Monday, December 26, 2011

Another Day at the Beach

(from December 8)
It was a merry breakfast in camp this morning. Buckets danced and twirled about the ground. Plastic lids launched off the table to join them. The tent huffed and puffed and jiggled at its tethers. Bushes sang. All in all, a good day to take the kayak out for a sail.

I’ve found a good rhythm of being on the beach for a couple nights, then going to town and sleeping on the office floor for a couple. It gives the opportunity to focus on work for a spell, make good progress, and then to get away for an unhurried time and contemplate real things like stars and wind and how a body moves a kayak through the waves.

With a Sea of Cortez crossing still in the back of my mind, I’ve increased one paddle workout per week by about 10nm each time, from my usual 11 to 22 to 32. These I try to do nonstop. Experimenting with pacing, nutrition, hydration, clothing, seating, relief breaks. I haven’t particularly avoided windy days, which this season provides plenty of.

The last trip was 32.8nm, starting just before sunrise in about 12kts of wind, and returning 9 hours later in over 20kts. The forecast was for north wind, so I crossed over to Carmen Island, nearly 8 miles, and started upwind against about 15kts at that point, and building. Sometime later I saw the 50’ sailboat Endless Summer heading for port. My progress dipped below 2kts. I lost the whale that had kept me distracted for a while watching its exhalations waft off to the south. The constant sound of wind started to get annoying. I calculated how long it should take me to get back and wondered how much more the wind would build. I finally decided to turn around. But first, hoisted the sail. Beating upwind has its payoffs.

The GPS batteries died after I’d reached a burst of 9.4kts. Sometime after that the skeg started to vibrate on the better surf runs. And then it vibrated at a higher pitch. I ran with the wind and waves about 17nm in 3 hours of paddling while sailing. And what a run! It’s a treat to look sideways at the wave and watch the wind loft droplets of sea into the air, almost in slow motion because you are moving with it.

I continued down the channel between Carmen and Danzante Islands, partly to get in the mileage I was looking for, and partly because the northward current and some of Danzante’s headlands make the waves stand up better for riding. Paid that back by crawling upwind on the relatively protected west side of the island before taking a beam sea homeward. The final crossing I did with the sail, and it had my wholehearted attention every moment as chunks of wave would tumble down faces significantly taller than I was.

Just before a cooling sun dipped behind the western mountains, I reached my home beach thinking of warmth and food. My beach neighbor Liz walked by to invite me to a soup potluck, and even brought by a nice worm bowl full for starters. Oh, heaven! This beach community of about 15 campers tucked into the desert shrubbery is something to be thankful for. Thanks, Beach Neighbors!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Breakfast on the Beach

One morning a feeding frenzy of sea birds passes not 20’ offshore from my sleeping bag. The commotion heads north along the beach. Cormorants take flight leaving contrails of sunlit splashes. They skid to a landing and immediately submerge, herding the fish northward and inshore.

A snowy egret follows the fray, stilt-legged jogger with yellow feet. Brown pelicans, who normally dive from a height, don’t bother lifting a wing when they jab their bills into the shallows. A black wave surges onto the beach and a cormorant appears at the feet of a great blue heron, which tilts its head at the sight of the fish flapping in the cormorant’s beak. Throaty cormorant grunts are audible over the splashing.

The frenzy calms. Pelicans depart for a splash seen further out. Two snowy egrets take to chasing each other with incongruously peevish displays of their angel wings. They raise white head feathers in a punk crown, jump about, make short banking flights, but both keep returning to the edge of the water where the cormorants mill about.

Second course. The feeding regains momentum, moving back south towards me. Pelicans return. Cormorants glide out of waves onto the sand and waddle ungracefully back. Egrets and herons stab at the waters edge. One wading pelican jabs and comes up with a cormorant’s head, which it grudgingly releases.

Everything Matters - Loreto Kayak Symposium

Loreto Kayak Symposium 2011

In December ended the long series that started in October as the Loreto Kayak Symposium on the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

The classes happening here are simple, yet of tremendous importance. Loreto is on the cusp of government sponsored mega-development on the scale of Cancun and Los Cabos. These kayaking events provide tools, inspiration, and voice for sustainability in development, from both ecological and economic standpoints.

Symposium events
Symposium festivities were enhanced by competition prizes donated by Kokatat , Werner, NRS, Seals , and Cascade Designs. Appreciative winners of the solo kids’ race, the kids & parents race, an obstacle course, and a long distance race, took home top quality gear to inspire their continued paddling and camping experiences. Thanks to our sponsors!

At a weekend beach festival in October, university students offered short presentations on the beach. Parts of the kayak, safety equipment, etc. Abraham Levy , a Mexican who paddled the entire coastline of Mexico, gave a rousing presentation at the university. British Canoe Union courses carried on for the next week and a half, and brought participants from Venezuela, Canada, and Australia as well as Mexico.

For logistical and economic reasons, a 21-day Expedition Challenge from Mulege to Loreto, was sandwiched into the event. Paddlers hailed from Sweden, Australia, Georgia, California, and Washington state.

In the past two years of Loreto Kayak Symposium, years of prior classes crystallized into some real progress. In October 2010, three Mexicans became certified as BCU coaches— Ivette Granados , Santiago Berrueta , and Yuriria Hernandez (and 1 Canadian Leah Blok who works in Baja). Since then, one more Mexican, Oscar Manguy has become a Coach 1, Santiago has trained for Coach 2, and both Oscar and his wife Yuriria Hernandez have trained for their 4-star Sea Leadership awards. Santiago already has this leadership award, making him the first and so far only Mexican to hold this challenging certification.

The series ended in early December with a simple class of great significance: mentoring the first generation of British-certified Mexican coaches as they train the university interns who will likely become the future guides and owners.

