Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Over the Edge
By Michael

Eleanor and Frances in front of our
new temporary home in Ajo. I took
this yesterday, early in the morning
as they started their walk to their
first day of school--Eleanor's first
day since leaving kindergarten in
D.C., Frances's first day ever. The
prospect of attending school while
in the States was a highlight for
both of them. Note the fleece!
I'm wearing socks for the first
time in years.
Nearly two years ago, we left Mexico and sailed straight into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“What’s your plan?”

“How long are you going to be in the South Pacific?”

“Are you circumnavigating?”

People asked these questions and we didn’t have answers. (I certainly didn’t imagine we’d spend multiple seasons in the South Pacific and make two trips home from the South Pacific.) Not only did we not have answers regarding our plans, but we cast off faithfully heeding Hayden’s oft-quoted admonition that our voyage, “must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest.” (I don’t think anyone would credit Sterling Hayden for his financial wisdom, but the dude had a pretty good pulse on what matters in life, and he certainly lived it the way he saw it.)

So there we found ourselves in the Marquesas, five years into our cruising life and running out of money and writing, writing, writing to offset some of the outlay. When I got out and about, I noticed that we were among a new community of cruisers. Yes, there were the familiar Canadians and Americans who’d crossed that year like us. Yes, there were the unfamiliar Europeans who’d been banded together for months, since the funnel of the Panama Canal served to acquaint them all. But then there were the boats that were just there, denizens of the South Pacific who’d arrived many seasons ago. They could answer everyone’s questions and mine was: “Is it possible for an American to find work in the South Pacific?”

Someone pointed out a green steel schooner at the end of the bay. “Go talk to Vagrant, they’re Americans and they’ve worked for years in the South Pacific.”

I couldn’t row over to Vagrant fast enough.

Tina and Shane were pleasant, but their answers weren’t encouraging. They’d lived and worked in the Kingdom of Tonga, Guam, and the Marshall Islands, but in years past. They told us we might get lucky, but they’d found most of their success chartering their own boat and doing work I wasn’t qualified for: managing the construction of a hotel and teaching SCUBA. “You’ve got to have pretty specialized skills that are in demand and be in the right place at the right time.”

But despite the let-down, Windy and the girls and I liked Tina and Shane a lot. And we kept running into them. Months later, in the Tuamotus, we crossed paths again and Tina came by in her dinghy.

“You love garlic?” I said to her.


“Your hat, it says Ajo on it.”

“Oh, no, it’s a place, in Arizona—Ajo, Arizona—we have a little house there.”

So we talked about Ajo. Later, Windy and I talked about Ajo. In the months that followed, Windy and I read and talked more about Ajo. We asked more questions about Ajo. We were intrigued by Ajo.

The girls walking to school on our
mesquite tree-lined street. I think
ours is the only house for blocks
without a tree in front.
Ajo’s a small, former copper mining town in Southern Arizona, right on highway 85. It’s two hours south of Phoenix, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, 35 miles north of the Mexican border. It’s surrounded by BLM land and national parks. It’s depressed and charming. It’s desolate and beautiful. It’s a 2-hour drive from dipping my feet in the water of the Sea of Cortez, at Puerto Peñasco. It’s relatively close to our West Coast families. It perfectly fits into a future Windy and I have imagined for ourselves, in which we cruise the Sea of Cortez for a part of each year with a home base we can visit in the States.


The nearest town is Why. Somebody didn’t waste any syllables naming these places.

“What if we bought a little house in Ajo, something that is really decrepit, at a price we can afford? We fly there and fix it up really nice, rent it out, and then return to Del Viento with a tiny income stream to add to the others.”

“No way.” I said to Windy.

Less than a month later, we were in a Suva, Fiji, lawyer’s office getting our signatures notarized on closing docs sent to us by an Arizona title company. Our firm low, low-ball offer on a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house we’d never seen in a place we’d never been, had been accepted. Because I guess that’s the way we roll.

This is a project. The house was foreclosed on years ago and has been vacant since. All the appliances—everything including the kitchen sink (and countertops)—are long gone. There is no heating or air conditioning. Even the gas company disconnected service and removed their meter (good thing because all the gas lines are cut off behind walls. We might be able to save one window.

We expected this, we knew this is what we had gotten ourselves into. We’re ready to tackle it.

The bigger questions loomed: How would we get to Ajo from Fiji? And, what would we think of Ajo when we got there?



  1. Congratulations on your new summer home in Ajo! We also are trying to figure out what we will be doing on Traveler. As you might know, we did the Cabo-Hilo-Ketchikan-Seattle loop this year. Now considering buying a fixer-upper in Olympia. Say Hi to Tina and Shane. Scott and Connie

    1. Hi guys, great to hear from you, we think of you often. Our friends on Wondertime, Sara and Michael and the girls, used to live in Olympia, for years and years, recently bought and then sold a place there. They may be good people to talk to. Let me know. We'll say hi to Shane and Tina. They're here now and we see them regularly. Adios!

  2. Ajo sounds a-ok. And the house sounds like a good project for experienced cruisers who are adept at problem solving, fixing, and generally making lemonade from lemons. Congrats! Looking forward to seeing life in Ajo mixed with the sailing adventures.

  3. Wow, great to hear an update and looking forward to seeing your home adventures. We're still in the thick of it!

  4. Hi all! My wife and I have read your blog for years, and used it as fuel to move closer to our family (Wife and I and 4 small kiddos) cruising dream. Thank you so much for sharing in your adventures and experiences. It has changed our lives. We remodel decrepit houses into loving homes for a living. I am happy to answer any questions you come across in the effort. I know you all are capable, but if you ever need a second opinion we are glad to help. Consider it payback for all the awesome you have shared so freely.


    1. Wow! Nice words, thank you very much. It's gratifying to hear. Hopefully we'll be okay, we've done all the work we need to do here in D.C.--ourselves. But we rebuilt the D.C. house over 10 years and we're gonna try to do the same thing here in about 5 months. Wish us luck. Keep writing over on Breaking Free. I know how much work it is, but it feels good, doesn't it? Thanks again Matt.

  5. Ive been to Ajo and Why, and they are fantastic. Facinating geology, amazing desert biology, huge night sky viewing, near Sonoyta, MX, as well as the Organ pipe cactus national monument, and a Kitt Peak solar observatory. It can be pretty quiet, but there are cities to drive to if you need more excitement.

    1. I look forward to sharing much more about Ajo. We're really liking it so far, for lots of reasons. I've never heard about the Kitt Peak observatory, thanks, we'll check that out too.

  6. Oh man you definitely know how to keep your readers intrigued and strung along... can't wait to hear more about the new plans and projects!! Congrats!! :)

  7. Congrats del viento crew! Love the "lets go for it" attitude!

  8. So great to see these posts on dry land! good luck kiddos


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