Cruisin' Aboard Ketch 22

May 12, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez 1


(Musings by C. B. Mosher)


Begin in Loreto. There’s a small airport by the Sea. Just outside the terminal, the environment is immediately categorizable.


After sailing from Loreto out of Puerto Escondido, we anchor the boat in a small bay of turquoise water, surrounded by rock walls on three sides with a small, empty-looking sand beach. Agua Verde, this bay is accurately named. We dinghy ashore to see if the “restaurant” is open.


“Restaurant?” I don’t see a structure anywhere.

But, as we approach the beach, I see, where the sand gives way to the cactus and scrub beyond, a barely visible primitive structure.


We wade ashore, shoes at first wet, then full of sand. There’s a grass roof on this structure, which looks to be just four posts protruding from the sand. As we approach, a small brown table of crude wood and four similarly constructed and colored chairs separate from the sand of the same color.


Three women emerge from the shadows beneath the roof. They greet us, ask us if we wish to eat, bid us sit down.

We order beer – Ballenas – much touted by my two fellow mariners, and the only thing on the menu – fish tacos.

I’m a little concerned about sanitation, given my grumpy intestines which, ever since a brutal siege of dysentery acquired in Bolivia and enduring well thru graduation from Med School in New York, have rebelled every time I’ve gone to Mexico.

I need to pee. Their “bathroom” is a crude rectangle of blue plastic behind the restaurant. I push aside the plastic cutain of a door, then push my way thru a swarm of flies and dense vapors of excrement. The source of the vapors stares up at me from a hole in the sand. The head on the boat looks pretty good, now.

Back at the table, I see one woman cheerfully pour flour into a battered aluminum can (probably once held canned peaches). She then pours in some water. She plunges her fist into the can and begins to work it while the other two deep-fry their husbands’ catch of the day on a camp stove.

“What are your names?” the Dueña asks.

“Carlos,” I respond, comforted to think that the tortillas she is making will be fried to a temperature lethal to most bugs before we are served. “And this is Tomás,” I point to Tom. “And Tomás,” I point to the other Tom. “Easy to remember.”

She laughs, removes her dough-covered hand from the can, and points. “You are Tomás Uno and you,” she moves her finger, “are Tomás Dos.”

These guys are both so mellow that I know they won’t fight over it.

The fresh tortillas and fried fish are delicious. The beer is delicious. Our Mexican hosts are delightful. Agua Verde is paradise.


(Photos by C. B. Mosher and T. Marlow)

May 16, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez 2


I’m worried about our keel as we sail south, with the rocky coast of the Baja Peninsula no more than a few hundred yards off our starboard beam. Will some hidden rock tear out our bottom?


“We’re sailing right over the San Andreas fault,” Tom Uno explains.

Then, looking at the mountain range – the Sierra de la Giganta – it’s clear how the leading edge of the Pacific Plate in crumpling up and over the subducting North American Plate of the Mexican mainland, 150 miles to the east. Peaks up to seven thousand feet loom to define the “Mountains of the Giantess,” then drop precipitously into a canyon, over which we float. I can visualize the rock above the water continuing its plunge to profound depths below us.

We troll a fishing line behind us, hoping for a non-spaghetti dinner, but nobody bites by the time we enter the bay known for the deserted “Casa Grande” of Timbabiche. The bay is an open crescent, exposed from the NNE to the SSE.

“Most winds come from the southwest,” Tom Uno explains. “Katabatic winds of cool Pacific air roaring down from the mountains. Coromuels, they’re called. We need to anchor where we’ll avoid the fetch and where, if we drag, the boat won’t hit a rock wall.”

As with Agua Verde, there’s plenty of rock wall flanking a small beach within this bay. Captain Tom chooses his location and depth, then Tom Dos and I control the gypsy windlass, letting out anchor chain. In fifteen feet of water, we let out 90 feet of steel chain as a breeze blows us back from the anchor. After it digs into the bottom, we sit a while, watching landmarks to be certain we aren’t dragging the anchor.


Satisfied, we dinghy to the beach to explore it and the estuary behind it. Except for a paint-splattered, well worn fishing panga, beached on the sand, we’re the only ones there. Telltale fan-shaped disturbances on the sand at water’s edge reveal where blue-legged crabs have burrowed. Tom Dos digs one out for a photo. For a small animal, it makes a lot of noise, clacking its mouthparts in anger, flailing its pinchers in search of a piece of Tom.


Beyond the beach, among the dry, twisted, thorny bushes, someone watches us from his perch.


