Sunday, March 28, 2010

Preparing for Passover

Many have wondered what we’ll do for Passover this year, which begins with the first Seder, or ceremonial meal, this Monday night.  Usually, we clean our home thoroughly, getting rid of any leaven which is prohibited during this eight-day Jewish holiday.  Given that we have stores of food aboard our boat to last for the year of cruising, we aren’t about to give it all up.  Cruising is, after all, about compromises.  And so, we have done a thorough cleaning of the boat, including the bilges (the area below the floor boards where we store a lot of our ‘extras’).  And we’ll get rid of any obvious leaven (like bread).  Otherwise, other items such as pasta, beans, rice and other grains will be simply kept out of sight.  My dishes will get a good bleach cleaning just before the holiday begins.  [As an aside, I’ve always wondered when non-Jewish people do their deep cleaning. If not for Passover, I’m not sure I’d do it at all!]

Back to leaven.  Without beans and rice in Mexico, what shall we eat?  Matzah, of course.  Plenty of it.  And as an FYI, if you are ever cruising in Mexico and placing an order for matzah sight unseen, boxes come in kilograms, not pounds.  In other words, my order of 15 boxes of matzah for the week arrived, weighing more than twice what I expected.  And so, when I say we’ll be eating plenty of matzah, I’m not kidding.  We’ll be making matzah farfel, matzah and eggs, we’ll make cake meal out of matzah somehow, we’ll make matzah brittle, matzah pizzas, matzah this and matzah that.  And perhaps even use matzah for fish bait.  And even then we’ll have loads of leftover. 

As you may know, matzah makes a lot of crumbs.  Matzah on a boat is like bringing your child’s sparkle project home.  Or throwing confetti in your home.  Or bringing a bucket of sand home from the beach and sprinkling it around your house.  You’ll find it for days, perhaps years later.  In a boat, this is somewhat troubling, and we haven’t resolved this issue yet. 

Meanwhile, we placed our order for Passover items and kosher meat with the kosher grocer in Mexico City, Kurson Kosher, which ships anywhere in Mexico.  The experience retrieving the order from the Manzanillo airport was a true Mexican experience.  We befriended a couple on the beach in Santiago Bay just north of Manzanillo.  This couple has a car, and they offered to take us to the airport to pick up our ‘package’.  Little did we know that this ‘package’ was actually eight large boxes.  Michael got to the airport at around 2 p.m. only to be told that the package was not there.  Michael then insisted that the person working the freight desk call Kurson Kosher in Mexico City to get the waybill number.  When searching for the package by waybill, the attendant could not find it as he had recorded the number incorrectly.  Michael then called Mexico City himself and got the correct waybill number.  Once the attendant confirmed that the package had indeed arrived, he told Michael that the only person with a key to the freight holding room was on lunch from 1 to 5 p.m.  (gotta love that Mexican siesta).  I’m not exactly sure how Michael managed to get the boxes out of the freight room without waiting until 5, but he arrived back at the beach 3 hours later, and we loaded all 8 boxes (in two trips) into our dinghy to transport back to our boat.   Somehow we found room for all of it.

My sister Maureen and her husband Jason and two kids, Daniel and Zachary, arrived yesterday in Tenacatita to join us for Passover.  They brought some non-perishable Passover items to supplement what we couldn’t get here (thankfully, nothing containing matzah). Our seder will be small this year – only 8 of us compared to the 28 last year – but will certainly be a night different from all others.  We’ve pulled several items out of our holiday box:  hagadahs (the ‘guidebook’ that leads you through the meal), seder plate (for the ceremonial items that go on your table), a skit of the Passover story (Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt), and a CD of Passover songs.  We’ve gone through the markets searching for items to create our own ‘plague bag’ (we’ve found frogs, locusts, cattle disease, wild animals; we’ll improvise the rest).  I purchased a square plate for matzah, and bought new little shot glasses for the 4 cups of wine.  I haven’t started my cooking yet and the seder is in two days, but given our small numbers, I’m making much much less than I normally do.  Store-bought gefilte fish, and no sweet and sour meatballs.  But we’ll have brisket and chicken matzah ball soup.  Yummy charoset.  And if I can find a boat in this anchorage with a blow torch, I’ll be making my mother-in-law’s famous frozen lemon desert (I don’t have a broiler to brown the meringue).

