Baja Bound: Isn’t There a Drug War Down There?

It would be an understatement to say that our family, friends and even complete strangers are worried about our safety in Mexico. We had similar concerns when beginning this process, so we began researching and listening to folks that have lived and cruised in Mexico recently.  The culmination of our digging has given us a view that although the dangers in Mexico are real, they are limited to rather specific areas and are certainly not widespread throughout the country.

Some comparisons to the United States really helped us process this. For one, Mexico is huge, about ⅔ the size of the US, and the drug war violence doesn’t span the countryside uniformly. There are obviously very dangerous areas of Mexico – like Juarez (which we plan to avoid like the plague), but there are still very safe places, especially in Baja.

In fact, to give an idea of safety figures, the comparison between national crime statistics of Mexico and the US are terrifying. The US, hands down, is the more dangerous of the two countries when compared side by side. So, the motivation for this sailing trip is now to flee this crime ridden den of violence here in America, and settle into the tranquil seaside villages of peaceful Baja California. It’s not the country that’s dangerous – but WHERE in the country we will be.

Does that mean we’re going to go on long walks in dark alleys at 3 am just to prove the point?  Probably not.  Will we drive a brand new vehicle in the middle of the night on dark country roads to do some thrill seeking?  Of course not (besides, if we had a new vehicle, we would certainly sell it to help pay for the sailboat). Will we use the common sense that our wonderful parents instilled in us to avoid risky situations?  Absolutely.  Are we still putting ourselves at risk?  Probably, BUT it’s an acceptable level of risk that we are willing to take and one that we feel is not any higher than moving to a large city in the US.

We don’t plan to live our lives being terrified of what ‘might’ happen to us if we leave our comfort zone.  We will use common sense to hopefully avoid getting our heads chopped off.  That’s the plan as least.

The Poetry of a Sailor…or a Plumber

The house projects these last few weeks have been oddly similar to life on a boat. There was the leaky plumbing in cramped spaces, the stench of varnish, and going a month without a kitchen faucet while waiting for the right hose to show up in the mail. For the first time since the lake froze up, I truly felt like a sailor again, and I broke out a sailor’s vocabulary to match. Upside down under the sink and dropping tools on my teeth, I let loose a few comments rude enough to make even the saltiest old dog blush.

Wrapping up all those lingering, mostly finished projects that we’ve neglected over the past few years has been one of the greatest benefits of planning this grand adventure. The exposed 2×4’s with the nails sticking out that we’ve lived with for a year and a half are now trimmed, a simple two hour fix. The screen door now opens and closes smoothly, a 15 minute fix.  Lessons to take with us on the boat: if something is broken, squeaky, leaky, or otherwise slightly aggravating: FIX IT!  Don’t step around it for a year, cursing it every time and never doing anything about it.

Here are some pictures from the bathroom remodel for all the folks that remember squeezing into that sardine can of a head in times past.  

A beautiful cast bronze sink given to us by cousin Matt. Thanks again!

Bronze sink perched upon concrete countertop

Butternut post, Ambrosia Maple shelving and trim

Copper detail

If This Tent’s a Rockin’…

Christmas came a little late this year.  A snowy January morning last week, we awoke to a package upon our doorstep, and in that package was a sextant.  Now don’t get your hopes up, you non-navigators, a sextant has nothing to do with back country lodging nor the delectable goings on that such a prefix might imply.  Rather, it’s a tool that uses three parts sorcery and one part witchcraft, to help a sailor find his longitude and latitude after a lengthy sacrifice process involving a left handed virgin, the tongue of a baby porpoise, and LOTS of blood drinking.  Needless to say, we’re excited to learn how to use it!

Many thanks to Keith Stagg, accomplished pilot and good friend, who bestowed this gift to us; we’ll scrub it down when we’re done, we promise.

It should be obvious by now that we’re pretty much experts when it comes to sextant use and celestial navigation, but we feel like perhaps a book on the subject might propel us to the next level of virtuosity.  Please take a minute to fill in the poll if you have any thoughts on the best book to round out our education.

Storm of the Century…

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but 2 feet of snow in 48 hours strengthens our resolve to head south that much more.  Mexico, here we come!

"It's's down there somewhere, let me take another look"

"Obviously, you're not a golfer"

This is two days' worth, and it's supposed to keep dumping for a week

We can't wait for BBQ season

Yep, that's La Brisa under 2' of snow


Forgive me Father, I've lusted for Mariah...

