Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Bond
By Michael

At the helm for the first time, motoring to the yard
Tuesday morning.
When parenting an infant, love and bonding stem largely from what you give of yourself. Your heart may not be ready to burst at 3:00 a.m. after you spent 45 minutes pacing the room to soothe your kid to sleep on your shoulder only to have her begin screaming the moment you put her down. But the joy you experience the following day when she falls asleep in your arms or flashes a smile is magnified by your hardship the night before—and all of the nights prior, it just is.
I think it’s the same with boats.
I felt overwhelmed in the heat and humidity the day after we arrived and I began to consider the amount of work ahead of us to get this boat ready to live aboard in the next 30 days. How could we manage it? We’ve been here a full week now and I know the answer: love and bonding.
The girls indifferent to the fact that their 29,000-pound floating home is being lifted
out of the water.
This past year I said I loved this boat to anyone who asked. But in the same way the deep love and bond I feel for my girls took time and sacrifice to evolve, it took these past four days in a Mexican boat yard, with my boat on the hard and me toiling in a cloud of toxic dust beneath her hull, to really feel a meaningful bond.
Del Viento hauled out with her dirty bottom,
her old name still on the hull
It’s been very difficult, like sleepless nights and really difficult diaper changes. I’ve thrown away clothing that cannot be washed nor worn again. I’ve sweated buckets for eight hours in the hot sun wearing a respirator, goggles, and long-sleeved shirts.
But progress is being made. I scraped and sanded a couple coats of paint off her bottom. I opened, drained, and faired her five blisters, epoxying and glassing them over. I disassembled, cleaned, and greased her Max Prop. I bored the hard growth out of her through holes and cleaned her knot meter transducer. I applied three gallons of fresh antifouling in two complete coats.
I now love this boat. We are one—at least on the outside.
Windy attacked the inside. With all toxic dust in the outside air, she did so with the hatches closed. In this sauna she sweated more than I did, for two days. She removed everything from every locker, preparing to paint. And she was our foreman, keeping up with the laborers we hired to parlay our time in the yard.
·         Ector and Abraham polished and waxed the hull above the waterline.
·         Abraham scraped, sanded, cleaned, and taped the non-skid surfaces on deck in preparation for painting.
·         Antonio mixed and supplied epoxy and fiberglass for the blister repairs.
·         Antonio obtained and sealed a new base for our windlass.
·         Arturo ground down the hull at the bow to bare fiberglass, determined our 24-inch crack was in only the gel coat, and re-glassed, gel coated, and polished the area.
Tomorrow is day five and we go back in the water.
Heading back to the villa in the new family car.
You hear stories from cruisers all the time about how difficult haul-outs are. Our haul out has not been a picnic and yet, we have it so easy. We are not living aboard in the yard, tracking toxic crap up the ladder with us as we go in and out, maybe four- to five-hundred yards from a dirty public restroom and shower. We are living in a villa that is a short dinghy ride away. We have a large, clean space to recover in each evening.
And my sister is here. She arrived with my niece and nephew on day two in the yard. Beginning day three, Windy and I could go there together, accomplishing more and returning home to a nice dinner on the table.
Today we get dropped back in the water. With all of the underwater stuff done, Windy and I can concentrate together on the topsides and below, from the comfort and convenience of our slip. One of our first priorities is installing the 12-volt fans we bought for the cabin…and painting the lockers so we can stow stuff…and getting the exhaust mixer on the engine repaired…and installing the carbon monoxide alarm…and cutting holes in the cabin top for the solar vents…and installing our new opening portlights…
Almost ready to splash, two new coats of Petit Trinidad SR, red.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Temporary Home
By Michael

