More Shade, More Speed

Our hull grew a fur coat for summer. Here’s a short video I made for ICWA, the Institute of Current World Affairs, to explain what we do when this happens.

Combine not enough sailing with lots of warm, stagnant marina water, and you get not only a restless boat couple, but a truly furry hull. When we returned from our travels to the US in the middle of June, we got Far out in the bay thanks to the excitement of our great friend, Jess. But it wasn’t enough to stave off the already thickening coat of barnacles, algae, shrimp, gunk, plants, and worms which cut our speed from six to three knots.

Why no sailing? For the past month and a half Josh and I have been busy with projects preparing for our two year sail from the Sea of Cortez to the Caribbean. On the boat side, Josh built a bimini–FROM SCRATCH. This involved building a mock up to match the dodger, finding stainless steel tubing, finding a doblador del tubo (pipe bender), and cutting, bending, and assembling the frame. For the fabric, we rode our bikes to the far reaches of La Paz and I learned Spanish words I didn’t really know in English, such as ribete (binding.) We found fabric the same exact hue as our unusual dodger and stack pack cover, just a few shades darker. Josh bravely took to the sewing machine, not his favorite instrument on earth, and produced a stylish bimini without a pattern or a video, only a few vague pages in a canvas project book. The new shade is completely invaluable. I don’t know how we lived without it.

Josh found this pipe bender and got to work.

Josh found this pipe bender and got to work.


He makes a clean curve for the bimini frame.

He makes a clean curve for the bimini frame.


The complete set: stack pack for the sail, dodger for sailing, and bimini for blessed shade.

The complete set: stack pack for the sail, dodger for sailing, and bimini for blessed shade.

Because it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 120,000% humidity every day in La Paz. I was prepared for the heat: I worked in the Mojave desert in the summer. I know heat and how to deal with it (long sleeves, staying wet, and staying hydrated.) But humidity is a curve ball for me, especially at 6am when I step out into the cockpit for morning coffee and discover I’m immediately sticky. Even Uly is dragging tongue out on the trails in the early morning. This lovely combination of hot and humid is most likely the true culprit of our lack of sailing: we have been not only adjusting, but building systems to deal with the heat.

For example, while I can shower off to cool down, my computer can’t do the same—and it seems far more sensitive. But I discovered a solution: cold packs. I wrap a reusable hot/cold pack, usually for sports injuries, in a dish towel and place it under the laptop for a few minutes, and voila!, no more boiling keyboard. I’ve also realized that the most reasonable thing to do in the heat of the day is to be directly on or submerged in the water.

There isn’t much shade in La Paz, so biking gets us quicker and breezier from point A to B. We were able to ride all over town thanks to a new 29er hardtail for Josh from the Specialized dealer in La Paz, Ressel, who has one of my favorite bike shops ever. After ringing a bike bell at the mint green gate, you walk onto the wide wooden porch of a small, cheerful house. Ressel’s three year old daughter runs smiling through the cool, dark halls inside the front door. A retail “space” and mechanic’s workshop are the first two rooms off the hallway, sunlight filtering through waffled glass in tall, antique windows. My favorite thing about this shop: they talked with me without any assumption that I’m an idiot girl, which happens in 97% of the bike shops I walk into. When I rode up on my Niner Sir 9, they also had the knowledge to realize what a nice bike it is, despite the thousands of miles I’ve put on it (shout out to Tim Bateman for the badass wheelset–and the inspiration to ride a singlespeed 29er all those years ago.) Ressel proudly showed me his steel Gary Fisher frame just waiting for a chance to show its retro neon orange on La Paz’s trails. And we all geeked out together, regardless of gender; there was no comment such as “You know a lot for a girl,” or “I’m impressed.” Finally, they also taught us an amazing trick for bleeding hydraulic brakes: take them off the bike and attach the lever to a handlebar in a bike stand. This way, the caliper is at the floor and the air bubbles inside the line have nowhere to flow but up. This new bike is lovely. Josh noted that typically sailboat “cruisers” have collapsible commuter bikes with the smallest possible wheels, while he and I now have two bikes with the largest possible wheels. Priorities.

Josh and his new Rockhopper, with a view to Bahía Falsa, where we cleaned the hull.

Josh and his new Rockhopper, with a view to Bahía Falsa, where we cleaned the hull.

I also took time to write not one, but two full-length newsletters for the Institute of Current World Affairs. Enticed by a conversation sparked by the same sailing Jess mentioned above, I started investigating the increase in drug trafficking violence following Hurricane Odile last year. (This topic will receive its own blog post in a few days.) In my curiosity, I forgot that the ICWA Executive Director had to fight to just get the organization’s Board to go along with an “adventure scientist” who wanted to sail all over open water, nevermind investigate drug trafficking violence for her first story. I also had not fully formed my thoughts about the topic of climate and violence yet. My first newsletter came back with a stack of edits and the advisory to stop pursuing the story. As I slowly remembered my audience and absorbed the feedback, I realized I could be far more strategic for my first newsletter.