Loreto’s Romance with Tourism
Tourism can be nearly as destructive as an extraction-based economy. Or it can give an economic value to plants, creatures and intact ecosystems and inspire their care. The conversation of sustainability is alive and well in Loreto, with such players as the National Marine Park of Loreto , the Eco-Alliance of Loreto , Rare Conservation, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas, Center for Civic Collaboration, Antares Ecological Group, Community and Biodiversity. They have a tough challenge in the face of the government-sponsored luxury-minded development plans Fonatur.

Yet there is hope and momentum. UNESCO declared the Sea of Cortez and all its islands a World Heritage Site in 2005 . This international recognition parallels a local cultural awakening to the unique marine treasure that the people of Baja California live on.

Extraction and Outfitting
Historically, Baja natives hunted and gathered for their survival. Pearl oysters were “discovered” by explorers and gathered to extinction. Shark fisheries began for export and severely depleted the shark population of the Sea. Small planes brought sport fishermen. Roads opened up opportunities for more commercial fisheries. For generations, the sea has been the bottomless bank account of Baja California. Anyone with a little initiative could dip in and extract a living.

In the 1960s Tim Means started bringing tourists south of the border and founded Baja Expeditions . Later, Trudi Angel founded Paddling South in Loreto. In less extractive ways outfitters were dipping into the Sea of Cortez for their livelihoods as well. In the 1990s the National Marine Park of Loreto was finding its feet, and several outfitting companies were operating in the Loreto area. Mexican immigration was also pushing for outfitters to hire more locals, trying to tap into adventure travel for local economic sustainability.

On the premise that fishermen know the sea and that young people are trainable and will work for less money, my employer recruited teenage fishermen’s sons. This was my fourth year guiding in Baja, and my boss asked if I would train our newly hired Mexican staff. They spoke just a few words of English.

Kayak Training
Teaching kayaking in a foreign language is a great way to learn that language. Conjugate lessons into full sentences. Instant feedback. Eager students are keen to help with the communication. Teaching kayaking in a foreign language is also great for developing coaching skills. It keeps the talk to action ratio low on the talking end.

In 2007, when Ivette Granados and I started Sea Kayak Baja Mexico , one of the major contributions she brought to the team was her connection with the universities of Baja California Sur (the southern state of Baja). She understood that ours was not to be just another tour company, but an educational center.

I believe that for knowledge or skill to be meaningful in the long run, the power of it must be given to local hands. Train the teachers. Support the leaders. Encourage the future mentors. Someday when my time in Baja is done, I would love to see a network of kayak coaches and university professors able to develop their own guides to a skill level appropriate to the areas in which they’re leading, and certify them with internationally respected credentials. In my own small way, I see that as contributing to the strength of Loreto as a sustainably-managed eco-destination.

Nowadays many Mexican guides are hired as fresh university grads in related fields of science such as Marine Biology or Alternative Tourism. They speak good English. They know how to apply themselves. They understand the uniqueness of the Sea of Cortez.

The importance of training and credentials is understood by these graduates. It is not lost either on their employers as they advertise their staff and services, or demonstrate to their insurance company how they’re managing risk through training and prevention.

The Municipality of Loreto in 2010 also saw the value of professional training in kayaking. Seeking to build the town as a world-class guide training destination to match its renowned paddling location, they offered to sponsor the costly British flights and coach fees, and bridge the gap between the cost of running the courses and the $18/person the students could afford. Due to an impressive level of corruption in that administration, the local government went so bankrupt that they couldn’t fund the special ed school bus or the city’s utility bill for several months. Kayaking fell off the budget long before a single peso went towards it.

Changing Perceptions
Loreto is in the process of re-creating its cultural perception of the sea. This is happening from many fronts at once: school children, university students, administration. In the mid-1990s some farsighted residents noted the increasing population and tourism were stretching the resources of the sea. Having seen the collapse of other fisheries on Mainland Mexico, these organizers began petitioning the Mexican federal government for a tool to manage their natural resources sustainable for the long haul. In 1996, nine years before the UNESCO declaration, the National Marine Park of the Bay of Loreto was created as a result of local residents’ efforts. The marine park encompasses 2,065 square kilometers of sea including 5 islands and numerous sea stacks.

Trawling and bottom dragging were prohibited. Limits were instated on fishing and shellfish harvesting. Island tourism regulated. For better or worse, the free-for-all was curbed.

Fernando Arcas, one of the original petitioners, continues to research wildlife behavior and population in the park. He heads GEA (Grupo Ecologista Antares) (info) and (tours). Fernando is joined by secretary Maria Elena and educator Luis. They publish pamphlets and occasionally insert them into the local paper. Sea Turtles—how to let them nest undisturbed. Sharks—why they’re important to the health of the sea. Blue whales—gentle giants who are our neighbors.

They take elementary school kids to the waterfront. Get them excited about the treasure that lies just beyond the sandy beach of their hometown. To these presentations Ivette brings a big sit-on-top kayak and some PFDs. She talks about boating safety and fun. Kids practice putting on the life jackets and helping each other tighten them well. They see how many can sit in one kayak together on the sand, and talk about the animals they might see.

In the summer, Ivette gathers 2-3 enthusiastic university interns and runs a kayak day camp for kids at Hotel Desert Inn, a beach-front resort with a pool. The kids swim, play games with sit-on-top kayaks and learn kayak basics in a spirited format that has 4-year olds and 12-year olds all working together. This is common in the local culture and feeds well into the awareness of others that is so important in kayaking.

In a culture where the sea has largely been the resource bank for extraction, showing youngsters its intrinsic value and a method for low impact access is a significant step for the future. It may even afford a few of them a good living showing it to visitors someday.

Life Skills for the Future
University interns do 100 hours of community service to pay back their education. Beyond helping at summer camp and the symposium, our interns also learn to run the store and put out rentals. Accounting, retail, customer service, English. The dream of many of these students is to either be a guide, which pays well locally, or to run their own company. Rural Baja is mostly free of franchises and chains, so family owned businesses are common.