This post must start with a confession. A confession about myself and an accusation about my lovely fiancé. We both suffer from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. At least when it comes to boats, that is. In our incessant, all consuming hunt for the perfect boat, we pore over all the yacht brokerage sites in the western hemisphere, all the Craigslist ads up and down the west coast, including some that are in languages we don’t understand, and constantly hound our sailing friends for recommendations of “good sailboats in the 30’ range”. And once in a while, perhaps every month or two, a sailboat presents itself that we both get excited about. It’s located in a marina where we wouldn’t mind living, the lines are beautiful, she appears to be well kept, and the price seems to be right. In fact, the price often seems too good to be true. Here’s when the OCD gene gets triggered.

It's almost perfect

We commence to search for anything that was ever written on the model, reviews, forum threads, off hand comments about the particular boat, the designer, or the boatyard that built it. We scramble for any clue that might indicate quality of build or common problems that owners have encountered. We have a spreadsheet with 158 rows, each assigned a particular facet of the boat or its gear, and each item has predicted replacement costs, both highball and lowball, so that we can analyze the particular boat we’ve found and hopefully garner some semblance of an idea of how much she’s worth, and how much she’s really going to cost us. So far we’ve gone through this exercise in its entirety for two separate boats.

Valiant 32

The first was a Valiant 32 in La Paz, Mexico.  The Valiants, designed by Bob Perry, are regarded as top quality vessels, very well built and usually far beyond our price range.  They are also exceptionally beautiful.  The price of this particular Valiant was within our range and we were very excited, to say the least.
The research frenzy began, and after a few excited days we stumbled across the reason why she was priced in our budget.  The broker did mention it had been slightly damaged in a hurricane – but that it had been fully repaired.  He failed to mention the boat sat for days being pounded into a concrete boat ramp, the stern had split in two and the entire front half of the boat had been submerged for days…details we found through some intense Google searching Thank goodness for the internet!

That's going to take a lot of duct tape

We're looking for a boat a little more, ohh, above water

Mariah 31

The second was a Mariah 31 in Puerto Vallarta, another beauty that appeared to need a little work, but was priced well below others of her kind. It turns out that this boat was going to take another $40,000 and a year of work to refit her after purchase price, according to a helpful friend who is a year into refitting a Mariah 31 of his own.  Thank goodness for the willingness of other sailors to pass on hard earned knowledge!

This is what essentially holds the mast upright

These exercises are not in vain, however. Though we’ve decided to pass on each of these vessels, we now have an extensive knowledge of the characteristics, the history, the strengths and weaknesses (as much as you can learn from reading other people’s reviews, anyway) and their market value. While a week of internet research does not an expert make, we have compiled a treasure trove of information on this handful of boats. The education we’ve received, on everything from bronze chainplate repair costs to Bob Perry’s personal thoughts on weather helm correction, have been invaluable to us as boat shoppers, and hopefully as sailors as well, and we’d be happy to share what we’ve gathered if anyone has an interest.

Why Are We Doing This?

     As we begin to tell friends and family of our impending trip, we have encountered a wide range of reactions:

       –  Most are extremely excited for us, some have some have said that they’re jealous, some that we’re doing what they’ve always wanted to do.
–  Others immediately respond with the question of how we are going to make it work financially.

   Given our current global economic state, and the fact that we’re both leaving good paying jobs (this, of course, is relative; we’re definitely still part of the 99%), this is an understandable concern, and it’s one that we share ourselves.    In fact it’s the concern that we spend most of our free time trying to address currently.

    Surprisingly few, though, have asked us why we’re doing this; why are we leaving our jobs, our friends and family, our conveniences, and purposefully uprooting our lives.  Especially given the circumstances we’re heading towards: a violence ridden second world country with no promise of income while living on a tiny boat and subjected to the burdens of sea and weather at all times, it’s been a bit surprising that people have not questioned us more extensively.  In fact, I’m starting to second guess it myself all of a sudden, when I put it that way!

So if no one has asked why we’re doing this, then why am I responding with a long winded post?  Not sure.  But here it goes anyway for anyone interested.

We’ve had a taste of it, and we want more

Katie has captained a charter boat in Hawaii in years past, we’ve been weekend sailing the lakes of Montana the last few summers, and we just returned from a two week sail in the Sea of Cortez.  Whenever any of the trips end, we always wish we could keep going.


We want to immerse ourselves in the natural world

If only for a brief window in our lives, we want to align ourselves more closely with our environment.  We are always amazed at the end of a one or two week trip living outdoors, how incredible it feels simply to be aware of the sun’ rising and setting, the moon’s phase, the tidal rhythm, or the patterns of wind.  It’s such a rare opportunity to be forced to pay attention to these things in our current world, and we’re excited to form a closer connection to the natural world around us.

