Monday, December 27, 2010

It’s Time to Address the Stick

IMG_9454Just before our guests arrive, we send them a document of what to expect living aboard our boat. We do this to prepare them, and also so that they do not get overwhelmed with all the ‘rules’ once aboard.  After all, our lifestyle is a bit different than most people’s, even though for us it’s become our normal (although I sure would love a nice long and relaxing bath!).


Of our ‘rules’, no topic gets more comments from, and creates more anxiety for, our guests than the toilet.  No subtopic creates more angst than the dreaded ‘stick’.  In fact, our current visitors, who have rented a house while they are here, have sworn to high heaven that they will not be going to the bathroom on the boat.  And for the most part, they’ve lived up to their promise.  Unfortunately for us, that has meant less time on the boat than we would have otherwise wanted, and only one of their kids has been ‘brave’ enough to sleep over here. We have insisted it’s really no big deal.  Other guests have done it.  On the other hand, it’s created a lot of laughs.


Here’s what triggers the anxiety, directly from our ‘Welcome Guests’ document (and note particularly item #3):


Toilets: Boat toilets (called “heads”) are very sensitive, and any repairs are very difficult and expensive.

1. NO TOILET PAPER OR ANY FOREIGN ITEMS IN THE HEAD. Throw all toilet paper in the garbage can located under the sink. For very soiled toilet paper, zip lock bags are also provided under the sink. If any toilet paper accidentally gets into the toilet, DO NOT FLUSH – please fish it out with the wood stick beside the head and throw it into the garbage can.  Do not throw anything else into the toilets either, including hair, q-tips, cotton balls, etc.  These items will damage the macerator, which is similar to the blade in a blender, and repairs can be expensive.

2. To flush, hold down the flush button until you see the water becoming clear again. If it takes more than 10 seconds, stop, wait a few seconds, and try again. If it is not flushing, let us know. Any waste left in the toilet begins to smell quickly, especially since it is mixed with the salt water used by the toilets. With each flush, pour about a tablespoon of vinegar into the toilet (vinegar is located in each bathroom), which helps with the smell as well as to keep the toilet bowl and pipes clean.

3. If your ‘poop’ is too large or hard to go down, use one of the wooden sticks to break it up before you flush, then use a baby wipe (located in each bathroom) to wipe off the stick. Replace the stick in the plastic zip lock bag and throw the wipe in the garbage can.

4. The tanks hold only 15 gallons of water. Once full, you will hear the toilet’s overflow spilling into the water after you’ve finished flushing. Let us know right away if this happens.

5. If there are ANY problems at all, please let us know right away.

6. Our rule: you dirty the toilet, you clean it – cleaning supplies are located in each bathroom.

7. Unless we are underway in heavy seas, keep your bathroom hatch (window) open to ventilate your bathroom.

8. When we are at a dock, please use the bathrooms on shore whenever possible.

The wooden stick happens to be one of those paint store sticks used to stir paint.  For the first time, my brother-in-law Paul questioned why these sticks were not disposable.  I had to think.  Well, we have three bathrooms, so that makes for a lot of sticks.  On the other hand, not every poop, nor everyone’s poop, requires stick assistance.  Perhaps we should be writing our names on the stick so that you only have to touch your own sh-t-stick?  In fact, that is the reality given that each of my kids has his/her own bathroom, and between Michael and I, only one of us (and I won’t say who) ever requires the use of the stick (as a result of having borne children).  We’ve never had a problem with the re-use of the stick.  After all, this trip is partially about leaving a smaller footprint on this planet.  It’s the second R in the triple R’s to save our world. But what of our guests?   Paul has a point.  Do guests want to be sharing our sh-t-sticks?  I certainly wouldn’t, even if they are family. 


This week, we’ve gone out to a paint store here in Huatulco and acquired new sh-t-sticks, and these are even plastic!!  Not great for the environment, but more hygienic for guests.  And we don’t want to scare any more of them off.


Some other interesting notes about the toilets:  Not only do we put vinegar into the toilets with each flush to help with the smell and to keep the bowl clean (someone told me she uses Polident to keep her porcelain bowl clean – cruisers are so resourceful!) but about once a week we pour a couple of tablespoons of oil down there as well.  This helps keep the mechanism working well.  It’ll make you think twice next time you ask for that oil and vinegar dressing on your salad, no?


When the toilet’s holding tank reaches its maximum of 15 gallons and overflows into the water, we have to stop using that head as it is illegal to dump waste into the marina waters, and it’s just plain rude to do so in a beautiful anchorage.  This is why when we are in a marina, we use the bathrooms on shore as much as possible, as this gives the holding tanks a longer life. In the States and Canada, there are services that come and suck out the waste from the holding tanks, and there are pump out stations as well.  However, these are unheard of here in Mexico (and I understand in the rest of the world).  So the only option for getting rid of waste is to dump it by opening the valves to the holding tanks when you are at least three miles off-shore.  The kids have a great time watching the water as we are underway off-shore and empty the tanks.   I for one am completely grossed out by it. 


We have never held our guests to the “You dirty it, you clean it” rule.  However, I am proud to say that both my children clean their own toilets, a skill that will come in handy one day I am sure.


And we have had our share of head breakdowns.  Like when the macerator in one of the heads was making weird noises, like it was chewing up sand.  We think some barnacles got up into the through-holes and were gradually degrading the macerator.  Michael decided to take apart the whole thing, including the plumbing tubes leading into the holding tank.  The resulting shower was not pretty.  Or the time Harrison dropped a tiny piece of Lego down his toilet and Michael had to fish it out using one of his McGyver methods.  Since then, we’ve been talking about adding No Lego Playing While On The Toilet to our rule list. 



Signing off from Marina Chahue, Huatulco, Oaxaca

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Exciting and Safe Arrival in Huatulco

After three days and three nights motoring (and this time a little more sailing), we've arrived, and are now docked, at Marina Chahue in Huatulco.

With all things cruising, there is always something interesting that happens -- but its how you deal with it that really matters.  This time, after our delayed departure from Z-Town due to an engine alternator repair, we headed off down the coast.  Around 6 am the morning of Day Two (yesterday), cruising along using our starboard engine at about 8 knots, the engine just all of a sudden went into neutral.  Why you might ask?  It turns out that our throttle cable snapped!  I think this happened either when the alternator was repaired or when we completed our 1,000 hour service.  I am guessing that one of the mechanics must have leaned on the part of the cable that connects to the throttle on the engine which caused it to be fatigued and then, over time while underway, snap.

Now, its not just that we have to get it fixed (I tried while underway to no avail) as we have guests coming to visit this week and next, but equally, if not more importantly, we had to bring the boat into a narrow marina entrance and safely to a dock using one engine.  You might think:  "What's the big deal? You've got another engine."  Catamarans are very maneuverable with two engines that are separated from each other by about 20 feet.  This allows them to be easily controlled and catamarans are actually easier to handle then single engine mono-hulls.  The problem is that when only one engine is working and you are moving slowly (like in a marina), the boat actually just wants to go in a circle. (As a side note, when we are motoring, we generally run only one engine at a time, as at higher speeds, the boat moves straight ahead; using the two engines does not give us significantly more speed but only uses more fuel.)  So we had some special planning to deal with as we approached a marina we had never been into before and also did not know what dock we were going to because the marina office was closed today (Sunday).

Before we entered the channel entrance to the marina, we fully prepared the boat for docking.  We had dock lines on all corners and midship, and fenders on all sides of the boat.  We then put our dinghy into the water which we planned to use for assisted steerage.  Danielle and Harrison got in the dinghy with a VHF radio and took instruction from us over the radio as we practiced maneuvering the boat by pushing on the starboard bow with the dinghy's engine in full throttle to push us to the left.  Then we did the same on the port bow to push us to the right; all this in strong currents and choppy seas.  Danielle and I then dinghied into the marina to check out the lay of the land before coming in with Whatcha Gonna Do.   Barb remained aboard with Harrison and maneuvered the boat to keep her place in the building seas.  It was actually Barb's first time handling the boat at sea by herself.