And of course, we’ll have plenty of matzah.

Signing off from Tenacatita Bay,

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 111

We've reached Day 111 of 160 lessons of homeschooling.  It's a cause for celebration (and in Mexico, they always look for anything to celebrate)!  We can call this one "Dia de 111 de Escuala" or something like that ...  Because we started school late into the year since we were so busy getting the boat ready, we've been schooling at least five but sometimes 6 days per week.  I've also found that fewer breaks make it easier to get back into the school week - after a break of even a couple of days, the first day back is never very successful.  This push has paid off - we have only two and a half months left of school.  The summer months are looking awesome!

I've spent a bit of time over the last few days reflecting on how it's been going.  Well, I can't say it's been stellar, but it hasn't been all bad.  I think the kids are learning, so that's a good thing.  It hasn't been terribly creative, which I think would make it more fun but also take more time.  When we have a good day, we start at 8 a.m. and are done by noon or 1 p.m.  We actually tried something different yesterday:  began the day with a beach walk and a snorkel and then did school in the afternoon.  But that only works when there are no other kids around, as all other kid boats do their schooling in the morning. We've also discovered recently that getting off the boat to do school at a palapa restaurant on the beach keeps them focussed well.

Michael feels like portions of this trip seem to revolve around getting school done.  My view is that school does need to get done, and this trip gives us some flexibility to do side trips and have cool activities in the afternoon.  I'm not willing to abandon school altogether, which some boats have done (okay, so they have younger kids, but most of the other kid boats we know do not take school as seriously as we do).  We are still trying to figure it all out.

The worst of it for me is when I lose my patience when it's taking too long.  I really dislike who I become when I lose my patience, and Harrison insists I lose my patience every day of schooling. What's interesting is that I don't feel angry, but apparently I sound pretty bad.  So to counteract this, Michael and I tried to brainstorm possibilities of how to deal with it.  There's forgetting about schooling altogether, but as I noted above, I'm not willing to have my kids repeat a year or part of it, and I am vehemently trying to avoid even having tutors.  There's letting them do it on their own, but when this happens, I have a lot of correcting to catch up with.  There's having Michael take over some of the homeschooling. I have found that when I get a break, I am oh-so much more patient.  And then there's using the technique that my life coach suggested to me about getting my kids ready in the morning without angst:  Just don't get angry.  Whatever I do, my only true goal must be not to lose my patience and get angry.  Seems simple but it's a great technique. For two days, that has worked!  So far so good.

We will be taking a 'spring break' for the next couple of days as we prepare for Passover and my sister and her family's visit.  When we return to homeschooling, I will likely use a little of 'all of the above' to get us through the home stretch.

Signing off from Barra de Navidad once again (as we head north to meet my sister's family in Tenacatita),

A Story using Boat Names

Me and my friend Amy (SV Third Day) wrote this story using as many boat names as we could.  The names are all in italics:

'Whatcha Gonna Do'?

Oh, I 'Gato Go' 'Wiz' on 'The Boat'.