Interns in the university’s Alternative Tourism track must create a project as part of their studies. Something to bring value to their community.

Ramon is one of our interns. His family owns an orchard/ranch in the village of San Isidro, west of Loreto. San Isidro is a mountain oasis with freshwater lagoons formed by springs. The family raise sugar cane as their primary cash crop, forming it into the familiar brown sugar cones sold in fruiterias and mercados in town, and they engage in typical subsistence ranching. Hurricane Jimena wiped out most of their plantation, and they have been looking for a way to recover.

Working with his parents and his uncle, Ramon is planning an oasis eco-tour project: paddle the half-mile long lagoons and enjoy palms, turtles, birds, and interesting geology. Marine fossils are layered in the mountain rocks. The iconic El Pilon peak is an eroded red-brown cone lending its name to the cone-shaped brown sugar “piloncillo” that was the family’s cash product. In the eco-tour plan, Ramon envisions giving visitors hands-on experience pressing sugar, or milking goats, or working with leather as his family treats them to genuine ranch hospitality.

Daniel’s family owns a purified water store in Loreto. His eco-tour route explores the mangroves in a protected estuary near Loreto. Mangroves are the ocean’s nurseries, home to juvenile fish, oysters, and a host of birds from snowy egrets to osprey to brown pelicans.

To put it in prospectve, John Steinbeck, in The Log from the Sea of Cortez in 1941 wrote, “And if we seem a small factor in a huge pattern, nevertheless it is of relative importance… none of it is important, or all of it is.”

Many thanks to the sponsors who have supported the Loreto Kayak Symposium. Far beyond providing equipment, you have supplied momentum, belief, incentive, and encouragement. It is greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Evolution of References

The dark night was the first book of poetry and the constellations were the poems.
- Chet Raymo An Intimate Look at the Night Sky

I left the lights of Loreto behind, obscured by passing swells and eventually by the roundness of the sea upon the globe.

Evening worked the last of its magic with fading colors in the sky. Venus, my first friend of the night, shone in the western sky over the mountains. Jupiter hid behind a cloud bank to the east before peeking out. The beauty. The freedom of paddling back to camp down the 10 mile wide corridor between Carmen Island and the Loreto coast.

Ahead, the dark headland of Punta Coyote aligned below a distant triple peak. I paddled to hold that course. The gap between Punta Coyote and Danzante Island, which I had always thought of as a crossing, now looked like a narrow target.

Even after stars appeared, the ambient light continued to fade until the darkness was complete. No moon shone. Fear. The half-light in the waves felt ominous. My kayak, small. My faith in it and my motor—my body—shaky. Punta Coyote dissolved into the mountains beyond. The triple peak became a faint swell on the horizon, difficult to distinguish from the much bigger more distant mountain to the left and the double peak to the right.

As in life, our aids to navigation, or our perspective of them, evolve. Though my Punta Coyote reference was gone, Danzante Island’s dark hump gave guidance. Lights of occasional cars descending the mountains shone clear in the gap, and went black behind Coyote, to reappear in glimpses much further north. Puerto Escondido’s lights glowed another reference.

In the evolution of references, in the adaptation of eyes, mind, body, there was comfort.

The zodiacal light or “sun pillar” glowed faintly behind the western stars. Venus set. Vega, Altair, Deneb burned their fires high. The swan, the eagle, the leaping dolphin. Poetry of the ancients kept me company from above.

Something flapped or flopped out of my path with haste and agitation of bioluminescence. The constellations below. Waves around crested with their own light. Bioluminescence tumbled in my bow wake and surrounded my paddle blade. Even illuminated my stern wake as I descended a wave. A hanging stern draw carved a brilliant parallel wake if I ran straight, or converged if I turned the kayak.

My body interacted with the waves by feel. The rattle of the bow toggle against hull at the beginning of a surf usually indicated a short steep ride that often wanted to end with a broaching turn. Some waves had the perfect push and I could paddle downhill on them for long rides. My sail helped to catch the waves, then flapped limply as the speed of the wave outraced the push of the wind.

After 12nm, Punta Coyote outgrew the mountains beyond to loom large and close. Sounds of waves at its base. Three hours. Another 30 minutes to camp and the constellations of home. Patty & Mike’s TV. Christmas lights in the bushes. A glow from within Jay and Diane’s little camper, reflecting faintly off Henry & Joan’s old trailer. Low bushes, shallow reef, silhouette of Michael’s truck against the sky, and finally my gap in the shrubbery. The evolution of references leading me home.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monserrate in 24 hours

November 4, 8:50pm. Danzante Island, campsite DZ05. I arrived with the west wind, the unruly one. Back in camp it blew the wrong way into the stove, picked the shade tarp up and played with it, then shoved it down on my head.

I left camp in the dark at 6:30pm and set the sail for the wind to play with too. West is offshore, with its hazards like the further out you get the worse it is, and it’s hard to get back to safety unless there’s something to catch you on the other side. My intent was to paddle to Monserrate Island, 15nm out, then wait for the forecasted turning of the wind and ride it back. You know how reliable forecasts are.

Half a mile offshore, some gusts got my attention by tipping the kayak hard to the left. Waves were only about a foot, well within my comfort, but it was also dark, and everything feels a bit more exhilarating in the dark.

My intent was a night training run with some wind and waves. If I’m going through with the Crazy Plan, I should be comfortable riding seas throughout an entire night, or I should know that I’m not comfortable with it and forget the idea. Funny how a little idea like crossing the Sea of Cortez can get me out here where I hadn’t really considered it before.

Before I left, I talked with my beach neighbor Jay who had just returned from the day’s fishing in his motor boat. He said it was roughest offshore from Ligui canyon. That makes sense, how the wind funnels through there. Also for him, the rest of his trip would have been sheltered by the coastal mountains as he hugged the shoreline. Fetch. I had to add the effect of distance the wind would be blowing over the water. Fifteen NM by the time I got to Monserrate. How big would the waves be there? How strong the wind?

