Thursday, May 31, 2007

A BLUE MOON OVER CLAM STREET


A blue moon is lighting up the bay tonight.

Lately it's already 85 degrees at 7am, so here on Clam Street we're brewing our morning cappuccino at 5:30. The coolest part of the day is just before sunrise. Trying to avoid turning on the air conditioning as long as possible, we're running fans, keeping doors and curtains closed and unnecessary lights off. When company rings our bell, we come out blinking like moles and say "Welcome to our cave!"

We're having a lot of company lately, as folks who are still homebased stateside arrive in San Carlos, haul out their boats for summer storage at the boatyard and stop by to share stories of their season's sail.

Our friends on "Euphoria" left Saturday for Santa Fe, NM after a three-day visit. The haulout facilities were down and frustrations in the marina were high for several days. The four of us had a couple of dinners together and put on a Capt Ron party, a favorite initiation rite, to induct our friend Mim into the sailing life. "Capt Ron" is a Kurt Russell movie that has become a cult classic among boat people. Most of us by now know the lines by heart, such as "If anything's going to happen...(pointing seaward) it's gonna happen out there!"

Next day our friend JB on "Ann Marie," a 28-foot Morgan, arrived. He took the same route to return north as we did, following the mainland coast. Took him five days. There are no known anchorages along that entire stretch of coast except the busy shipping port of Topolobampo, so it means 24-hour watches (give or take a catnap or two). JB seemed pretty chipper in spite of his sleep deprivation. We invited him over yesterday for Belgian waffles piled with sauteed pineapple and bananas for breakfast followed by an impromptu poetry reading.

Topolobampo, as shown on a GoogleEarth map

JB traveled 10 miles off Topolobampo on his passage. Tourist and boating guidebooks say it's such a dismal place, the only reason to go there is to take the ferry across to Baja. Entering the narrow anchorage is dangerous, especially with all the ships, ferries and fishing. He passed through at night and found his way confounded by dozens of fishing nets.

The gill nets are set up with floats at the top edge, and hang vertically like deadly walls to entrap every hapless creature swimming by, not just marketable fish but sea turtles, dolphins, whales and seabirds. Greenpeace estimates a dolphin is lost for every nine tuna caught in a gill net. Passing sailboats with drafts as deep as nine feet can be victims, too. The biggest risk is entanglement with the prop, which can stop a boat dead in the water and cause serious damage. And if the nets are damaged, the boater is liable for their repair or replacement. Even if a gill net has been lost, it can go on snagging and killing fish and sea mammals for years.

JB was wandering in the dark trying to make an end run around the nets when a panga fisherman showed up, obviously irritated that the maldito gringo pleasureboater was threatening his costly nets, and led "Ann Marie" out of the maze.

JB says there are lights on the floats of many floating nets in that area. Steady-burning lights mark each end and a flashing light shows up at midpoint. A boat can pass safely over a net as long as it's not too close to any of these lights. But I hope we never have to try it.

When we passed Topo we also traveled after dark, but stayed 20 miles offshore, and I saw only one pair of fishing boats the whole night. A good place to skedaddle on by, preferably by daylight.

Next to bid goodbye for the summer will be our friend GJ on "Inclination," who'll be crossing the Sea this weekend to visit his adopted family in Mulege before driving north to spend the scorcher months cooling off in Washington State.

What we're looking forward to: we're thinking of sail crossing the Sea ourselves the week of the 21st, to celebrate the Capt's birthday in Santa Rosalia. Operators of the new marina there haven't yet jacked up their rates as they did in Puerto Escondido, and I'm intrigued by what I've read about the historic town, which was built by a French copper mining company called El Boleo, using traditional European wooden architecture. Their church was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel of Tower fame, in Brussels and brought over to be reassembled in Santa Rosalia. El Boleo was a tyrannical employer, creating slave labor working conditions and suppressing strikes by force. They went on to establish mines in Santa Martha, San Luciano and El Purgatorio (that last doesn't sound like anyplace I'd want to visit).

BOTS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN

The Miuro (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Today there's a news report that a company in Tokyo has introduced the second generation of the Miuro, a little ll-lb robot that boogies in time to an iPod, relying on its own sense of rhythm instead of a preprogrammed routine. Awwwww, it's R2D2's baby brother. Looks a lot like the recharging speaker stations that have popped up among the multitude of iPod peripherals on the market.