Eleanor near her temporary home.
After 49 days on the road, we made it to Puerto Vallarta late Thursday. Here are the stats:
  • Distance traveled: 7,924 miles
  • Gallons of fuel burned: 310.53
  • Overall miles per gallon: 25.52 (this is amazing to me, considering we spent all of our time--except when going downhill--with the pedal floored, hoping to go faster, and we averaged only a little better than this in our day-to-day city driving in D.C.)
  • Number of trips to the gas station: 35
  • Cheapest fuel: $3.18 in southern Arizona (Mexican gas ain’t cheap, at least not on the toll road)
  • Tolls paid in U.S. (not including $36.60 for ferry to Olympic Penninsula): $54.35
  • Tolls paid in Mexico: $141.55 (paid in 1,499 pesos)
  • Child meltdowns: few (They are getting on better than they have in their young lives. This car trip has proved to be an unexpected boon to bringing them closer.)
I haven't written much about our plans for our Puerto Vallarta arrival and beyond, but we rented a 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath villa right near our boat, owned by the couple from whom we rent the slip. We rented it for the first month we are there. This will give us a home base while we get busy cleaning, painting, hauling out, and otherwise working on the boat. Also, my sister Julie and her kids will join us for part of the month, acting as our nanny so Windy and I can really go to town without distraction.
One of 16 toll booths we passed through in Mexico.
We always paid extra for our extra eje.
Having settled in, the villa is beautiful. Our boat is 50 feet from the patio in back, and the pool is 50 feet from the front door. If it wasn’t so bloody hot and humid, it would be a perfect situation for getting the boat work done. While the climate is slowing us down, it does seem today that we are beginning to acclimate, even settling into a routine. We went to the market and bought food stores, the girls spend hours in the pool, and we happily discovered the owner’s music collection spans Billy Bragg to Midnight Oil to REM to Frank Sinatra.
But we had to earn this nice place to stay, even after the difficult border crossing.
First, had we been following the Bumfuzzle blog more closely lately, we'd have arrived in Mazatlan Wednesday night knowing that there would be very few hotel rooms available, and they would be hard to find. We got into town about 6:00 p.m. and didn't find a room until 8:30 p.m. It ain't Semana Santa, but something close here in Mexico. All of the kids are out of school and the families are packed into all of the tourist spots.
Awaiting road contruction on beautiful Highway 200.
We are not parked on the shoulder, but in our
lane, and note there is no line to separate us from
oncoming traffic.
Second, Highway 200 from Tepic to Puerto Vallarta was a difficult stretch, and nearly 100 miles. It was a narrow, 2-lane road winding up, up, and up into a tropical rain forest with no shoulders, hardly a single pull-off the entire way, and trucks and tour buses passing us on blind corners. Our only respite came on the downhill run just before P.V. when we were stopped for an hour for road construction. It’s hard to really enjoy such a stretch with brakes that fade faster than the time it takes Windy to yell, “Slow down!”, an engine that can hardly find the strength to get us up the next incline, and a spouse in the seat next to me yelling, “Slow down!” for the duration.
And almost the entire stretch from Mazatlan to Tepic was absolutely beautiful. I wondered aloud on the drive why all of those cruisers just left Mexico for the puddle jump to the South Pacific as the peaks out our windshield looked identical to the iconic Bora Bora vistas. Of course, it’s likely because anchoring a boat in the Mexican interior is difficult.
Even on the toll road, we were diverted through many small towns on our trip.
What is especially interesting on this trip is how few Americans seem to be here. We aren’t seeing them. While the fear spawned by U.S. reporting of the Mexican drug violence* is a big part of it, the season plays a role too. When Windy and I were in Mazatlan 15 years ago, the entire Zona Dorada area was packed to the gills with light-skinned people who didn’t speak Spanish. The other night, it was crowded beyond belief with vacationers. Walking about for a few hours, they all appeared to be Mexican. The cover bands booming from the street-side bars aren't playing to American tastes and soccer games dominate the big screens. It was a nice, festive place to be.
When I imagined being here in the villa in Puerto Vallarta, and especially after we arrived, I worried about the transition to the boat. How will it be to move from this lap of luxury to a 40-foot fiberglass tub without A/C, a swimming pool, a large kitchen, big screen televisions, freshwater showers, and big comfy beds? The first time we all stepped aboard it was about 10:00 p.m. at night. We let Frances board first because she was the only one who hadn’t yet been aboard. Windy then ducked down below to turn on some lights and then came topsides while we let the girls do down below on their own to excitedly explore their soon-to-be-home. She and I sat in the cockpit enjoying the warm night air, the reflections of the marina in the water around us, the sounds of our girls below, and our own deck up to the bow, lit softly by the spreader lights. In that moment everything was right. I’m no longer concerned about the transition and I think Windy feels the same way. The end of this month cannot come soon enough.