I motor-sailed my kayak towards the south tip of Danzante Island, which partly obscured my view of Monserrate, if I could see Monserrate in the moonlight, which I wasn’t quite sure. A light on a Danzante Island beach called El Arroyo was probably from the outfitting company I used to work for. They would be cleaning up their last dinner, which would have been a chili relleno casserole in the dutch oven, with a cabbage salad on the side, perhaps dusted with sand from the wind blowing directly onto their beach. Something about too much predictability I’m allergic to. Which is why I’m here skimming through the swells and somebody else is tending that light on the beach.

Spray flies off the bow, catches the wind and showers me. Again and again. I’m in a short sleeved paddle jacket and quite comfortable with the warm shower and the cool wind. Strokes are light and fast as the sail pulls the kayak along the growing swells. Water gurgles against the hull.

I will head south of Danzante Island, into the wind funnel from Ligui canyon. I want to feel the strength of the wind. To feel the waves collide with the perpetually opposing current that lives there. From there I will decide if I go to Monserrate Island. I will stop at one of the sea stacks in the Candeleros group and stretch before continuing. This is the plan.

Swells are exciting and surf rides frequent as I arrive at the stack. After stowing the sail, I thread between rocks into a protected pool from which I intend to step out onto a rock shelf. Water sloshes up and down. Wind funnels through my hideout, strong and sustained. Sounds of water crashing all about. Dark shapes hint at their craggy nature in the light of my headlamp. Sparkling ripples rush by over a shallow shelf and shatter into spray against little rocks. I struggle to maneuver closer, then in a moment change my mind, pivot, glide out of the pool, and head for the shelter of Danzante Island.

Decision made, I feel relief. I haven’t done a Very Stupid Thing tonight. Yes, sometimes I have to push the limits, but tonight isn’t one of those times. That means I can play in the mini tide race between here and Danzante Island. For about a mile I paddle without the sail, trying to assess how I’d feel about the conditions in the daylight. Broadside to two foot whitecaps, about 15kts plus gusts. I’d be content. The current adds interest. I watch island silhouettes for signs of my drift, but the current and wind seem to be about even in their effect, and I’m headed straight.

Nearer to the island is a rock that resembles a submarine. I can’t see it, but I feel the waves steepen, and figure I must be nearing the underwater shelf next to it that makes the best standing waves. I turn and catch some good rides. Bury the bow up to the front hatch. Moonlit shards of water tumble off my deck. Night surfing! Whoo-hoo!

The west wind bends and accelerates around the south tip of Danzante Island, and from here runs with the current up the east side of the island. Quickly the waves flatten out. I hoist the sail, taking 2 tries to get the mast up. The gusts are impressive, as I hang onto a stern rudder and fly along. The sail suddenly jibes in an ungraceful flop from one side to the other. Then it flaps limply. My kick-ass tailwind has just met the air coming over Danzante’s low spot. I wrap up the sail and paddle into my favorite beach on this island. I am drenched completely. Soggy pony tail, salt encrusted eyes.

Instead of being out tonight pushing the limits, I’m comfortably rolled into a tarp with a blanket-padded rock for a pillow, on a beach that feels like home, in the company of a very familiar stuffed moose. Sounds of water lapping on the rocky shore. The sounds increase. Gusts press my tarp hard against me. The kayak next to me shudders in the wind. I’m very glad to be here, and not out there. I hear rockfalls from the cliffs through the night, probably teased into jumping by the wind.

November 5, 9:50am. Don’t look now, but I’m naked on a sandy beach in the sun enjoying a leisurely brunch on Monserrate Island. Leisurely because all I have to do now is wait for the wind to die or shift to another direction so I can go back without too much effort.

I left Danzante Island at dawn. The wind had calmed considerably from the night’s fitful throwing of rocks, rocking of boats, and massaging of human tarp-burritos. Still the spray occasionally launched itself from the tops of whitecaps. The sun rose over Santa Catalina Island, another 20 miles out from where I bobbed along. It rose perfectly in position to climb the sky behind the sail. Paddling east in the morning can be brutal on the eyes, but this was perfect.

The sail pulled me along nicely. Up to two knots during my snack breaks. Five and six while paddling. When the sun ran out of sail to climb and shone on my face, I turned to ride the waves at a better surfing angle and arrived shortly at the long blonde beach of Monserrate. Three hours and fifteen minutes to Monserrate, 11.5 nm.

When I’m out paddling, at first I catch myself looking about at the mountains and the islands. Their lighting, their shapes. I count the time to the next landing. I am a terrestrial creature looking for home. Soon I look at the water. Its texture. Its colors. The swells and wind ripples are often at odds with each other somehow. Multiple directions of swell cross each other. Whether the whitecap tumbles listlessly or claws hungrily at the water as it scrambles forward. I am a sea creature at home for a time.

I project ahead to a longer crossing, the Crazy Plan. Some 30 hours in the kayak, with a 7-hour warm-up. I project further to the Pacific crossing dream. Weeks, months. Bigger boat. More room to stretch out. Better stocked galley, I hope, as I eat another Bimbo granola bar, strawberry flavor.

It may never happen, this Crazy Plan to cross the Sea of Cortes. I will make that decision when I get there. Or the weather or other timings may make the decision for me. That’s ok. If I don’t go forward now believing in it, acting on that belief, communicating to the universe that that is what I want, I will have closed my own door. I won’t do that--I won’t give in to a fear of failure before I’ve tried.

