Archive for the 'South America' Category

What type of animal carcass was hanging out in the foreground?

Clark January 31st, 2014

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Tbone has asked a salient question after watching the Skip Novak Storm Sailing videos.

It is a lamb. Tierra del Fuego has plentiful, succulent lamb, which is charcoal spit roasted and served in all the restaurants in Ushuaia. When you’re sailing in the cold of the deep south, your body craves heavy, greasy meals, like spit-roasted lamb, at least four times a day.

The done thing down there is to tie a lamb carcass to your backstay for any voyage through the Fuegian channels or down to Antarctica. It’s always cold, so the meat stays refrigerated, and there are few flies or creepy-crawlies down there to spoil the meat. Connoisseurs say that the constant salt spray from a Drakes Passage crossing will cure the lamb to perfection in about a week. I’ve never heard of backstay lamb going bad.

The man in the photo above is Alejandro da Milano, AKA El Mono, aboard his 60-foot beast Mago del Sur, which, like Skip Novak’s boats, has a retractable keel and has been to Antarctica many times.

Condesa was tied alongside Mago del Sur in Ushuaia, and as I snapped the photo above, I asked El Mono an important question. I’d been having night sweats for about a week, trying to decide whether or not to sail to Antarctica. All reason was on the side of not going, but I asked him, “Some people are saying I’m crazy to go in a fiberglass boat. Some say the ice isn’t that bad this year. What do you think?”

He replied, in suave Buenos Aires accent, “I think you will sail to Antarctica, and you will come back with a big smile on your face.”

Skip Novak’s Storm Sailing Videos

Clark January 28th, 2014

If a picture is worth a thousand words, videos are worth millions. Skip Novak’s series of storm sailing videos are great for learning technique and outfitting. Skip Novak crewed and skippered multiple Whitbreads, and was among the first generation of yachtsmen to cruise and explore Antarctica. I’ve never met Skip, but I got friendly with his crews while down in Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica, and enjoyed a few meals aboard Pelagic Australis, his 74-foot expedition beast (Thanks, Skip). I also got a tour of Pelagic, his original, 54-foot steel cutter. Both vessels embody the ethos of simplicity and robustness. You too can tour both vessels (above, in Part 2).

It’s very hard to film on deck, especially in nasty weather, so these kinds of videos are hard to come by. It’s nice to see that even Skip Novak, with a full crew, can thrash around for half an hour setting a sail in those conditions. Some of the scenery in the backgrounds is spectacular.

Part 1:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Charles Darwin Goes Cruising in Finches, Fossils, and Fuegians

Clark November 2nd, 2013

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A young man was invited to go cruising for a few years. His family, his father especially, thought he would be throwing his education away, not to mention risking his life. Sound familiar, cruisers? In the face of such disapproval the young man decided not to go, but a favorite uncle interceded on his behalf. The favorite uncle was Josiah Wedgewood, of the Wedgewood pottery, the young man was Charles Darwin, and his cruise on the Beagle was probably history’s most important voyage of scientific discovery.

When we think of Darwin, we think of a man who looks like this:
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But when he left on the Beagle he was a young sprat of twenty-two, once sending home a dispatch that said,

“Our chief amusement was riding about and admiring the Spanish Ladies. After watching one of these angels gliding down the streets, involuntarily we groaned out, ‘how foolish English women are, they can neither walk nor dress’. And then how ugly Miss sounds after Signorita; I am sorry for you all, it would do the whole tribe of you a great deal of good to come to Buenos Ayres.”

A sentiment echoed by sailors visiting Buenos Aires ever since.

The book, Fossils, Finches, and Fuegians chronicles the second voyage of the Beagle (Darwin wasn’t on the first) and is interspersed with many of Darwin’s letters home to his sister, and many letters between Darwin and FitzRoy, the captain. Darwin and FitzRoy liked each other, despite FitzRoy’s volatile temper. The blustery captain and the erudite ship’s naturalist seem to be a model for Aubrey and Maturin, the heroes of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series, and the movie of the same name.

