Saturday, October 30, 2010
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
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)
Thursday, October 28, 2010
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
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?
Friday, October 22, 2010
La Paz, BCS, Mexico
Thursday, October 21, 2010
In addition, I had gotten used to the idea that I’d challenge myself to stay out at the anchorage in La Paz while Michael was away, and which would continue costing us nothing. However, when it became apparent that he may be away for more than a week, we opted to bring the boat into the marina at a cost of about $30 per day plus electricity. Why the dock? Several reasons, which include: a) No need to dinghy ashore, b) no risk of our anchor dragging in high winds or a storm, c) no need to make our own water (use of the watermaker, or any system aboard a boat for that matter, carries a good risk that something will not work as it should; plus we’ve learned to use a water filter with the dock water so can now add the dock water to our tanks), d) no need to empty the heads (toilets) (an entire other blog post likely coming soon) as we can use the toilets at the marina, e) if needed, help is easier to get as dock neighbors are in closer proximity than the ones at anchor. I so wanted to be able to say I stayed at anchor without Michael, but I’ll have to wait for that challenge another time. In addition, I so wanted to save the several hundred dollars that staying at the marina will cost us.
Back in March, we were inspired by our friends aboard s/v Third Day, who keep a budget of their monthly spending on their blog, right there for everyone to scrutinize. And I don’t blame them. They should be proud – they spend ridiculously little for a family of four, including two teenaged kids. As in less than $1200 per month (even after they upsized their boat). I was in awe, and wanted to figure out how much we really spend. In Liza Copeland’s Cruising for Cowards, the author’s upward monthly budget for two people was $1500 – and that was 15 years ago! The upper end of estimated budgets are the result of extra trips home, more time at marinas than anchorages, and more eating out. So far, this week, we can check off all three.
Back to the Whatcha Gonna Do budget. We figure much more along Liza Copeland’s (upper) estimates, multiplied by two (given that we are four people), and then increased to account for the rise in cost of living over the past 15 years. These costs do not include expenses for any land based obligations (house, car, insurance). How do we know this? I have come to record every cent (or peso) that we spend.
We’ve been doing okay, if we don’t count the spending frenzies on our trips home or to visit family in Toronto. That sent our spending through the roof, increasing our monthly average by amounts too disappointing to share. But we have also not wanted to deprive ourselves of the cruising experience so we do go out for meals on occasion. Only not for $25 breakfasts.
And so in steps the guilt. Between the $25 breakfast and the hundreds of dollars in marina costs this month, I decided I would wash my own sheets. Not washing-my-own-sheets-at-a-laundromat washing, but rather wash-my-own-sheets-in-my-own-buckets washing. What possessed me? Saving 100 pesos, that’s what. Besides, my friend Paula on s/v Endurance told me she does it and it’s easy. Not so for me. It took all day. I swore I’ll never do it again.
But then I woke up this morning in sheets that were so velvety soft and smelled so clean (and not cheapo sinus-clogging perfumey clean like when I give it in to be washed at a laundromat). I may just try it again, only next time I’ll do one set at a time. And in the meantime, I’ll enjoy our time at the docks.
Signing off from Slip #146 at Marina de la Paz, La Paz, BCS, Mexico,
P.S. You’ll be proud to know we also saved approximately 400 pesos (about $32) by washing our own boat – something cruisers love to do when they get onto a dock with unlimited water. Our boat is now sparkly clean.
Signing off from La Paz,
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Besides, when I’m at home, and I have my ‘ugly’ moments, I can go off and be by myself. No one has to see it. Not so when you are together ALL THE TIME. At those times of ugliness, I can’t stand myself, so I can’t imagine how the others feel about me. And at times like that, I just need my space. My sweet kids take it as a time to want to comfort me (Michael knows better by now) and I have to tell them that for the moment, I just want to be by myself, assuring them that I’ll be alright.
In this small space, where does one go? To the bow of the boat, to my room with the fans blowing, to shore for a walk if it’s not too hot, for a swim, for a kayak. One needs to get creative.
In the book by Janna Cawrse Esarey, “The Motion of the Ocean”, the author states that it’s not so much the togetherness, but rather the lack of ‘otherness’. Your crewmates have to be everything to you. Which is pretty impossible. I don’t think any one person can be everything to you. In fact, I think that’s unhealthy. So it gets a bit tricky when we are somewhere or en route somewhere alone. What you must know, however, is that we are rarely alone. There is one wonderful cruising community out there. We have made some good friends along the way, so we have found alternative venues for ‘sharing’ (aka complaining) when the need arises. The things we (read: women) complain about are understood by every other cruiser (female) out there, regardless of age, background, education, or culture. The men, on the other hand, only need to discuss alternators, converters, sail drives, pumps and the like, and they’ll be fine. That and a woman to come home to, and voila: Needs met.
