Monday, January 31, 2011

The War Zone
By Michael

On Monday, January 17, a 25-year-old Mexican man on a motorcycle rode down a trafficked Mazatlan street. He was apparently directly involved or related to parties of the Mexican drug war. Accordingly, another party to the same war, and different side, lay in wait and sprayed the rider with bullets from an AK-47. At least one of the bullets hit the young rider and killed him. Another of the bullets destroyed the knee of an innocent bystander, 69-year-old Canadian tourist Mike DiLorenzo, walking on the sidewalk with his wife.

Cartel territory
I've known about the Mexican drug war since President Calderon declared it. I've known about the high number of murders--many gruesome attacks in public places--attributed to this war. Yet I've not felt that Mexico has turned into a war zone. I did not hesitate to travel to Puerto Vallarta with Eleanor in May 2010 to check out Del Viento (in fact, the biggest danger we faced on that trip was from los mapaches, but we survived that incident). Windy and her mom enjoyed a pleasant week in Mexico in December.

I know that my perceptions are not aligned with most Americans. Friends of ours who love and know Mexico have stopped travelling there. People have questioned the wisdom of our plans to drive through Mexico on our way to Del Viento this summer. Granted there are whole cities in Mexico that I would not visit at this time, because of the violence associated with the drug war. But there are also parts of the world where I would not sail, because of incidences of piracy. Mexico is a big place.
Why the disparity of perceptions?
I think my lack of fear in visiting Mexico stems from my information sources.
  • It's been almost 20 years since my home life included cable or broadcast television. But because I have access to the Internet (New York Times, Google News, etc.) throughout each day, I know what is going on. I am as current as any CNN junkie. But my choice of news media sources limits my exposure to video of beheaded bodies and Policia SUVs ablaze (they are not played over and over in the course of a single news report, and then played again days later to illustrate a general reference to the Mexican drug war). The accounts of Mexican drug-related violence I read tend to be longer and include more information and a tempered perspective, they are not abbreviated to accommodate the commercial timelines of television. Finally, the accounts I read are in my own voice, not the voice of a professional delivering practiced alarm.

  • I read the blogs of many cruisers living in Mexico (many of those with kids). They offer glimpses of their daily lives in Mexico, wandering the streets of Mazatlan and other coastal cities. They travel inland on buses and in rental cars. They are Americans and Canadians reporting from a nation that bears zero resemblance to the apocalyptic war zone depicted on the nightly news in cities across the U.S..
    12 hours ago, I read a blog post by cruisers on Just a Minute, a family of three and a golden lab, who have been in Mazatlan, all over town, for the past 8 weeks and loving it. Loving the city, loving the people, loving the experience. Loving it before Mike DiLorenzo was caught in the crossfire, loving it since. The crew aboard Whatcha Gonna Do are right now travelling inland, in and around Oaxaca. The pictures and stories they posted are inspiring. Along these lines, Latitude 38 publisher Richard Spindler offers his informed perspective here (several references, starting in the middle of the page) and here (search "drug" on this page).
  • I have close friends who are retired and who own a home and live full-time in La Paz. They are not worriers, but they are also prudent and informed. With regard to their personal safety, both report feeling safer in their adopted city than the Southern California beachfront community from which they moved.
I have no interest in trying to downplay the problems Mexico has been confronting over the past few years. It is bad (where it is happening) and could certainly escalate and spread. But I do resent the way those significant problems (as they are today) are presented to folks north of the border. I think that the televised news media in particular, dependent as it is on shocking video and hyperbole, is not accurately reflecting the scope, the focused impact, of the violence in Mexico. I think this broad-brush reporting is captivating viewers and selling commercials, while selling short the truth.
I resent this because I think the false perceptions this is creating among many folks north of the border, is having a devastating effect on the Mexican tourism industry. And that hurts ordinary Mexicans. I think that in most areas of Mexico (and particularly along the Pacific coast), Mexicans are more affected by decreased tourism than by the drug war. I think this real decrease in tourism is a byproduct of the American and Canadian media.
I spent much of yesterday reading online press concerning the situation. What struck me most was the disparity between a 4-day-old Associated Press (AP) report relating cruise ship lines' perspectives on Mazatlan, and the blog posts I read daily from cruisers in the same city.
AP reported that the Disney Wonder cruise ship cancelled its planned 27 Mazatlan port calls for 2011, dropping Mazatlan from its "Mexican Riviera Tour" and substituting an extra stop in Cabo San Lucas. Holland America Line cancelled a planned January 26 Mazatlan port call, substituting Manzanillo. As Carnival decides whether to scrap a planned February 2 Mazatlan call, its representative gives the clearest (though not real clear) reason for the change: "There have been some recent security incidents that that have made cruise lines concerned about the safety of their guests."
Are these Mazatlan port call cancellations in the wake of the DiLorenzo shooting, a direct result of the DiLorenzo shooting?
AP reports that Carnival is moving its 2,500-passenger Spirit to Australia in 2012, citing, "...increasing fears over traveling to Mexico."
The same AP article adds:
    The industry magazine Seatrade Insider quoted Mazatlan Port Director Alfonso Gil Diaz as saying the incidents causing concern were minor, such as one passenger whose necklace was snatched. "Mazatlan is very, very safe," the magazine quoted Gil Diaz as saying. "It's a shame because last year we had 526,000 passengers with no incidents ... This year there were three very minor things outside the terminal."
Oh, and what does DiLorenzo think of all this?