The author, Richard Darwin Keynes, was Charles Darwin’s great-grandson. The author’s other great-grandfather was John Maynard Keynes, as in Keynesian Economics. What, did the English intellectual class gather every year to marry off their daughters?

From a sailor’s perspective it’s fascinating to read about an early expedition to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. They anchored in all the same places I did (and where Captain Joshua Slocum did) in the Straits of Magellan. When the Beagle anchored in Puerto Tamar, Bahia Fortescue, and Charles III Island, they were looking for protection from there same nasty winds (video here), and worrying about dragging into the exact same places.

With advances in technology and perspectives it isn’t easy to share an experience with someone from 175 years ago, but for a sailor the Straits of Magellan haven’t changed, and having GPS and a a radio makes little difference when a 100-knot williwaw blows down on you. A diesel engine, however, makes a very big difference.

The captain of the the first Beagle expedition, Pringle Stokes, found the western entrance to the Straits so miserable that after fighting storms for a month he put a bullet in his head. Unfortunately the bullet didn’t kill him, and he died of gangrene twelve days later. It’s the curse of the Beagle: FitzRoy committed suicide later in life too.

Time has not been kind to the Fuegians either: Christina Calderon, the last full blood Yamana, died a few years before I got to Puerto Williams, Chile. In Puerto Eden, Chile, I saw the last of the Kawascar living in a few squalid huts. That was in 2007, so I’m not sure how many are left now.

One reviewer called Fossils, Finches, and Fuegians the latest addition to the Darwin industry. I didn’t know there was a Darwin industry, but apparently many books have been written on the subject. I feel like I started reading in the right place, as this book doesn’t get too bogged down in the science, and portrays a more human story of young men on a grand adventure. Half the story is told in Darwin’s own words, through his journals and correspondence; the other half by a direct descendant, who fills in the gaps.

Delta Dreaming

Clark August 2nd, 2013

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I feel like the Schultes or Amy Schaefer, but I’ve got a kid, so now I’m writing about cruising with kids too:
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The first trick is you’ve got to bring one of these things, a Jumparoo:
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It guarantees at least two hours per day of uninterrupted relaxation time, while he just bounces away. We got some strange looks from other boats, and some have questioned the safety of such an apparatus aboard a boat. To them I say ha, you obviously didn’t see this:
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And of course there were the requisite baths in the galley sink, notable moments for me in the succession of sailing generations:
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For those unfamiliar with it, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is over a thousand miles of waterways, which are at least twenty degrees warmer, in both air and water temperature, than nearby San Francisco.

In the delta you run aground a lot.

Running aground in the delta is almost a sport, but some don’t have as much fun with it as I do. Some sailing friends made their first foray to the delta a few years ago, and motored back that night, declaring it was no place for sailors. In my estimation the worst thing that could happen to you out there is to end up against one of the rock levees in a good wind and chop. Even in this case you probably couldn’t ever lose your boat, although it would get all banged up. If you did lose your boat, you could just step onto the levee as it was going down. I just can’t envision too many life-threatening situations out there. In contrast, any grounding in say, the Tuamotus, is immediately life-threatening.

Most groundings in the delta are soft, although there are a few fallen trees (I hit one this time, twice, coming and going). Most of the time you can just reverse off, sometimes you’ll need to kedge, and sometimes you’ll be truly stuck until the turn of the tide. None of this scares me in the least, so I pilot my boat like a maniac out there, but my boat is full keel and balances herself nicely on the hard. I’d say we touched bottom 30-40 times, reversed out of being stuck another twenty times, had to rock the boat or redistribute weight to get the boat unstuck another couple of times, and got truly stuck, as in for hours, three times.

Here’s the best of them. This was after a lovely night at anchor, then noticing, “Hey, I think we’re aground. Yep, sure are. Oops, the tide is going out. We’re going to be here a few hours.”:
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By the way, that anchorage was in sight of Interstate 5:
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I think the next place to the south where you can reach I5 by water is Mission Bay in San Diego, and I think the next place to the north is the Columbia River, on the Oregon/Washington border. We couldn’t hear the traffic, but the flashing lights of a truck stop made for a curious riddle one night.