'Just a Minute'! I have the 'Aunt Sur' to your question.  The book had 'No Name' and it was by 'Don Quixote'.  It was about a 'Qualchan' who met 'Meshach'.  After the 'Third Day' they'd met, they talked about 'Amazing Grace'.  Then they sailed across the 'Ocean Blue'.  They needed a ton of 'Endurance' to sail through the 'Freezing Rain'. Then they saw a 'Dolphin' at their bow, which an 'Albatross' attacked!  When the 'Dolphin' swam away on his 'Sea Conquest' for more fish, they saw the 'Albatross' 'Fly Aweigh' and yelled 'Adios'.  Then they saw the 'Moon and Stars' and 'Blue Lightning'.  They had a night of 'Bliss' and 'Free Spirit' watching the 'Westerly' come in and listening to the 'Distant Drum' of the thunder.  Their 'Journey' with a 'Broken Compass' was their 'Last Resort'.  At the end of their travels, they had a 'Brave Heart' as they approached the 'Beach Access' in 'Slow Motion' and they were greeted by 'Julia Morgan', 'Natalie', 'Jesse's Girl', 'Rocsan' and 'Little Lara'They were finally 'Done Dealing' with the 'Escapade' of that 'Prevailing Wind'.  They all then listened to a 'Symphony' of 'Ludwig' 'Jammin' 'Bluzzz' 'Music' and 'Celtic Song' like a 'Rock Star' to a grand 'Crescendo' and 'Great Delight'.   They all felt 'Fintastic'!

Making Water At Sea

How do you make water at sea?  You think you're okay because you're surrounded by it, but if you drink too much salt water you may die.

On our big boat, it's easy.  You turn on the generator, press a button to turn on the water maker and it makes 50 gallons per hour (gph). 

If, G-d forbid, we are in our liferaft, it is not like we can turn on our watermaker.  To make water in a liferaft, we make a solar still.  You put salt water in a large bowl and put a smaller bowl in the middle.  Then you wrap the top with plastic wrap and put a small heavy object on it.  The heavy object makes a cone shape over the smaller bowl.  The solar still uses the water cycle to make fresh water.  When the sun heats up the salt water, the water evaporates, and the salt stays in the large bowl.  The now fresh water drops on the plastic wrap drip down the cone made by the heavy object right into the smaller bowl.

We actually made a quarter cup in a day, which is nothing.  FYI: at home you use five gallons to wash dishes.  You need one cup per day to survive. [Note from mom:  we've got some work to do!]

You can make a solar still at home, but I don't think you want to be in a life raft!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fireworks a la Mexicana

To quote a fellow cruiser, fireworks in Mexico are a spectacular sight completely unencumbered by things like, say, safety. We've had two such experiences over the last two weeks. Interestingly, one was Catholic, one Jewish.

The first close up of fireworks we experienced was in Melaque, a town next to Barra de Navidad, whose patron saint is St. Patrick. It's no wonder, then, that the festivities leading up to St. Patrick's Day are not to be missed. We got to the town square around 7 p.m. for dinner, and then proceeded to the rides that are set up, much like a county fair. We decided to take a turn at the bumper cars, which seemed to be unintimidating for starters. I rode with Danielle as driver, and Harrison drove with his friend Marcus (SV Journey). It turns out that the ride was anything but unintimidating. This ride went on and on. And then on and on. And then on and on some more. Not the usual 60 second ride we get back home. I kid you not: this ride went on for at least 20 minutes. And I was ready to get off after about two. There are no barriers surrounding the ride, and I kept holding my breathe as I saw a young child leaning over the edge the entire time. There were of course no seat belts. Every time Harrison's car hit someone else's, he and his friend went flying into the air about 3 feet (he loved it though). Danielle's giggles were contagious to say the least, but really, after two minutes I was ready for it to end. I think Michael got more laughs watching me look at my watch than at anything else. I kept looking for the ride operator to ask how long it was going to continue, but he was too busy first texting on his phone, then talking on his phone, then showing his phone to his girlfriend, and then, hey, where did he go??? He disappeared for a good several minutes, at which time I really started worrying that Harrison would be thrown from his car and no one would be there to stop the ride. After that one ride, I had had enough. I found out afterwards that I should consider myself lucky, as others claimed they had been on the same ride with people actually getting on and off the ride in the middle of the cars bumping around. Ahhh, it's great to be in Mexico.

The fireworks started at around 10:30 p.m. They are built onto a tower that has about 8 sides to it, each side with three fireworks wheels that spin. When a side is done and the three fireworks wheels have burned out, the tower turns to the next side for the next set of three wheels to spin. These fireworks would spin with embers flying into the crowd. People hold boxes on top of their heads to avoid getting burned. At the end, a helicopter of fireworks at the top of the tower spins until it flies into the air, and then comes shoooting down into the crowd! Watch the video at the bottom of this blog post - do not stop it when you think it is over, as that is when the helicopter lights up and shoots into the air.