After getting the lay of the land, Danielle and I returned to the boat and she and Harrison dinghied into the marina in front of us.  We were informed by a fellow boater that as one enters the marina, it is imperative to line up the range markers that are on land to make sure you are lined up properly in the middle of the narrow channel. We lined up, watched for any swell and began to make our way in.  Now, as sailors know, if you are moving, you generally have better steerage and as such, I decided to go slightly faster into the entrance in an effort to have better control.  Barb felt that we were coming in too fast but we needed the speed.  We made it smoothly into the marina and began to line up for docking.  Danielle came around to the side in the dinghy and pushed out our bow so we could line up the boat parallel to the dock and then gently  push her in .  With the benefit of the wind pushing us onto the dock and Danielle's dinghy prowess, we came smoothly to the dock where a couple of people grabbed our dock lines and tied us up.

All said, it could not have gone any better.  Our advance preparation and confidence gained, in large part due to sailing and instruction at OCSC in Berkeley, were critical to a safe and smooth docking.  Now we just need to get our throttle repaired (hopefully quickly) as we have guests arriving on Tuesday who, I know, will want to go sailing.

Michael (safely docked at Marina Chahue, Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In A Group or On Your Own

To many people, there's only one way to get an education-conventional school. Homeschooling is another option, but both have their advantages and disadvantages.

In a regular school, there are many other students so kids have the opportunity to work with partners and in groups. There are certified teachers and set curriculums so you always know that you're learning the "right" things and are up to your state standards. School allows children to socialize and to always be with people their age. Parents also have time to work without needing to deal with their kids.

Along with conventional school also come disadvantages. Most students complain about homework and how much of their free time is taken away, making them form their lives around schoolwork. You always have long, busy days and then little freedom after school. Students also have to move at the same pace of the class, even if they're ahead or behind.

Studies have shown that students learn more and better in smaller classes because they get more individual attention. Imagine if there was only one child in each class. The student's needs would be the teacher's needs and focus would be centered on one person. That's what homeschooling is like. Many parents and children say that after they'd been homeschooled and went back to school, they were ahead. Kids also experience more free time because there's no homework. The length of their school day also varies. Going back to school may be hard for homeschooled students because they would have loads of homework, but they would have learned how to do school in three to four hours, so homework might be easier. Independence is another skill learned by homeschooled kids because homeschooling is mostly independent study. That factor could help in college. Parents also feel closer to their children because they see what their child is learning and spend more time with them. In the winter, you could take your child skiing and not worry about them missing key subjects. If you are homeschooling on a trip, you have a flexible schedule and can take days off to do day trips.

But homeschooling is not perfect either. Socially, children miss out on working with others and interacting with kids their age. Students may be very bored of only seeing their family's faces and lonely without friends. There are no field trips to museums or other places that you can go on without pushing back the end- of-year date. Parents might worry that their child is not getting the right education without certified teachers. Without an ending time, days may go until dinnertime if students are distracted that day.

I feel very lucky to experience both in my life, because they each teach important life skills. But, you be the judge.

Off the Pacific coast of Mexico
125 miles north of Huatulco

Friday, December 17, 2010

Books Books Books

Perhaps one of the biggest gifts of this adventure is having the time to read. I brought a bunch of books with me that had been sitting on my nightstand for years, and its not surprising that once I started them, I couldn't get through them. I quickly left them at the various book exchanges along the way. It's also not surprising that the most memorable books for me have been related to cruising or to Mexico. A must read for anyone setting out on this kind of trip is The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew by Lin Pardey. Not only does it go through the basic care and feeding of crew, but it also has explanations of refrigeration, showers/baths, and great tips on provisioning (including how much you need of each type of produce for how long per person, and what stays best for how long unrefrigerated). Another must read is The Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey, which very realistically describes relationships at sea. The author took a two year honeymoon sailing to the South Pacific, and writes very honestly about depression, sex, and the highs and lows of being together 24/7. It reads very much like an Eat, Pray, Love saga.
On our last passage I finished the 646 page small type Mexico by James Mitchener. Loved it. Although written by an American in the person of an American/Mexican, it gave me a much better appreciation for the vast and deep history of Mexico from the first inhabitants to the Spanish conquest to present day politics. My dear friend Dennise who grew up in Mexico City remembers liking the book, but does caution me that it is written by an American after all. It is interesting that she says that. I had believed that being on this trip in Mexico, we would get to know the Mexican people but as hospitable and helpful as they are, I get a sense that it is a closed culture that is difficult to break into unless you are 'one of them'. I'll have to ask Dennise more about this.
Our ditch bag (i.e. the bag that contains our emergency paraphenalia in case we have to abandon ship) contains a copy of Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea by Stephen Callaghan given to us by our friend Neil Blecherman, and is another must read if you are to undertake offshore sailing. Not only is it incredibly well written and an inspiring adventure story, it also contains intricate illustrations from how to lay out your life raft to making your own solar still for drinking water to rigging up a spear gun. I'm sure I'll be posting more on Emergency Preparedness at some point and at that time will certainly be referring to this book.
On this passage, I finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I couldn't put it down, and found myself dreaming in Southern drawls and dialects of the 'help'. Or shall I say, "Law, I been done and dreamin o the South"... Excellent and much recommended - especially to my book club friends.
I now have only 20 more titles on my nightstand to go through. As I get to new book exchanges, I have to hold myself back from claiming even more. Although I had planned to begin reading The Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck next (before we get further away from there), my priorities have had to shift somwhat as Danielle has just finished The Secret Life of Bees and has asked me to read it so we can discuss it. She is reading so quickly that she's taken to re-reading some of her books. I think I'd shoot myself if I ever had to do that. Maybe that's the reason I have 20 unread titles by my bed?
Harrison has also almost finally gotten the reading bug. It's been tougher to find titles that he likes but when he finds one, he'll read for hours. The blessing of not having TV! Michael too has been reading more than I've ever seen him. His choices are usually spy novels a la John Grisham, or else the titles look more like Diesel Mechanics for the Sailor. And thank goodness for that.
Somewhere on the Pacific Coast of Mexico between Zihuatenajo and Acapulco
17 degrees 2.343 minutes North
100 degrees 48.312 minutes West
PS. As we are heading towards Acapulco and with the sun rising in the east, it is right in front of our boat. It is interesting to note how much we are actually traveling east while heading "down" the Pacific coast.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zihuatenajo – Take 2 -- UPDATE

Well, the alternator is fixed – AGAIN.  Hopefully, this time for good.  I went to watch them repair it and to see what type of parts were put in.  Not that I am a mechanic, but it always pays to closely oversee any work done in Mexico.  That said, it is impressive the number of mechanical shops, metal bending shops and other industrial type services here in Mexico.  There is a culture here of not throwing things out but rather trying to repair them – work with the limited resources available.  I would not be surprised that if I had wanted to get the alternator repaired in the US, the mechanic (at least most) would just say it needs to be replaced, rather than rebuilt – not that at the end of the day, I may still need to have mine replaced if this repair does not hold up.

So, we are now on our way, about 9 – 10 hours delayed (not too bad), to Huatulco and hopefully we will still arrive by the 19th.  The sun is setting and we are about to sit down for another of Barb’s excellent meals and a nighttime sail. 