I must say that this has been a great time in my marriage. Who knew it would bring us so close? It certainly could have gone either way, and on many boats, it’s gone south. We’ve come across several boats where the couple is splitting for one reason or another, often after many years together, and sometimes even with kids. But for Michael and I, we’ve really gotten into a good groove. We work well together, and our labor divisions could not be more complementary (albeit along very traditional lines; cruisers call this the Pink and Blue jobs). We are really like a well-oiled machine when it comes to the workings of the boat and day-to-day life. We’ve also learned to handle each other very well when one of us is having an off day.
Like the time when we arrived in Mazatlan after being at different anchorages for about 3 weeks without any time alone (that’s when we tend to fight the most – when we haven’t spent time alone together). I had taken too much time getting ready to go out for our date night, and then got on the computer to send ‘one last email’. Michael was furious. I still convinced him to come out with me as I also really needed to get off the boat. We went into town and had dinner outside in the town square with music playing and crowds of people. Michael sat and did not say a word the entire time but at this point I know he still just wanted company and I was happy to oblige and be there for him. I was over the fight already – I usually get over things faster than he does. By the end of the meal, I went to the bathroom and there I was confronted by a woman who asked me, “Are you two married?” I was startled by the question, posed completely out of the blue by a complete stranger. I responded that we were, but inquired why she had asked. She said that she and her friends watched us all night, observed that we hadn’t spoken a word to each other all night and thought, “It’s time for you to move on!”. I had to laugh. I started blubbering amidst laughter that we live on a boat, we hadn’t been alone in weeks, he’s not usually like that, he’s so much fun, we are very in love, blah blah blah. It all sounded so excuse-like, even though it was true. It turns out that this woman was the Canadian Consul General for the State of Sinaloa. And she wasn’t impressed.
We’ve been fortunate that Danielle and Harrison can stay alone on the boat so that Michael and I can get some couple time. We take it sometimes to run errands while they are doing school work, or as a date night (usually more successful than the above example). We have always guarded our date nights, even on land, and we have realized that these are more important than ever. Spending time off the boat, away from boat projects, is essential for smooth sailing.
Interestingly, within the span of only a couple of days, both my kids asked me what makes a good marriage. I think that among other things, one of the most important is an admiration for the other person – for the things they do and who they are. I continue to be surprised by Michael’s skill and ability in sailing this boat and keeping it in good shape. I have learned to admire and indeed enjoy his humor more than ever. He’s been amazing with the kids, being a kid himself! And he’s been so accommodating of my needs. I can keep going… Bottom line, after the novelty of falling in love wears off, it’s the admiration and respect you have for the other person that will keep that spark alive. For me, at least.
Then there are the kids. There are times when the two of them seem to hate each other so much, and then they play so well together that we can’t get them to stop to set the table. I am not sure how other families do it when they have young kids. At least we all get breaks from each other. And it’s far from being bad. Indeed, it’s been mostly great. We have bonded as a family unit. We have many game nights and organized family outings like snorkeling or hiking. We slept on the trampoline together on the hot summer nights. Finally, a bed big enough for all of us! And then there are the moments, so many I can’t count, of great times that just happen when we are just being together. Today we helped each other as we caught two fish at the same time – all four of us taking turns reeling them in on two rods, excited to see what we had caught. We’ve had great conversations about issues like the BP oil spill and the Holocaust. The kids get to share interesting facts as they do their school work.
My relationships with each one separately have flourished. How decadent to be able to really get to know your kids – through how they learn, to how they think and what they are curious about. Of course I love them, but with each day, as I learn more about them and from them, I realize, ‘Hey, I really like them as people.’
There are still worries. I’ve been worried about each of my kids at different times. For example, Harrison has become progressively frightened by the accessibility into his room through his hatches to the outside (or rather, from the outside in). He’s up almost every night with bad dreams. We are considering changing his and Danielle’s rooms as the hatches into her room are smaller, plus her room is closer to ours. On the other hand, Danielle has become quite lonely lately as there haven’t been kids her age around for quite some time. I don’t know if there will be other kids further south in Central America, and at her age, I know how important her peers are. As I said, we can’t be all things to everyone. I’m not sure how to resolve that one – if only it were as easy as changing her room…
The issues on board a cruising boat don’t seem much different on land, except that they are magnified given the close quarters, and of course the lack of other distractions like work or school. Creativity in finding that otherness and/or that personal space is the key. Some days it works, and some days, not so much.