* I can now offer my first-hand opinion that this problem is sensationalized beyond reality in the U.S. media. Granted there are real problems, but they are localized and day-to-day life here feels as safe as anyplace I have ever travelled.

A view lost to time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Not Bad For A Monday
By Michael

Deposit money in the box to the right.
I can’t recall a night before last night that our family spent the night in a brothel, at least not a Mexican one. But I’m way ahead of myself.
So we woke yesterday morning in Arizona both anxious and eager to have another go at the border. At 7:00 a.m. local time (9:00 a.m. PV time), I made my first phone call to the administrator of the villa development where our boat is berthed. This call was a follow-up to the email request I sent the night before, asking for a letter from him, on the development’s letterhead, indicating that our boat was indeed berthed there and that to the best of his knowledge, the boat parts we were declaring at the border were for the maintenance and repair of said vessel.
When I reached him about 8:00 a.m., he’d already read my email and made phone calls to the Mexico City Aduanas and the Nogales Aduanas. He was on the ball, but told by Aduanas that persons are not allowed to modify or repair their boats in Mexico. (Huh?) He had a lot of questions for me. I thought I did an adequate job explaining the situation when he offered to scan and send the requested letter via email. He said to give him a few minutes.
Excellent! In our mind, this was our ticket out of paying taxes on the stuff we were bringing in, critical to building a compelling case for Mexican Aduanas. But the clock was ticking; we wanted to get to the border soon as we had a long way to go.
When I called back 45 minutes later to ask if everything was on schedule, he said that the letter was ready to send, but he wanted approval from his boss, traveling someplace in the U.S. He was waiting for a return email.
“But we have to check out at noon, and we should get on the road much sooner that that…”
He assured us he hoped that permission would come in time.
At 11:56 a.m. (and after a couple unsuccessful follow-up phone calls asking how we could maybe change the letter to make it less objectionable), all hope was lost and we were packed up and walking out the door. The phone rang! The boss calling from Colorado. After a short conversation, he was eager to help and said he would send an email that minute authorizing the letter be sent. I called the administrator to give him a heads up, but spoke to someone else.
“He left the office. He should be back by 4:00 p.m.”
Our morning lost, we headed for the border with no more paperwork than we had with us Saturday.
The Aduanas officer I encountered was kind and understanding, but said there is no provision in the law to import our items without paying taxes. It was now 12:30 p.m. and the girls were stuck in the hot, uncovered parking lot behind the building. I said, “Okay,” and followed him to another office.
He introduced me to a guy and left. The guy said he was my broker and his fee was $75.00USD, in addition to any taxes owed.
”Whoa, I don’t need a broker, I haven’t declared enough to warrant it.” He shrugged and replied that the officer brought me here, therefore I needed a broker. I asked him to excuse me for a minute and walked back to find the Aduanas officer.
“Senor, porque tengo un broker? No nececito un broker, los todos dolares son menos tres mil de persona.” He said that I declared five batteries, that this exceeded the threshold for a non-broker transaction.
There was no fire lit under my broker on this day. It was 3:45 p.m., and after I’d partially unpacked the trailer, and after he’d let me know a tip was in order since he was not making me unpack the entire trailer, when he handed me my paperwork and sent me to the bank. The amount wasn't bad considering the amount of stuff we are bringing in, terrible considering the stuff is for our boat.
Despite everything you may have read, neither the Bancomer nor HBSC bank branches at the kilometer 12 Aduanas station accept credit cards. Nor does either accept dollars. Despite the large Java runtime error message blocking the middle of the Spanish-only ATM screen, I was able to successfully parlay my lifetime experience using ATMs, to extract a lot of pesos.
It was after 5:00 p.m. before we finally pulled up to the famous Mexican Light Of Fate. Red or green? I was certain that if it was red we would be forced to unpack all. Others who shared our parking lot that day were made to do so.
Green! Every muscle in my body relaxed. We were giddy. It had been a long, stressful day and we’d covered only 12 miles from the Holiday Inn Express. We were all hungry.
At kilometer 21, we obtained our visas from immigration and then headed over the bank for our last stop: mandatory temporary import permits for our car and trailer.
“Senor, your name is on the trailer registration and your wife’s name is on car registration.” I took a look at the small registration cards the District of Columbia issued. She was right.
I don’t have any idea why this was a problem, given we were both present, but according to her and her boss, the trailer and car registration names must match. The only way to obtain our needed permits with non-matching registrations is with an original marriage certificate. After a lot of discussion and pleading, it was decided that a fax would suffice.
I knew that our marriage certificate was in a folder with our other important and rarely accessed documents, such as birth certificates. Neither of us had any idea where that folder was. After I spent an hour looking for the folder in the car, and poking around the trailer under the tarp in heavy down pour, we convinced ourselves it was inadvertently left with my mom among the boxes of important keepsakes and baby books.
We returned with every document we could find that had both our names on it, including the notarized documents we received from the title company when we sold our house.
No good.
There is only one motel in the border zone and we can’t leave the border zone without our car permit. The place charges for rooms by the hour; we bought 12 hours. It is the most interesting place we have ever stayed. The room has no outside door and we were not given a key. Instead, we pulled into a proper one-car garage, closed the garage door with an opener, and entered our room. It is clean but gaudy. With a nod to the girls, we were warned against turning the TV to channel 14. There are music controls at bedside and a deposit box between the garage and the room. If we were using the room as intended, we’d deposit some pesos in that rotating box before we were let in.
But we made good use of the safe, well-lit place. In our private garage, we completely unpacked the car top, the car, and the trailer, in that order, in a couple hours. In the last of the plastic bins on the trailer we opened, we found our marriage certificate. There is no holding us back today.
Windy in our snazzy garage, marriage certificate in-hand.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Debacle Debrief
By Michael