But that's not all. After the tower is finished going off, the crowd disperses really quickly as the human bull runs into their midst, with fireworks strapped to his body. Yes, it feels a little like a suicide bomber. He chases people around as his body fires off colorful sparks that land everywhere. We got smart and headed for a cab immediately, but the sparks came a little close to the gas tank for my comfort. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Our second fireworks experience was this past Saturday night as we were anchored in Las Hadas, in Manzanillo Bay. To our surprise, there was a huge Jewish wedding being held at the resort here, and we watched the fireworks being set up on the beach. The harbor master sent a message to all the boats and asked them to anchor further out as he was worried that the embers would fall on the boats and set us on fire. Most of us did follow his advice although a few decided to stick around for the excitement. Whether anchored just off the beach or further out, however, most did water down the decks and  sail covers/canvas just in case. We also got buckets of water ready as well as our hose. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. And then we fell asleep. Until at around 12:30 the fireworks began. They enveloped one of the boats just off the beach but apparently there was no damage. A couple of boats found red plastic chunks on their decks the next morning, but that seems to be the worst of it. Unless you count the fact that the music went on until 5:30 in the morning.

I did, however, love singing along to Hava Nagilah, David Melech Yisroel and Simin Tov U'mazel Tov, eventhough my entire family went to sleep and didn't feel much like joining me.

-Signing off from Las Hadas, Colima, Mexico

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Seen at the entry gate of a private home in La Manzanilla, a small town in Tenacatita Bay.
Unfortunately, the owner was not home.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Contributing to the Cruiser Community

Danielle led the morning net yesterday, and Harrison did it again today. We are very proud of them. All went smoothly. It's quite a task, so much so that most adults won't volunteer to do it. Both got loads of clicks (applause).

Later today we'll head to the beach for a book and DVD exchange, as well as a games tournament.

Tonight are the Oscars. We just got Hurt Locker so will have an Academy Awards night over here with adults only (!) to watch it. We may have the kids watch Up! again - somehow they can watch movies over and over again and never get bored.

All's well in Tenacatita Bay.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Parting of the Sea: Low Tide in the Barra Lagoon

We've had interesting tides over the last few days in the lagoon where we are anchored, in Barra de Navidad (19 degrees 13.077 North, 104 degrees 42.762 West). Given that it was a full moon, the tidal ranges tend to be fairly wide to begin with, and the night we arrived it was no different: a six-foot-plus differential from high to low tide.
We came in to the lagoon as the tide was going down, but luckily it was still deep enough to maneuver without running aground. We watched another monohull come in after us - it had to back up and find a deeper route as it was not so lucky. We found one of the deeper spots to anchor in the anchorage with still only 3 feet under our keels and still another foot and a half to drop. This means that at low tide, there was only a foot and a half between our keels and the muddy lagoon bottom. Because we are a catamaran, our draft (the length from the water line to the bottom of the keels) is small (about 4 feet). Generally, monohulls have a much greater draft, and many sat on the bottom during this unusually low tide. Luckily, because the lagoon bottom is mud, sitting on the ground was not disastrous.
One boat, Moon Tide, even decided to purposely beach their catamaran to get some bottom work done. This was done by observing the lagoon over a couple of days to see where the shallowest point was, and knowing the tides. The boat was then driven over this shallow point at high tide, anchored, and awaited the drop in water level. The boat was then cleaned, and its crew then waited for the tide to rise again that night to be able to float off.

There are generally two high tides and two low tides daily on the west coast. While we have paid attention to tides at various intervals (we have them on our chart plotter), it's only been relevant pretty much in four situations. The first is when we've wanted to go up a river as you do for the jungle river dinghy trip in Tenacatita. This type of river has brackish water - part salt and part fresh water - that runs into a lagoon through mangroves. Here, you want to go into the river from the bay with a falling tide so that the current going in helps you motor upriver, and return downriver at a rising tide for the same reason. Of course our motor can take us against the current, but it's nice to have some help.