The original Miuro, already on the market in Japan at $895 a pop, requires a remote control, but its successor acts on its own. A great leap for botkind.

Spontaneity is all very well; it's always fascinating to see what a creature will do next when it's not under anyone's control. But robots? I have my doubts...

Here's the part that gave me the shivers: "We aim to create a new form of life that moves freely and spontaneously in ways human beings can't predict," CEO Hisashi Taniguchi said. "We're hoping to turn Miuro into the ultimate virtual pet."

Maybe I've watched too many sci-fi movies, but suppose all the robots in the neighborhood spontaneously got together and formed a gang? What if a mad hacker tweaks a batch of them and turns them loose on us...oh, I don't even want to go there.

The software is based on a principle called "chaotic itinerancy" which allows the robot to behave unpredictably, "just like a child playing." Anybody who's had an unpredictable child (is there any other kind?) can imagine the possibilities. Just for starters, what's to keep it from chasing the cat or rolling under your feet just for fun?

And you can bet the next model will have arms and hands, for clicking its fingers in time to the music. What else will those hands be able to do? Yikes!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO LATELY

Local treasure Mark Mulligan plays Froggy's on Tuesday nights

Down here in San Carlos, we have our own version of Jimmy Buffett, live at Froggy's on Tuesday nights. Anyone who has been here more than a week has heard of Mark Mulligan, a talented one-man band who pens his own (biographical?) songs about living in a beach town in Mexico. Examples: "Just Came Down for the Weekend...25 years ago!" or "Third World Cantina," or "A Bar Down in Mexico." Somewhat alcohol-centric in lyrics, in the style of "Margaritaville," but quirkily appealing in their philosophy. Listen to, for instance, "It's About Time" and "Jesus Loves You...Everyone Else Thinks You're a Jerk."

Most people familiar with Mulligan's songs consider his lyrics more thoughtful and well-written than Buffett's. Or maybe we're just partial because he's our guy. Fairly hunky, too, with his sleek tan, flashing smile as bright as his tropical whites, and Hawaiian style shirt printed with a sedate row of booze bottles.

Last night with a friend I had an (extremely rare) night out at Froggy's. I shot photos, sipped a couple of margaritas and took a few barefoot turns on the dancefloor, getting acquainted with the music of Mark Mulligan. He performs alone playing rhythm guitar, backed up by pre-recorded tracks he created for the half-dozen CDs he's produced for his own Mulligan's Island Music. Very slick and portable setup. Next to him is a stack of Mulligan's Island T-shirts, a box of CDs and a donation jar. He travels light when he tours the US as far north as Oregon, as well as northern Sonora beach hotspots such as Puerto Penasco and Rocky Point.

He was lamenting the rabid development taking place in PP and RP, with condos rising out of the sand like subterranean monsters along the shore, and said he was glad it hadn't happened here in SC...yet.

With the crowd he's a best buddy, introducing the waiters and joshing old friends in the packed house. One waiter, Chino, was celebrating his 21st birthday, and Mark called for every woman in the house to give him a kiss, which kept Chino busy the rest of the night.

If you show up late for a Mulligan show at Froggy's you have to park blocks away and stand around waiting for a table. But it's worth it. He plays very long sets, explaining "I hate breaks," and sprinkles a few old rock and folk faves with his original songs. He talked a lot about love last night, and I wondered how many in the crowd knew that he lost his own love, Adela, last year in a traffic accident in Guaymas that also severely injured his two little boys. It's been a rough year for Mulligan, but you'd never know it by his easygoing smile.

Find out more about Mark Mulligan, including his life history, a few samples of his lyrics, an ongoing journal and schedule of appearances, at his website. You'll find his songs on iTunes, too. A great way to get in the mood for a tropical beach vacation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

WHAT I'M READING LATELY

Jinx Schwartz is a ninth-generation Texan, and the flag behind her in this picture is a bit of Texas history, as described in Troubled Sea
Four of Jinx Schwartz's books: Land of Mountains, Troubled Sea, Just Add Water and The Texicans

When I discover a writer I enjoy reading, I tend to follow his or her series of books over time and see how her style has developed, what's happened to her characters, where her ideas are taking her. As long as she has one story left that I haven't read, there's something to look forward to.