Michael (17 degrees 29.8 minutes N by 101 degrees 26.9 minutes W)

Zihuatenajo – Take 2

With excitement this morning we raised the hook in Zihuatenajo Bay off Playa Ropa and headed out for our 3-4 day passage to Huatulco, where we are planning on meeting Michael’s sister Sandi and her family, and later our friends Bob, Elana and Maya.  About an hour out, we realized our alternator is not working.  We spent 4 days at Marina Ixtapa (the next bay over) getting it fixed when we first arrived here, and we thought it had been all taken care of.  Without the alternator charging our batteries when we are motoring (which unfortunately it looks like we will be doing lots of for this passage), the only way to charge up our batteries is with the generator.  Generator on equals using fuel.  Motoring equals fuel.  Three to four days at sea with the motor on equals too much fuel.  We cannot spare any extra.

About an hour out, we decided to turn around and come back to Z-town (what we gringos call it when we don’t want to try to spell it).  Fortunate for us, we were able to get a hold of the mechanic who worked on the alternator last week and he came out to Zihuatenajo to see what is going on.  We hope we’ll be heading out again tomorrow morning with a working alternator – even though it’s a Friday.  There is a sailor’s superstition that one should never begin a passage on a Friday, so we’ll say that we simply began today and will continue tomorrow.

This is not a bad place to be laid up.  This area is tropical, and therefore much greener than the landscapes further north that we have become accustomed to.  The town itself used to be a fishing village, and we enjoy sitting on the fisherman’s boardwalk watching thousands of pounds of fish being loaded up every day onto carts attached to the front of  bicycles.  Today, the town has a nice mixture of local and tourist amenities, and as a gringo, we are not overrun with time share salesmen or people pushing their necklaces and bracelets onto us.  We had perhaps the best meal yet in Mexico at the Porto di Mare, right on the boardwalk here.  Even more surprising than the meal was the service, which never seems to meet American standards very well anywhere else that we’ve been.  Danielle and I went to a yoga class, the kids have been catching up on homeschooling (we are still 10 lessons behind where we were this same time last year) before our guests arrive, we’ve been swimming a bit and exploring the town.

The lay-up here does put us a bit behind schedule though.  We were hoping to get to Huatulco by the 19th to get oriented and clean the boat after a long passage, before the Mandels arrive.  Hopefully, we’ll only be a day behind.  I am relieved we had built in some buffer time.

Zihuatenajo Bay 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anchored in Beautiful Bay outside Ztown

We arrived at noon today in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo after 76 hours of sailing (actually mostly motoring) from Mazatlan. That's a distance of approximately 426 miles! We hope to be here for about a week and then will head on to Huatulco (with a possible overnight stop in Acapulco depending if we know anyone there).
We are currently anchored in a beautiful bay outside the Ixtapa Marina where we will go into tomorrow morning to refuel and check out that town. After likely one overnight at anchor followed by one night in the marina we will spend the rest of our time anchored in Zihuatanejo Bay.
Its a busy little anchorage we are in. Three other sailboats are anchored and a bunch of fishing and tourist boats, not to mention the jet skis, are zooming around. It looks like there are about three palapa restaurants on shore and, when we anchored, a panga (a small fishing boat) came up to our boat. It turns out it had aboard a waiter from one of the restaurants offering to take delivery orders or to take us to shore. Looks like competition is working well even in Ixtapa. I wonder if they offer 30 minutes or free? Look out Dominos!
Michael (Isla Ixtapa, 17 degrees, 41.0 minutes N by 101 degrees 39.5 minutes W)
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dolphins On Our Bow -- A Special Edition

We have now been at sea for three days. This is our third night and by tomorrow, I think this trip will be our longest non-stop journey. Everything (so far) has gone smoothly though we would have much preferred more wind. Finally, later this afternoon, the wind picked up to about 10 knots and we were able to begin sailing with our screecher (asymmetrical spinnaker). Finally!

Well, after an excellent dinner (brought to you by Barb), the sun had set and with no moon out again tonight we had a very dark night of sailing. Yes, sailing! I was on watch and all of a sudden I hear a noise beside the boat. It turns out to be dolphins swimming alongside. But this time it was different. The water is super nutrient rich, particularly with photo luminescent plankton. So as the dolphins swam by they lit up the water like meteor trails in the sky. It was a spectacular sight to only see the luminescent trails as they swam by our boat, circled back and did it again. The trails were so long, they looked like gigantic snakes slithering through the water, but these were friendly dolphins.

This made for a special time on watch!

We are now about 80 miles outside of Ztown and hope to make our destination sometime tomorrow afternoon or early Thursday morning, but since we are only traveling at 4 -5 knots at this point, time will tell.

Michael (along the Mexican Pacific Coast)
(17 degrees, 52.9 minutes N by 102 degrees 55.9 minutes W)

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On Gas and Wind

I'm on sunrise duty again. We're more than half way to Zihuatenajo and hope to make it in by tomorrow morning. We've been motoring for over 24 hours now as the winds are very light or non-existent and coming from directly behind us. That's the problem with Mexico cruising. Either there's a weather warning where we stay put, or there's a weather window, which means there's no wind.

Michael and I had a familiar conversation at 1:30 a.m. this morning, except it usually takes place in a car on a road trip somewhere: Should we stop and get gas? Although we started this passage with a full tank (105 gallons), our fuel gauge seems only to work intermittently. Most of the time it shows we are completely full. So Michael (aka McGyver) has taken to measuring the gas in the tank by using a long wooden dowel, and then measuring the fuel level with a ruler. We keep track of our engine hours, so this way we can figure out how much fuel we use per hour. Based on our estimates, we'll barely make it to Zihuatenajo, unless we get some real sailing in later today. That's what I'm hoping for.

Usually, in a car, like many men I know, Michael's the one to 'risk' it, which drives me crazy as I'm always worried we'll run out of gas and get stranded somewhere. I like the security of a full tank of gas (and, as an aside, a clean boat - another oddity of mine: I must start a passage with a clean boat - I was up 'til all hours the night before we left cleaning the windows...) This time, I'm willing to risk it, even if it means we have to bob around for a while going reeeeallllly slowwwwwly using only our sails. And of course cars don't have the option of hoisting a sail.

Like this longer 3 to 4 day passage, I figure it's a good dress rehearsal if we do end up going to the South Pacific, which we still haven't decided on yet. You see, this lack of wind requiring us to motor most of the time would continue into Central America. In the meantime, if we go to the South Pacific, there is much more wind. On the other hand, based on our calculations, we'd be spending 25% of our days getting to and around the South Pacific being on a passage (including 3+ weeks at sea just getting there, without seeing any land, or having the option of seeing any land, for that matter). But at least we'd be sailing, even if some of it is merely bobbing. With the continuous hum of the motor giving me a headache all day yesterday and continuing into today, the South Pacific is sounding much more attractive.

Sun is rising, dolphins at our bow. It's not all bad.

