Monday, September 26, 2011

Don Street Fastnet Redux
By Michael

Placard aboard Street's former yawl, 2005

This summer, after a record number of boats set sail for the 2011 Fastnet race, Charles Doane wrote about his 2005 race experience, beginning with a crackly cell phone call from legendary sailing writer and personality Don Street, Jr., “Iolaire will be 100 this year, I’m turning 75. We’re going to celebrate by doing the Fastnet Race. You want to come along?”
Doane's account of his experience is devoid of the solemnity usually accorded Don, Iolaire, and the Fastnet. Instead, it is an honest and entertaining piece that is unmistakenly reverent.
Charles Doane is Executive Editor of SAIL magazine and the Steven Wright of sailing journalism: a master of dry humor. He publishes musings and news regularly on his blog, Wave Train (accessed from the s/v Lunacy link on the right side of this page).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Three Years Remaining
By Michael

Eleanor's new source of independence.
On Tuesday, I got an email letting me know Brian Kelley died in his sleep this week. He was my professor only a few years ago. In 2007 he completed his long, notable intelligence career with the CIA and then went on to teach graduate courses in intelligence and counterintelligence. Bill Gertz wrote his obituary for the Washington Times and T. Rees Shapiro wrote his Washington Post obituary.
I’ve been thinking about Mr. Kelley’s death daily. He was 68 years old. His unexpected passing doesn’t make me anxious about my own mortality, but it causes me to reflect on how I’m spending my life.
At age 42, I am recently aware of a new sensibility. I’m close enough to my 50’s and 60’s and beyond to realistically imagine those future decades. I can imagine my 5- and 7-year-old children growing older and more independent. I can imagine Windy and me living together alone, again. I can imagine my body wearing down and how that progression may affect me and change my lifestyle. I can imagine likely scenarios for our cruising lives and beyond.
I’m also close enough to my 20’s and 30’s to remember how open I was to an uncertain and unimaginable future. I remember my self-imposed limits on what was possible. I remember living in the moment and obsessing about the future. I remember how much more financially secure I felt with so much less. I remember my inability to see the progression I see now, trying to imagine my future: me married, me a father, me aging. I never doubted I would be 42, but my life at 42 was unimaginable until very recently.
Brian Kelley had about three years left to live when I was his student. The classes he taught allowed him to reflect on and share a career’s worth of significant, relevant experiences. I imagine he saw his teaching as a meaningful and patriotic contribution. I suspect he would not have spent his time much differently had he known the future.
On Thursday of last week, I learned that a former partner is suing Booz Allen Hamilton, the firm I left in D.C. to become an unemployed cruiser. Margo Fitzpatrick is a sharp woman suing for sex discrimination.

The U.S. is a litigious society (and arguably to a fault*), but court rulings shape and define our culture. Assuming her allegations have merit, our society needs plaintiffs like Ms. Fitzpatrick to engage in the long, bureaucratic, and contentious process she began. Yet she may spend the next three years of her life wrapped up in this litigation. Is this how she would spend her time if she learned these were her last three years?
I have no idea, but the question should be asked of all of us. We each have only one shot at a life.
Because of the way the Mexican civil courts are structured, litigation here is rare. Instead, disputing parties tend to negotiate with one another. The pressure is on to reach an agreement because both sides know that for civil trials, they must pay their own court costs and no special or punitive damages can be awarded. Mexican civil trials are not held before a jury, but judges alone review arguments in writing and render decisions. In Mexico, lawyers on both sides cannot be present when either party or witnesses are called in to make statements.