Driving across the border yesterday, still excited and
unaware of what was in store.
I have a much better understanding of what happened yesterday. This post is a distillation of what I’ve learned so far, having spent the past 28 hours reading tons of info online and hearing from folks in the know—thank you everyone and in particular Bob on s/v Owe No and Kathy on m/v Concordia.
The first thing I learned is that there are many varied opinions and interpretations expressed online regarding the proper way to cross the border into Mexico with your stuff, several in stark contrast. Furthermore, like the U.S. Border Patrol officer told me yesterday when I asked, what happens on the Mexico side of the border will largely depend on the individual official with whom you end up interacting.
For the straight dope on what should happen, I referred to the English portion of the Mexican Customs (Aduana) website:
Bottom line:
Persons entering Mexico can bring with them standard personal items (broadly defined and includes camping gear) without paying taxes. The quantities of a few personal items (such as laptops and cameras) are defined and restricted. The quantities of most items (such as clothing and toiletries) are defined only as, “suitable to the length of your intended stay in Mexico.”
We have no problem there.
Beyond this, anyone can bring in $75 worth of additional (legal) items without paying a tax. This can be items that don’t fit into the broadly defined personal category, or quantities of personal items in excess of what is appropriate for the intended length of stay.
You must pay a flat 16% tax on stuff you bring in that is in excess of the $75 exception, up to $3,000 worth of stuff (per person). Beyond $3,000 threshold, I don’t know what the tax rate is, but I know you must hire a Mexican customs broker to access and handle the transaction.
We were turned away yesterday because the stated value of the items on our list exceeded the $3,000 threshold and there were no brokers available. Technically, we should not have been turned away because the threshold is per person, meaning we should have been directed to pay taxes on what we declared (less than the $12,000 threshold four people should have triggered).
So I’m glad we were turned away. I don’t mind paying my fair share in taxes, but in this case, the taxes would have been due only because I did not have any means of proving to Aduanas that the goods and materials I am bringing in are intended to repair or replace existing goods and materials on property I own that is in Mexico. Under those circumstances, no taxes are owed, and without regard to the amount.
So our challenge tomorrow will be to prove our circumstances to the extent we are exempt from taxes, by law. This challenge will be significant. We cannot possibly meet all of the technical requirements to do so. Very few cruisers can.* We will rely on the common sense of the Aduanas officer we encounter, and luck.
Our game plan now is to contact the manager of the private housing complex in Marina Vallarta where our boat is. We can do this first thing in the morning since PV is two hours ahead of our time here in Arizona (only one time zone away, but Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time). Hopefully, he will agree to translate, move onto his letterhead, sign, and fax the letter I’m emailing him tonight. With that in hand, we should look much better to the Aduanas officials.
Another potential problem is that the TIP for our boat is not expired, but it is in the name of the previous owner. This may or may not fly, despite the documentation numbers matching our ownership paper work.**
Hopefully tomorrow night we go to sleep in a motel south of the border.
*As I understand things, the only way to bring boat stuff into Mexico and be exempt from taxes is to have a Temporary Import Permit for the boat that lists the particular items aboard that are to be replaced by the items you are attempting to bring into Mexico tax free. Furthermore, these excluded items may be limited to items used expressly for the navigation of the vessel. I read of one cruiser who could not get a replacement water heater past Aduanas tax free for this reason. This may not be accurate as there are a lot of stories of non-critical items being allowed.
If you are proactive and know you are leaving Mexico with the intent to return with parts you purchased in the U.S. for the maintenance or repair of your boat (such as bottom paint), and said parts are not identified on your TIP, my understanding is that you can visit Aduanas near your port before you leave Mexico and have them complete a Solicitud de Autorizacion de Importacion Temporal de Mercancias, Destinadas al Mantenimiento y Reparacion de las Mercancias Importadas Temporalmente to identify the specific item(s) by serial number that are being replaced/repaired or otherwise used. I understand that with this approach, you will have no trouble entering Mexico with the identified item(s).
But in either case, you are still advised to first obtain a letter from the Mexican administrator of the marina where your boat is located, on their letterhead, stating that your boat is at their marina and that to the best of their knowledge, you will use the stuff you bring into Mexico on your boat and not sell it.
**We could order a TIP online in our name from the Banjercito site (, but they arrive via postal mail.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