We want to shift our paradigm of what we perceive as important

We are dedicated to finding a way to live more simply and sustainably on this planet, and we want to be able to bring some of the lessons learned on the boat back to dry land.  During the voyage we will live simply and sustainably (the sustainability of buying a fiberglass boat and a bunch of electronics is a discussion for another post) not by choice, but by the realities of a tiny space, a limited budget, and actively avoiding places of commerce when possible.  One of the most appealing aspects of cruising on a sailboat is the self sufficiency required; items we have on board take on a much greater value by the fact that we will be far from a market that could provide a replacement should they break.  Our skill sets and ability to fix things and solve problems on the fly become much more important than simply having money in the bank to buy a new one.  We’re excited to learn how to sew sails, how to cook bread in a pressure cooker, how to repair a diesel engine (okay, maybe I’m not excited, about that last one, but it will be a good skill to have).

We want to prove to ourselves that we can take on this challenge and succeed

In our America today, if you can make enough money to pay the bill for a shelter and buy groceries, you can survive and be comfortable.  We are excited about the daily challenges presented by anchoring, navigation, weather forecasting, etc that living on a boat will present.  Of course, I’ll be cursing the day I wrote that last line when our anchoring is dragging at 2:00 am and it’s blowing 30 knots and pouring rain.  We know that cruising will not be easy.  We know it is not margaritas every evening and lounging on the beach all day, nor is that the experience we want (if that happens on occasion, though, I suppose we’d suffer through it).  At the end of the day this is an adventure; we want to see foreign things and experience people and places that are different from what we’re used to.  We want to live a life that is full of good stories so that when we’re old we can regale our grandkids.

Yeah, terrifying, we know!

And Finally:  The Biological Clock      

Time is ticking away as fast as it always does, and the idea of children is on the horizon.  The idea of children on a boat is terrifying, so the time is now for an adventure, before that old stork comes a knocking.

The Revised Starting Point


Initial Plan: November 2011

   Well, we’ve been narrowing it down a bit.

What started as a search that basically included anywhere in coastal US, Caribbean, or Central America, has now been refined to either Southern California, the Sea of Cortez, or the Pacific coast of Mexico.

We scratched the Pacific Northwest.  With our final destination being loosely defined as “somewhere warm”, this would mean a passage down the coast of Washington and Oregon in late Fall, a stormy place that we didn’t really want to sail for our first major passage.

Revised Plan: December 2011

We scratched the East coast of the US, partly because it wasn’t exotic enough, but mostly because of the high expenses and vast number of people.

The Caribbean didn’t make the cut because most countries down in the region have very strict regulations concerning dogs.  When posed with quarantines, fees and general rigmarole at every port, we decided that El Caribe will be an adventure for another day.

The Florida Keys were abandoned due to the fact that we didn’t want to live in Florida, combined with the aforementioned dog issues we would have encountered once we headed South from the Sunshine State.

So by default, we are posed with the choice of Southern California or the Western portion of Mexico.

 Southern California:


  • It’s not in the hurricane zone, so we would in theory encounter less severe storms from June 1-Oct 31.
  • Finding temporary work might be easier than in Mexico (although I hear they got that recession on in California)
  • Lots of boats to choose from between San Francisco and San Diego


  • Too many people
  • Cruising ground not terribly interesting
  • Expensive



  • It’s exotic!  Living there during hurricane season would be a great adventure in itself, as opposed to San Diego.  And the hurricane season timeframe looks to be a substantial portion of the whole voyage.
  • Dogs are welcomed (hopefully they’re not just being nice because they have an eye on fattening him up, if you know what I mean)
  • Cruising waters look great (of course this would depend on what city we end up in)
  • Less expensive than the states
  • Northern Sea of Cortez is less likely to get hit with severe storms during hurricane season


  • Job opportunities and wages will be slimmer
  • It is technically in the hurricane zone
  • Fewer boats to choose from

Where Should We Start?

We’re interested in feedback from folks on a good starting location for our planned adventure in June 2012.  Our criteria for selecting a starting location are based on these following thoughts.  Are there other things we should be considering?  We know there are!  Thoughts?  Please share with us!

Click on map to see it bigger!

1) Gain coastal sailing experience.

2) Continue working and growing the ‘Sailing Kitty’.

3) A jump off location to a warmer locale that doesn’t involve an intensive first major passage.

Here are the areas we’re currently considering.  Please let us know which you would start with and your thoughts as to WHY are greatly appreciated!