So imagine my pleasure at being presented with four books by a local author, Jinx Schwartz, who divides her time between a boat here in San Carlos and a home in Arizona. Three are novels based on her experiences in Northern California, the Sea of Cortez and (as a child) in Haiti. Her first was an account of her family's history in Texas. And when I've finished those, there are a couple of new ones waiting for me. Nothing better than a good writer who's also prolific.

Stories that take place in settings I'm familiar with are always fun to read, like creating a movie in my head. Having grown up in Texas myself, lived in Northern California most of my life and now in San Carlos, I was eager to see how she portrayed these places.

Just Add Water
is the first-person account of Hetta Coffey, an upwardly-mobile female engineer who decides the ultimate man-bait is a boat of her own, preferably a big, luxurious power boat. The action centers around her yacht club in Oakland, and is written in a snappy tongue-in-cheek style, a bit too cute for my taste. Scenes of drinking bouts seemed excessive to me until I recalled the yacht club the Capt and I belonged to for a couple of years in Sausalito before we sailed south to Mexico.

And Troubled Sea is about what happens when Hetta and her new husband did the same thing, ending up five years later living la vida buena on the Baja coast. When they stumble on a drug delivery gone wrong, they become targets of several Mexican and gringo perps who chase them down the Sea of Cortez and back up again. The climax is as exciting as any action movie, with a spectacular cinematic finish. I found the narrative voice (in third person) seemed more mature, less dependent on feistybon mots and more compassionate and human. The details of boating, settings at various locales on the Sea and the gritty realities of Mexican life were well-researched and authentic as well as entertaining.

I've just begun her 2003 "fictography," Land of Mountains, about her childhood in Haiti, and still look forward to the first book, The Texicans.

She signed her first four books as Elizabeth Maul Schwartz, but subsequent novels in her Hetta Coffey series are signed Jinx Schwartz.

She gave a book signing a couple of months ago at the yacht club here in San Carlos, and I paid close attention when she discussed her publishing experiences. Her first book, The Texicans, was self-published and she handled all the publicity and marketing. Even though she has found publishers for her subsequent books, she said the marketing was still up to her. She's had quite a lot of success with e-book publishing, as well as audio books on tape and CD. She even has used copies for sale at a discount.

Visit her website here for news about, and excerpts from, her newest Hetta Coffey mysteries, Just Add Trouble, which won an Eppie award for Best Mystery 2007. And the sequel to Just Add Water is now available online. The title? Just Add Salt, of course.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

BORN TO FRET

Let your fears and worries pile up, you'll never get anywhere...

My monthly 'Tude fix resulted in some lost sleep last night. I read the May issue of "Latitude 38", cover to cover, and woke up in the wee hours thinking about the mishaps reported...boats lost off the Baja coast in particular. Four in the past year. It seems the consistent error was in sailing too close to the shore at night (apparently all the accidents happened after dark). The GPS on a sailboat can lose accuracy under storm conditions, and if it's relied on for navigation, a boat can end up on the rocks or a sandbar. The editors at Latitude recommend relying more on radar and depthsounders, and giving the GPS a 10-mile margin for error when visibility is limited.

One boat that has gone missing off Baja is "Uhuru," a Vanguard 32. We met the crew of Uhuru years ago, so this news hit close to home. The capt fell overboard during a knockdown by a 15-foot wave and his wife deployed the liferaft in hopes he would find it.

I tried to imagine what I'd do during a gale if I were below, came topside and found MY capt was no longer aboard. We don't have a liferaft. We have two dinghies now, and I guess if we were towing one, I could cut it loose and hope the Capt could find it. To use our Lifesling, the rescuer has to spot the MOB (man overboard) in the water, drop the sails, throw out the Lifesling and circle the MOB until he's able to grab one end of its rope, then winch up the other end. Hard to do in the dark.

In Uhuru's case, the capt did manage to get aboard the liferaft somehow, four hours later, and activated a strobelight that was included in the raft's gear. The US Coast Guard spotted the strobe and rescued him, took his wife off Uhuru and left the boat to fend for itself. They were still looking for it at presstime.