We Made It To Mexico!!
By Michael

We visited our friends Jim and Marry at their home in Tucson.
In 1998, I proposed to Windy at their home in Punta Chivato,
After spending last night in Tucson, we crossed the border at Nogales today, just before noon. After about four hours in the car with the sun beating down on us and the air temperature holding steady at 103 degrees Fahrenheit, a U.S. Border Patrol agent welcomed us back into the U.S. Tonight we are at a Holiday Inn Express in Arizona, just across the border.

We left Tucson with all our ducks in a row: passports, temporary import permit (TIP) for the boat, a list of everything we are declaring, and money. The border crossing was uneventful and we took the truck bypass route (contrary to what we initially intended, but based on the advise of others--thank you!) and zipped by the first aduana office and up a long grade, about 7 kilometers from the border. Here we paid a 66 peso toll and continued on. After another 7 kilometers or so, we stopped at a second aduana office and pulled into the parking lot for folks with stuff to declare.

A guy with a uniform and a gun greeted us. He asked to see our list, printed en Espanol.

Bingo, no problema. I handed it to him. He looked it over and began shaking his head. In broken English he ran his hand down the list and asked if we were bringing all of this in.


"Esta mas de tres mil dolares."

"Si, hay--por el barco de vela." I offered up the TIP.

"Where's your letter from the marina?" he asked.

I read that to avoid duty, we need to have three things: our list, a Mexican TIP for the boat, and a letter from a Mexican marina agent. This letter is called a Solicitude de Mercancias and it says, in short, "yes, the boat is here in our marina and to the best of our knowledge, the Robertsons are indeed bringing all of this stuff into Mexico solely to install on their boat." The problem for us is that our boat is not at a marina, but in a private slip we rent from an American.

We don't have a Solicitude de Mercancias and we crossed the border hoping that we could get by without one. After all, the worse case scenario is that we end up paying duty on the stuff that we are bringing in, right?

No, the worse case scenario is that the folks who collect the duty go home early on Saturday and don't return until Monday.

He sent us back on the road to the U.S. After paying another 66 peso toll in the other direction, we spent the next three hours baking in a long line of cars waiting to cross the border into Arizona, repeating over and over again to a parade of Mexican vendors that we did not want to buy what they were selling.

I can't describe how defeated I feel now. Are we so incompetent we can't get ourselves across the border? And we call ourselves cruisers?

We never made it to the checkpoint at kilometer 21 that everyone told us about. Should we not have stopped when we did? Would things have been different? Should have requested we be allowed to proceed to kilometer 21 to see if we got a different reception?

We welcome any helpful feedback, however critical. While waiting to get back into the U.S., I sent a Hail Mary email to Dick Markie at Paradise Village marina in Mexico. Our boat was there for a couple of years under the previous owner and I'm hoping that's justification enough for him to fax or email us a Solicitude de Mercancias, no response yet.