“He’s eyeing the crab, right?” I ask.

“Not ready to be recycled yet?” one of the Toms smirks. “When was your last confession?”

The strip of green flanking a brackish estuary provides food for a different bird.


At dusk, the wind begins its skid down the Giantess’ peaks, as predicted. We eat, sip libations, and, as if mimicking the Coromuel’s action, slide into philosophical stuff:

“This reminds me of the sessions we’d have in college, debating the Meaning of Life.”

“I went to a Catholic college. We weren’t allowed to discuss such things unless the archbishop had approved the answer in advance.”

“We all went to Catholic colleges. Yours wasn’t a Jesuit college, obviously. But you were allowed to drink, I assume.”

“Oh, yeah. Drink. And drive.”

“Any accidents?”

And we all three recalled our near-fatals.

“Here’s a question: how did we survive those teen years?”

Then it’s time for a trip to the head. So I take the plastic bucket with a line attached, climb up the companionway, drop the bucket overboard to fill it, haul it back, then carry it down to the head so I can flush when finished. Repeat the process to supply the next flush.

My bunk is directly over the fuel tank, so I fall asleep inhaling diesel vapors. They must effect my dreams, because I hear Sirens wailing like gusting winds topside, homicidal mermaids plucking lines against the masts, and rabid seagulls regurgitating wet fish parts all over the deck.

Not hallucinations. The coromuel tears at our flags, violently slaps lines, and stretches the anchor chain into a rigid cable as the wind tries to rip us free. Rain splatters all over us for a couple of hours as the wind whips the boat in an arc around the buried anchor. Fearing “anchor drag,” Tom Uno sets the GPS to alarm if we move from our position beyond than the arc.
The waves, however, are minimal – not much fetch – so we don’t roll or pitch or yaw. Back to sleep.

In the morning, the drying of soaked cushions begun, the flushing by bucket finished, and the first coffee swallowed, we prepare to sail out over Saint Andreas’ canyon again.

“What did keep us alive thru those Altar Boy years?”

“Luck,” one of us figures. “Just luck.”

“So how do we pay back Society for that gift?”

“Well, we’re all 70, or nearly so in Tom Uno’s case. One of us must surely have discovered the Meaning of Life by now. Maybe we should share that with today’s college kids.”

“Something to think about,” Captain Tom Uno allows. “Time to weigh anchor.”



(photos by T. Marlow)

May 19, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez 3


“Aquarium of the World”: Jacques Cousteau’s term for this Sea.

For two days, as we sail south from Loreto to Agua Verde, to Timbabiche, now on toward Bahia Evaristo, Tom Uno has towed a fishing line and lure.

“I’ve never gone this long without catching a fish in this sea,” he laments.

I look at the water’s surface, but I envision the world beneath. 950 species of fish, 10% of which are found nowhere else in the world; the rays, who swim in geometrically magnificent schools and break the surface to fly over the water, wings outstretched, raining diamonds; 120 species of sea mammals including multiple whale species, sea lions, dolphins and one smallish, unique creature – the Vaquita.

This latter, whose name means “little Cow,” is vanishing. They were rare to begin with – only about 500 in 1997, but are down to an estimated 150 individuals now. These accidental victims of the nets of large fishing trawlers are the marine canary in the mine that is the World’s Aquarium. Marine biologists tell us that 85% of those fish species are being harvested beyond sustainability, that several of the sea mammals are nearing extinction, that the turtles are nearly gone and sharks are dying in large numbers because of the soup which demands their fins. And Marlin still hang from thick-timbered gallows at the Cabo pier, the prize of “Sport” fisherman.

On the land we sail past, the vegetation is sparse, thorny, and dry.

“You’d think those plants would just give up and relinquish their space to the rocks,” I muse.

Tom Dos offers his favorite axiom:

“Natural systems will do whatever they can, for as long as they can, until they can’t do it anymore.”

“You mean, these cacti?”

“As long as they can survive and reproduce, they will. They’re a Natural system.”

“Including the Pacific plate crunching itself up into the Mountains of the Giantess?” I test his axiom further.

“Nothing’s stopped it yet.”

I don’t care about the trawlers’ profits, but how, I wonder as we sail into Bahia Evaristo, are the 60,000 Mexicans who depend on the sea for their lives, going to make it?

Here, there are four or five other boats. We anchor, then dinghy over to snorkel.