Signing off from Isla Espiritu Santo on Playa Bonanza,
Saturday, October 16, 2010
As is our routine, when we get a fish we haven’t gotten before, we pull out Fishes of the Pacific Coast, a must-have resource for cruisers in Mexico, and sift through the pages to identify it. These fish were clearly Jack Crevalles. The edibility is noted as Fair to Good, with the juveniles being good to eat, and the adults not so much. We weren’t sure if these 30 plus pounders were adults, so Michael cut them up and we put them in the fridge to figure out how to cook them later. Perhaps our first clue that we were wasting our time was that the meat was very dark, and that it bled a lot. Yuk.
Later that night, I googled “Is Jack Crevalle good to eat” and came across several comments such as: “For shark bait” or “For your worst enemy”. The best, however, was this recipe:
“Place fish on cedar plank, pour bottle of mustard over fish, place in oven at 450 degrees and bake for 5-6 hours. Throw away the fish and eat the plank.”
The fish filets went to the bottom of the sea this morning.
Signing off from Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez,
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Since we returned to La Paz on September 21, we have been trying to get our kosher meat delivered from the kosher butcher in Mexico City, the one who sent us meat on two previous occasions last year.
The problem is that the meat has been sent via Aeromexpress, which is associated with Mexicana Airlines, which has declared bankruptcy. Over fifty percent of their flights have been cancelled, and one is not guaranteed delivery of freight for several days unless you are prepared to offer your first born in return. Delivery of a live organ would have been simpler.
The following are the steps we had to take to get our meat this time around:
Step one: Send an email order to my contact at the kosher butcher. I then received a response that he can no longer send meat as chicken and such has been arriving at its destination spoiled. Step Two: After panicking that we will be spending the coming year as vegetarians, I involve my friend Dennise who is Mexican and therefore speaks the language and understands the nuances of everything Mexican. Dennise calls the butcher who tells her the same thing. Step Three: I call the butcher myself, and he tells me the problem is with Aeromexpress/Mexicana and that flights are unreliable. He can deliver the package to the airport but then can never know if it will go out that day or several days later. I tell him I will see what I can find out and get back to him. Step Four: I research other methods for delivery and find they are very costly. I then try to find a number online to call Aeromexpress and get the info on flights first hand. After several days and emails later, I contact someone who assures me that there is refrigeration in Mexico City to hold my order, but not a freezer. He also tells me about the upgraded service available. Step Five: I am put in touch with the Aeromexpress supervisor regarding which flights will go using the upgraded service. Step Six: I speak to the butcher and ask him to send my order using the upgraded service, as well as to be sure to use dry ice and cooler boxes. He tells me he can use dry ice and cooler boxes, but will only be getting fresh meat in five days so its best to wait until then. Five days later, he emails me to tell me my order has been compiled, is being frozen overnight and will be sent the next day using the upgraded service. Step Seven: I advise the supervisor at Aeromexpress that my package is arriving at her office in Mexico City and could she please give it priority to make sure it gets on the earliest flight possible. She tells me she cannot guarantee that it will go same day. I sweat. Step Eight: After receiving the email from the butcher that he has delivered the meat in three boxes totaling approximately $600, I then email the Aeromexpress supervisor with the tracking number. She tells me it is going out on a flight that morning. I sigh with relief. Step Nine: We rent a car to pick up the meat at the airport – we must get there as soon as possible after it arrives given that there is no refrigeration in La Paz at the freight terminal and it is 100 degrees outside. Step Ten: Nineteen days after I started my attempts to get kosher meat, we arrive at the airport 14 minutes after the plane arrives with our order, but it will take another 45 minutes to get the boxes out to us. We pick up our three boxes at a cost of about $150 in shipping (plus the car rental fee). There is no dry ice or cooler boxes, but it still feels pretty cold. We bring it back to the boat and load up the freezer, having to forego some frozen veggies to make room. Most of the meat is still frozen. Success.
The thing about Mexico is that you just never know. You never know if it will go smoothly. You never know how long something will take. You never know if you will get what you asked for. In this case, after several days and once the ‘mission’ was set in motion, it all went quite smoothly, other than receiving a few more chicken breasts than expected (I guess here when you request a chicken breast it’s really the pair – are you thinking back to the 15 boxes of matzah doubled in weight from pounds to kilos?). In Mexico one cannot survive without both patience and flexibility.
The steak that night could not be beat. Now we only have to pray that our freezer doesn’t stop working.