Five hours, multiple journal pages, power naps, and a long walk later, two things happen. The wind shifts, and a sailboat arrives. I visit with the family on Eyone for a bit, and take the NE wind back home. Fifteen NM in four hours exactly. The last four I was back on the track of my morning loop, going the other direction. I thought I’d see how fast I could do it now, for fun and because the sun had just set and I wanted to get home. Fifty three minutes. With a Greenland stick, in a Romany. No sail. I must have had some current assisting, but still it’s amazing what the body can do. Most amazingly, it felt good! This Crazy Plan might work after all.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Crazy Plan

Really it was the kayak’s idea. Romany said to me as we were paddling early one morning towards a distant star that hadn’t risen, you’ll miss me if you go work on that big metal boat with that man of yours.

Romany was right.

So I said, how can we get there, the two of us?

Well, duh! Said the kayak. I float, you paddle. That’s how it works.

Google Earth. 82NM to Guaymas from the nearest point in Baja, which is Santa Rosalia. Tortugas Island a convenient 22nm into the trip. That’s still a 60nm crossing. My morning loops are about 11nm, and I was feeling proud of them. That’s like 6 times around that loop. Without a break. Day and night. After a 22nm warmup. Looks like it’s time to start expanding that morning loop.

It is the nature of dreams to pull us onward. Even if I never launch on that crossing, the dream will inspire me to get in better shape.

Henrick likes the idea and says even if he’s launched Misty before I paddle over for him, he can follow me in Misty as a safety boat. I really appreciate the support, but where is my incentive to go forward through the exhaustion of the night or the fear of growing waves if my escape, my love, and a comfortable bed, are just behind me?

I’m not sure about the crazy plan. It’s just an idea. I’ll turn it over a few more times to consider the facets in different lighting. Carry it around in my pocket for a while. See what I think later without the suggestive whisperings of an eager kayak in my ear.

Meanwhile, I expanded my morning paddle to include Carmen Island this morning. Still, thinking of the crazy plan puts my 14nm jaunt into perspective. When I expanded my morning loop last year, it felt like I was reaching deep into the wilderness, pushing the limits. Venturing further, going boldly, with Star Trek theme music reverberating off the waves and rumbling the mountains. Compared to a 82nm crossing, it’s insignificant.

Still, upon landing back at my beach, I feel that euphoric glow. My body is saying, This is what I’m made for! Thanks for getting me out of the office.

Notes From the Beach

Snapshots not taken
The photobook of my life has some spectacular images today: Danzante’s symmetrical silhouette with orange glow on both sides of the central ridge like the corners of a smile. The green pose of a many-armed pitaya dulce cactus sprawls before the mountian’s morning blush. Looking down on the silver sea on my morning hike, I see a lone sailboat cutting through the middle of that molten puddle.

From my yoga mat under the mesquite, the blue sky and the filigreed leaves of a single branch catch sunlight in luminous green patterns. Simple. Profound. Beautiful.

Is it the quality of the scenes, or the time to see them?

I drop off the paddlers for their trip at a beach south of Mulege and drive back to Loreto. There is a curve about a half an hour north of town. Round that curve, and the curtain of rock moves aside to reveal a view across a cactus-studded valley to the Sierra la Giganta mountains. Layer upon blue layer of haphazard ranges. Facets of some peaks seem to defy gravity. My heart leaps at this view on every annual migration and even now, though I’m returning from just a few hours’ absence.

As I get closer, I can pick out the wall of mountain at the base of which I make my winter home. It is a tremendous mass. A serrated block of fantastic proportions. Elsewhere there are peaks and points and sky. Here there is no sky between the peaks. It is unique in a range of uniqueness. Nightly I curl up to sleep at its feet beside the sea. A home no architect could hope to equal.

Ol’ Blue lumbers along the slow rocky road from the highway to the beach. A forest of cactus and mesquite and lomboy envelops the truck. The plants are incredibly dry now, many leafless, after a couple of years without rain. Even the cholla hang their twisted arms in postures of despair. But there is resilience in them still.

A peace takes me. Crescent moon overhead. Last light on the sea. The presence of that great wall of rock behind me. Nearly a mile high. Close enough to snuggle. Huge enough to never know it fully. My heart hangs on a string between those opposites, the intimacy and the vastness, and I am in love with those mountains. Deeper every year, like I imagine the face of a livelong lover will feel. More treasured with time and every weathered wrinkle.

I want to play music. Deep in my belly I want song to come out, to become part of the place. To join the crickets and the water lapping. I’ve looked everywhere for my flute. Turned the office inside out. My last hope is that I missed it last time I looked in the tent. But no. Not in the bin of clothes. Nor in the telescope box. Nor in some hidden fold of nylon. Not in with the pots, or the food. Please be somewhere I can find you!

I am a bird who has lost its notes and my insides hurt. I try to whistle and to sing, but those are not instruments that quite express what wants to come out. Whether I am also tired or hungry or whatever other factors I don’t know. The stars are a symphony and I am voiceless. I am lonely for my flute and let the sad tears come.

In a way it’s satisfying to have the space and safety to feel a simple feeling, even it is sadness. Between the mountains and the sea and the stars, I feel held. Even if I can’t warble my thanks through a tube of metal.

Another great morning at Rattlesnake Beach. Danzante Island for breakfast again, launching before sunrise. Stars in the sea. Sun pillar gives way to pre-dawn glow. Island pinnacles wear their subtle morning faces. Distant mountain peaks blush pink. My wake stretches behind me.

The Romany kayak and I hatch a plan to paddle across to see Henrick in Guaymas when my work here is done. Dolphins leap near an eastern point as the sun breaks the horizon over Santa Catalina Island. My shadow paddles beside me on the brick-red flanks of Danzante.

I solve the world’s problems on the last leg of the loop. Everything is simple. The path is clear. Unfortunately the path gets muddy through the cleaning of gear, showering, and making breakfast. But that’s how it goes. I’ll have to paddle out again tomorrow to figure it out for good.