The second situation in which we follow the tides is going in or out of a marina or estuary leading to a marina or anchorage, as the tides affect the depth of the dredged channels as well as the currents which in turn affects your docking strategy.

The third situation is when you need to make a beach landing with your dinghy. When tides are down, the water is obviously shallower; the wave breaks at the shore are much bigger so greater caution must be exercised when you bring your dinghy ashore or try to set out back to your boat. Also, if you are coming ashore at low tide, you must be sure to pull your dinghy high up beyond the high water mark or you'll lose your dinghy as the water rises. With our hard bottom dinghy which weighs about 200 lbs., and another 100 lbs. for our outboard motor, we've become pretty strong. Another example of the family working together...

Finally, and perhaps the most important, we pay attention to the tide differential whenever we've dropped anchor somewhere: Your chain length-to-water depth ratio should be about 5 to 1 in relatively good conditions, and greater in large waves or heavy winds. The depth should be the high tide level, which we learned the hard way early on in our journey -- you may recall our blog post the night we dragged our anchor in Los Muertos as we hadn't considered that we anchored at low tide and didn't take into account that the tide would rise four feet - multiply that by 5 and you've got another 20 feet of chain that should have been let out. The more chain you let out, the lower the plane of its angle, which creates less pull on the anchor dug into the bottom. Make sense?
Here in the lagoon, the tides are much more relevant everyday for just dinghying to shore because there are areas in the lagoon that are so shallow they are above the water line during extreme low tides. As a result of such shallow water near the dinghy dock (perhaps only a foot deep), and for the first time since we began our journey, we got a fishing line caught in our dinghy motor (although quickly got it off without any damage). It's odd to see kids standing in only knee deep water in the middle of a lagoon, or fishermen doing the same. And it is quite a site to see most of this large lagoon dried up, giving the feeling that this is what it must have been like when the Red Sea parted - a good lesson as Passover approaches.

- Barbara

P.S. Some of you have asked why we put our GPS coordinates (otherwise known as our Lat-Long, or Latitude and Longitude coordinates). I believe you can cut and paste them into Google Earth (though you made need to convert them to decimal format) to see exactly where we are. It's pretty cool - check out this lagoon!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Birthday On Board

My 9th birthday (on February 22, 2010) was the best one (except for my train birthday when I turned three(?)). We arrived in Tenacatita when we saw that there were a lot of kid boats. Later that evening we had some kids over for a movie. While we were waiting for the guests to come, we played with my little rubber band guns. When everybody got here (Meshach, Third Day and Qualchan), we watched the movie "Up" (we have it) while having cake. When the delicious cake and the movie were done, we opened presents (which I had no clue about). Third Day gave me an awesome fishing lewer, Qualchan (which I met that day) gave me a punch balloon and 100 pesos. Meshach gave me gummies, a lollipop and a sweet pirate bracelet. It's great to be 9!!


P.S. I led the morning cruisers' net a few days later for the Gold Coast with at least 50 boats checking in from Tenacatita, Melaque, Barra marina and Barra lagoon. I practiced a lot before and it went smoothly. It was scary at first but then it was fine. Afterwards, everyone gave me radio 'applause' (when they click their microphones).

Monday, March 1, 2010

Kicking Back in Barra de Navidad

Well, after leaving Tenacatita, anchoring one night in Melaque (19.20 degrees N by 104.67 degrees W), we are now anchored in Barra de Navidad lagoon (which is just around the corner from Melaque). Finally got our laundry done after too many weeks and re-provisioned our food. Everything regarding the tsunami passed and, for us, it was really a non-event other than the drill of leaving Tenacatita. That said, you may enjoy reading the blog from our friends on Totem as well as watching this YouTube video from Ventura Harbor as the impact of the currents from the tsunami wave hit. Fortunately for everyone, the tsunami was a lot smaller then originally forecast.