And it gets better.

To save money, we wisely used to book tonight and tomorrow night in Mexican hotels en route. We saved a bundle paying for the non-refundable reservations in advance.


The one bright spot? We finally figured out why our car smells like cat piss every time we
get in. See the car seats on the ground in the bottom right corner? That's where I left them
overnight at my folks' house in Templeton, while cleaning out and repacking everything.
My mom feeds a pair of feral cats that hang around their home.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Avoiding Carmageddon
By Michael

In Eureka, we were hosted by our good friends the Stewarts. In addition
to taking us around King Salmon in his skiff, Dr. Stewart and I
checked out the revamped municipal harbor--it'll be a good place
to stay as transients when we head north.
We made it to Pheonix last night. It was a long, slow trip from SoCal. I estimate we doubled the weight of the trailer and it is a real challenge to both get it going and get it stopped. Tonight we'll stay closer to the Nogales border crossing and then head across early Saturday morning. A guy at the Beacon Marine chandlery in Ventura advised us to not be lured by the bypass road as we enter Mexico, but to go straight through town. He said that the trucks all take the bypass and the checkpoint is accordingly much slower and less lenient. Anyone have an opinion about this?
Apparently, we dodged a bullet getting past the LA area when we did. Caltrans is shutting down ten miles of the 405 freeway for three days, in both directions. This is unprecedented. This is one of the busiest stretches of road in the world. In human terms, it is like clamping the carotid arteries on both sides of the neck and redirecting all of the blood to the head via local capillaries. The local news has been referring to the event as Carmageddon. In addition to the warning signs we began seeing 100 miles out, several people have warned us about this. In a genius marketing move, Jet Blue is offering $4 flights from Burbank to Long Beach.

Windy getting acquainted with her new
nephew Otis.
We saw lots of friends and family in the
Bay Area. Here our friend Von gives
Eleanor a fiddle lesson.

In Malibu, the girls showed their appreciation for the fact that our friend Ron was the second
person to warn us of Carmageddon.

Susan and Liam didn't warn us of Carmageddon, but we still enjoyed catching up on their
cozy patio.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sleepless In Camarillo
By Michael

$10,000 buys 338 feet of wire rope, 300 feet of tinned wire, 220 feet of line, 16 compression fittings, 14 LED bulbs,
5 batteries, 4 fans, 4 turnbuckles, 3 gallons of bottom paint, 2 life vests, 2 quarts of deck paint, 2 bilge pumps,
1 solar panel, 1 quart of bilge paint, a floating island, and lots and lots of miscellaneous stuff.
To date, the car trip has felt like an extended vacation with little to do but ensure we get from point A to point B to point C and catch up with friends and family along the way.
But things have changed.
Eleanor and her Uncle Shaun

We’re staying with my sister here in Camarillo, California (our final host before we get to the boat—nothing but hotels here on out). It’s a great location for buying boat stuff, and we had lots of boat stuff to buy. We’ve spent the past two days running all over town spending money like there is no tomorrow. It’s making me sick to my stomach (seriously, I know this is true because Windy handed me a cookie yesterday and I didn’t want it, that’s huge).
I’m anxious not only about the amount of money we spent the past few days (exactly $10,006), but that we’re not buying some things we should (we won’t know what these are until we get to Mexico) and we’re surely buying some things we will not need (such as the unknown extra feet of Sta-Set I purchased after polling the entire West Marine staff to estimate the length of a furling head sail sheet for a 40-foot aft-cockpit boat…I went with 110’). How I envy the folks who wisely refit their boats over a period of time, in close proximity to a decent chandlery, buying what they need as they go.
I’m also anxious about all of the weight we are adding to our trailer ($10,000 buys roughly 800 pounds of boat stuff). We planned for this, but the car has a long, hot 1,500 miles left to go and we will be taxing it like it has not been taxed to date.
Cousin Ryan and Aunt Jana

