Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hello From the Other Side
By Michael

A few nights ago the girls left Phoenix
to spend a week with their Auntie Julie
in Washington state. They fly
unaccompanied and make
their way through security and then
find their gate and board when it's time.
Funny thing we learned is that
kids do not need IDs when traveling
domestically. Last time we sent them
with their passports, this time nothing.
February 14 I surprised all three of my Valentines with a trip to Mexico for dinner.

I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but our Ajo sojourn is intended to accomplish two goals: create another income stream for cruising and test the waters for a future life whereby we spit our time between land and sea. Ajo offers a home base only two hours from the Sea of Cortez.

Of course, that puts us only 35 minutes from the Mexican border. Yet surprisingly—or not surprisingly—we’ve been so far too busy to make this short trip—until the other night.

We cleaned up, piled into the truck, and headed south on I-85. Ten minutes later we passed through Why, Arizona, which locals refer to as The Why, because the tiny hamlet is apparently named for the Y in the road where the 86 to Tucson branches off the 85 to Phoenix. Another few minutes and we were in the thick of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Then, Mexico.

Sonoyta is the town across the border. It’s small and tidy, not a tourist destination.

“It smells like Mexico.” One of the girls said smiling.

There is something comforting about being in Mexico for all of us. I can’t really say what it is. The place just feels like a second home.

Being a border town, Sonoyta is a supply depot and jumping off point for undocumented migrants headed north into the States. Driving around town, even just hundreds of yards from the U.S. border crossing, we saw a dozen sidewalk vendors selling camouflaged backpacks and canteens and all the survival equipment someone would want to have before starting a treacherous journey across the Southern Arizona desert.

That’s a weird juxtaposition against our family of four, dressed up for Dia del Amor, who drove freely south across the border, only pausing to say we’re going to have dinner and not being asked to show any form of I.D. or anything.

The one restaurant we wanted to eat at was closed and our second choice was packed with 3 dozen Federales who arrived just before we pulled up. Ten or so of their trucks were lined up outside, one unlucky soldier stuck waiting in the bed of each, standing vigilant behind the vehicle-mounted machine gun.

No, no, lo siento mucho,” said the waitress, motioning to all the Federales and explaining why she couldn’t serve us.

Crap. But to make something of our trip, we pulled up the nearest OXXO, bought two 18-packs of Tecate, a handful of avocados, and about 20 limes. Because the peso/dollar exchange rate is a crazy 20:1 right now, the savings on just this stuff more than paid for the fuel we burned to drive down.

Crossing the border back into the States just meant getting our passports scanned, then we continued on home, where we enjoyed Valentines dinner out at our favorite Ajo craft brew pub, 100 Estrella.

The Southern Arizona Sonoran Desert is so beautiful.
This is just a random stop on the side of the road, about
halfway between Ajo and Sonoyta.

Entering Mexico.
This is our new friend, Yosie (l) who drops by the house
to give us juggling lessons. Yosie is also teaching
an entire classroom of kids at the Ajo School to juggle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In Pursuit of the Green Flash
By Michael

Eleanor watching the sunset in Fiji.
Definitely not a green flash night, too much
atmospheric haze and likely distant clouds;
note how dim the sun is at its base.
I’ve seen the green flash so many times, I forget there was a time when it was a mystery to me. Before ever seeing it, I'd heard references to it and I wondered exactly what it was and whether it was real.

It is real. But it’s also a bit of a misnomer because it’s not a flash in the sense of bright light, it’s a flash in the sense that it’s over in a flash. It makes more sense to describe it as, “a green smear that you'll miss if you blink.”

There are precise atmospheric conditions necessary to produce this phenomenon, and I’m not sure what they are, but I know that when I’m someplace with no mountains or clouds or too much haze obscuring the horizon and the setting sun, it’s likely I’ll see a green flash. To be clear, the sky can be solid overcast, but as long as there is a clear band at the horizon, conditions may be right.

Especially for folks living on the East Coast or the interior of the U.S., seeing the green flash is not easy. An ocean horizon to the west offers the best hope. Cruising in the Pacific offers plenty of open horizon opportunities. On the contrary, here in Ajo, we've got too much terrain to get a clear shot of the sun setting behind the horizon.

I saw a green flash soon before we left Fiji, while photographing the sunset, and decided to share exactly when it’s visible and what it looks like. There are better photos online, but these are what I’ve got (and I missed the flash).

Okay, this looks like a green flash night--so long as the
sun, which, as it sets, does not set behind that island
(the sun will move from left to right in this frame).
As it drops beneath those clouds, it will
reveal either a clear horizon, or distant
clouds we cannot see now.

Great, horizon looks clear, but I'm concerned about the island.

Damn the island.

Wait, it might set well to the right of the island, in the clear.
The horizon looks perfect for a green flash.


Definitely gonna clear the island. I still can't stare at
the sun with the naked eye at this point, just catching
glances. (But you do need to be staring at the time
the green flash happens.)

Now I'm catching more frequent glances, sunglasses coming off.

I'm almost staring constantly at this point, I don't want to miss it.

Any millisecond now.

I'm not blinking.