-Barb, 12 miles offshore, approx. 20 miles south of Manzanillo (we didn't stop for gas)
18 degrees 41.611 minutes North by 104 degrees 10.372 minutes West

P.S. Now that we've passed Manzanillo, we are officially the furthest south we've been yet. Another milestone.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Staring Into Darkness

It's 4:44 a.m. and I'm staring into darkness. I'm on watch for our 400 mile passage to Zihuatenajo. We are currently motor sailing as the True Wind speed is 2.7 knots coming from the North, which is directly behind us and too light to push us forward. With our starboard motor in overdrive (we only run one motor at a time), we are able to travel at over 8 knots (approx. 8 mph) running the engines at 2800 rpm. This is considered fast by sailboat standards. The engine temperature is around 180 degrees Celsius, which is good. Our autopilot is set at a course of 160 degrees, which is pretty much straight south. The radar screen stretching out into the 36 mile radius screen is completely blank as it has been for the last several hours, with the exception of the Tres Marias islands off our starboard side(which must be stayed clear of, given that they are prison islands according to our charts) and Isla Isabela, a bird sanctuary we visited when we were in the area last time, to our port. There is no moon, thus the darkness. Way up, the stars are incredibly vivid. Straight behind us, in the wake of the engine, bursts of phosphorescence illuminate the water. Other than that, it is difficult to see where the horizon is, where the ocean meets the sky. Given that we have a navigation station inside the cabin, I am able to monitor things in the warmth of the salon, but every 10 minutes or so, I go outside to do a quick check - temperature gauge on the engines are still looking good, sail is still looking good, and around us is still looking, well, dark. Not sure what I'm looking at in the vicinity. That's where your faith in your vessel and God come in. We hope it's not our turn to hit a lost container fallen from a container ship. We are very aware that most 'bad' things happen at night, but that's where we give up our control. We make sure someone is on watch at all times, we make sure our boat is in good sea-going shape, we wait for 'weather windows' before departing on a passage, we have our emergency procedures in place and our 'ditch' bags at the ready (the bags that you take with you when you have to ditch the boat, i.e. it's sinking - which is another blog post in and of itself) and the rest is up to the powers that be.

As we lie in bed trying to regain our rest for our next watch, we listen to every creak and sound that the boat makes. I'm still not totally used to these noises. Some of them sound like the boat is going to crack apart. Occasionally a wave comes and hits the inside of the hull and practically knocks me out of bed. Intellectually I know that this vessel can take much more than that, and hopefully much more than what we'll ever experience if we are prudent, but still the sounds are amplified inside the hulls where we lie awake listening. Anything out of the ordinary, and we jump up to question whoever is on watch.

The engine is purring after our 1000 hour service which had brought us to Mazatlan, where the only Yanmar-authorized mechanic in Mexico is located. Many boats have Yanmar motors, so you'd think there'd be more authorized mechanics around, but TIM (This Is Mexico - a phrase that I believe was coined by Toast Conger in her blog Toast Floats - see blogs listed at the right hand side of this posting). And like most things boat-related and/or Mexico-related, it took much longer than expected. I thought we were being conservative when we estimated we'd be in Mazatlan a week, and we left after two. Parts had to be shipped to Guadalajara for repair and service, new parts were ordered from elsewhere, and the engines were literally taken apart and put back together. This in and of itself is a cause for anxiety: The engines were working well before, but now that they've been tinkered with, what if they haven't been put back together properly? There was recently a sailboat that sank in the South Pacific due to a massive leak around the drive shaft after it had just been serviced due to faulty workmanship (google Aquila). Again, we try to be prudent, and the rest is up to the powers that be.

Our delay turned out to be a blessing, as noted in my last blog post. We saw the crew of Gypsy Wind every day, which included helping Kim celebrate her birthday - two years in a row! We could not have planned it better, and our two weeks took on a vacation-like feel to it, with lots of swimming and hot-tubbing, and way more restaurant meals and happy hours than we would have otherwise had. Perhaps it is their Eastern European roots that we share or their strong family values, but I do feel an incredibly strong connection to them. At one point Kim started talking to me in Russian and this couldn't have flattered me more. We watch closely and with admiration as they parent their two teenaged kids (and a third, who is close to Harrison's age - see Harrison's earlier blog about his friend Noah).

Time for me to pop outside to check the darkness, although the sky to our port is brightening up a bit by now and I can start making out the eastern horizon. No sight of land though, as we are more than 30 miles offshore. At least this far off, we hope to avoid fishing lines and running aground...

-Barb, at 21 degrees 08.713 minutes North by 105 degrees 53.244 minutes West
Posted by Single Sideband Radio in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

We've Departed Mazatlan

We departed Mazatlan today at 10 am enroute to Zihutenajo, about 400 miles south. At 5 - 8 knots, you can do the math. We will likely be cruising for about three days. We might stop in Manazanillo depending on how everyone is doing and weather conditions.

We left Mazatlan having had a great time there and getting a lot of boat projects completed. We spent nearly two weeks hanging out with our friends from Gypsy Wind including our kids having multiple sleep overs on their boat and ours. We spent many late afternoons at the Marina El Cid enjoying the pool and also went down to the Plaza Machado in the old town several times. I even did a street side karaoke of Sweet Caroline in honor of Kim's (of Gypsy Wind) birthday that gathered crowds and cheers!

We completed a major 1000 hour service on our engines changing out transmission and engine oil and coolant, replacing all belts and impellers (used for water cooling the engines), cleaning out the heat exchangers and servicing the turbos. Like everything in cruising, it took longer to finish, between waiting for parts and all, than we originally expected (nearly two weeks vs one week). Total Yacht Works did a great job. We also went up the mast to check all equipment, re securing various chafe protection gear and clean all the standing rigging. I had great help from Danielle and Harrison as they were up there doing lots of the cleaning.

Finally, I also completed that one year consulting project so all in all a pretty productive stop in Mazatlan.

Michael (somewhere along the Mexican coast)
(22 degrees, 32.205 minutes N by 106 degrees 15.268 minutes W)

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I’ve Become a Dock Worker (Part 2)

Well, as of today, I am no longer a dock worker.  Project completed.

Now looking for new projects……

Michael (in Mazatlan)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I’ve Become a Dock Worker

As some of you know, before setting sail last September, I got engaged on a consulting assignment helping a company evaluate its strategic options.  The work did not take a lot of time for the first, nearly 12 months, but in September of this year things got really busy.  I flew back to California for a couple of weeks to help them work through a number of issues as they considered being sold to a potential strategic partner.  Of course, as you’ve read previously, I left Barb and our kids at Marina de La Paz while I was gone.

Upon my return, I continued to be very busy working with this client, on the phone with them (and their potential European headquartered acquirer) for hours at a time and sometimes, due to time zone issues, even at midnight.  Now, this amount of calls and dealing with time zones is par for the course in this business, but when you try doing it over the internet from Mexico it brings a whole new level of perspective and complexity. 

When I returned to La Paz, we decided to stay at the marina because it gave us more flexibility for internet options.  The marina has both cable modem and wifi hook ups (both of which work some of the time but not all of the time) and we also subscribe to Telcel’s 3G service.  We need internet not only for emails and the web, but also for making phone calls  either with Skype (which use Telcel has been actively trying to block in Mexico) and MagicJack (another very good voice over IP phone service particularly for calling the US).  You’d think that with three connection options (cable, wifi and 3G) there would be no problem connecting and making phone calls.  Oh, and don’t forget, for a week in this time period, we were also on the hard getting our bottom painted.

So, when the 3G would go down (which does not happen often but did on several occasions while on the hard), I’d run down the block back over to the marina to try their wifi service.  I’d plug my computer into a wall outlet outside the marina office and try to use the wifi.  But that service can be very unreliable, so while in the middle of a call, holding my computer in one hand, headset on my head, notepad, power cord, pen and Ethernet cable in the other hand, I’d walk down the ramp to the marina where I could plug into the cable modem service with the Ethernet cable and hopefully get a better internet connection and therefore a better phone connection. 

So, now I am sitting on the dock, plugged into the cable modem, connected by wifi and trying to see if the 3G will work, all in an effort to make my phone calls.  Uh, but then you need to realize that my computer battery is dying, and while there is plenty of power on the docks, the outlets use special marine grade power cords that are not compatible with a three pronged plug from my computer.  Fortunately, this scene usually happened at night, because if it happened during the day, I’d also need a blanket over my head and computer so I could see the screen without the sun’s interference.

So, now I am sitting on the dock, praying that my computer won’t die, my internet connection will hold and I will be able to continue to carry on conference calls with people from Europe, California and me, in Mexico.  And, all these cruisers are walking down the dock having a good chuckle at my expense.