It’s a wonderful flashback to visits I made to this Sea in 1972 and 1988 to sprawl out on the water, facedown, breathing thru a snorkel. I’d forgotten the continuous crackle and hiss of the ocean in your ears; the taste of salt in your mouth. Beneath you, flows the submerged shoreline of sedimentary rocks welded together by old lava flow.

But there are few fish. A translucent needle fish, maybe eight inches long and half inch thick; small schools of yellow and black striped three inchers; an occasional lonely clown-fish. Some of the rocks have pale corral attached in the shapes of an underwater cactus or a human brain.

In the late afternoon, our radio squawks: “Attention boats in Evaristo Bay. The best food is now fresh and waiting for you at Lupe Sierra’s restaurant.”

Her voice is as Gringo as they come.

The family structure at the restaurant mirrors that of Agua Verde: husband fishes; wife cooks; kids play.

A blonde American woman drifts between the outdoor tables and the kitchen inside, mixing familiarly with the Mexican family.

The menu is in English, and apparently never changes.

The fisherman tells me that, yes, fishing is harder than it was in years past. And catches are smaller. But, he assures us, he has fresh Pargo (snapper) and excuses himself to cook it.

His son, home from college in La Paz, tells us that he’s majoring in Eco-tourism, and plans to develop such a program here in Evaristo, with his girlfriend. No, he won’t become a fisherman.

The fish tacos are yummy, the view takes in the handful of sailboats and many panga fishing boats. We walk the beach, then the desert hills flanking the restaurant.

We weave among the cacti, the myriad bleached bones of sea birds – hollow, delicate, gracefully curved – and the basura (garbage) to a point overlooking the sea, adjacent to the lighthouse.

“They’re fishing it to death,” one of us observes with sadness, looking at the turquoise jewel below the cliff.

“They know it, too. “If they left the sea alone for a while, it might recover.”

“They’ll do what they do until they can’t do it anymore.”

There is a small de-salination plant across the bay. A gift from some international agency, maintained by Public Works from La Paz.

Fresh water, I recall my research on the deteriorating ecology of the Sea. The natural infusion of fresh water into the northern reach of the Sea no longer exists. The Colorado river dried up – somewhere to the north – in 1999.

“Tourism in place of fishing,” Tom Uno ruminates. “They tried that. Built a lot of hotels for the Gringo trade, including the sailboats. Then the Recession of 2008 hit. Lots of empty hotels, still. Not many Americans buying boats.”

“Then what?”

“Canadians. More and more boats from B.C. and other provinces came down.”

“Like an invasive species into an emptying sea?” I analogize.

The sailboat anchored closest to the beach is painted “Willful Simplicity.”

“Lots of rogue males live aboard their boats,” Tom Dos educates me. Not this one, however. The blonde woman of radio and restaurant fame lives there with her husband.

In the restaurant, we sit sipping fluids, allowing the family to enjoy their final meal of Semana Sancta together. Son and his novia will return to La Paz afterward, and Evaristo will sink back into the torpor of a small fishing village of a dozen or so homes.

The Gringo owner of the permanently moored sloop strikes up with us while his wife promotes the restaurant to all the boats listening on local net.

“We came down five years ago. Sold everything in the Bay Area, and we live here now.”

“What do you do?”

He takes another sip of beer. “Oh, sometimes we cruise. Occasionally, fish. Mostly relax.”

For five years? the three of us each think.

“How long do you figure to stay here?”

Another sip of beer. Around one of the ankles of his bare feet he wears a bracelet of woven strings, like the other around his wrist. His T-shirt reads “Old Guys Yacht Club”. Swim trunks finish what obviously, is his daily dress.

“Evaristo is our home,” he smiles.

My eyes shoot again to the desert surrounding us. To the left, a few crude houses and beached panga fishing boats. To the right, three more crude houses and two pangas. We sit on the porch of the only restaurant and store in Evaristo. The sea laps, oblivious to us.

“We just do what we do,” he clarifies, finishing his beer, then he rises from the chair to get another.

For as long as you can do it – – – I finish the axiom silently.


(photos by Tom Marlow )

May 28, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez 4 – Antarctica

Baja California – A Different Antarctica

North: The leading edge of the North American Plate scrapes up the sea floor of the Pacific Plate. Mantle rocks, metamorphed, crumple to the surface. The volcanoes of Baja vent the energy. Pink pyroclastic flow welds to the mantle’s serpentine, and gray mud flows down the flanks of the Three Virgins volcanoes to create plains.