His local British Columbia news station reports that, "He says if he recovers fully, he has every intention on returning to his favourite vacation destination and possibly even buying a home there." In a more recent story, the station reports, "Mike still believes the shooting was a rare and random event and hopes it doesn't deter other people from traveling there."

But Mike, that ain't gonna sell commercials.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mexico Pictures
By Windy

It occurred to me that I hadn't really posted pictures from my December trip to the boat in Puerto Vallarta, and now I know why...

250 pictures look like this

Another 150 or so, like this

Yay! A picture most would recognize as a boat!


Ah! Here's one of me with my notes

My mom worked hard

So we deserved a break

There were real "cocodrilos" in the harbor

That's about it for pics --WR

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Channelling Baja
By Windy

Eleanor's painting reminds me so much of the Sea of Cortez--the red-gold earth against the bluest blue sea and sky. I'm eager to share the magic of the Sea with my girls. --WR  
"This is the best picture I ever painted."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Gem
By Michael

"The Drafting Table, Fuji 40 Review"
Bob Perry, Castoff magazine
September 1978
Okay, I didn’t really swoon (nor tremble) over the paper Windy brought back from Mexico (though I do have strong positive associations with that distinctive saltwater/diesel/boat smell). But I did get excited about a real gem I found among all that paper: a 1978 review of the Fuji 40 that appeared in Seattle’s former Castoff magazine. This is a real treasure. Renowned naval architect Robert Perry (Valiant 40, Tayana 40, Nordic 40, and many more) wrote the review shortly after the first Fuji 40 was launched.
Before we bought our Fuji 40, I looked at all 86 trillion sites on the Internet trying to find information about the boat. I contacted S&S in New York and four Fuji 40 owners registered in the U.S. to learn all I could. For all of that searching and inquiring, I never uncovered a reference to this review. Apparently, Castoff magazine is long gone.
Fortunately for future folks interested in the Fuji 40, the article is now accessible from The Fuji 40 tab on this blog. This is important. After Cruising World published my review of the Newport 27, I wrote here about documenting what little information exists about many older fiberglass sailboats, and contributing to the body of knowledge.
Another curious aspect of this Castoff review is the pictures, or rather, the guy who took them. I’ve seen these same pictures of the Fuji 40 all over the place (online and in the original brochures, available here on this blog), but always without attribution. Here, they are clearly labeled as the work of Stanley Rosenfeld.

Flying Spinnakers, by Stanley Rosenfeld, 1938

Stanley Rosenfeld
So this guys is cool, or was cool. He died at age 89 in 2002. Apparently, he was a renowned photographer of boats, as was his dad before him. His New York Times obituary included a quote: “He was the dean of American yachting. He was the person who photographers today aspired to be.” He is credited with taking perhaps the most iconic photograph in all of sailing: his 1938 photo of two 12-meter yachts, "Flying Spinnakers."

He was a sailors’ photographer who photographed the America’s Cup for 65 years before finally abandoning the event he loved in 1995. Apparently, his remarkable decision was rooted in his love of the vessels and disdain for the advertising that by then covered them:
“It hurts me to look at them. I understand that the boats cost a great deal of money, and that the teams are very serious. But you shouldn't do that to a yacht.”