Another boat, "Surfergirl," was wrecked off the western side of the Baja coast and the crew taken in by a fisherman and his family, but the rescuers proceeded to grab all the valuables and consume all the emergency food supplies the couple had managed to save. Next morning, the family and their neighbors waded out and stripped the boat of its solar panels, generators, a motor scooter, other gear, documents and passports.

The antidote to all this fretting, a dose of reality.

Compared to powerboats, sailboats are involved in a very small percentage of accidents, but Latitude doesn't publish reports of powerboat calamities. None of those I read about in this issue of Latitude were fatal. There were three cases in which everything of value aboard was lost due to theft, but the crew is alive and free to start over. Maybe with some contingency plans and some banked savings to fall back on if it ever happens again.

It occurs to me that very little is learned when there's no challenge, so I guess I'll take my chances. But we still haven't assembled a ditch bag, which seems to be tempting fate. And I still want a liferaft.

P.S. I noticed my comments about the BoGo light were picked up by another gringa blogger. She lists and personally reviews websites and blogs in English about Mexico, so I've added her to my links as well. Check out Mexico-in-English.

Monday, May 21, 2007

UNLEASHING THE INNER DUTCH GIRL

I got my can of Old Dutch and I know how to use it! Will you LOOK at that grout...yuck!

A couple of days ago I figured out that out of the first five months of this year, we have been home in San Carlos one month and a week. When you count the days it takes us to unpack after every trip, decompress, return all the phonecalls and emails, and pack again for the next trip, it's no surprise that the place is a bit...well...funky.

So it was that a couple of days ago I unleashed my Inner Dutch Girl* and started attacking the funk. We're talking floors-to-ceiling and everything in between. Using a toothbrush on the grouting, mopping in the corners, scrubbing the windows, deep-cleaning the stove (ugh!) and the toilet (double ugh!). I might even get to the top of the fridge!

*My dad's side of the family came from Holland when he was six and settled in Iowa.

We hired a Mexican nicknamed Pokeman (like the game) to help the Capt with some sanding. We're refinishing the walnut dining room table we bought at a rummage sale in CA just before we moved here, and then he'll move on to removing all the rust on our '71 VW van so we can get it painted. Pokeman arrived on the dot at 8am, a good sign, and has been sanding steadily ever since. He has very little English, so I have an opportunity to use my Spanish. Think I'll ask my new teacher whether I should use the "tu" or "usted" form with him. We were advised to pay him $300 pesos a day plus lunch, a comida corrida we pick up at the local cafe--otherwise he might never come back from lunch hour.

I've been listening to a CD of songs by Eileen Quinn, titled "No Significant Features," for the "nautically afflicted." Eileen's got "35,000 sea miles and countless beach bar performances behind her," and her lyrics delve into the details of cruising life with wry humor and jolting realism. Our friend on (P)Inclination turned us onto her music. I was able to make out most of the words on the first listen, and the lyrics page on her website offers some sample lyrics from other albums. She knows what it's like to scrub a bilge, get yelled at by the captain when you're dropping anchor in a high wind, miss grandchildren after a couple of years at sea, get hooked on a particular anchorage and forget to leave, watch the stars on a night watch.
Eileen Quinn's website photo makes the sailing life look so euphoric...assuming that's not HER dinghy"


Originally from Canada, she and her husband have been sailing a Bayfield 36 on the Eastern Seaboard and the Caribbean since 1994, but they're presently back in Canada, still writing a log. They've visited Cuba, which I'd love to know more about, so I'm going to have to peruse their complete log.

Bright Idea: Order a Bogo Light, a solar-powered flashlight sold online, and an identical flashlight will be sent to someone in a Third World country who needs reliable lighting at night. The three AA batteries in these lights will last two years of constant use, and will replace dangerous and polluting kerosene and candles. It's water- and shock-resistant, has a glow-in-the-dark strip so you can find it, and six super-bright LED lights bright enough to read by.

OK, I've put it off as long as I can, but it's time to wash the windows.

Friday, May 18, 2007

FOUND: A MAESTRA!

At last I may have found a Spanish teacher! And someone to sing with!