South: Beneath the ice dome – 13,000 feet thick in some places – the rock continent of Antarctica has also spawned living volcanoes. Mount Erebus on Greater Antarctica is still active and steaming, and more recently, an active volcano has been discovered beneath the ice.


North: Scraggly succulents cling to the rock and sand of Baja – a landscape predominantly barren. There are rare oases of pine in deep valleys where seasonal rains briefly collect. Salt-tolerant mangroves line estuaries where the water evaporates, increasing its salt content. A few animals can survive here: scorpions, snakes, coyotes, the rare mountain lion.

South: This continent, one and a half times the size of the U.S., is all rock. Some of it so laden with minerals that its dust is sterile – not even appropriately called “soil.” On the slightly richer land of the Peninsula, algae, lichen and mosses compose most of the life. There are only two species of vascular plants, neither taller than 1.5 inches.

Animals? Tiny insects only.

North: The roads of Baja, piercing the sand and rock, occasionally cross surprisingly long bridges. No water flows beneath them, but wide swaths of violent erosion snaking down from the Sierra, slithering beneath the bridge, and out into the Sea are evidence of seasonal flash flooding.


South: The rivers of Antarctica follow a different time frame – they are always present, always flowing, always frozen, always eroding.


North: Baja, of course, is a desert. Annual rainfall just 8.5 inches at LaPaz.

South: Falling onto the great dome of ice which contains 70 % of the entire fresh water supply of Earth, is less than 5 inches of water a year. As snow, of course. A drier desert than Baja.

Both places are famous for their hostile weather. Katabatic winds sweep down on the Sea of Cortez from between the peaks of the Sierra like the Hashishans of Afghanistan. They attack in the night, blowing hard and swirling, confusing sailors who must pick a protected anchorage. Often, the wind will shift 180o at night, frustrating such attempts.

The katabatic winds of Antarctica, gaining velocity as cold, dense air sinks down from mountain peaks buried by ice to a height of 13,860 feet, can reach 150 m.p.h. by the time they scour the glaciers. These dry, cold hurricane-force winds have stripped entire valleys of their snow, ice and soil.

The most dreaded of Mexican weather – hurricanes (aka Tropical Cyclones) – have never achieved such velocities, but are powerful enough to have shredded marinas and cities – most recently the resort cities of Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.


The hostility of these lands to Life is a dramatic contrast to what teems beneath their water.

North: The Sea of Cortez – dubbed by Costeau as “The World’s Aquarium” has over 5000 species of micro-invertebrates which feed starfish, oysters, crabs, lobsters and those edible “locusts of the sea,” shrimp.

Working up the food chain, 900 species of fish prey on the invertebrates, then become prey in turn to hundreds species of larger fish and sea mammals.

Whales are numerous, including the small Minke, bigger-than-dinosaurs Blue, Moby-Dick Sperm, and acrobatic Humpback.

South: A similar, but much simpler food chain teems within the ocean of highest bio-productivity on the planet. The Southern Ocean is just one twentieth of the world’s seawater, but produces one fifth of all oceans’ carbon life forms. Blooms of phytoplankton feed dense explosions of krill. Not a shrimp, we’re told, but sure looks like that crustacean. It feeds fish, squid, penguins, albatross, petrals, seals and even the Humpback whale. One Humpback may swallow up to a ton of krill a day. In this Ocean, such a level of feeding is sustainable.

The whales of Antarctica includes some species familiar to the Sea of Cortez: Sperm, Minke, Blue, Humpback.


On the frigid seafloor live urchins, stars, worms, and other colorful invertebrates. Different species, but similar life forms to the warm Sea thousands of miles north.

Predators: the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California or the Vermillion Sea) hosts several species of shark, including the Hammerhead. Eight hundred pound Sea lions prowl.

The Southern Ocean is stalking grounds of the Leopard Seal, similar in weight to the Sea Lion. He’s a no-nonsense hunter whose only match is the Killer Whale.


South: Of the Southern Ocean birds, the penguin is best known. Appealingly clumsy and anthropomorphic, it reminds us of one year old children learning to walk. But when it hits the water, it’s a well equipped torpedo. Above, albatross with ten foot wingspans (largest of all birds) and heads the size of a man’s drift and hunt. They are airborne most of their lives, seldom flapping their glider wings


North: No albatross here, but the pelagic piscivore in this ecological niche is the Frigate Bird. Similar in shape, nearly as large as the albatross, he also soars over open water, seldom flapping his wings and never landing on water.


Pelicans, though not torpedoes like penguins, may well appear to be a water-going missile – for an instant anyway – to a fish too close to the surface.