One night we swung into the trees just after dinner. I thought it would be romantic to spend the night in an arboreal ecosystem, but our weekend guests said the branches rubbing against the side of the hull all night sounded like a badly-tuned cello and kept them up:
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I’d heard The Meadows was one of the highlights of the delta, so we tried to explore it with some friends who’d driven out from San Francisco for the day with their baby boy, who is the same age as ours. We turned a corner into what looked like the heart of The Meadows to see houseboats lined up in either direction, a couple dozen, at least. Most looked like they’d staked their claim for the season, or at least the week, and had floating pontoons, ski boats, and all matter of water toys. We, not to be outdone, had four adults, two babies, and the aforementioned Jumparoo on the aft deck.

We idled along the row of houseboats, waving mutual understanding (it was about cocktail hour, or rather, it’s always cocktail hour in the delta) when I saw the depthsounder go from skinny water to no water. I threw it in reverse and gunned it, to be met with a horrible crash that rocked the boat. This was not a rock that I’d hit. This was the dinghy, which I’d forgotten we’d been towing, being pulled by its painter into Condesa’s propeller. Like, the dinghy was four feet under water. The engine died, of course, and we were adrift. I ran up and dropped the anchor, with an audience of about 100 scrutinizing my seamanship, or lack thereof.

To digress, I once wrote an article for SAIL called Inflatable Nirvana, in which I enumerated all my favorite dinghy tricks, one of which was to put a float in the middle of your painter, to prevent precisely this from happening. Here is the photo from that article:
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In the intervening years those floats became sunbaked and brittle and broke off. And that nice new painter has now been hacked off the prop shaft with a bread knife, by me, to the cheers of a hundred houseboaters when the dinghy leapt out of the water, bruised but not broken.

The houseboaters offered lots of help and encouragement, and instead of pretending like I knew where I was going I asked them about water depths and a possible anchorage. We tried, but soon touched bottom again, and we limped out the slough we came in on. Not my finest hour.

We ate, drank, explored, and ran aground for a full twelve days. Our dog Lola is in heaven out there:
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Alison likes it too:
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As is now our tradition, we stopped for the night in Benicia on the way back and ate oysters at Sailor Jack’s. Before, with the dog, they put us out on the patio. Now, with the dog and the baby, the tuck us away in this secret outdoor alcove we never knew they had, far from all other customers.

Condesa Tsunami

Clark March 16th, 2011

My dad called me at 7AM: “Have you been watching the news?”

I was up, but hadn’t heard a thing. After a briefing I was in the car and off to Condesa at T minus 30 minutes. Condesa and I have been through four deadly tsunamis in the last six years, and we know the drill: Head for deep water!

Bobbing between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate at 8AM, waiting for a tsunami to blow into the Bay, I noticed the other like-minded mariners were those who make their livings from their boats–the fishermen, the excursion boats, and all the Coast Guard and police boats. Condesa and her next door neighbor, who I woke up and gave my opinion about tsunamis and the better side of caution, were the only two pleasure yachts out there.

As it turned out, the tsunami was a non-event in San Francisco Bay, and while I was bobbing out there I realized why: The narrow Golden Gate would provide a dampening effect.

The Coast Guard’s tsunami warning was from 7AM to 8:48AM, so at 9:30 I went back to the berth. I was too early. A few minutes later one of my neighbors yelled out, and over the next half hour we watched the tide pump up and down two or three feet at a time, making five or six cycles over twenty minutes.

When I got home I saw footage of Santa Cruz, Crescent City, and of course Japan. Many flashbacks to the Southeast Asian tsunami.

Boatyard Dog

Clark January 17th, 2010

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This is Lola. Here I am forty, and this is my first dog. There was a time in the not too distant past when I might have said disparaging things about pet dogs like, “They’re just hanging around for the free food. Stop feeding them and see how long they’re man’s best friend.”