Last month our landlord invited us to a “reunion” of a group of musicians who used to perform professionally, touring in three buses throughout the Southwest US and Mexico. Now all retired, they hadn’t played together in fifteen years, but Daniel arranged for them to gather for an evening of music at the local social club. I took my digital and video cameras to record the performers and the Capt took his guitar and bass, and joined Daniel in several songs.

Early in the evening, a woman spoke to me in English and invited me to join her and her friends at their table. Her name is Lolita, she’s a widow, age 70 but looks about 50, with a silky complexion many 40-year-olds would envy and glossy black hair worn in an elegant upsweep. Several times she was called upon to sing with various groups throughout the evening, and she sang with a mellow soprano voice.

“I just worry I’ll forget the lyrics,” she told me.

Lolita taught English and music for 30 years. Many of her students have gone on to become opera singers. Now she owns a hotel in Guaymas across the street from her home, where she lives with Chuy, her youngest son.

I told her I wanted to learn conversational Spanish but couldn’t find a teacher or class in San Carlos, and that I’d also like to learn to sing in Spanish. Her eyes lit up. She could easily teach me Spanish, she said, and she’d love to have someone to sing with.

When we returned from Mazatlan this week I called her and arranged for an appointment next Monday at her house in Guaymas, to begin Spanish lessons. She charges only $5 for an hour’s session. I also promised to bring along all the Spanish sheet music I have, and we will try harmonizing on a few tunes such as “Solamente Una Vez” and “Besame Mucho.”

Last month I was singing along with the radio on the drive back from California, but I've lost range and volume since last November when I had the first symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis. Maybe if I stick to alto, and use a microphone, I can salvage what’s left of my voice. Especially if I don’t have to sing solo, but can blend with Lolita. It’s worth a try...

DOGS ON MY MIND

Lola as a puppy, before she disappeared in December.

This is the Year of the Dog.

People born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature. They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people’s confidence because they know how to keep secrets. But Dog People are somewhat selfish, terribly stubborn, and eccentric. They care little for wealth, yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues. Dog people make good leaders. They are compatible with those born in the Years of the Horse, Tiger, and Rabbit.


Dogs are on my mind today. Especially a little white pup--NOT our Sophie--that went missing six months ago in the Ranchitos and miraculously turned up again this week. Lola was the second puppy acquired by our friend Carlos and I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. Shorthaired, all white except for three egg-shaped golden spots on her back, soft and silky and extraordinarily friendly. I could pick her up and she’d drape herself over my shoulder like a cat. She had big paws and I thought she’d turn out the size of Max, her mate, but now I’ve been told she’s hardly bigger than Sophie. I’ve been waiting all morning for Carlos to drop by with her so we can get reacquainted.

On my morning walks I pass a pink and blue house up Almejas (Clam) Street where two big female Samoyeds live. One barks madly, the other never makes a sound. Their owner, a gringo, walks them through the neighborhood every morning, puffing on a cigar. He uses a single, forked leash which is definitely a tidy way to walk more than one dog: no doggy macrame when they start crossing paths. This morning he was joined by a friend who doesn’t even use a leash on her two Burmese Mountain dogs. They’re enormous, with long black shaggy fur accented with cinnamon-brown muzzles. Beautiful, friendly and (thank God) well-behaved, so they don’t jump up on people.

At the beginning of Clam Street, overlooking the beach, our friend Jean lives with at least 15 rescue dogs of every description. Last year the count was 18. I can always count on meeting Jean, out walking one, two or more of her charges, all grown dogs that would be considered unadoptable. Fine with Jean, she’d have a hard time giving any of them up anyway. Like Mia Farow with her orphans, Jean says, she’s always adopting yet another stray.

We always have a brief chat, about the dog rescue service, Magical Mutts, she operates with a friend. About what it’s like to have so many canines around. “I’m used to it,” she says, “but when I have company, it takes a little time for them to get accustomed.” She admits sometimes she thinks she’d like a man in her life--she’s very attractive, blonde, British--but “what man would have me with all these dogs?” she says with a wry shrug.

Today she was walking a typical Mexican shorthaired golden brown mutt with big sad brown eyes and an elderly terrier mix with the worst teeth I ever saw.