Accordingly, we made up our minds to go the mainland route, not the Baja route. We got good advice and information from several cruisers and others who have travelled both routes (thank you everyone!). I reluctantly agree with the consensus that we are better off with the mainland. Baja would be much more beautiful, the ferry ride across the sea would be an adventure, and I am eager to see our friends Tim and Nancy at their home in La Paz. But the La Paz route features steep grades that I think we may not be able to climb (and the word from both Marina La Paz and one cruiser is that the La Paz-Mazatlan ferry is often delayed).
We flew over my folks' house the next day. The
driveway is wicked steep, but doesn't look like
it from 1,000 feet up.
Last week, visiting my folks in Templeton (before adding all of the extra weight), the car ran out of steam halfway up their long, steep driveway. In first gear, with the pedal to the metal, the car slowed to zero. I spent 10 minutes carefully backing the trailer down the steep, winding drive, off-loaded Windy and the girls, and got a running start on the flat section. I got it up to about 20 miles per hour in first gear and kept it floored the whole way. Granted, this is an unusually steep road, but it made me realize we do indeed face limits. With just the weight we’ve been towing, I've kept it floored just to maintain highway speed on the slightest incline.
We plan to pull out of here tomorrow morning with the newly-loaded trailer and see how it goes. If successful, we should go to sleep tomorrow night close to Pheonix, Arizona.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Big Sur Funk
By Michael

Parked on a vista 800 feet above the ocean, Windy ducking behind the car to avoid the dust thrown
up by the medevac helicopter landing 50 feet away.

Our annual family camping pilgrimage to Big Sur was a highlight of my childhood. I’ve got a memory associated with almost every mile of the 6-hour drive from Southern California and almost every camping spot at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park—nearly all of them fond. So yesterday, I was eager to share those memories with my girls. And as we snaked down California’s Highway 1 from Monterey to Big Sur, I got more excited as eucalyptus, cyprus, and palm trees filled the windshield and the scent of sage filled the car.
Since she completed her 10-day wilderness first responder medical training, Windy has stumbled across more distress situations than most of us see in a lifetime.* Clearly there is a correlation between her getting trained and people deciding to need help when she’s around. I see a similar, inverse correlation between the eagerness I display in introducing something to the girls, and their interest in whatever that is.
For nearly 6000 thousand miles, the girls have been great. Between making paper dolls, drawing, playing car games, and listening to audio books, they have mostly kept occupied and content. But winding up and down Highway 1 in and around Big Sur (one of the most beautiful drives in the world) the girls were loud and squirrelly and fighting and oblivious to the vistas and 1000-foot cliffs.
Ages 5 and 7 are still a bit too young to appreciate the view
from our table at Nepenthe, let alone that Henry Miller once
hung out at this site (!). Instead, Frances spilled her
water all over the bench cushions and Eleanor
couldn’t settle down.
“Guys, look out there, you may see some sea otters in the kelp beds!”
“DAD! Eleanor poked me!”
“She wrote on my paper!”
To make matters worse, Windy felt like crap, and seemed to be getting worse. After lunch at Nepenthe, we decided I would take the girls on a hike along a river in the state park, back to a gorge I knew they would love, while Windy tried to sleep in the car. I walked that trail what seemed like hundreds of times growing up and could hardly wait to see it again with my girls. After getting changed into their bathing suits, we made it about 20 feet up the ½-mile trail.
“Dad, I accidentally swallowed a stick and it hurts to breathe.”
“Eleanor, why did you put a stick in your mouth? We’ve told you over and over…can you breathe okay?”
“Sort of.”
The girls (still in bathing suits and rash guards)
hanging in the foreground while a crew assists
the victim who was medivaced a short time later.
We cancelled the hike pending the threat of increasing difficulty breathing and the need to be in closer range of medical assistance. The $10 park entrance fee is non-refundable, even if you leave after a 45-minute stay during which time you see nothing but the camp store parking lot and the public restrooms where we changed.
No one's mood was improved.
Resigned to getting the heck out of Big Sur as soon as possible, we sped around a corner to find we were first on the scene of a car accident with injuries. Windy jumped into action trying to assess and help the injured and I managed traffic for about 45 minutes until more help arrived on the scene.
After this experience, the whole family felt better. We all had a lot to talk about after what we saw and did. The girls enjoyed the view all of the way down to San Simeon, asked good questions, and sang along to Tom Petty. Windy credits her resurgence to adrenaline. I was happy we were there to offer assistance.
* February 2011: Southwest Airlines flight from DC to Chicago, the guy in the seat next to her loses consciousness. April 2011: On Kennelworth Avenue just outside of D.C., she is first onsite after a pedestrian hits a bus and cracks his head open. July 2011: On Highway 1 in Big Sur, she is first onsite after a head-on collision between two cars.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