Monday, January 17, 2011

My Big Girl
By Michael

Not quite 700 pounds of paper...
Windy returned from Puerto Vallarta with 700 pounds of paper in her suitcase. Del Viento's previous owners (Dream Catcher) saved and left aboard every manual, receipt, log, note, and more --including paperwork from the owner before them (Texas Swan) and the owner before them (Second Wind).
Hundreds of pages stuffed into cracked vinyl notebooks and expandable folios filled to bursting, rubber bands stiff and brittle. I spread everything out across the dining room table, and then across the dining room, reading and sorting and making piles. I am grateful for all of it, her history.
Each page bears the marks of time, many stained with the rusted imprint of a paperclip or staple long deteriorated, all with the lovely old-boat smell of saltwater and diesel. My associations with these things are exotic, juxtaposed against our pedestrian urban lives.

Oh saltwater and diesel, how tantalizing--intoxicating!--this long-ago-familiar scent. My pulse quickens.
I hold each page close, trembling, and breath in deeply...and smelling the clothes of an absent lover. Even though our pre-purchase Mexico interlude was short, my memory of her remains clear. I look at her picture daily, admiring her sheer, her overhang beckoning. Holding her paperwork is a reminder that we'll soon be together, reunited.

Oh, my heart is heavy for my 27,000-pound girl.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Packing up Christmas

This year was our 10th and last Christmas in our D.C. home. It's hard to believe. Our tree for next year is roughly 11 inches tall and is already aboard Del Viento, waiting for us.
Enjoying our "Last Christmas"

Bye bye beautiful plastic tree!

We'll bring the stockings and decorations Grandma Frances made

Three whole FoodSaver bags full!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Shopping With Dad
By Windy

"Girls! Look no further. I found the perfect thing to buy with your gift card. This way!"

Mike traversed Toys"R"Us, taking Frances by the shoulders and propelling her past the My Little Ponies and Purple Sparkle Rainbow Whatsits, Eleanor in tow. At the far wall he gestured grandly at the box he'd staged on the floor.
What they didn't buy
"What is it?" Eleanor said.
"It's a really cool radio controlled boat! For when we're living on the boat!"
The girls regarded the box tentatively, then glanced at me, looking for reassurance.
"You put it in the water and you'll be able to stand on the dock and drive it around with the goes really fast!"
"Oh," they say together.
"Here hold it," Mike says, thrusting the box toward Eleanor.
Both girls take a step back.
"Dad? If we buy this, how much will we have left on the card?"
"Well, the boat actually costs a little more than what your card is worth, but if you reeeeally want it, I'll pay the difference."
"Thanks Dad, but..."
" can each pick out something from those bins we passed on the way in."
Eleanor and Frances have now edged their way to the far end of the isle.
"Hey, wait guys. Look, all radio controlled vehicles are 25% off!"

What they did buy (Thanks Aunt Andrea!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Humanity and Cruising
By Michael

I just finished writing an article I've been working on for about a month, for a financial blog. The blog's publisher asked me to write about what Windy and I are doing with our family, but otherwise gave no specifics in terms of what he was looking for. I've written for this blog in the past, and I am a reader, so I guess he left it to me to find an angle that would appeal to his audience.

My God was that hard. Every start was a false start. I ultimately abandoned five different articles before I was able to focus and find the perspective I wanted to share.

Like a lot of cruising families (and families who drop out and pursue other alternative lifestyles) our story and motivation is unique, complex, and personal. It's a difficult story to distill into 1,500 words. It's a difficult story to tell to a readership that doesn't come to the article with a knowledge of sailboats and the cruising life.

I ultimately ended up writing about who we are in the context of the average middle-class American family, the primary factors driving us to find a less-traveled path through life, and our approach to making it happen financially. In the end, it is a pretty simple and direct piece.
But in the course of the month I spent writing and thinking about us and what we're doing and why we're doing it, it seemed everything I encountered was an affirmation, rejection, or slant on my thoughts. My awareness of the topic was heightened and I saw it everywhere.