Jean has acquired a reputation in town as a dog lover, and she’s never surprised to find a new stray dumped in her patio when she gets up in the morning. But sometimes they dump litters of cats by mistake. She’s the dog lady, the cat lady lives up on the Caracol. Unless she acts fast, the poor felines don’t last long with 15 dogs after them. Her own five cats are all very dog-savvy and stick to the walls and roof.

Survival of the fittest.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

THE TOPOLOBAMPO BOOGIE

Map of Mexico's mainland shows our route from Mazatlan to San Carlos

There are two ways to travel from Mazatlan to San Carlos by boat: the most popular is to cross the Sea to Baja, gunkhole up the eastern Baja coast, stopping at anchorages every night along the way until somewhere around Santa Rosalia, then cross again, taking a leisurely 5-10 days for the trip. The other way is how the stoics do it: head straight up the mainland coast (about 385 nautical miles), where there are no anchorages indicated on any chart or guidebook so you keep going day and night for around three days. That’s the way our friend on “Pavane” always does it, singlehanded. I don’t know how he does three consecutive days and nights without sleep; I’d be hallucinating.

There’s one place we could stop if we were desperate, at Topolobampo, but it’s a major industrial seaport, 12 miles off the course, not a place we’d ordinarily want to visit. Lots of fast freighters to dodge, smog to breathe and then another 12 miles to slog back to our course. Best to boogie on by.

In years past we had done the Baja detour, never the straight-up option. Until we were already a day out at sea, we hadn’t decided which way we’d go, but then the Capt took a nap, got up and announced, “I’ve decided. Let’s just go home.”

Sophie in the berth: "Are we there yet?"

One influence on his decision was the sea conditions, too reminiscent of the stomach-lurching, exhausting trip down from La Paz in February. Weather reports we checked online back in Maz before we left had unanimously predicted southeasterly one-foot waves, but we were getting 8 to 10-footers in confused seas that tossed us thither and yon. Both of us were seasick, which is unusual for me and unheard-of for him. We had no way of knowing if it would be like this for days, or if this was an anomoly. Here's how bad it got: at one point he sat in the cockpit and wrote a sea chantey about giving up sailing. A pretty good one, too--all it needs is a tune.

Broken autohelm gets an assist from a vise and a bungee cord.

Another factor was yet another malfunction of the autohelm, which he was able to fix this time by replacing an essential piece of plastic (the main design flaw of this model) with a vise secured with a bungee cord. Every time I looked at it, I said a little prayer. Raising and lowering the mainsail was made more difficult by the Lazy Jacks, the lines that are meant to make the process easier but if you’re working with a battened sail and the batten gets caught outside the jacks, you’ve got a struggle on your hands. Especially if the person at the wheel is distracted by the boom swinging wildly in her face.

Our course, on the Capt's laptop navigation program. The dark dot is where we were going, the light dot where we were this morning.

Then there was the brand new 2000 watt inverter that worked for five seconds before the red light came on and it started screaming in fatal anguish. We got the “no questions asked” warranty on it, but we have to drive back to Tucson to exchange it.

And the little matter of a wire breaking loose in the bilge pump which could have been disastrous if the Capt hadn’t caught it when he did.

“We’ll get this boat home, park it and deal with the problems later,” he said. Fine with me.

Crack of dawn this morning, just north of Topolobampo

Miraculously, the next day the waves settled down and the Capt’s spirits were up. Looks like sailing is still going to be part of our life. After the first night I got used to three-hour watches. OK, I admit I catnapped a little, jumping up every 15 minutes or so to check the radar and take a look topside. But the whole trip north, we saw only one fishing vessel outside Topolobampo. The Capt watched movies on his computer to while away the time, but when I tried it I got too absorbed in the story (“A Very Long Engagement” with Audrey Tatou) and forgot to look at the radar.Our new dinghy stayed with us the whole way, even when the waves were so big we couldn't see it

Today we reached San Carlos, motoring at around six knots, an easy Cadillac ride. Yesterday we sailed most of the day; I can’t remember the last time we were able to do that. The little dinghy we got free when we bought the new outboard at a swap meet was still bouncing along behind us like a faithful puppy. The queasiness and headache I’ve been living with for two days was gone and I was scrubbing the galley and humming to myself.
Five miles to San Carlos, we saw the Tetas in the morning haze, a beautiful sight!
We were looking forward to dropping anchor in San Carlos harbor, grabbing a couple of essentials and walking up the hill to our house for a shower and a nap.