These two seas, so different from each other in obvious ways and so distant geographically, are nonetheless both crucial to the planet and intimately connected with each other.

The Aquarium of the World, with its deep underwater canyons plunging to almost two miles, is one of the world’s richest fisheries. It can feed a large portion of the people living near it, if we use it wisely, or it can collapse if we continue to abuse it.

The Southern Ocean, and the massive Ice Dome of the continent the ocean surrounds (ironically shaped like a Sea of Cortez stingray), maintain both the planet’s balance of heat and the circulation of all the oceans, including Baja’s Sea.

The albedo of the Ice Dome reflects back 80% of solar radiation, preventing uncontrolled heating, while the very cold, very dense Antarctic Bottom Water, plummeting to the sea floor, drives the circulation of the ocean currents as if it were the planet’s heart.

The Southern Ocean, unlike the Sea of Cortez, is the most pristine of all seas. Protecting its 10,000 species and its role in circulation of the oceans may depend on how well we learn the lessons from the warm Sea to the north.

(photos by C. B. Mosher, Sarah Mosher, and T. Marlow )

June 2, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez 5

It Doesn’t Pay to be a Fish

A narrow opening to the west brings us into the cove. To the north and south, Caleta Partida is steep cliffs of volcanic rock and clinging cactus plunging straight into the sea. A narrow little beach sparkles at the western side.


Mexican fishermen have created a fish camp on a strip up against the sheer rock walls. Their panga sits near the narrow beach, awaiting launch at 4 A.M.


“Sometimes, in the dark,” Tom Uno tells us, “the pangas turn the sea neon in their wake.”

“Phosphorescence,” I nod. I’ve seen it.

The sea turns electric when disturbed by prop or hull. Crossing the Pacific in my brother’s sailboat, our wake glowed with an iridescent green. In the Southern Ocean, our icebreaker ignited the water into a thousand July 4th sparklers. The red tide in Malibu was a psychedelic light show orchestrated by our legs.

“And sometimes,” Tom Uno adds, “when a dolphin swims past at night, its entire body glows with the colors of that phosphorescence. In the blackness,” – his voice drops to a whisper as if in church – “this glowing form swims by, like a shell of moving electricity with a black, empty shape inside – the perfectly shaped form of the invisible dolphin.”

Anchored within 100 yards of the northern wall, we do dinner and margaritas as the sun and horizon team up to put on such a magnificent display that we put down our drinks and applaud. Pink Floyd provides the soundtrack from below deck.


As dusk deepens to where our eyes can’t separate the black volcanic rock from the water, there’s a loud splash. Then, quickly, another. Three more. And then, it’s serial dive-bombing.

“Tough on the fish,” Tom Uno observes.

Then he follows up with his axiom.

He points toward the uniform darkness where the wall and water should be separate. White flashes of foam, like briefly blooming flowers, appear within the blackness, then settle back onto the invisible surface. A flower follows every splash, throughout the strafing.

Splash! Splash ! Splash !

“How do the birds see fish in this darkness?” One of us wonders aloud.

I try to squeeze myself into a pelican’s brain.

I look down at the sea below me as I circle it, hungry, but knowing, somehow, where the fish will be at dusk.

I know also where the surface between air and water is: the Interface. I can feel the pressure on my wings as I approach it. I have learned how to use that pressure to glide over the water, almost touching it.

My meals never swim above that Interface. But this time of day, they congregate just beneath it. I see them as clearly as I see my fellow birds, but the silly little fish, hunting for insects on the surface of that thin Interface, must believe themselves invisible. Not to us superior beings who fly above them, living in three dimensions.

When I was younger, watching the fish teem like this, I got tempted to just plunge my bill in at a random spot – there’s bound to be fish wherever I hit, I figured. But repeated dives and an empty beak taught me that I’d have to focus on just one, and make a precise dive for it.

One like – – – that one.

My eyes lock onto it. I point down and plummet. The pressure against my body rises as I dive. My eyes follow the swimming, meandering meal. My wings adjust my trajectory. When the pressure tells me that I’m approaching the Interface, I fold my wings back, open my beak and plunge through.

In the world where the fish live, I can’t fly, but my feet steer me. The water slows my dive. I stop, then pop up to the air side of Interface. My meal flaps inside my beak.

It’s good to be a pelican.


It just doesn’t pay to be a fish.