Flute! I found it! In the bottom of a box of blankets at the storage unit. I carried it like a trophy to the beach. After a season away, what joy to play to the crescent moon and the stars tonight. After two songs, Sandy the dog comes running down the beach, a black bundle of wiggles in the night. She arrived for the season with her owners just a few days ago. She crawls forward through the sand, still wiggling, to my feet where she looks up for a scratch in the thick mane of her neck. She whines and groans, then rolls over for a belly scratch and lifts up her grey muzzle to give me a lick on the face. Ah, joy. May it forever be contagious.


LoCo Roundup 2011 was a great success! ( We put on 17 BCU courses, a Greenland paddle carving course, and several general courses ranging from an hour to 3 days each. The event actually made money for the first time in 5 years, something believed to be impossible for a strictly instructional symposium to do. Many, many thanks to all who were part of it! Still, it WAS the last LoCo. It’s time for new adventures!

October 1, Henrick and I loaded my new ’93 Ford F150 to the gills, kissed the farm goodbye, and made tracks towards the Mexican border.

The next morning we paused for a brief stop in Portland so I could Row for the Cure in a tandem kayak with Laura Jackson. Oh, it felt good to reach out and power that hull through the water with another likeminded gal! And to do it for a good cause. As a 5-year breast cancer survivor, I am thankful for the tremendous efforts of others in raising money and awareness towards a cure. For me, cancer was a small chapter whose pages turned long ago. That’s how it feels now, with much gratitude, and life rolls joyously onward. Even more joyously now with the perspective that chapter brings.

I am on my 15th annual migration to Baja to coach, guide, and just be, on a little strip of beach between the mountains and the sea. Sea Kayak Baja Mexico, LLC my humble venture, is the child of passion and ignorance, delivered without the midwife of business sense. That it ever got off the ground is a testament to luck, a few hardy clients, and my Mexican business partner Ivette Granados.

The fate of beach where I live outside of Loreto is in limbo—saved from luxury development more than once by fallen economies. My residence there is never guaranteed.

But I have no monopoly on uncertainty. Unplanned adventure seems to apply to all aspects of life. Relationship, family, career, financial investment, creativity, vacations, and particularly journeys. It is a truth that applies so well to journeys, in fact, that they are metaphors for all the rest.

A friend who was experienced in Baja travels once advised not to bring anything to Mexico that I wouldn’t mind parting with. Before my first Baja trip 15 years ago I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing. It prepared me well for crossing with the expectation of losing everything, from possessions, to identity, to belief systems, in an almost religious purging. Still I went. Still, 15 years later, I return, more invested than ever.

Sometimes the frustration of holding back outweighs the fear of going forward, and you just go for it. What do you have to lose but everything? And once you lose everything, you’re just left with you and your spirit. Which is all you ever started with. And so you can again. Not that I won’t fight tooth and nail to hold on, and complain a bit. In the end you can’t take it with you anyway. Life is then the sum of our experiences, not our possessions. And we are spirit, not a list of accomplishments.

Which leads us to the next phase. I have been trying to find the balance between running a kayaking venture in WA state, one in Mexico, an annual event, and a farm. Balancing too much is a great circus trick, but not how I want to keep living. Some things had to be trimmed back. Then I met Henrick, and added a relationship and a shared life of adventure travel. I often do things a bit backwards.

For the last 2 years, I’ve been working with business partners to develop our companies in a direction to run with less of me around. I’ve spent some time working with Henrick preparing his sailboat Misty for voyage.

In 2012, I hope to make a leap in priorities from scheduling myself primarily around my kayaking projects to building an “us” and creating some exciting history together.

I’ve never held down a real job, indoors with regular pay, for an entire year. Never in my life. Guiding and teaching has held my attention for 15 years, and been immensely rewarding. There are still aspects I treasure: Coaching people and watching them develop. The synergy of working with other coaches and business partners. Certain exhilarating and meditative paddle trips. The connection with the outdoors, the stars, the plants, the wind.

Now I have met someone with whom I feel a deep kinship, and it seems our lives could blend nicely. On we go, now seeking the balance between relationship, personal rewards of creative work projects, and financial responsibilities. First stop for me is the Second Annual Loreto Kayak Symposium, and for Henrick, the Joy of Boatwork.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Seven Life Lessons from the Boatyard

Moving towards deliberate consciousness.

Kayaking. From basic principles of physics, to finer points of paddling technique, to how we interact, kayaking is just a tool for life to teach us what’s true. This has been my life philosophy for many years. Now it’s starting to expand to bigger boats.

Today I painted the wine-red hull and put another coat of epoxy paint in the forward part of the bilge. Everything wants to tear apart a boat: salt water, sun, heat, movement. Paint is one of those things that holds it together, like social etiquette.

On a sailboat, even in the boatyard, it pays to make every move a conscious one. Hit your head in a confined space enough and you’ll learn. Try to avoid the freshly painted bits while living among them. Don’t drop the tools overboard. In life, we don’t get to do it over again, either. Here are some life lessons from the last month in the boatyard:

• Projects go easier by moving slowly enough to think.
• Prepare well.
• Change the perspective when necessary, rather than struggling from the position you’re in just because you’re there.
• Give a project or a person the time they need, even if it’s longer than expected.
• Adjust expectations frequently. They are just illusions anyway.
• Endeavor to see a project through to its finish before beginning another, but also be willing to set it aside if something more important comes up. It’s delightfully liberating to take on no more than one thing in a given moment.
• Painting your partner’s sailboat is just another way of saying “I love you.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Happiness is like the scent of acacia tree blossoms I pass on the morning run. It wafts in on a breeze, inspires a smile, and moves on. Can’t hold onto it, just enjoy when it passes my way.