So we took the road less traveled and found it wasn’t so bad. Next time maybe we’ll try it going south.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

IGUANAS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

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First Mate here, reporting on the wildlife at El Cid Marina in Mazatlan. As promised, I've posted photos of my neighbors, the iguana family. I did a little research, trying to find out more about this particular type of iguana and was somewhat stumped as they don't match any of the ones I saw at iguana websites. The closest resemblance was Ctenosaura, which are commonly called "spinytail."

They don't look like Wikipedia's photo of marine iguanas, which are allover gray as though they were covered with a layer of volcanic ash. Our local version seems to change color to blend with the rocks, although their young are all-gray, probably to help them hide until they're ready to attract mates. The Capt saw an adult swimming across the channel, no easy feat with the current running out to sea, so perhaps they are some variation of marine iguana. They can dive, too, according to Wikipedia.

The iguanas in yesterday's photo which hang out on the rocks under the ramp at the marina office across the channel (where someone occasionally throws them fruit), have wide black stripes around their tails. The biggest one, a male, has orange wattles, probably genetically designed to drive females wild with desire. If you can call a creature who stays perfectly still 90% of the time wild. When the male is interested in mating, he bobs his head up and down, which is as energetic as he usually gets. When the female responds, she gets to dig a burrow in the sand and lay as many as 50 eggs. All this occurs right about this time of year, April and May, which is probably why I saw nine youngsters sunning on the rocks yesterday.

The ones near our boat, shown here, have raised rings around their tails. The adults look as though someone swiped their sides with curbstone-yellow paint. So we seem to have two varieties right here in the marina.

Wikipedia also said the green iguanas in Florida are considered pests who destroy gardens, are responsible for the decline of the gopher tortoise and carry salmonella. I met a Mexican woman last year who said iguanas are poisonous and are to be avoided; I wonder if she was referring to salmonella poisoning. Oh well, I wasn't planning to cuddle up with them anyway.


Hanging out at the dock where the fishermen bring their catch to be cleaned, photographed and admired is a Black Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). He cares nothing about living up to his name, not when there's fish-cleaning going on in the daytime and plenty of bits to go around. He does look a little sleepy, though, doesn't he?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

QUE SORPRISA!

There are always surprises when we get back on the boat after a couple months or more on dirt. After a 500-mile drive we arrived in Mazatlan just before sunset yesterday, looking forward to dinner and a good snooze. But the driveway leading to the parking lot had a locked gate! We had to locate Manuel, the caretaker, to let us in. We didn't know the gate is locked every night at 6pm.

The water tank was empty, and when we filled it, we had an overflow. After mopping up the cabin, we found a water leak in the galley, too. The Capt asked me to step back out of the galley for a second (I was heating dinner) so he could look under the sink, and when I stepped back, I fell into the bilge! Well, part of me did, anyway.

Our refrigerator stopped working and the Capt has downloaded the manual to see if he can fix it. Meanwhile, back to schlepping bags of ice for the cooler.

While we were gone, someone who just wanted to help apparently used our halyard to tie the boat to the dock after one of our docklines came apart during a big blow. Then the halyard came apart. It's still usable but no longer long enough to raise the mainsail from the cockpit.

Then this morning I had just made up the berth when I found a tick on my arm. Examined Sophie and found two ticks on her. They hadn't even bitten yet, so they were easy to remove, but I had to wonder how many more there are, if they came in with Sophie or were they already here. I'd almost rather have mice!

But the boat still floats, setbacks (so far) are minimal, and I got at least one thrill this morning: when I walked along the rocks I counted nine baby iguanas. Pictures mañana! Meanwhile, here's a shot of an adult pair sunning by the gangplank. The babies are about a third their size, have yellow bellies and the spikes down their backs are about as long as eyelashes.

When does an iguana population reach critical mass? Do they become pests if there are too many?

If you want to give God a good laugh, just tell him your plans.