The girls in the main cabin working on something important, no doubt.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Cost Of Cruising
By Michael

Here I am playing teacher to the half-dozen kids living
in the marina. Believe it or not, they look forward to
my Tuesday morning Spanish Class For Kids.
Unfortunately, non-paying gigs like this don't help
pay for the cruising life.
How much does it cost to go cruising? I have a pretty good answer for our family: $109,292.
That is how much we spent to buy a 40-foot cruising boat in Mexico, visit the boat on two occasions, pay slip fees for 17 months, pay people to mind the boat and clean the bottom, take a 45-day road trip to relocate a family of four, and buy nearly $20K worth of goods and services to refit the boat.
Because we moved aboard September 1, I am considering everything spent to that point our answer to the question about how much it costs to go cruising. I'll note that it can certainly be done for far less and for far more, the biggest variable being the boat.
The question that interests me now is: How much does it cost to continue cruising? It better be a much smaller number. Over the next few months, check for updates to The Cost page on this blog to see how small the number is.


Fortunately, entertainment costs are low when cruising.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dieciseis De Septiembre
By Michael

The cake was chocolate, a cinnamon infused Mexican
chocolate, and saturated like a tres leches cake.
I happened to be around the corner and saw the white Hyundai van pull up. A dozen kids piled out and hurried excitedly off to the party. Then at least 10 smaller children emerged, more tentative but eager, tugging at the adults to accompany them. I approached a woman who seemed in charge, “Necesita ayuda?” I glanced through the van windows and spread my arms out, indicating I was ready to carry some of the gear in back. She said something about there being only a baby.
Maybe I wasn’t clear. I pointed directly at a sack of beach toys and repeated my question. She repeated her response, something about a baby. I reasoned that she meant the only thing that remained in the van was a baby, that she didn’t need any help.
She called after me as I walked away. She pointed into the van and again said something about a baby. My Spanish is too poor to catch the verb in her sentence.
I climbed in and saw a small boy lying fast asleep on a bench seat in back. He appeared nearly two years old. I turned to the woman for clarity, “El nino?”
“Si, gracias,” she said.
Brayan and me.
I reached under his arms and he stirred as I lifted him. I held him close, hoping he wouldn’t wake. His skin was hot and sweaty, like all of us. I turned and contorted out of the van, ready to hand off the sleeper, but nobody was there. I slid the door closed and walked with my little charge to the party.
Today is Mexico’s independence day, celebrating the 201st year since they escaped Spanish rule. This is a very big deal in Mexico, like July 4 in the United States. The few cruisers staying at Marina Riviera Nayarit (and with support of the marina) held a bake sale this morning to raise money to host a party for the 23 orphans living at Manos de Amor, the Bucerias orphanage serving the local area.
Kids lined up to take a swing at the pinata. Two blonde-haired cruising kids are
mixed in with our guests. My little buddy Brayan is poised to lead off.
There was plenty of food, a piñata, the beach, games, music, face painting, and a cake. I spent the first half hour holding “the baby,” Brayan. He didn’t speak, but eagerly pointed to the foods he wanted on his plate and walked hand-in-hand with me to the beach and around the party. My little buddy.
He, his 3-year-old brother Carlos, and the other 21 kids were a happy, interactive bunch. I don’t know what it says about me, but I imagined we’d be hosting a group of withdrawn, downtrodden little souls with a terrible lot in life. I thought I would spend my day trying to coax a smile out of just one child. Ridiculous me.
Windy applying her face painting skills.
In addition to their overt joy, all of the girls and boys cared for and helped each other like siblings at their absolute best. It was amazing. When one kid would fall, another would be there to pick them up faster than any adult could react. There were no tantrums, no fighting, not even a look askance.
From my very lay, shallow perspective, I think that this orphanage model offers benefits missing from the foster home model in the United States. Again, I know that I spent only a few hours observing only one group of kids, but they seemed like members of a big, close family. They were joyful and curious and seemed content. I imagine any one of these kids would be shattered were they adopted out to a childless couple and shown to their clean new room, alone.
Surprisingly, while most of these kids are true orphans, a few have families in the area who simply do not have the means to care for their kids. In these cases, the kids see their parents on a weekly or monthly basis, often visiting for days at a time.
He hits his mark and a cloud of flour erupts.
Ahead of the afternoon party for the kids, and after the bake sale, Windy and the girls and I spent the morning at the La Cruz town plaza, just steps outside the marina entrance. It was busy and colorful and seemed all about the kids. Folk music blared and the air was filled with the scent of churros frying in hot oil. Adults fanned themselves and kids chased each other, throwing hollowed-eggs, filled with flour. Cans of shaving cream were everywhere and sprayed with abandon.