How Do We Get There?
By Michael

Big milestone: second front tooth lost during first
couple weeks of the road trip. (Road trip offered a
convenient excuse for why it took the tooth fairy two
nights before she could take the tooth during the
night and leave some money.)
We are in familiar territory, no maps required as we drive through California towns we used to live in and travel between. (Though, this familiarity is juxtaposed with the odd sensation of sitting in the car we all associate with our D.C. lives.) Today we’re in the small town of Woodacre. Windy’s folks live here, just a few miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
While Puerto Vallarta is still more than 1,600 miles southeast of us (as the crow flies), our route is no longer certain. The original plan was to cross the border at Tijuana, drive south down the Baja peninsula, take the ferry from La Paz to the mainland at Mazatlan, and finish up with a 1-day drive to Puerto Vallarta. Our original thinking was that the Baja route would keep us away from the drug-related violence we associate with the mainland.
But part of our party questions whether this makes sense:
  • Are the mainland toll roads safer because they are more traveled?
  • Is the drug war violence really a problem on these highways?
  • Is there a greater risk of crime on the less-traveled Baja roads?
  • Are the other hazards of the relatively narrow Baja roads (livestock, maniac truck drivers, hairpin turns, washouts) a greater threat?
The other half of our decision-making body doesn’t have first-hand knowledge to answer these questions.
And there are other considerations that we will weigh:
  • The overnight La Paz-Mazatlan ferry is expensive for a car and a trailer.
  • We have friends in La Paz we are eager to see (though we could visit them later in the year by boat when we sail north).
  • One of us has never driven the length of Baja and would really enjoy making that trip.
So if anyone reading this blog has made the trip, using either route, please comment or email to let us know your thoughts. Much appreciated. We plan to leave San Diego for Mexico around July 15 (!).

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Lot of Hellos
By Michael

After 4,900 miles on the road, we caught our first glimpse
of the California coast in Crescent City. Our little Ford is
still leaking exhaust gas and radiator fluid, and she is still
struggling up every incline, but otherwise okay.
As expected, I am thinking often about the people, places, and things that were the fabric of our everyday lives for our dozen years in D.C. I miss being casual with our good friends and neighbors. I miss play dates and dinner parties that happened, unplanned, just because. I wonder about the team I left at work, how they are changed with the new hires, and how the next project is coming along. I miss a space to call my own (other than the car). I miss cooking in my own kitchen and with my own implements, left where I put them last. I miss the cats, Mit and Georgia.
And unexpectedly, our major life change hasn’t been all about leaving and goodbyes, but making connections with people and places.
Despite our best intentions, with just 3 weeks annual vacation in our previous D.C. life, we may
never have gotten ourselves to Port Angeles, Washington to reunite with our friends
(and former cruisers) Don and Jim. Nor would I have ever learned that my wife can't throw
a horse shoe near the pit to save her life.
Because of our new life and this blog, we made new friends in Olympia, Washington. Actually,
the crew of Wondertime only hail from Olympia. They left yesterday to start their new
cruising life and for the next few months, they are our new friends of Vancouver Island.
Next fall, they’ll be our new friends of Mexico. A link to the Wondertime blog is to
the right, and Sara wrote nicely of our visit. It was good for the girls to be able to
explore their boat and to see first-hand that they are not the only sisters embarking
on a new cruising life.
Richard and Kathy own the slip we rent in Puerto Vallarta. Here we all are aboard their 45-foot
wooden trawler in Washington. I hope that we prove to be half as adventuresome as
this couple—and can one day tell stories like they shared with us.

Despite our close friendship, the circumstances of our previous life conspired to keep me from meeting
Amy Jo's and Paul’s new baby. Surprisingly, he's now 3 years old. Here is Ossley and Frances in
his poet-tree.

The girls played with their cousins Eoin and Katherine at Portland’s Oregon Museum of
Science and Industry (OMSI). Because of our new life, my sister will fly them down to PV
for a couple weeks of solid togetherness next month.
I appreciated my brother-in-law
letting me change our oil in his
garage. Here he is cleaning up the
mess that resulted from his
poorly designed oil pan.

No, that's  pizza on the grill. Amy Jo's
subsequent attempts were more

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