Signing off from Isla Espiritu Santo, BCS (we’ve gone out to the islands for a few days),
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
While we were back in California, a writer for a 'hyperlocal' online publication called InMenlo contacted us to do a story about our adventures. Check out the article at http://inmenlo.com/2010/09/22/menlos-mitganggottesman-clan-sets-sail-for-year-two-at-sea/Barb
La Paz, BCS, Mexico
So what’s been happening over the last month? Over one month ago now, Michael and I put our kids on a non-stop flight to San Francisco as unaccompanied minors so that he and I could spend some quality alone time. While the kids spent time with their second family, the Saal-Dalmas, and then participated in our annual ten-family Labor Day camping trip as our representatives, Michael and I relaxed and hung out at a resort in Cabo San Lucas. This was our first extended time away from the kids in over a year, and it was long overdue. My blog on relationships while living on a boat is still in the making so stay tuned. Needless to say, we had an amazing time in Cabo. We even managed to fit in some sailing – we signed up to race on a former America’s Cup boat. Michael even got to drive. I was the team captain and encouraged our bachelor party teammates to moon the opposing team. While it distracted the other boat, we still lost the race.
Our family reunited in California and spent a wonderful two weeks with many friends, as well as running errands, attending to doctor appointments and picking things up for the boat, not to mention a handful of High Holidays. We spent some time getting the house ready for re-renting and as we noted in a previous blog, managed to get it rented again for a second year. Whew! I had a few ‘dazed and confused’ moments as I struggled to be on a schedule once again – and a packed one at that. Several days were filled with multiple ‘entries’ but I no longer had my BusyBodyBook to keep me organized. I was so guilty of over-programming, and yet still managed to miss seeing several people I had wanted to spend time with. In any case, there’s never enough time to see everyone, but the time we spent truly had us reconfirming over and over again how grateful we are for the community we share back home. They are what will make our re-entry next year do-able – we’ll need their support as we have already started stressing about finding jobs, earning a living, and being productive again for more than just ourselves and our daily living. Okay, so maybe we stressed for only a few minutes. I keep telling Michael to remember how much we love each other and how well we are getting along now when we are both faced with the stresses of daily ‘real’ life upon our return next summer.
We returned to the boat on September 21 as Tropical Storm Georgette blew through the southern part of the Baja Peninsula. While roads were mud-baths heading from Cabo to La Paz, the rains did not stop us from loading up our car at Costco in Cabo (there is none in La Paz). Thank goodness Alaska Airlines lost one of our bags, or we wouldn’t have had the room in our smallish car rental for all our groceries. It took us a full five days to completely put the boat back together after we had packed everything up before leaving on our trip in preparation for a possible hurricane (which thankfully never came). It was just like the days back in San Diego last September and October – long days, the boat upside down and nowhere to step, unpacking, finding space where we thought there was none to store more things, cleaning, stowing, reloading. Definitely no time for school.
My mother, stepdad and nephew Ethan arrived five days after we returned and we spent a great few days together, both at the dock and out at the islands. We loved sharing with Ethan some of his firsts: first time living on a boat, first time catching not one but two fish, first time making your own sushi, first time seeing dolphins close up, first time swimming and snorkeling off the boat and in caves, first time driving a dinghy and a huge boat, first time playing Mexican Train. For my mother and Allan, this was their second visit with us, so by now they had the hang of it, getting on and off the boat and into the dinghy with much greater ease. Marine toilets were no longer an adjustment. We loved having them around as they are such great company. We shared a lot of laughs. It was a joy seeing the cousins together. Definitely no time for school.
Our guests left this past Sunday, October 3, and so came another beginning: the first day of school for Danielle in 7th grade and Harrison in 4th. As of today, we’ve done four lessons. Only 156 to go.
So what are we in the middle of? Well, can we consider Lesson 5 the middle of the school year? Perhaps pushing it a bit.
It’s the middle of what has become our two year adventure. It’s hard to believe that we are still doing this. Thinking back to a year ago, the decision to make this trip is such a no-brainer and yet we fretted so much over it. It is something that so many people have said took a lot of courage, but now that we are doing it, we realize it’s really no big deal. We are certainly fortunate that the timing was right and that financially we could manage it, but now that we are doing it, we realize we could not have made a better decision.
We have decided to hang in La Paz to wait out the rest of hurricane season rather than go up to that furnace further north in the Sea of Cortez where we spent much of August. While daytime temperatures in La Paz are near 100 degrees, it cools down significantly overnight into the low 70's. This was certainly not our experience further north. Besides, we are quite happy not to have to deal with bees. We hope to reunite with some of our boating friends over the next few weeks as they filter down here toward the end of hurricane season, either from points north in the Sea or from visits home in the US.
We have begun to tentatively map out our second year at sea, which includes becoming better informed of what’s involved in heading south into Central America and how we get the boat back to the SF bay area, if at all. We’ll be sure to keep you posted. In addition, I feel better about getting those blog ideas down in print now that I've completed this post.
Signing off from La Paz, BCS, Mexico