For the last several weeks, since we arrived in La Cruz, Mexico, we have been all about getting ready. Getting ready for what you ask? In essence, we are preparing for self-reliance. But, there is also a community element to our preparations and passage making.
Tell me about this community. So, one doesn’t just depart from the west coast of the Americas to Tahiti just any old time of the year. Well, you can, but if you want to maximize your chance for fair winds and following seas, you depart sometime in March, April or May. To find this information for the major global cruising routs, the first thing to do is to consult the book, World Cruising Routes by Jimmy Cornell. This is an encyclopedia of information about typical wind, weather and current patterns globally.
As the time draws near for passages, communities of cruisers seem to cluster up in areas of departure. The Banderas Bay, where we are currently, is only one of those areas of departure. Boaters are departing from up and down the whole Pacific coast of the Americas. To give you a sense of the numbers, this year, Latitude 38 has had 179 boats sign up for the Pacific Puddle Jump (PPJ). This is of course not mandatory and only represents some of the boats crossing. Of these, there are 25 boats with kids and a total of about 50 kids crossing this year. Signing up for the PPJ is really more about community than anything else. They throw parties at the beginning and at the end and they also have several seminars up and down the coast of the Americas disseminating information and providing a venue for community collaboration. There are online chat groups that are dedicated to the members so they can share information. If you want to dig deeper, you can check out the dedicated PPJ website.
One of the ways the boating community collaborates is with radio nets. The goal of these nets is to increase your safety and the safety of those around you. These “nets” are essentially Single Sideband (SSB) Radio chats that happen on a specific frequency at a specific time on a daily basis. Depending on the time of day and frequency, SSB radio reception range can be a couple hundred miles to all the way around the world. For the 40 or so boats departing from Banderas Bay, we have all organized a “net” of our own. We all check into the net nightly with position, wave, weather, and general conditions on board. People with only satellite communication will also be checking in by sending a message to one of the specified electronic net managers. Cameron has volunteered as a net controller for one night a week so we have already been actively participating with this net and will also participate in the larger Pacific Seafarers Net, a much wider-ranging net where sailors all over the Pacific communicate nightly. What this means is that we will be in contact with the boats around us. We will know who is close and what weather they are experiencing in front of or behind us. If someone has a problem, we can crowdsource with the people close by to find a solution or to aid in a rescue.
A word in support of SSB. While satellite communication is increasing due to its relative ease and convenience, I do think it is worth seriously investigating an SSB radio for offshore boats. SSB can be daunting. They are expensive, potentially complicated to install and you might have to pass a HAM test to use the frequencies you want to use. But, other than these costs, operating it is free (aside from the power it consumes). We have inexpensive email service through Sailmail (you can also do free email via Airmail), and there are many advantages whether it is direct ship to ship communication, ship to shore communication, ship to shore telephone patch services, Winlink location services, and route tracking, free GRIB (weather) file downloads, access to broadcasted weather reports and much more that I am not averse in. In our mind, the best advantage is the access to the nets which connect you with people you may not know but may only be less than 100 miles away from you when you most need them.
That is all about the community underway, but these days, onshore, we have weekly meetings with other boats leaving the bay. We share information on checking out of Mexico, checking into French Polynesia, long stay VISA info, radio information, provisioning, medical preparations, satellite communication info, cyclone ports, charts and other navigational programs. These and a host of miscellaneous questions and concerns get discussed. We have had presentations by medical doctors, presentations from circumnavigators on their experiences and talks from people from French Polynesia and Fiji on their resources and what to expect. We also have a great resource in a local, Mike Danielson from PV Sails. Mike is a sailmaker, weather router and he is extremely generous to offer his take on the large and small weather trends so we can pick our weather windows for departure. About three times a week he gives us a tropical weather brief where we all listen with wrapped attention, waiting for the window that fits each of us. This is not like the Baja HaHa where we all left at the same time, departing the bay in grade parade style. Each person departs when it is right for them and their boat.
I share all this mainly because of a comment a friend’s mother made. She was down visiting her kids and grandkids before they departed and she said: “It is nice to see that things are a bit organized, there are meetings and people are working together.” I realized that this aspect of the sailing community is probably totally lost on many.
We ARE on our own out there. We are responsible for our own safety, preparations, and plans. But, we are also all mariners, leaving around the same time from around the same place who will be of service to any other mariner in need if the occasion arises. So, we work together and share information because we recognize the serious nature of the passage we are about to make.
Once we depart we will maybe see a few other boats on the horizon the first few days. We will likely see lots of tankers in the shipping lanes coming out of Panama. But, after that, we will probably only see the blue and grey of the ocean until we reach the green mountains of Nuku Hiva. Having built some friendships and connections with the people on the other end of the ocean and at the other end of the radio will be a comfort and a resource along the way.
Quick Update: We are still in La Cruz Mexico getting some last minute jobs done and provisioning. We have had a few unexpected tasks come up but, that is okay. We’d rather get the work done now. We have been enjoying the company of several other kid boats who are also “jumping”; SV Luminesce, SV Baloo, SV Carumba, and SV Roamin are all still here and waiting for the next weather window.