All of this introspection culminated this week when I watched a funny and poignant TED presentation, “The Power of Vulnerability,” by Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston. She spoke about her 10-year journey to discover that a person who is willing or able to be vulnerable, to accept vulnerability and not hide from it or mute feelings of vulnerability, is better able to make connections of love and belonging with other people. (Her talk was funny because she mocked her own inherent aversion to this touchy-feely topic.)
She describes how this characteristic gives folks the courage to be imperfect, it gives them an authenticity because they are able to let go of who they thought they should be and be themselves. It allows them to invest in relationships that have no guarantee of working out. Brene Brown highlights the importance of instilling in our own children a sense of worthiness, a worthiness that will give them the confidence to approach human relationships with a vulnerability that will allow them to be successful in those relationships.
So what does this have to do with cruising?

Nobody who prepares to go cruising for the first time, does so without allowing themselves to feel vulnerable. Preparing to go cruising for the first time demands questions without certain answers. Can I do this financially, physically, emotionally? Will I fail? Am I prepared? Do I know enough? Is my boat capable? Will my relationship with my crew endure? Will my children be safe? I think that many who never cut the dock lines and never actually go cruising, are limited by their inability to be vulnerable in the face of the intrinsic uncertainty.
Most of us are a product of a culture that inculcates the idea that we should eliminate uncertainty from our lives, insure ourselves against all vulnerability (read my post about deciding not to buy insurance for Del Viento). We are raised to hold security as our ultimate goal, and that vulnerability is anathema. Yet, the family cruising blogs I read (the linked blogs to the right of this post), portray families who have ignored this goal, rejected the assumed value of security in exchange for the real value rooted in each family’s personal motivations for heading out.
I think that cruising families in particular, people who dropped out to go cruising in their middle years (and peak earning years), are the cruisers most likely to have to accept financial vulnerability. No family afloat bought a boat with the hope that this hulk of GRP and teak would appreciate in value during the time they own it. None of us left careers confident that we can return at the end our sabbatical with a role and salary equal to our former colleagues who are sticking it out in the workaday world.

Unfortunately, our society does not define the pursuit of happiness as denying financial security for the sake of intangible value. It doesn’t define it as crawling back down the ladders we are all programmed to want to ascend. Cruising families are unique because we are leaving in the middle of something, heading in a different direction before reaching the expected destination. We’re skipping out early, compromising or abandoning the parts of our lives most valued by a society that defines us by what we do for a living. The families living aboard boats anchored all over the world, are people who accepted vulnerability, who left the paths of security promised them by their former lives.

Do I feel vulnerable as we get closer to joining them, to heading down a path less traveled? Hell yes, and it feels right.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Great Inkslinger
By Michael

Captain Fatty aboard Wild Card
I’ve made reference to Fatty Goodlander a few times on this blog and his name is probably well-known to most folks who have more than a passing interest in sailboat cruising. He has a column in Cruising World magazine and did a stint on NPR during the summer of 2008. He’s written a few autobiographical cruising books and does a radio show for a Caribbean station.

While I enjoy reading Captain Fatty’s column each month, what makes him important to me is the role he’s played in my writing life.

It has always seemed to me that writers—people we know as writers because they are successfully writing, it’s their identity—just are. That is to say they don’t seem to have a genesis. Sure, you can read writer’s biographies, but I’ve never read one (and admittedly I’ve not read many) that really details the transformation from the person who wanted to write, to the person who wrote successfully—until I read this essay by Fatty Goodlander.

I encourage anyone interested in writing to read it. It is a joy, a real pleasure to read. It is honest and funny.

This essay did two things for me:

Harry Crews
First, it inspired me. I read this before we hatched our 5-year plan and it has served since as part of the foundation for my belief that I will be able to earn an income, however meager, selling my words while we are out there. Second, reading this essay gave me cause to explore on the same site the list of writers that inspired Captain Fatty. This was my introduction to Harry Crews, now one of my favorite writers and the one who paved the path for me down a years-long exploration of southern fiction that I had thought ended with Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor.

Thank you Fatty.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

This Is Our Year!

Starting today we can say, "We're going cruising this year!" Back in 2006, when we launched our 5-year plan, 2011 seemed very far off. But, as we knew it would, the time flew by. Now, faced with all that remains to be done before we stick a For Sale sign in front of the house, some days we wish for a respite from the passing time, just a week or so to catch up, uninterrupted.

The plan is to plant that sign in the front yard the last week of April, or 110 days from now. Gads! If it sells right away, we could be on the road to Mexico 30 days later.

We updated "The Cost" tab to reflect the sum of our 2010 expenditures; 2011 will look altogether different.

--WR and MR
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