the kayak! To be fair, he was probably tired of pulling them around and why couldn't they do a little bit of the work, ferchrissakes?

Of course, our awesome waterproof camera died right as we pulled up so no pics. But we'll be back there to be sure so we'll post more later.

After getting our share of sea lion love, we headed south for a few days of relaxin' at Caleta Partida, the ex-volcano crater that divides the two islands. We met up with Stepping Stone and host of other boats that we met in the Baja Ha Ha. We dinghied around to the east side of the island to check out sea caves. Christy had some folks over for a cheese and yogurt making session. We got wind of another norther coming in and decided to head back to La Paz before it showed up to take care of some admin stuff, load up on fresh fruit and perhaps enjoy a taco or two at Super Burro.

Besides, you can never really escape La Paz.

Gary from Gallant Fox teaching Christy how to make tortillas.

Hello World lying at anchor in Ensenada Grande.

Christy scrambling up the arroyo.

Taking advantage of what little shade the desert landscape has to offer.

Enjoying the view at the top of the cliffs that make up the east side of the islands.

Sunset over Ensenada Grande.

This place is heaven for rock nerds.

Christy landing a black skipjack. Fish tacos for lunch!

Guano frosted Los Islotes.

Dinghying over to the east side of the islands.

These islands have some crazy cool geology.

I apologize in advance but y'all are probably gonna really sick of sunset pictures. We can't seem to stop taking them.

24°33.883'N 110°24.251'W

VHF - the original facebook

For those of you who want a little glimpse into boat life, here's installment #1.

The VHF radio on our boat is our new communication tool. We canceled our cell phones before we left the country (international roaming = budget breaker), and our replacement is the radio. Cruisers take over a channel in an area (La Paz is known as the two-two, much like Detroit is the three-one-three). Everyone monitors the hailing channel and once you've gotten in touch with your friend, you move your conversation to another channel. If it sounds like a juicy conversation, most of the fleet will go with you and listen in. Old fashioned party line? Yes. Tool for the bored or nosy? You betchya.

Most mornings, you can tune into a "net" in which the net controller hosts a standard rundown of news, announcements, and classified ads. The young cruisers get a taste of retirement home life when they cycle through the weekly activities: knitting club on boat x, dominoes at restaurant y, bridge every day and all day, and my favorite, geriatric yoga every morning in front of the clubhouse. Yeah, there's even a clubhouse.

Of course, the VHF radio has it's assortment of characters: radio nazis that can anonymously reprimand people for talking on the hailing channel or yell at kids for hailing too loud. There's an entire net devoted to news in the US which always devolves into conspiracy theory talk and is hence named the tinfoil hat net. And then there are the people that just say some bizzare and dumb stuff on the radio. I've started a quote log because some of these are just too good to pass up:

"When we lived in England, we also spent a little time in Europe" -La Paz morning net

"Last night, we saw gusts up to 1 knot" -La Paz weather guy

and my personal favorite:

"We're on parallel converging courses!" -Baja Haha radio conversation

Yes, the VHF might be old school, but new dimensions of physics are emerging even here.

radio email processed by SailMail
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la paz

La Paz has a reputation as a black hole. As the story goes, once you enter La Paz, you never leave. We got here a week ago, and have come to discover just a few of La Paz's charms. First and foremost is Super Burro. Super Burro is our new favorite taco stand. Five bucks will get you 3 beef tacos, a couple Sol cervezas and as much wifi as you can stand. Down the road from Super Burro is CCC (apparently prounced "say-say-say"), Mexica's answer to Fred Meyer's. Underwear? Pasillo cinco. Pineapple juice? Pasillo diez. Plasma TV's? Just past the hammers and a la izquierda.

Because of it's black-hole-esque quality, there's a large community of cruisers who have long since planted roots in La Paz. They have even gone so far as to establish a clubhouse - Club Cruceros - where local cruisers hang out and drink coffee, talk boats, and swap books. They have an expansive movie library that you can check out DVD's from. And every year the club throws a huge Thanksgiving dinner at one of the local marinas including tables full of potluck dishes and 19 cooked turkeys. We were missing our families (and my mom's scalloped tomatoes!) for the holiday, so we hung out with 200 other gringos. As is our duty as Americans, we ate ourselves into a starch and tryptophan induced coma and then waddled home moaning about how much we ate this year.

Another of La Paz's charms is its waterfront. Known as the Malecon, their waterfront is a tiled walkway lined with beautiful bronze sculptures that runs the length of the city. All along the Malecon are great sandy, white beaches on one side and interesting little shops and restaurants on the other side. Street food vendors offer such delicacies as corn on the cob coated in mayonaise, cotija cheese and hot sauce or bags of fresh fruit mixed with salt and hot sauce. Don't knock it until you've tried it. Mexicans may not have a great bob-sledding team but they absolutely, unequivocally know food.

As much as we love La Paz, we're ready to take off. The harbor is too polluted to swim in and when the wind is just right you get that whiff of what can only be described as "bouquet of Mexican city". We're gonna run out to the islands just north of town and get a fix of nature for a spell. We'll back shortly. Apparently, no one escapes for long.

Thanksgiving dinner. Yummm....

Sarah from s/v Stepping Stone getting her cheesecake on.

Strolling the malecon on the way back from Thanksgiving dinner.

One of the statues along the malecon.

Christy raiding the tortillaria.

We love the produce in Mexico.

We've been getting attacked by pelicans every day as they dive bomb the fish hanging out in the shadow of our boat.

24°09.737'N 110°19.739'W