Using my experience from Cedros Island, I wrote more about sailing, the impact of climate change on El Niño, and the importance of listening to people who live and work on coastal waters. The newsletter went live today, and while it’s currently password protected because ICWA liked it so much that they thought I should submit it to a few publications, I would love to share with anyone interested. Email me or comment below if you would like to read it!

In the meantime, the hull grew an underwater jungle as we bathed in the air conditioning we installed in the cabin hatch (which we cannot run without shore power, and we decided we could not stomach having a generator on board just for an air conditioning unit.) After much gear shuffling, such as figuring out how to fit those two 29ers in the quarter berth, we motored out the La Paz channel on a slack tide, fearful that we could not push all that growth on the hull into an incoming tide. We slowly sailed around the Bay before dropping the hook off of Playa Tesoro in Bahía Falsa. We then spent that afternoon and much of the following day cleaning the hull. Despite the sub-three minute length of the video, it took us a few hours to get the boat clean.

Getting after the growth.

Getting after the growth.


Josh buffs the hull with a brillo.

Josh buffs the hull with a brillo.


The final barnacles come off the bottom of the rudder.

The final barnacles come off the bottom of the rudder.


Getting to work on the keel.

Getting to work on the keel.

And it was FUN. I took a free diving course here in La Paz from the brilliantly unique and talented Maria-Teresa Solomons, a world champion freediver, and I attempted to implement her techniques and advice. Although I still have a lot of work to do on the mental side of free diving, I discovered that I can clear my ears gently by wiggling my jaw (a bit like the beginning of a yawn,) and I realize that the more time I spend underwater, the more comfortable I will be hanging out there. Viva la hull scrub!

Josh and I recognized during this overnight anchoring that we will be fine as we sail north in the heat and humidity. We are better prepared, we are acclimated, and the boat is sleek and ready to travel. Now all we have to do is leave our beloved home and friends of La Paz.

Uly kickin' it on the streets of La Paz.

Uly kickin’ it on the streets of La Paz.

19 Responses to More Shade, More Speed

  1. Janice Bernauer July 29, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    Great video and blog post! Getting to see you all work underwater is truly amazing! Thanks for sharing the life of sailors for us landlubbers!!

  2. Grace July 29, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    What adventures you’re having! Did the free diving training increase the number minutes you can manage to stay underwater with each dive? I would love to read your first newsletter and congrats on its warm reception!
    Also, since you’ll be hitting humid and hot places for the next two years, you might consider keeping your laptop with some desiccant (silica gel?) in a tightly sealed plastic box between uses. It keeps the dreaded moisture from reducing your laptop’s lifetime! Lastly, I am definitely going to visit you guys in Costa Rica and/or Panama 🙂

    • Jess July 29, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

      Grace you’re already on the list to get the newsletter!

      MT and I worked to increase my breathing incrementally on land first, but underwater I have a mental game to play. But the techniques made me far more relaxed and did help me gain extra seconds. I really think that practice–and not trying to vigorously scrape the hull–will help.

      BRILLIANT about the laptop, thank you!! And yes, we are counting on your assistance through the Panama canal (and you can come for some relaxation in CR too.)

  3. Sarah Hedden July 29, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    Silky and smooth, be safe out there little otters. Admire your work and efforts.

  4. Evan July 29, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

    Great read, Jess! What adventures!

  5. Danna Hinderle July 30, 2015 at 2:18 am #

    Hi Jess, I throughly enjoy reading about your travels and research. I would love to read your newsletter! Thank you for sharing your adventures, what a splendid turquoise journey! Danna

    • Jess July 30, 2015 at 11:31 am #

      Done! Thanks Danna!!

  6. Sasha July 30, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    So awesome, Jess! I’d love to read the newsletter!

  7. piercegordon1 July 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm #


    • Jess August 2, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

      Miss you Pierce 🙂

  8. Megan July 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    Thanks for the great video!

  9. Larry LaPre July 30, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Hi Jess, Can you put me down for the newsletter?

    • Jess July 30, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

      Of course!

  10. Dov Torenberg August 1, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

    I remember Tim on his SinglSpeed doing Slickrock with us way way back..

  11. daniel August 2, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    going to do my next brake bleeding dangling straight down! would dig a newsletter login. sail on you intrepid shade-beamers!

    • Jess August 3, 2015 at 9:57 am #

      I kept telling the mechanic it was the smartest way I had ever seen it done! You were already signed up for the newsletter, DP! Hope you and the family are enjoying sun and shade at Abounding Harvest!

  12. alys_s August 12, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    Hello Jess! Stumbled upon your project while doing recruiting research, and though it seems you’ve got your hands full for the foreseeable future, I couldn’t resist leaving a note. What a cool interdisciplinary project! Congratulations on collaborating with the ICWA. If you’re again looking for funding at any point consider checking out Ocean Exchange ( We offer two sizable monetary awards each year, and have started up a collegiate contest this year, and the intersection of the science/tech sphere and the human sphere is one we’re interested in. Very best of luck with the rest of your travels! Please feel free to reach out if I can answer any questions. -Alys Spillman (alys.spillman at

    • Jess September 5, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

      Thank you Alys! I appreciate your note, and I will be in touch.


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