I have been attacked by dogs twice. The first time, when I was too young to remember, I needed two stitches in my face for a bite from a family friend’s golden retriever named Happy. The other time, about ten years ago, I needed 35 stitches in my hands and wrists from an encounter with a Costa Rican guard dog named Blackie. So I’ve never been what you’d call a dog person. My family always had cats. I never disliked dogs; I was just a dog realist. Well, Lola changed all that. Actually Alison changed all that, but Lola is the result.

We adopted her from Baja California a few weeks ago, and so far, so good: No pooping on the floor, no barking to piss off the neighbors, just dog fun and companionship…the whole dog experience. I see why people who have dogs live longer. Dogs get you out of the house to walk twice a day, and there is always someone who’s happy to see you when you get home.

But there are a few things I didn’t know about owning a dog. A dog gives anyone, anyone, an excuse to talk to you. No introductions, no talk about the weather, just straight into midstream dogspeak right from the get-go. It’s worse than owning a boat. There is an entire world of dogs, dog owners, dog walkers, and dog parks, which I’ve been completely oblivious to my entire life, and now I’m part of it.

Dogs can’t climb ladders, or at least Lola can’t. I guess I sort of knew that, but it’s really come to a head when I’ve taken her along to work in boatyards.

When it looks like they’re fighting, they’re really just playing. As long as the tails are wagging, it’s all OK. I thought Lola was attacking neighborhood dogs and I regularly yanked her off her feet by her leash, but it’s just spirited play, with lots of teeth.

Made the Paper

Clark June 23rd, 2008

I’m small town famous:

She plays me out to be quite the daredevil…and a small correction, that’s an 800-foot container ship, not an 80-foot container ship.

The Accident Story

Clark June 3rd, 2008

The legal battles are over and the Library of Congress has finally reverted the publication rights to the author, me. For the first time on the web you can read the Condesa container ship accident story by clicking here.

If you’ve already read it in the magazine this version is pretty much the same.

Looking back at over two years since the accident and one year since the story was published, I’m still an idiot. How in the hell did I get run over by an 800-foot container ship? You’d think something that big would be easy to avoid.

I mentioned before that AIS (Automatic Identification System) could be the answer and could have prevented this disaster. AIS is the answer, and in the last year these units have come down in price and are starting to be standard equipment on cruising yachts. I’m sure that in another year or two they’ll be as common as radar. I’m not going to run out and buy one today because I’m planning on staying put for a while, but I will certainly have one aboard the next time I do any serious cruising.

AIS is getting a lot of talk these days. In the May issue of SAIL, Steve Dashew penned an article on the subject, in which he mentions me in the first line. (I’m famous! I’m famous! I’m the poster boy of marine accidents, even two years after the fact!) Ben Ellison has something new to say about AIS almost every month, either in print or on

So if you haven’t already read it, enjoy the accident story. If you happen to be on a boat, wait until you’re on land before reading. This is the story that cruisers tell their children to scare them into staying awake on watch.

Finding Crew

Clark May 3rd, 2008

Looking back on the 6000 or so miles since the Horn, I’ve sailed 80% of it solo. Some of this has been by choice, but for the most part I would rather have had company. In desolate Patagonia there are really no options: There’s just nobody around. Once I did start meeting people, I never knew quite what I was getting. People never really think about it, but almost everyone we meet in daily life comes through ‘the filter.’ If someone is a friend of a friend, or a member of the same organization, chances are that by the time we meet them there are many compounded years of others knowing this person. Once they get to us, we can be pretty sure they’re not a psychopath, otherwise the filter would have filtered them out long ago. On the road there is no filter, and people who seem quite normal and charming to begin with can end up being trouble. But of course not everyone is trouble. Sometimes these encounters can be just peachy, but they seldom last.

Take this guy, Nick:

He was a good surfer and a professional volleyball player. We could have volleyball sharked our way up the coast and made a mint, but Nick had to go back to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, to sell real estate.