So, I have taken to becoming a dock worker to help facilitate strategic business consulting services.  Who would have guessed it would come to this.  But that can be what it takes when you are in a client service business.

Michael -- in Mazatlan (and still a dock worker but hopefully for only a few more days.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stuffing A Turkey

Making Thanksgiving dinner on a sailboat this past Thursday gave new meaning to the phrase "Stuffing a Turkey".
-Barb in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico
Marina Singlar

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Warm and Wonderful Welcome in Mazatlan

We left La Paz after 3 wonderful months of making it our home.  This is one part of the cruising life that is difficult – becoming attached to places and people and then having to leave.  What also makes it difficult is that we don’t know when we’ll be back.  And if you ask the kids, they were quite angry that we had to leave when we did as the 2010 Baja Haha ‘kid’ boats started arriving only a couple of days before we left.  We hope to meet up with them again somewhere down the line, but that ‘somewhere down the line’ doesn’t compensate for not having had many other kid boats around since June.

After a great 35.5 hour and 240 mile crossing of the Sea of Cortez, much of which was full-on sailing without our motors on (!), we arrived in Mazatlan safe and sound, although a bit weary-eyed.  Passages are one of my favorite parts of sailing.  I love the tranquility and peacefulness of the night sea, particularly on a full moon.  I get into my book, drink loads of hot tea, and get busy with log entries and chart plotting.  Michael and I do our night watches between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on three hour cycles, but I was feeling so good last night that I took watch from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. so that he could get a good straight five hour sleep.  Unfortunately I missed the sunrise, but still awoke this morning to nothing but sea and sun.  We caught a glimpse of land soon after.

About 3 miles off the marina entrance, we were hailed over the VHF by another boat that did the crossing at the same time as we did to see how we were faring.  This got picked up by our friend Darlene of s/v Scrimshaw (and who also lives on land here in Mazatlan).  We were thrilled to hear her voice as we thought she and her husband would be in Puerto Vallarta this week. Darlene was our connection to anything we needed during our last stay in Mazatlan as she has made it her business to get to know local services and people.  It comes to her quite easily as she is a charming and beautiful woman. Plus, she will be teaching her yoga class tomorrow morning at 8:30.  What a great way to start our visit!

An even greater surprise came as we finished our chat with Darlene when we heard, “Whatcha Gonna Do, Whatcha Gonna Do, Whatcha Gonna Do.  Gypsy Wind.”  You may recall from a blog post last fall (Some Unlikely Friends) that we became close friends with the crew of Gypsy Wind (Captain and First Mate Harvey and Kim, and their kids Nikita (17), Kiya (15) and Noah (8)) early into our adventure last year, and buddy boated with them for several months.  Their plan was to cruise for nine months, so they returned to their home in British Columbia last May. They kept their boat in Mazatlan, but did not know when they were returning.  At the last minute, they decided to come down for a visit, and weren’t expecting to see us either.  We have not had any better welcome as theirs: After making our way through the treacherous entrance into the Mazatlan marina with wobbly knees from riding the surf and staying away from the rocks, the crew of Gypsy Wind were jumping up and down on the bow of their beautiful boat shouting with excitement as we rode past them heading into the marina.  We had dinner with them tonight, caught up on life, and the kids were so happy to be reunited with old friends.   We talked about how intimately one gets to know another while out cruising.  Kim pointed out that the act of going grocery shopping together is an intimate activity – back home, I don’t think I’ve ever done this with my friends.  The simple knowledge of a friend’s grocery buying habits, how quickly they get through the store, etc. may seem trivial, but indeed it is intimate. Our friendship with the Gypsy Wind crew is life-long. 

It had me thinking:  We go through life in our own little cocoon (in our case, it’s our family unit on a small boat) and then we connect with people who become precious to us.  Somehow, we matter to people out there, and they to us.  And that excites us.

We are heading to sleep a very happy bunch.

-Safe in Mazatlan,

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hard on the Hard

Its Hard on the Hard.  Last week we hauled our boat to have the bottom painted.  Living on land on a boat is not all its cracked up to be: the dirt, climbing a 7 foot ladder to get aboard, needing to use ice to keep the fridge working (since it can’t  pump sea water into the cooling system), etc.
The boat yard uses a rail car to which the boat gets tied at its four corners and then propped up using sometimes nothing more than a pile of plywood to support the rest of the boat which is more or less resting on its keels. Divers are sent under the boat to make sure it's all secure.  A large cable operated by a massive motor is used to then pull the car from the water onto dry land, or “the Hard”.  As odd as this whole mechanism sounds, it was pretty painless, especially as compared to the other option which is to have your boat hoisted up onto a sling.  In that case, you worry about the sling breaking and the nightmares that can cause!  For us, it got even more exciting when the workers had to hoist the boat up a couple more inches using an hydraulic hoist to paint the bottom of the keels upon which the entire boat was sitting.
The toughest part about living on the hard is that you must get onto your boat via ladder, which sometimes feels like it’s going to topple over.  That, and the fact that everything gets filthy from the dirt in the boat yard or your sandy shoes as you get onto the boat from the wobbly ladder.  Perhaps it’s much like living through a renovation, although we wouldn’t know as this trip is our home renovation.

Also, you can’t run any water down our drains or it runs the risk that it will ruin the paint before it dries (remember that our drains run straight into the ocean).  So, dishes pile up all day long until evening when the paint has dried (5-6 hours ) before they can be washed.  Also, as mentioned above, because our refrigeration/freezer runs on a seawater cooling system and even though we have shore power, we have no outside water to cool the fridge.  As a result, we need to use ice and our 12 volt cooling plate and also limit the number of times we open it to keep everything cold.  By the end of our stay on the hard we were beginning to wonder if the fridge was starting to smell.  Fortunately everything stayed fresh.

Because of all of these inconveniences we’ve ended up eating out more than we’d become accustomed to.  Also, the other benefit is that we now have a beautiful new paint job.  Understand that this is not just for aesthetics.  Bottom paint is important to fend off the growth of barnacles and other sea life, which can slow you down as you sail or motor through the water. Generally, you need a new bottom paint every couple of years.  Which means another couple of years until we need to go through this exercise again (hopefully)!

-Michael (at the time, in La Paz), now in Mazatlan where we are having more boat maintenance done!

Super Serpentarium

On November 18th, 2010, I went to the Serpentarium in La Paz with IMG_9238my sister, my mom, and our friends on Imagine, Holly, Shea and Shelly, instead of home schooling. A serpentarium is a zoo with mostly reptiles like snakes, lizards, and turtles. We saw a few birds, like a parrot and two owls  and many snakes like rattle snakes and Boa Constrictors. A few examples of lizards are the Green Iguana, who was really green, and the Rhino Iguana, that really took his name because he had a little horn on his nose.
One of my favorite parts (I liked it all) IMG_9250was strolling around viewing all the variety of animals. I was most  exited when we were feeding the turtles by tossing some food that looked similar to dog food into their pond. When you do this action, all the turtles race over to grab the food before all the other turtles trample him which looks like the leaning tower but in green; and a whole lot smaller.IMG_9264
I also learned that some lizards eat raw eggs. I know this because we were at the lizard pen when the zoo keeper came and beat the raw eggs because the yoke was too big to go into the lizards’ teensy mouth. When this was finished, the lizards ate the eggs sooo slowly I wonder if they’re done now.
Browse the internet for a local reptile zoo that you can visit. Then you can understand how amazing my trip was.
-Harrison under way from La Paz, BCS, Mexico to Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Michael Found

Michael is back in La Paz and we are a family of four once again.  Not that we’ve seen him much as he’s been on calls from morning to night (as I write this at 11:43 p.m. he’s on a call).  But it’s still great to have him home.  And I’m still taking care of some ‘blue’ jobs given that he’s holed up in our hull using MagicJack all day long.