Here's where God starts to chuckle. We had planned to leave tomorrow, taking advantage of some very handy southwesterlies. But there's too much to do, we can't go tomorrow (Thursday) and the Capt doesn't like to leave on a Friday (old sailors' superstition). So now we think it'll be Saturday, after the swap meet. We never miss a swap meet. Well, hardly ever.

Friday, May 04, 2007

MICE: IF THEY ONLY KNEW THEIR PLACE


We were away in AZ again, retrieving the '71 VW van which is set for a major makeover. With fresh teal paint, a new clutch and windshield, a handmade wooden bumper, new seats...well, the neighborhood will swoon with envy when we chug by. It'll serve as a camper in summer when we want to retreat to cooler mountain places.

The feral felines, far from being deterred by our surgical intervention last week, were swarming the backyard when we got back, plaintively begging for dinner. Zorra the Gourmet, who has responded most avidly to hand-feeding, ignored the kibble and stalked the window ledge demanding scallops, bologna and such. She had to settle for a few slivers of vienna sausage.

With all these cats, wouldn't you think we'd have no problem with mice? But yikes! I opened the cutlery drawer and there were little brown rice-shaped poops in there! These are disgusting enough, but our friend G informed us that mice have no sphincters, which means they pee everywhere they walk!

Later I pulled out a stack of plates, and there were more little presents rolling around on the top one. I showed it to the Capt, who had previously been somewhat oblivious to the vermin problem, but now he's mad. "Poop on my plate, will you?" he growled. Half our dish towels have been shredded, and it doesn't take a detective to deduce there's reproduction going on and nests being built. They have gone forth and multiplied.

If only mice just knew their place...that is, out in the yard where they can play with the cats. When they invade our house they are no longer real-life versions of Stuart, no longer the cunning little guy we rooted for in "Mouse Hunt." In fact, they are a threat to our health. The Capt mutters darkly about the hemmorhagic fever called Hantavirus in the Southwest, transmitted by mouse droppings.

We don't want to put out poison and risk making the cats or Sophie sick. Those old-fashioned snappy traps are effective, but probably not best with a small dog or kitten around. The "humane" traps that close a door behind the mouse (miniatures of the ones we used to catch the cats last week) are unheard of in Mexico, and besides, what do you do with the mouse then? Take him outside where he can plan his next home invasion? Start mouse reservations miles out in the desert where they can't bother humans? I don't think so.

What's recommended most around here is mousetrapping paper with a phenomenally sticky substance on it, which the mouse steps on and sticks to. Then, assuming you find the critter before he's starved to death, you're supposed to fold the paper over him, further trapping him and hiding him from your guilty eyes (here my skin begins to crawl) and then stomp on the whole enchilada. Simply toss it in the garbage and walk away. Ugh!

After the plate incident, the Capn volunteered to manage the stomping part, but I don't even want to be in the house when he does. And I notice he hasn't rushed out to buy the sticky paper so I wonder if he's as reluctant as I am to follow this course. I feel like Hitler meeting with his minions to iron out details of the Final Solution.

So I Google up some more humane alternatives. There must be a substance that we could scatter through the house and offend them so they'd leave. We learned that sprinkling cinnamon where ants come in curtails their visits. I can live with the smell of cinnamon. So what do mice hate?

Suggestions I've come up with so far: cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil (I could live with the smell of peppermint, too); Bounce dryer sheets (I don't care for their cloying fragrance either, but it's cheap and available); a $50 electronic device that emits sound inaudible to humans (others say it doesn't work); cat hair; used cat litter (that would drive ME out of the house); an exotic fruit called a "hedgehog" that probably isn't available in Mexico; granules made of fox and bobcat urine (putting the fear factor to work)...

And here's the wackiest mousetrap I've seen yet, dreamed up by a dude named Vern:
Try using an old water tub (2 to 3 feet across, depth doesn't really matter), and stretch a wire across it, securing the wire to the handles of the tub. Strung on this wire is a tin can with a hole punched in each end so that it would spin on the wire. Coat the can with bacon fat and fill the tub with water. The mice would go crazy trying to get the bacon fat - of course if they made it across the wire to the can, the can would spin them into the water and they would drown.
Vern thought his trap would provide entertainment, during TV rerun season.