Kids, flour, and shaving cream leads to the inevitable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Bum Day
By Michael

The Schulte family on their PV balcony
A couple years before Windy and I launched our 5-year plan to up-end our lives, I stumbled on a blog by a couple in their late twenties. Pat and Ali were busy sailing around the world on their 36-foot catamaran. There was nothing new to me about young couples out cruising, but blogs were new to me and this one was a good read and updated regularly. turned out to be sustinence for a guy sitting in front of a computer all day with fond memories of a cruising past and distant dreams of a post-retirement cruising future.
Eventually, Pat and Ali made it all of the way around the globe and in the meantime, we accelerated our own cruising plans to include our young kids. The Bums (as Pat and Ali are known) went on to document post cruising, non-sailing adventures on their blog. As the days, months, and years ticked by, I read and read and read, along with them all of the way. The years I enjoyed reading the Bumfuzzle site inspired me to begin this blog.
As I began to regularly document our pre-departure activities here, the Bums started a family, eventually bought another boat, and are now beginning their second adventure afloat. As it happens, we are all in Puerto Vallarta now with kids and boats.
Today we formally met Pat and Ali and their kids, Ouest (18 months) and Lowe (1 month) at the place they are renting in Old Town. Ali didn’t care for the beer we brought, but otherwise we had a good visit and the girls engaged Ouest and delighted in the roof-top pool. It was a nice respite from our boat projects and we look forward to seeing The Bums again soon.
Regarding boat projects:
  • I am a hair’s breadth away from completing the install of our wifi antennae.
  • I have the installation of the third solar panel all mapped out and needed parts in-hand.
  • I found the faulty ground that was preventing the refrigeration from working and the beer is cold.
  • I found and fixed the major water leak in the starboard water tank, but have no way of finding and fixing the very, very slow leaks in both tanks.
  • I don’t know why the Battery Combiner isn’t isolating when it should and I believe that is why our new starter battery is dead.
  • I don’t yet know why the 110 battery charger doesn’t fire up when I plug in shore power.
  • Without the starter battery to fire up the engine, I can’t confirm that I fixed the fuel starvation problem likely caused by the two completely clogged filters I removed.
  • I installed the CO detector in the girls’ cabin.

Hollywood is the force that turned Puerto Vallarta from a sleepy little coastal
town into the cruise ship destination it is today. In the early 1960s, Elizabeth
Taylor and Richard Burton came down here to film "Night of the Iguana,"
a movie based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name. They
had a torrid affiar on set so all of the tabloids descended on the town and
broadcast the romance and beauty of Banderas Bay to the rest of the world.
This bridge is iconic because it is the bridge the two lovers had built to
connect the residences they bought on either side of the street. We
stumbled on it driving home from the Bums' place. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What's In A Name?
By Michael