Because it is the road out of town, I run along it in the morning. Because it is a road out of town, people throw trash along it. Because there is a wide spot to pull over at the top of the hill, there is a big collection of trash. Yard debris, carcasses, shattered TVs, part of a toilet, all manner of plastic bits, tires, household refuse with rotting food morsels. Because the local dogs are hungry, they gather here. This is their home. They sleep here. A matted, furry head pops up as I run past, and begins barking. Four other mangy dogs jump to their feet and limp away, barking. Almost all are lame in one way or another.

The road crests a hill and makes a curve, blinding drivers with the rising and setting sun. I run wary when I run in the morning, listening well, looking behind whenever cars or busses come head-on, and being ready to leap into the dried grass in a heartbeat. Watching there for toothy things that hiss.

Perception is a funny thing. The dogs live beside the road, and ignore the passing cars, which pose their biggest immediate threat to life. I come plodding along, not a threat, just something different, and they bark and run. Three of the poor bony creatures died on the road this week, casualties of the passing vehicles.

Isn’t it interesting how we, too, accept the familiar even though it may be hazardous, and resist the new and different just because it is.

There will always be choices of what to focus on. Happiness is the scent of acacia tree blossoms on the morning run.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Marina Seca

A boatyard is a unique community. Think of a boat as a home. Some are fixer-uppers, some are in good shape requiring only regular maintenance, and some are plush vacation homes, cared for by hirelings. Some are lifetime labors of love. Some are lived in while a renovation is done. Some are occasionally visited. The difference between houses and boats, is that a house is usually attached to a piece of ground, and that the people inspired to inhabit those homes are spread into their corners of the countryside. Boats, on the other hand, often congregate where the services are available when maintenance or renovation is required or a return from the vacation is due.

Marina Seca is a dirt lot in Sonora, Mexico next to the sea. A concrete wall and a chain link fence surround it. Intermittent electricity and water, even more intermittent internet, and a boat lift, are the amenities. Sunshine is more reliable than water or electricity, and almost every day is a painting day. The town of Guaymas is nearby with materials, San Carlos isn’t far with some marine goods, and the US is a day’s drive away for specialty items. Marina Seca attracts the do-it-yourselfers of the boat world.

Some breeze through in a day or two, haul up their boats, wash off the salt, scrape the barnacles, cover the windows, lock it up, and are gone to their other lives. For some it’s minor repairs and paint. Some cruisers stay for months and repair holes in a hull or change a mast or redesign a structure. Others have eddied out of the flow altogether and settled into their live-aboard projects, climbing ladders into their dry boats. Wood boats with rot, steel boats with rust, cement boats dissolving to bits. None will ever see even pennies per hour for the work they do. But daily they answer the call of some internal time clock.

It’s a forest of boats, with their accompanying stanchion-branches supporting them. Climbing the ladder to board adds to the feeling of living in a treehouse in a strange landscape.

At Marina Seca (dry marina) the boats may be dry, but their people certainly aren’t. In the afternoon shade of a hull stripped bare of paint, happy hour begins. The hardworking forest elves drink themselves giddy before retreating up their steps each to their own deck with a view over the wall, then down into the bellies of the boats to sleep.

After some weeks, this scene feels familiar. Just another community. Round-bellied tree houses feel like the norm. The glacial progress of projects becomes visible. Everyone has a story. They lack only to be written down, but somehow it’s appropriate that the stories, like the wind that bore them, blow away with the ending of each day.

These are the good old days. Living simple with a purpose. Talking of love, lifetimes, and dreams. Sailing Vessel Misty is our capsule to see the world, even if only in our imaginations for the moment. Meanwhile she gives our days structure as we ready her for long voyages, wherever they may be.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

flying the nest

I eat my chicken broccoli burrito and walk the beach as stars appear. Is contentment a constellation? Wavelets come in and I send them back to Guaymas with my love. There, on the other side of the Sea of Cortes, Henrick is working on his sailboat Misty. There I will be going soon.

If the sea dragons and the calendar gremlins and the black hole of boatwork don’t manage to stop us, we’ll be heading across the Pacific this spring. Blue water sailing. I’ve never done it except for two Sea of Cortes crossings last year, if that counts. The Tasmania offshore water was quite blue when I was experimenting with a kayak sail last year around Maria Island, but that really doesn’t count.

When I feel nervous about heading across the Pacific, I console myself with the thought that many have actually survived the experience. Not that this thought will ease the concerned minds of my loving family. Henrick is a competent single-handed sailor, and I’m teachable. Besides we’ll have 2 kayaks on board. This eases my mind! I’ll be able to go out for a “walk” if we’re sailing at less than 4 knots, and I’ll be able to tow Misty if we’re in the doldrums. This is my secret fantasy.

Of course trust is essential to setting out on such a journey. I trust Henrick as a captain. I also trust him as a mate, in the non-nautical sense.

Solid mountains to my right, silhouettes of islands to my left. Surrounded in this expansive nest of peace and belonging. Here I have learned my trade and so many life lessons in the last decade and a half.

From the nest of learning I am ready to fly. I wonder if we ever stop reaching these milestones, these launching points into the next level. Into the new, but not new. Everything in life has been preparing me for this moment.

This beach, this exact spot, 10 years ago. Dan Kennedy, my guiding mentor, said, “there is another level to everything.” I was a 5-year guide just finding my wings.

From this beach, this exact spot, more recently, I stepped into Henrick’s dinghy “Mutiny” with my backpack on my shoulder and my future on the crucible of change. He rowed me out to Misty to sail away from my familiar islands. Again from this beach, I found my wings, and they were sails. And they were love.

Henrick is keeping a blog of his upcoming journey. It’s .
The first entry read:
This is about travel and alternative living.
Particularly about the voyage with my boat Misty but also to depict people all around who are living their dream of freedom.

Freedom. A simple as just going. Rich enough to keep unwrapping levels of it for a lifetime.