Since he’s been home, however, he’s noticed several things.  First, he’s found that the kids have done really well with homeschooling.  We are now on Lesson 26 (out of 160).  Next, he found we have a new beautiful and larger wood table top that allows the kids to do their school work with much greater ease.  I had been talking about getting a new table for the entire first year, and am proud of the fact that I finally got it done. In addition, the kids have changed rooms for the second half of our cruise, each decorating and putting their own personal touches to make their new digs their own.

Michael has also found that we’ve managed to keep the boat in tip top shape – it’s clean, organized, and all the systems are working well, including our heads (marine toilets) and watermaker.  The anchor locker is still sparkly clean.  He’s also found that although we didn’t need assistance while he was gone, there were many other boaters who were looking out for us when they heard he was gone.  When he returned, he became known as the mystery man uncovered.

Most significantly, Michael found that we’ve become pretty tied to  La Paz.  I have become the Gringo community’s yoga instructor – by default, mind you – since I’m the one with the yoga DVD as well as the nerve to fill the void of yoga class organizer.  I have had to work with the board members of the highly organized La Paz cruisers club, Club Cruceros, to have use of the new *air conditioned* meeting room (we were the first!) without overlapping with any other Club activities like morning coffee hour. As a result, I announce the yoga class every morning on the VHF radio net. Michael was shocked to hear me being recognized by first name (as opposed to boat name) by the Net Operator during General Announcements – which is a sign we’ve been here a long time.  In other words, we’ve become deeply anchored in the La Paz Vortex.

What’s actually more fascinating than all of this is that it’s not surprising.  We have always been people who like to participate in the daily life and goings-on wherever we are – back home in our kids’ school, in our synagogue, in our professional organizations, in our clubs. It was only a matter of time.  That’s just who we are.  We are not sideliners, but rather prefer to play.  And we are happiest doing just that.  Are we narcissistic or simply have a need to connect and contribute?

As a rule, I think we all tend to gravitate toward the things we enjoy and do well.  We participate in life as the people we are.  When it comes down to it, we can’t fake it, or at least not for very long.  Often, these natural ‘gifts’ are so obvious to us that we don’t even know we have them, and instead think that everyone can do what we do with as much ease as we do them.  I’ve often told my clients not to resist who they are:  For example, if you are loud and a busybody, put it to work for you.  If you are a natural leader, put it to work for you.  In other words, stop making excuses or apologizing for that trait that comes so naturally to you, and instead embrace it in a positive way.   This yoga experience has given me even greater insight into this.  I have always loved to teach and being an 'expert'.  I do love being at the front of a room (even as I write this, I feel a bit embarrassed about saying that, but I'll stop apologizing...). And ask anyone who knows me well:  I love giving advice.  Life coaching, has, of course, been a great outlet for me.  I just need to find a positive outlet for all of this as I cruise. My issue with the yoga class, however, is that I am only comfortable teaching or advising on subject matters in which I can be considered an ‘expert’ and in yoga I am no expert. 

To compensate, therefore, I’ve spent unending hours reviewing a few yoga books I’ve borrowed and a DVD I have (and highly recommend: Yoga Shakti with Shiva Rea – it uses a matrix for the yoga poses so that you can choose a different routine everyday and not get bored of the same routine with beginner and more advanced options). Interestingly, today, a real live yoga instructor showed up and offered to teach the class – and it was a great class – but - at the risk of exposing my true colors - I actually missed teaching it myself.

You may note that I never said I searched the internet for yoga instruction information.  That’s also who I am:  I do not like research, I'm a very linear thinker, and I just want the right answer quickly.  I find the internet gives me information overload. I also find the whole ‘web’ of information too confusing and overwhelming for me. And how do I know which page from my search is the best one?  This research challenge completely frustrates Michael, a techie who can spend ridiculous amounts of time researching on the World Wide Web.

To sum it up, upon Michael’s return, he found that as things changed, they have, in many ways, also stayed the same.

-Barb, signing off from La Paz

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Building a Burrito

I recently saw the world’s largest burrito being built and now I know how to make a smaller one-serving burrito.  First, you need to make the dough.  I don’t know exactly how to make the dough but I do know it contains water and flour.  Next, roll out the dough into a circle and cook it on the stove. When that is done, spread the beans down the center first and put the fish on top.  After that, roll the tortilla up with all the filling inside it. Finally, EAT IT!! Bon Provecho (Bon Apetit)!

-Harrison in La Paz

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day of the Dead

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These are real people dressed in real costumes!

The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is an interesting celebration in Mexico, with its roots in both Pre-Hispanic Indigenous and colonial traditions.  Although it falls right after Halloween, it has many differences from our familiar kids-centric candy-gorging spook-filled costume-donning celebrations (not that I myself don't love the costumes and candy and spooking.  The Day of the Dead honors family members who have died, inviting them back for a visit.  On july4'10tonov3'10 379this day, families erect altars to their deceased loved ones which include items that characterized who that person was (favorite foods, familiar articles, and so on) to entice them and make them feel welcome in this world.

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To learn about these traditions, the kids and I took a field trip to the city’s Panteon Cemetery with a group from a Spanish language school.  The feeling at the cemetery was both playful and joyous, as well as sad and contemplative.  Bands played throughout, carts july4'10tonov3'10 372with food for sale were aplenty, and the colors were incredible.  We saw several tombs being painted by the family members themselves.  It was fascinating to see the variation in burial sites from huge walk-in buildings to tiny wooden tombstones, given what I am accustomed to in Jewish cemeteries where all the tombstones are the same size ('we are all the same in death').

That evening we attended the city’s crowded festivities with altar competitions, skeleton costume competitions, traditional dance performances and skits (for the latter, it must have been good because the audience was in stitches but we couldn’t understand a word!).

What’s most fascinating to me is the Mexican people’s perspective on death.  It’s somewhat playful and funny while still respectful.  There is not nearly the same fear of dying and death as in our culture – pehaps that’s why parents carry their kids in their laps in the front seat of their cars? – and they seem to live life with a much more carefree attitude.   I, for one, feel there is much more freedom in approaching death in a more playful way, and living life without having that ‘pink elephant’ syndrome.  That’s not to say I don’t still wear seatbelts in cars and helmets on bikes.
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-Barb in La Paz

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Big Burrito

july4'10tonov3'10 408Mexico is celebrating both its Centennial and its Bicentennial this year: It’s been 100 years since the Revolution that ended with the creation of modern Mexico, and 200 years since its independence from Spain was declared.  There are festivities all year long throughout the country.  In La Paz’s attempt at getting creative in its contribution to the festivities, last night it attempted to break the Guinness Book of World Record for the largest burrito.  The logistical planning began over a year ago and culminated in a 3 km (nearly 2 mile) continuous, unbroken, LOOOOOOOONG fish burrito, also known as Machaca de Pescado.  The statistics read as follows:

Sixty restaurants participating, 3,000 people assembling and cooking, 1.75 tons of green peppers, 1.75 tons of white onions, 500 kilos of prepared beans, 3 tons of tuna and a tortilla 3 km long running the length of the malecon (or boardwalk) from Marina de la Paz to Marina Palmira. july4'10tonov3'10 400 All this under the supervision of Guiness Book’s Latin American Rep Ralph Hannah, originally from the UK but now living in AsunciĆ³n, Paraguay.  Apparently, there are over 50,000 applications a year submitted to Guiness, and only 800 are chosen.  Those lucky few must foot the 6000 British pounds it costs to cover the judge’s salary, airfare and expenses (thank you to Baja California Sur, the state government, for picking this part up).  Talk about a cool job.