(photos by Tom Marlow )

June 5, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez – 6



June, 2015 Isla San Francisco


Overhead the Frigate Bird hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves in labyrinths of coral caves – – –


Tom Uno left the U.S. nine years ago. He and Ketch 22 sailed from San Francisco down Baja, up the Sea to ports along the Mexican mainland, his twin sails, like the wings of a biplane, slicing the air of our world to navigate the liquid of another world, beneath the reeling and cawing of scavenging sea birds.




As the horizon of water eclipsed the greed-and-murder filled world of Bush, sailor and boat drove south: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama. Then east: the Canal, Cuba, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Roatan, Isla Mujeres.


No one showed us to the land
No one knows the Wheres and Whys – – –


“I had my music,” Tom Uno says, answering a question I was entertaining without voicing.

“Put on Pink Floyd,” Tom Dos requests as we approach another Margarita sunset.

Good call, Tom Dos. I’m impressed.

Tom Uno plays the music that makes his soul dance. Tom Dos and I release our souls to join in the choreography.

“I have a friend,” Tom Uno smiles, “a lot younger than us. Likes my music. He says ‘your generation had it made: Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. You left us with AIDS, Crack cocaine and Rap.’

I know I have all the important songs too, as much a 60’s and 70’s music freak as the Toms appear to be.

But I don’t.

I thought I’d compiled all the soundtracks of my joyously chaotic and chemically enhanced memories, but Tom Uno has one I’m shocked I’d forgotten.

“Play it,” I ask Tom Uno, almost whispering. Almost worshipping.

It’s psychologically brilliant. Inspired by a schizophrenic genius, completed by minds that dared to explore what lay just beyond the Doors of Perception.

Executed by mere kids – still too undamaged by society to self-censor, too honest not to reveal their hearts and souls.

Technically, it’s brilliant for the times. Way back in the early 70’s, they orchestrated human voice with synthesized sounds, then used the slow, gradual crescendo to tantalize. Most Rock musicians are too impatient for this.

Could I do that? Or am I too over-trained by society? Is access to and the sharing of that depth, that honesty, perhaps only possible when you’re still young enough to be naïve?


The echo of a distant tide
Comes willowing across the sand – – –


The sand between my toes, scalding beneath the hydrogen bomb that powers our lives, rasped my skin 40 years ago on a beach outside San Felipe, far to the north of this Margarita sunset, echoing across the distance and time to when we waded into the water, seeking respite, just as the Northern Baja tide began its flood, surrounding our skin in its slow trickle of jewels, glittering, sparkling crystalline – I had to squint – we rolled onto our backs and floated, hallucinating who and what swam beneath us in the warm Sea as the tide flooded into a current, creeping higher up the receding beach and carrying us now, floating and drifting, in what had become a river of diamonds, as we saw the land and our van float away, away, because the tides here are dramatic and where we had waded in on sand was now far, far below where our feet could reach and we were being swept to wherever it was that we were supposed to be.

We took it on faith.

Or some chemical likeness thereof.


But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb toward the light – – –




A ray breaks the surface of the diamond-dancing sea. He leaves a trail of suspended jewels in the air my Margarita and I inhabit, and splashes back to invisibility.

The world I am condemned to inhabit is scorched by the hydrogen bomb above and burned to dirt and rock. A world adequate for the occasional cactus, wounded, holes drilled into it by desperate birds, half dried into a skeleton yet clinging, clinging.

A world swirling with nocturnal winds that shift directions through the night to swing us dizzy on the anchor chain.

And right up the center of this world, filling the wound where The Giantess broke the land in half, the Sea of Rays has flooded in. Beneath the dark blue that colors the sky with its reflection, is another world I have only glimpsed from its upper 60 feet, requiring contraptions strapped to my back. A world that tempts me to dreams of darting fish like songbirds on wing, of sleek silver warriors in broad ranks with teeth like vipers, of undulating kelp forests, home to fat golden swimmers like Indonesian Birds of Paradise and scampering brittle stars who lie upon the forest floor, of vast reefs of hard exteriored animals who coalesce into protective societies of red and blue and gold and green – all colors hidden from our terrestrial eyes.

Somewhere in that world live a King and Queen, commandingly large, wise, gentle. Humpbacks. With summer castles of ice far to the north, who rule this Sea during the Mexican winter. A royal family capable of both breeching the surface and exploring 1000 feet down.

And the magic of such a world so close, so almost accessible – except for that air problem that almost killed me off La Bufadora – the beauty of such a place, forces me yet again to ask the god-question my human brain of logic had long ago answered in the negative. Then in floods the guilt of the pre-pubescent Altar Boy. In floods the Baltimore Catechism warning me not to enjoy this beauty lest I rot in Hell for Eternity.