And this is the last photo I have that shows anything.
I saw a great green flash this night, but the camera didn't catch it.
But, this is exactly what it looks like, only green--a distinct, brilliant
green smear in place of this white light. It's the last thing
that can be seen. It's very quick, but unmistakeable.
And like dolphins at the bow, you really don't get tired
of seeing them.
And if you’re intrigued by the green flash, I offer a story from my friend Mike Litzow aboard Galactic. While I’ve seen my share of green flashes, Mike has seen a handful of doubles, and even triples. Do you even know what that means? Check out his post from the middle of the Atlantic a couple months back.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sailor Attacked in Fiji
By Michael

Unfortunately, I just learned that a fellow cruiser, a singlehander, was recently attacked with knives aboard his boat at anchor in Suva, Fiji, about 200 miles south of where Del Viento is now (in Savusavu). Here is a link to the story and a way to donate some money to help with his medical bills:

I don't know Jim Van Cleve (Kalokalo) well; we saw him around Savusavu while we were there and talked to him briefly several times, but my friend Meri (Hotspur) does know Jim well and she set up the site (5 hours ago, as I publish this) to aid him. Please donate if you're inclined.

It's the kind of news I hate hearing, especially because it feeds the misperception that stems from our 24/7, "if it bleeds, it leads" media, the misperception that the world is such a dangerous place that you're only safe parked in front of your TV watching everyone else get robbed, blown-up, assaulted, and raped. But the truth is that while I feel generally safer in the places we've spent time cruising than I generally feel in the U.S. (and my friend Behan just touched on this), crime happens everywhere, to varying degrees.

Jim Van Cleve

Monday, January 23, 2017

Marching Two By Two
By Michael

Eleanor with her sign. She was inspired
by someone she saw online. Her sign
says, "This is not about politics, it's
about basic human decency. --Michelle Obama"
Living on our sailboat in another country, our lives are intertwined with people—both on land and aboard other boats—who live, sound, and think very differently than our family, friends, and peers back home. It’s perhaps the most stimulating aspect of being abroad. After years of living this way, the view back home changes as our personal perspectives evolve.

Funny thing is, the view is similar from here in Ajo. I mean that we are literally on the frontier, in the middle of nowhere, in a sea of desert on the perimeter of the continental U.S. We can pick up only one radio signal: 96.1, Tucson’s Real Classic Rock. Ajo feels a bit like a mirage, something unknown, unvisited, and untouched—for good and for bad—by the rest of the country. In many ways, being in Ajo feels like we’re no closer to home than Fiji.

Yet, the day after our new president took the oath of office, Ajo seemed connected to hundreds of other cities around the U.S. that marched to broadcast support for the things they fear might be marginalized by the new administration.

Eleanor and Frances we’re revved up to march and Windy is in San Francisco through the end of the month, so I took them down to our beautiful plaza so our three faces could join just over 200 others in a sign-waving walk through town.

It was a good time under clear skies, as the photos and video below make clear. Only one thing was peculiar.

Ajo has a pretty diverse populous, both racially and socio-economically. According to the U.S. Census, of a population of roughly 3,800 people, 1,500 are white, 1,500 are Latino, and 800 are American Indian. Yet Saturday’s march didn’t reflect the diversity of Ajo’s population. And I think my girls may have been the only kids present.

From the plaza, the marchers headed up the street towards
our house.

I'm with her.

As an English major, I'm with her too.
People can do illegal things, but they
really can't be illegal.

Yeah, partisanship isn't very helpful.

That's what I tell my girls.


Top-notch entertainment in the plaza for the Ajo marchers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Castle in the Sand
By Michael

Demolition Mama.
“It smells like poop.” One of the girls said this. These were among the first words uttered when we entered our 1931-built Ajo house. And it did, it smelled like poop. After tracing the smell to the ill-fitting toilet in the front bathroom, it was an easy fix. Nothing since has been easy.

Our house is a little gem that’s been neglected and futzed with. For decades nobody positively addressed exterior drainage issues and leaking roof issues, nor the resulting mold and termite issues. We’ve been gutting and gutting until we’re down to studs and siding and foundation.

And that’s where her gem-like qualities become apparent. The house has a nice layout and said studs and siding are (mostly) solid redwood. Because we’re nearly gutting the place, we feel free to move walls and relocate whole bathrooms to make the space work really well. It’s going to be a nice home, someday.

But there is so much still to do before we get on a plane and return to Del Viento, still afloat in Fiji. We’ve been tackling the back of the house and evidence points to a more challenging job when we get to the front. The slab foundation is only underneath the back half, probably added on in the 1950s. In the front half, we’re still walking on tile floors that feel spongy and think that the foundation is wood-on-dirt, we’ll see, we’ve been afraid to discover too much in that realm just yet. After all, we’re living (camping, really, camp stove and everything) in this place while we de-construct and construct, so there is a necessity to isolate the work areas (best we can) and eat this elephant in chunks.

It’s an adventure, and what we bargained for, and what we paid for. The biggest question when buying this house sight-unseen in a place we’d never been wasn’t whether we’d like the house, but whether we’d like this little community out in the middle of nowhere.

We like Ajo very much. It’s a charming oasis in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. It’s filled with interesting people and stepping outside our yard we always find a welcome respite from the drudgery of home renovation. I’ll write more about Ajo in my next post.


This room where I piled the bags of concrete is
the future master bath. We've big plans for this
relatively big space.

Windy is the Mold Abator. Here she is
scrubbing a Borax solution into studs.

This is the inside of a stripped room looking out,
through the hole created where I removed the
base plates, cut off some studs, and pried away siding.
This is what termite damage looks like.

This is St. Shaun, my brother-in-law (recall the truck guy)
on the roof re-attaching the live wires that feed the house.
This is the tail end of replacing the main panel. He's a
master electrician who drove out to work with us for
a week and get the electrical started. He's been knighted.

From the second bedroom looking up into the attic.
See me up there?

See the mold on the back of that drywall?
That is just a sample of what we've found.
Note the vines growing inside the walls.

Windy supervising a rock delivery for her landscape vision.
See that big agave in the foreground? I found it and another
at the dump. We planted them and they're doing great.

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