july4'10tonov3'10 389july4'10tonov3'10 402When Maseca, a major corn flour producer in Mexico, heard about the event, they donated all the flour needed and built a special machine to make the single piece tortilla.  We watched it being rolled out, millimeter by millimeter, beginning at 6 a.m. on the day of the july4'10tonov3'10 394event.  It was quite a site:  The procession was led by a pick up truck with a huge generator being doused regularly with loads of water to keep it cool – if it conked out, the tortilla would no longer be in a continuous piece, and *poof*… the world record would be lost.  Next came july4'10tonov3'10 401the truck bearing the tortilla machine which cooked and rolled the dough simultaneously; a crew filling the machine with a constant supply of tortilla dough; a guy checking to make sure the roll of tin foil kept coming underneath, and the plastic wrap on top of, the rolled dough;  a crew of eight (four on either side) catching the tortilla as it came out; another large crew placing the tables to follow the truck so that the tortilla had something to sit on; and a guy wearing an oven mitt guiding the truck as to when it  should stop and when it should go.  The truck was surrounded by crowds, including the media crew and of course the young Mr. Hannah, smiling occasionally for photo ops.  I wish I knew how many tables were used, but I do know that several of the participating restaurants had to close down for the day.

july4'10tonov3'10 420We were told that the burrito would be assembled sometime between 5 and 7 p.m. after the tortilla was rolled and the ingredients cooked.  In true Mexican style, at 7:15 p.m., the assembling began.  The 3000 or so restaurant workers stood arms length apart, and began first with a layer of beans, and july4'10tonov3'10 427then the Machaca de Pescado.  Ready, set, roll.  And then each restaurant, armed with only one ‘dull’ knife, began cutting the 27,000 pieces of burrito to be offered to the crowd.  This was excruciating to watch.  In any case, the crowd, which was at least eight people deep, cheered. It was amazing to see how orderly everything proceeded.   

july4'10tonov3'10 428This all changed when it became clear that after all that waiting, the time to eat was upon us.  The crowd pushed closer and closer to the table, and at the sign, within a split second (I kid you not), it was all gone.  Even the unopened bottles of hot sauce and the anti-bacterial gel bottles were gone.  Not a thing remained on the table.  For five of us there, we were lucky, as we got 3 pieces to share.   Not bad for a mass produced meal and a chance to participate in the making of history.

Danielle, Harrison and Leo Brodeur, our friend from Chat de Mer
Danielle, Harrison & our friend Leo (s/v Chat de Mer) enjoying the long-awaited taste.

-Barb in La Paz

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What’s Been Occupying our Thoughts Lately

The reports out of Central America, but particularly that paradise known as Costa Rica, recently are not pretty for cruisers.  Thefts are on the rise, and the saying goes that in Costa Rica it is no longer a crime, but rather it’s an art form.  The police are said to be corrupt and in on many of the thefts.  Dinghies have been stolen right off of the davits (those are the arms that stick out at the back of your boat that hold up your 300 lb. dinghy out of the water with rope). Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a piracy reported as follows:

“Last night was both exciting and costly for us here in Costa Rica. We were anchored off the beach at a resort town of Quepos. About 7:30pm while it was dark and we were below watching a movie, we were silently boarded by 6 or more heavily armed bandits carrying shotguns and pistols. They had been observing us for two days it appears. We were duck taped and because they were worried about me I received extra tape plus electrical ties and had two armed guys watching me. They took our 3 computers, cash, and all the boat electronics including radar, chart plotter, 2 ham radios, boat vhf radio, 2 handheld vhf radios, a Pactor modem, inverter, 3 cell phones, 2 handheld lights, and our copy machine. One of the bandits was crazy and probably on drugs, waiving a knife and pistol and constantly making threats. They also took our large dingy but I was able to recover it on the rocks by the beach later. They tried to steal the engine but it was too heavy. We have filed the police reports but have little hope of seeing the items again. The most important thing is that Clark, myself and a guest are still alive especially since I gave them a hard time. Our plan is to initially get a handheld vhf and gps. With those and our paper charts we can continue. We will gradually replace the stolen items as we progress along. We will also now move at least every two days in case we are surveiled again. To say we are disappointed in Costa Rica is to put it mildly. Until I get a new notebook computer we will be limited to Internet cafes- Until we replace the Ham radio we will be off the net.
Just another exciting day!
Crazy Bruce and Clark
Two Amigos - a lighter boat now.”

The report was made with a bizarre tone, and there is speculation about why this particular boat was targeted, but nonetheless, it is a frightening prospect.  The cruising forums for Central America have been discussing deterrents, such as alarm systems being used a boat, weapons being kept at various locations on the boat, and not leaving your boat after darkness.  Hmph. That is not the way we had hoped to spend our cruising time.

We have begun to seriously reconsider our plans.  We could just stay in Mexico, which has been ironically safe and friendly to cruisers (in direct contrast to what the American/Canadian media report), and take our time making our way back up the Baja peninsula to bring the boat back to northern CA.  Or, we could continue heading south into Guatemala and El Salvador, and then turn around and head north, making our way back up the Baja peninsula to bring the boat back to northern CA.  Or, we could continue heading south into Central America, dash through Costa Rica and end up in Panama, which is supposed to be beautiful and safe and interesting and fun.  With this option, we’d have to figure out what to do with the boat at the end of August 2011 as we wouldn’t have time to bring it back to northern CA by sailing it.  And finally, there is the option of heading to the South Pacific.

This last option is our favorite.  The problem is, as with so many things in life, the lack of time.  It would take us 3 weeks to get there (yes, that’s right, 3 weeks at sea without seeing land).  Plus, we couldn’t leave until mid-March at the earliest due to weather and seasons, and that would leave us only 4 months to travel about 7500 miles total.  Likely 25% of that time would be making passages to the next destination.  Do we rush through what may in fact be the most beautiful part of the world, a part we may never again have an opportunity to visit, or do we go south and hope that we get to the South Pacific at another point in our lives? We have put out ‘feelers’ into the ‘Pacific Puddle Jump’ cruising forums to hear what people have to say about this plan.  So far, it’s run the spectrum from ‘absolutely – take what you can get’ to ‘no way – you’ll be wasting your time if you rush through this part of the world’.  If we do decide to go, it will take a bit of preparation time to get all the right charts, cruising guides and spare parts.  It’s not nearly as neat and tidy as preparing for cruising in Mexico where there’s one guide.  We’d hope to end up in Australia with no time left to explore it. This is where we would put the boat up for sale and fly home.

In the meantime, as we consider all this, we are trying to sort out the mumbo-jumboed names of these various islands and island groups: The Marquesas, Hiva Oa, Nuka Hiva, the Tuamotus, Fakarava, French Polynesia, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Huahine, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Suwarrow, Society Islands, Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, and the list goes on.  

The adventure continues.

-Barb in comfy, familiar, easy La Paz

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Cruisers in our world are not people who go to bars looking to get picked up, as my dear girlfriends who visited this past summer thought. Cruisers are people who have chosen to live and travel aboard their boats (both sailing and motor).

The average cruisers, in my experience, are retired couples living off their retirement incomes.  Many are single men (I have met not a single single woman).  There are a smattering of young cruisers (again single men or couples) taking some time off from ‘real’ life before starting families and/or becoming gainfully employed.  And another smattering of families, who, like us, will likely be working into their retirements when their landlubber friends reach retirement and begin to enjoy their lives. 