And in floods the rage at being manipulated, yet again, to spoil my own joy.

The Gnostics had it right, I think. There is beauty everywhere, a product of the Great Flame which created the Universe. Except for us humans. We -poor wriggling worms – are defective from birth, self-destructive, greedy, homicidal. Every one of us imperfect. And fully aware of it.




We humans could not be products of The Flame. The perfect Beauty of everything around me – except each other – seems completely alien.

And, most cruelly, we know it. I know it.

The way I know it, the Gnostics teach, is that there is a tiny something within me – a mere Spark of The Flame – that creates an unrelenting drive to re-unite with the origin of that Spark. To re-unite with The Flame.

All my efforts from birth to death, have been and will be chaotic, inadequate efforts toward that reunion.

But meanwhile, I get glimpses. There are worlds other than ours, right here within reach. Most often, I don’t have the – what? Courage? Imagination? Vision? Faith? to do more than glance at their surfaces. Thing is, once, among the echoes of a distant time, I glimpsed what was beyond the Doors.

I put on mask and snorkel, jump in, and am immediately stricken by terror: Sharks! Sting Rays! Drowning! Death! Damnation!

And then, almost within reach of my hand, while above me a ray breaks the surface of the diamond-dancing sea, leaving a trail of suspended jewels in the air of the world I just left, a shell made of rainbowed electricity swims past in the shape of a dolphin.

And I am again stricken. This time, by Beauty.




(photos by Tom Marlow )

June 14, 2015

BLOG from the Sea of Cortez 7


Tres Vírgines


After a warm afternoon at Bahia Balandro, admiring the famous mushroom rock and less famous sandy beach, we sail toward our final mooring in La Paz. Tom Uno is retracing his previous route.




“I’m following my breadcrumbs,” he points to his GPS navigation device. “The red line is where we sailed coming north to Loreto. Now we follow it going back south.”

Or, you could – – –




“Look!” Tom Dos points behind us. Our wake dissolves back into the sea’s surface after 50 yards; a few hundred yards from our transom, we see white, disturbed water. Then, up from the surface like a nose-first submarine, a humpback spears the air, twists 180 degrees, spreads his flippers, and crashes back.

The foaming splash, like a monstrous water lily, spreads its tsunami petals to all compass points and rises on the horizon higher than our mast. Then a second whale breeches, twists, and crashes back with an explosion of water.

A dozen times over five to ten minutes, the two repeat the anticipatory breeching and monumental splashes.

“Why do they do that?” I muse aloud. Just in case one of the Toms has the answer. Mr. Google is unavailable.

“It’s always either food or sex,” Tom Uno philosophizes.


Sounds ridiculous to me. I take a breath, preparing to rebut. My mind races thru several species – including our own – looking for the debate points to negate his axiom. I end up having to exhale, wordless.

Once in the slip, Tom Uno assesses the wounds inflicted on Ketch 22 by its nine years of sailing. Like the skin of a mariner’s face – tanned to leather by sea salt, cracked by the sun, wrinkled by work and cold rain – his boat wears the evidence. (The Catch: The only way to keep your sailboat pristine is to not sail it.) The pump on the head doesn’t work (see BLOG # 2), the zipper on his dodger is so corroded it snaps in half, but most annoyingly, his wind vane atop the mast is broken.

“That damned osprey did it,” Tom Uno shakes his mop of salt-impregnated hair. “Let’s fix that.”




And he rigs a paint roller with plastic spikes, which we hoist on a broom handle. Goal is to make it uncomfortable for the bird to perch on – and break – the wind direction vane while looking for food.




Or sex.

I need a new belt. Not so easy to find one with quality and without gaudy spangles. We wander many blocks, beyond the tourist zone, to a neighborhood where we find dozens – maybe hundreds – of sidewalk kiosks. Belts, of soft leather un-adorned, hang in one kiosk. A young girl staffs the place. She jumps up, and is quite helpful. At her feet I glimpse a cradle and infant. I look at her again. She is, maybe, sixteen. Already, most of life’s doors have been slammed and locked to her.

I buy the belt. No haggling to reduce the price, as Gringos like to do. She’ll need every penny. I grit my teeth as we walk away, sad, and a bit angry, thinking of her abbreviated childhood.


Birth control !


“Anybody hungry?” asks a Tom. “Best restaurant in town is Tres Vírgenes.