Then there’s good old Larry:

After a few days Larry had to go back to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, to sell real estate. Is every gringo in Central America selling real estate? Yes, every gringo in Central America is selling real estate.

Then there was Max, a perfect example of what can happen without the filter:

Everything started out great with Max, but then he drank all the beer in the bar and peed all over my shoulder. I’m not kidding; he really did drink all the beer and peed on me. Et tu, Max?

I tried sailing for a while with my brother Rufus, but as you can see, Rufus is mentally challenged:

I had to tape foam rubber on all the sharp corners around the boat, and keep Rufus tightly secured in his harness.

“Pull the rope, Rufus!”
“OK Clar, I pull the rope!”

The rope just led to a piece of bungee cord on the foredeck, but it kept Rufus busy. Having Rufus aboard was a bad idea and we were both badly injured. Now he’s getting the kind of professional care he deserves.

Of course there was Norman. You remember Norman. Our time was short, and Norman was gone as quickly as he came. Where are you now, Norman? Where are you now?

I did my stint with the Bond Girls:

But geeze, all the nudity and public bathing. Really disgusting. And making me all those crepes and home cooked meals: What am I, a little kid? I had to ask them to leave.

There was this nutter I picked up wandering the wharf in Mazatlan. Glad I got rid of him:

And of course there were the romantic liaisons. A sailor has a girl in every port, right? They’ve been hit and miss. There was Imelda:

But her passion burned too strong to sustain. Perhaps I’m not man enough for this much woman.

I’ve recovered from the tragedy of Bianca. We were deeply in love, but the cultural differences could never be bridged. Her family would never accept me, and we had to return to our respective worlds. I still hold hope in my heart that the world will become a more accepting place and we’ll have another chance at love someday:

Then, when I least expected it, there she was. It’s funny how you can search and search for something, then when you give up the search, there it is in front of you. She was basking in the surf. A mermaid, she was! All her curves and feminine charms gloried under the sun and the eyes of God. The sea water glistened off her body, and she was looking longingly at Condesa before I even approached. She had adventure in her eyes and voyaging in her heart. I walked up to her, ankle deep in the surf, snapped this photo, and the rest is history:

Kudos to Matt for posting this manually, since we’re still having problems with the website.

Cabo San Lucas

Clark May 1st, 2008

Condesa is now anchored in Cabo San Lucas, amid squadrons of sea lice (jet skis). At the moment there are no less than four giant cruise ships anchored in the bay, with their shoreboats running round-the-clock carrying passengers ashore to shop before ferrying them back out the the feeding troughs. Cabo is still a beautiful place and the water is clear. I just wish they could turn down the volume a bit. The dry desert air has made all the ropes on Condesa stiff and cranky, and the sails are so dry and stiff I can’t get the covers over them.

Since the last post I’ve had visitors galore, now that I’m getting close to California and cheap flights. After my mom left Bahia Tenacatita I sailed to Yelapa to meet my stepmom, little brother and sister for my stepmom’s 50th birthday. Yelapa is still charming, but a few days is just the right amount of time to spend there. There are some resident American hippies who are fun to get to know at first, but you can just tell that if you stayed around long enough you’d end up with a shiv in your kidney. One guy was pumping up a fire on the beach for a big full moon party. When it didn’t materialize we asked him what happened the next day: ‘Why the fuck does everyone need me to make a fucking fire?’ (Maybe because you were the one going around all day saying you were going to make a fire on the beach?)

I charged 200 miles north to Mazatlan, where Elias met me to sail across the Sea of Cortez. We caught a big mahi mahi right outside of Cabo, which I’m still eating my way through. Elias left Tuesday and had to get a steroid shot back in the US for all his jellyfish stings. Good times.

My dad gets here on Saturday to do the final push back to California.

Unfortunately this website is still experiencing technical difficulties, so I can’t upload any photos. I could repeat what the problem is, but it would just confuse us all…something about the cat, chased by the dog that turns the fan that pushes the bits down the Internets. Internet cafes have been few and far between, so now I’m getting caught up.

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