Of course I plan to be back; I have a company to run. My beach “home” at the foot of the mountains and the toes of the sea still fills a part of me. But my heart! My heart lifts its wings again for a new perspective.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Soundtrack of Life

On my way into Rattlesnake Beach late yesterday afternoon, I saw an owl perched on the top of a sturdy mesquite bush. At first I wondered it if was a plastic bag caught up there in the wind, then it turned. Its ear tufts blew a bit sideways and it wore a rather disheveled look on its face. Its head swiveled as it followed my slow progress along the bumpy dirt road.

I’ve been feeling a bit like that owl lately—a bit windblown and swivel-headed as events and milestones and old blue Ford pickups keep passing me by.

After a month and a half in Australia, I checked in with business partners in Washington, and stopped at the hospital for a routine post-cancer check-up while I was there. The 3-day Turbo Business Meeting was as productive as it was random and fortuitous. Mark, co-owner and manager for Columbia River Kayaking, and I often discuss things while driving errands, and one takes notes. This year’s meeting went a step further. On the way home from the airport, I bought a used truck, the kind I’ve been seeking for about a year. It was owned by a kayak club friend, and Mark alerted me to its existence just 7 hours before during my layover in the LA airport.

The doctor’s visit was historical. I sometimes don’t keep track of dates very well (just ask my family about birthdays!), so it was a surprise when I went to leave the post-MRI and mammogram consultation, and my doctor said that had been my 5-year checkup. Statistically, the chance of recurring breast cancer is so minimal if you’re still clear after 5 years, that follow-up care ceases, except for the routine mammogram that we should all get. I was clear!

My doctor said I am now just like any other normal 42-year-old woman, and turned me loose on the world. I felt a strange mix of thankfulness, awe, freedom, and denial, as I walked out the hospital doors for the last time. Denial that 5 years could have gone so fast! I’ve heard that the years start to do that at a certain point, so I must be getting to that accelerating age. I have some people to thank for the smoothness of those 5 years: in particular, my surgeon Dr Katterhagen who takes the time to listen to my concerns and explain how things are, Carmen the nurse who greets me with the biggest smile, and Kelly the most amazing arranger of schedules and insurance coverage. You gals have gone the extra mile and beyond! Thank you!!!

I don’t know what any “normal” 42-year old would do the next day, but I flew to my other home, a patch of sand under the Giganta mountains and the full moon just south of Loreto, Mexico. I moved back in, which consisted of setting up the dusty old Coleman stove and making 3 pieces of French toast for dinner by the light of my headlamp. Then I went for a paddle to nowhere in particular. Just for some perspective on the shadowy mountains and the bonfires of neighbors down the beach. I almost ran over a sea lion sleeping with his flipper in the air. Every few seconds he lifted his whiskered nose for a breath, then let it sink. He didn’t change at all as I glided by. Moments later a shadowy diamond shape passed under me, flapping gently. A ray. Close to shore, the moon shadow of my kayak followed along the bottom, and laughter of my neighbors carried out into the warm night. Amidst the swirling passage of events, it’s moments like this when time stops and one can hear the music of life’s soundtrack in the background.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kookaburra Laughs

Just settin’ myself down to a nice cuppa on a blustery Tassie afternoon. Cozy time to contemplate life and appreciate the shelter of friends.

Travel takes one outside of oneself, and offers moments of clarity. Sometimes a good book can do it, too. For me now, perhaps a little of both.

Three Cups of Tea, the tale of Greg Mortenson, climber turned school-builder in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the most inspirational thing I think I’ve ever read. I’ve been devouring it on the flights, at times moved to tears I try to hide my tears from fellow passengers.

Lyn and Geoff, my hosts, greet me at the airport. Lyn bubbles about an orphanage in Cambodia she visited this year, and her conviction to help not only with her volunteer efforts while she was there, but also by organizing a fund-raising athletic event near Hobart. Her face is alight and her eyes sparkle with excitement.

“Spirit dwells in you, as you.” A line from in-flight movie Eat, Pray, Love. Live true to your heart and as fully as you can, and spirit will use your unique blend of talent and personality to do good things.

What is a Good Thing? Does it have to benefit 1,000 people? Save nature? Further human understanding? It may. Or perhaps it encourages one person. Lyn’s mother sits this week in hospital with her dying partner as he slips into unconsciousness, and beyond. Maybe in the Good Thing one is called to do, one’s own soul finds balance. One more instrument in the grand orchestra plays in harmony for a few bars.

I take Jed the old dog for a walk today. He lost his lifelong buddy recently and has since stayed very close to the humans in his life. He comes to me at the computer often for a reassuring scratch. The air is fresh in the damp bush through which the trail meanders. Kookaburra laughs from his perch in a gum tree.

Kayaking may be the pretext under which I’m here, but I’m convinced that the real reasons are much bigger, and unfathomable to me at the moment. It is my dedication to a passion—a recreational sport—that has brought me to this place. What an unlikely vehicle. I am inexpressibly humbled. I believe that if one follows one’s deep passion with dedication and honesty, it will be a spiritually rewarding journey. The kayak is just a tool. Such a frivolous one, yet somehow it feels elemental to me.

Is the Good Thing the project itself (kayaking lifestyle) or is the greater good the process of learning, submitting, being aware? Anything is possible. No matter what happens it’s ok.

Monsoon rains continue to wash away northern Australia, leaving heartbreaking stories in their wake. Grocery stores post flyers and take relief donations at the checkout counter. The national defense has been mobilized to help. Sometimes it’s hard to see any good in tragedy. Sometimes “No matter what happens it’s ok” sounds ridiculous and haughty.

On the small scale of our lives, strong Tasmanian easterlies (30-40kts) have flattened out the swell and threaten to blow kayakers to kingdom come. Our kayaking plans adjust daily, and yesterday we all stayed home. That means time for Axel and me to begin building a website for Lyn’s Cambodian Children’s Trust Challenge. Somehow, despite our plans, things fall into the places where they belong.