“There are three of us,” someone retorts sophomorically, “so – perfect choice.”

My surgically manipulated knee, still swollen, and inflamed by the walking, proposes that we take a taxi.

“Let’s go by the cathedral,” Tom Dos requests, clutching his i-phone like a camera.

You can take the boy off the altar, I think about all three of us, but you can’t eradicate the Altar Boy.

The cab driver rolls us, low-rider like, slowly past the old Spanish Mission style cathedral.

“You know,” Tom Dos philosophizes, “the Vatican needs to make Judas a saint.”

Is this flippancy, hypoglycemia, or a well-thought-out Heresy? I wonder. “Interesting statement. Explain.”

“Without Judas, there is no final, dramatic climax to Jesus’ story,” Tom Dos discloses his logic, “and the myth would probably not have persisted through today. Can you imagine Judas saying ‘no way, God. I’m not doing that to my friend?’ No crucifixion; Jesus becomes just another of many prophets, lost in history. But, thanks to Judas, God’s script played out perfectly.”

I’m impressed with his Borges-like thinking. And I recall, again, the short story which I consider the most brilliant of any I’ve ever read:


Three Versions


So now there are Four Versions of Judas.


As we drink in the architecture of the cathedral, a young girl, 14 maybe, walks past, carrying books, on her way to somewhere. As she transects that magical and invisible line which, we were taught, extends from the tabernacle, out thru the closed doors, and deep into the world, she crosses herself. She does it so reflexively, that you know Catholicism is deeply imbued within her. In spite of the books.

Recalling the girl of the kiosk, my brain wants to warn her:


Birth Control !!


The restaurant has arisen from an old Spanish style interior patio. The house was once a series of rooms, now converted to bar and kitchens, that surround the patio on all four sides.

The menu is in English. Maitre ‘de is fluently bilingual. This is, initially, disappointing to me as I prefer, when in Latin America, to use Spanish and avoid Gringos. But that’s impossible in this town and this restaurant. For a long time now, I’ve considered myself to be a citizen, not of any single country, but of Everywhere.

Borges said it better, as he always does:

“As I think of the many myths, there is one that is very harmful, and that is the myth of countries.”

“So,” I embark, feeling a need for resolution at this end of ten days on the water and 70 years on the planet, “what is the Meaning of Life? Quick! Before civilization fucks up our brains again.”

“Don’t know,” one of the Toms throws it back at me. “What do you think?”

Do I go Serious or Smart-ass? They want me to set the tone.

“Maybe it’s the Meaning of Your Life. Each of us with his own. So, for me – – – it’s getting to the place, finally, where I’m comfortable with who I am.”

“Take long, did it?”

“Shit, Man.”


Post-prandial stroll along the Malecón. The sea on our left, tiled promenade underfoot, undulating palm trees above, incessant parade of fat grandmothers, little girls blowing bubbles, skateboarders, geriatric sailors, hand-in-hand lovers and Saturday evening primped-up flirters.

Tres Vírgenes. Kiosk girl. Catholic Schoolgirl. I’m watching for number three.

The Toms walk (and I limp) toward the marina and bed, taking in the show. “Taxi,” says one of the Toms. “Let’s give your knee a break.”

Our flagged-down taxi does a u-turn across the busy street, pulling in from of the Hotel Perla. Five girls stand around in front in their nicest dresses, excited for Saturday night.

Chica bonita!” the elderly taxi driver nods toward them.

Four of the five are victims of their own bodies: skinny, gangly girls in their almost-but-not-quite-yet-grown-into-their-women’s figures stage. They’ve done their Latin American best with their hair, eye makeup, and dresses. They teeter on high heels like kids trying out stilts for the first time.

It’s lovely to see – teen similarity world-wide. The only way to know how it is to be an adult is to practice, after all.

But the fifth girl is that one in every High School who provokes envy and distain from the other girls, and incites uncontrollable erections from the boys. She, too, wears make-up which attempts to add years to her face. For her, it succeeds at bit more than it did with her friends. But it’s the genetics and hormones of her body that have sprinted her far ahead of her buddies. She has poured all her curves into an exceedingly tight skirt which ends at mid-thigh. She poses atop her high heels with the balance and ease of Venus standing on her half-shell.

“Babies,” the driver says in English.

I inquire in Spanish if he meant they are in danger of getting pregnant.

“No,” he clarifies. “They are ‘babes.’ ”

I glance again at Virgin number three.








(photos by C. B. Mosher, and T. Marlow )