Here I am, removing the last of the Dream Catcher name.
After 15 years, she shall hereforth be known as, Del Viento.
Before Dream Catcher, she was Texas Swan and Second Wind.
There are all kinds of rituals folks are advised to follow
when changing a name. Imprudently, we did nothing.
I haven’t written much about our drama here because I wasn’t sure how things were going to unfold, but we have had a devil of a time determining how to square our boat purchase with the Mexican authorities. Up until last week, our boat still had Dream Catcher written on the side of the hull and in the eyes of the boat yard and Puerto Vallarta port captain, we were simply crew, with the owner’s permission to use and work on the boat.
When we bought the boat, it never crossed my mind that we would have any issues with regard to Mexican paperwork. I figured when we arrived in Mexico, we would present our paperwork to the Puerto Vallarta port captain showing that we now own the boat, simple and straightforward.
Our broker had another idea: “What you’ll have to do is sail to Mazatlan. En route, change the name of your boat. When you arrive in Mazatlan, check in as though you just arrived from the United States.”
He was emphatic. I questioned this approach several times via email. He finally said I should talk to a woman who specializes in Mexican paperwork. I went to visit her at her office. I showed her all of the paperwork we had. This included our new documentation, the previous owner’s expired documentation, and a copy of the not-yet-expired Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for the boat under the previous name and owner. She reviewed everything, nodded, and told me exactly what we had to do: “What you’ll have to do is sail to Mazatlan. En route, change the name of your boat. When you arrive in Mazatlan, check in as though you just arrived from the United States.”
What in the world? We didn’t break any laws buying a boat in Mexico. We used an escrow company based in the United States, we bought Mexican liability insurance for the boat, and we had copies of the most recent salida and entrada filed with the Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta port captains, respectively. Why is everyone telling us now that we have to break the law just to let Mexico know we now own the boat?
I sent an email to the broker telling him that we planned to bring our paperwork to the Puerto Vallarta port captain and explain that we just arrived and are happy to be here and we are the new owners of Dream Catcher, now called Del Viento.
His response came quickly from his phone, in all caps: “DO NOT GO TO PORT CAPTAIN! HUGE MISTAKE!”
The second to last thing I wanted to do was to make a big blunder with the Mexican authorities. The last thing I wanted to do was to sail into Mazatlan, lying to the Capitania del Puerto and Mexican immigration about my last port of call. I felt trapped between a rock and a hard place and Google was no help.
I began emailing other cruisers whom I knew from their blogs had purchased boats in Mexico.
I learned a couple of things that didn’t really help our situation. First, the Mexican bank, Banjercito, handles all of the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) processing and payment for boats—and there is no Banjercito office in Puerto Vallarta. The second thing I learned is that there doesn’t seem to be a right way or a common way to deal with this. A cruiser in Mazatlan I talked to bought a boat that had a Mexican paper trail that died with the owner prior to the person they bought from. They also received varied advice but finally simply walked into the local Banjercito office and had the name on temporary import permit updated for a small fee. And yet another cruiser I talked to in a local grocery store today said, “Yeah, you gotta sail offshore and re-enter the country as the new owners of your boat.”
I emailed the broker with some experiences and approaches other cruisers shared with me, wondering aloud whether any might be useful to my situation. He responded, "Don't listen to what other cruisers tell you because I have ended up getting them out of trouble more times than I can count. They think they know but they don't."
It was beginning to look like we had to go to Mazatlan and either arrive telling a big lie, or arrive telling the truth and hopefully resolving everything with a helpful agent in the Banjercito office.
Then the email arrived: “Talk to Juan Arias.”
We did.
Juan* is a straight shooter who, along with his sister, handles paperwork issues from the Puerto Vallarta office of their family-owned business. In Juan’s mind, we did not have an issue. “I will just write a letter to the port captain on your behalf, indicating I’ve seen proof that you bought the boat, and I’ll get your exit papers for you in your name and the boat’s new name.” Just like that? Really? Juan even offered reasons why the sail-to-Mazatlan approach was a bad one: “The authorities are pretty familiar with what cruisers have aboard when they arrive in Mexico. If they see a jar of Soriana mayonnaise aboard, you will have problems.”
In essence, Juan charged us $70 USD to do what I was originally planning to do on my own, but by this time I was so anxious and uncertain about the whole thing that I was happy to pay him. In fact, based on all of the bad advice we received, I half-doubted he would be successful. But two days later, as promised, he accomplished just what he said he would.
Presto, we are Del Viento!
As a result, I have little doubt I would have been equally successful had I gone to see the Puerto Vallarta port captain on my own. Also, according to Juan, the TIP is not important to port captains. He said we may need the TIP only for boat yards or some marinas (and when we checked into Marina Riviera Nayarit, they asked only for our documentation and Mexican liability insurance). He said we should go online, order and pay for a new TIP, and print and keep our online receipt as proof we have one (Mexico mails this by hard copy and we have no means of getting it down here for a while).
Windy and I talked at length about how difficult it is to separate the wheat and chaff when it comes to receiving advice. We decided that we can probably take with a grain of salt any future advice delivered emphatically, that uses fear in the message, and that offers no underlying substantive reasoning to back up the advice, especially when questions are asked.
My advice** to future buyers of boats on Mexico? Order an Importacion Temporal de Vehiculos online from the Benjercito website before you return from the U.S. or Canada to the boat you bought in Mexico. Order in advance so it is sure to reach you by mail before you depart. Also pack your U.S. or Canadian documentation or registration showing ownership in your name. When you get to Mexico, bring these documents (along with the most recent Entrada, if you have it) to the port captain who has jurisdiction over the harbor in which your boat is lying and let him know you are the proud new owners. With his concurrence, change the name of the boat and get either a new Entrada in that name (and with your crew list) to replace the existing one, or a Salida if you are sailing away soon to another port.
Once you are squared away with the port captain, you are all set. Mexican immigration (migracion) cares only that you as a person have a valid passport and visa. Mexican customs (aduanas) cares only that the stuff you bring in and out of Mexico is acceptable and taxes are paid. It is only the port captain you need to satisfy that you are entering and leaving his harbor on your boat. May things go more smoothly for those in our wake.
* Juan Arias’s office is located in Plaza Marsol, next to the Puerto Vallarta cruise ship terminal. He goes by the nickname, Paper Man.
Juan Pablo Arias MendivilPlaza Marsol Local, “D” P.O. Box 4-9Blvd FCO Medina Ascencio KM 4.5Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico C.P 48321
Tel: (322) 224-3555Fax: (322) 224-3585
** Disclaimer: my advice is based only on my own experiences and information I have received and interpreted.