Cruisers' boats come in all shapes and sizes.  We do not count the mega-yachts as part of our circle as these  yachts are in a category of their own:  usually owned by the uber-wealthy from around the world with full-time crew aboard keeping the boats sparkly clean awaiting the rare weekend when their owners plan to take ‘er out.   In the cruising community, the boats can cost as little as, well, nothing – perhaps salvaged heaps that the owner spent years to rebuild and make sea-worthy – and as much as several hundreds of thousands of dollars, particularly if you count all the fancy equipment one can technically have aboard. Some cruisers pick up odd jobs along the way to keep the cruising kitty alive, while others go back to the US or Canada for more extended periods to build up their savings once again.  Regardless of boat size and value, everyone shares – parts, advice, meals.  The key is not have ‘boat envy’, as my friend Sarah aboard -----One says.  And regardless of a cruisers' age, background and education, everyone is a potential friend, sharing this common experience we call 'cruising'.

There are those who have come down to Mexico on their boats or bought them here.  There are also those who, once here, simply stay tied to the dock or on the hook (sailor-speak for ‘anchored’).  These folks are no longer ‘cruisers’, however.  They are simply ‘live-aboards’, and have, perhaps, fallen back into that state of inability to cut the lines, as is the case with many would-be cruisers who spend their lives getting their boats ready but never feel they’re ready enough. Not that we can blame them.  Certainly the hardest part to getting our boat ready was not the physical labor or the system equipping, but rather the mental self-talk most of us have had to do to actually leave the dock.  In other words, we have realized that your boat always needs work, so that as long as your boat is sea-worthy, it’s ready enough.  You can get your work done along the way.  The hardest part is actually cutting the lines and sailing off the dock that first time.

And so what all these cruisers have in common is, in fact, the cutting of those dock lines, and the anxiety-ridden but exhilarating love-hate relationship one has with sailing into the unknown, enjoying a simpler life in many ways, and the take-it-as-it-comes attitude that is required for making all this work.  Not a bad crowd to run with.

-Barb in La Paz 

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Best Vacation Ever

This blog post was written by my cousin Ethan who visited with us last month with my grandparents:

I love being on Watcha Gonna Do.

When I went, we stayed in a marina in La Paz for a few days, and then we sailed for about 4 – 5 hours to an anchorage right next to a fishing village where I went snorkeling for the first time in my life.

After 2 days, we went to a different anchorage, which was where we just hung out for a few days.

After that we went to a place called Ensenada Grande, where there were lots of plankton called fosse fressents. They glow up at night if you move around in the water! They’re always there, but you can’t see them in the day.

After that we went to an anchorage for a few hours that had lots of sea lions, and then we sailed to an anchorage in La Paz.

While we were sailing back, we caught 2 huge female mahi mahis, which we ate for supper (Bubby made ecra (caviar) out of the eggs).

When we were back at La Paz for the last night, we walked around in a carnival for 2 hours.

Thank you, Bubby and Zaida for taking me on this wonderful trip, and thank you Barb, Michael, Danielle, and Harrison for having me on the boat.

-Ethan Gottesman-Kaplun (back in Toronto)

Five Ways to Get Out of Doing Your Chores

I’d rather stay in my room for three days than doing chores. Who likes doing chores any way?  Sometimes I just want to pretend I’m sick or procrastinate, by saying “One minute, one minute”.  Another thing I may do to get out of my chores is hire my sister to do them.  Or, you could either throw away the cleaning supplies in the middle of the night, or arrange for a friend to pick you up while everybody is still sleeping and drop you off late at night.  But today I just got them done, and in the end they weren’t that bad.

-Harrison in La Paz

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Doing Okay with the Pink AND the Blue

Michael’s been gone for 10 days now and we are doing just fine.  Not that we don’t miss him terribly – he’s certainly a force whose absence is felt – but we have managed to keep our home in ship shape.  I’ve continued with my ‘Pink’ jobs, like cooking, cleaning and homeschooling.  But in addition, I’ve managed some soft ‘Blue’ jobs as well:  Flushing the water maker (requires lying on the floor deep down into the engine room to flick the two levers that flush the watermaker filters so that bacteria doesn’t start growing when not in use), cleaning the anchor locker (which entails not just the cleaning, but also the movement of very HEAVY chain so that I could get the year-long accumulation of mud, sand and silt from under it), and changing the gas tanks on the BBQ and the main hook-up. I’ve been tightening the dock lines regularly, and getting up at night to check that all is okay when the wind is blowing strongly or I hear a strange noise.  I’ve filled bike tires with air.

The kids have been a great help – true crew members.  Harrison has helped me with things like putting together our folding bike and helping me with WD40 (the answer to almost all problems marine) to get a friend’s bike lock unstuck.  Danielle helps me with everything else and keeps me laughing (and exercising).

It’s still a bit embarrassing when I don’t know the answers to questions like what kind of props we have or what kind of bottom paint we need or how much our hauling out will cost.  But I’ll get over that once Michael’s back.

-Barb in La Paz

Monday, October 25, 2010

One Year Ago

The 2010 Baja Haha, an annual cruisers' rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, is departing today, Monday, October 25, 2010. We were registered to leave with this rally in 2009 along with nearly 200 other boats, but because of some  unexpected health issues, we decided to postpone our departure.  IMG_5955Health issues, or the possibility of them, are one of the reasons for doing this trip.  Michael and I both lost our fathers at very young ages (his dad was 61, mine was 53).  But these new issues, which turned up only 10 days before our planned departure, put us into a new conundrum. What were we to do? Should we even go at all? A lifetime of dreams, painful decision making, grueling planning and preparations, and high expectations were all at stake.   After balancing out all the risks and worst case scenarios, we decided to wait out only a couple of weeks, which put our departure only 3 days later than the rest of the HaHa fleet.  Our crew members were flexible enough to leave late with us. We were still able to check in with the fleet every morning once we got started, and caught up at both stops before meeting again in time for the Big Party upon arrival in Cabo San Lucas.   

But of course we questioned our actions every step of the way.  Were we being irresponsible? Selfish? Foolish?  Would we be able to forgive ourselves if something did happen?

And here we are, one year later.  The health issues that delayed us in the first place have all but faded, while many incredible experiences are behind us.  Did we do the right thing?  Given how things turned out, we can easily say we did, but had it been different, who knows? 

I guess that’s the thing.  Who’s to say one decision is better than another?  A decision just is.  And then you go with it. 

The other day Harrison asked me what the biggest mistake I had ever made was.  It was an easy answer:  Not getting out of a situation I knew wasn’t working, in reference to my first job as a lawyer right after the Bar.  It wasn’t that I took the job – taking the job was, after considering all the options, a good decision, a decision I made and I went with it.  I tried to make the situation better after I found that I was so unhappy, but when that didn’t work, I needed to get out and I didn’t.  I got stuck on the original decision to be there and forgot to look ahead.

Should we be doing another year? Should we be going to Central America or to the South Pacific?  Should we haul our boat in La Paz or in Mazatlan for a bottom paint?  Should we meet guests in Zihuatenajo or in Huatulco? How long can we wait for a 'weather window'? When should we be making our crossing to Mazatlan from La Paz? We consider our options, talk it through, make a decision and then go with it.  We cannot look back.  We must look ahead. And if changes need to be made, we make them as yet another decision in our path.

In fact, that’s a huge lesson that cruising teaches you.  You cannot get bogged down in the what-ifs or you won’t do anything.  You consider your options, you make your decisions, you go with it until the next decision needs to get made.  That’s life, isn’t it?  Only in the cruising world, the decisions seem so exaggerated, somehow; perhaps because each one is so all-encompassing to your life at that moment, or perhaps it's that some have a real bearing on your personal safety, or maybe it's because they need to be made so often.  Or am I forgetting what it’s like to live on land?

I am grateful that we've been in good health for the last year.  And we’ll keep looking ahead.

Signing off La Paz, BCS,