This is Cow. Cow is an art piece owned by the mayor of Puerto Vallarta. The mayor lived in
the villa next to ours when we were Puerto Vallarta landlubbers. I didn't see him much while
we were there, but did see his wife, Jenny, often and his Secret-Service-like detail every
morning. When we were at the height of our Mexican bureaucratic angst, I considered
petitioning the help of our neighbor. I can't imagine that would have been smart.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Call Me Alejandro González Iñárritu
By Michael

Our current home is Marina Riviera Nayarit, in La Cruz Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico. The marina is about a 20- to 30-minute drive from where we were in Puerto Vallarta. The other day, driving back to La Cruz from Puerto Vallarta, I set the camera on the dash and started rolling video, to give folks a sense of what it is like here. Well, I had the wide angle lens on the camera and it made it look like I was driving about a 100-miles-per-hour. It was hard to see things. So, after exiting the main highway, I pulled over and changed lenses.
Following is the 10-minute video that I shot from that point home. With all of the pot holes, speed bumps, and cobblestones, the video is pretty shaky. Also, when I shot this the boat interior was in disarray and Windy and the girls didn’t know I was coming aboard with the camera rolling. Enough disclaimer, hopefully it gives a sense.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Home, Sweet Floating Home
By Michael

The girls messing about in Eleanor's half of their cozy cabin.
I’m lying on my back in my v-berth on my boat for the first time. One of the new fans I installed is quietly (and using few amps) pushing the night air over my body. Wood planks line the walls of this cabin, a warm nautical touch from the days when hulls were constructed of wood. Above me, a strip of teak curves around the underside of the cabin top profile. The large wood hatch is wide open, the overcast sky a pitch black.
Behind me I sense and hear the girls tucked away in their aft cabin, cozy nooks stuffed with stuffed animals. They’ve made a couple of forays forward with their new, personal flashlights, assuring themselves. This is their first night sleeping aboard their new home.
Eleanor is drunk on excitement and may not sleep for a while, having made a new, fast friend. Abigayle lives aboard Andiamo III, a lovely Hans Christian three or four slips down from us. We hadn’t yet secured the dock lines when Tami, Abi’s mom, greeted us and said another mother in the clubhouse thought we may be a kid boat. Were we? She graciously swept our kids away, down the dock and through the drizzle and up to the club house. A birthday party was in full swing, a movie on the big screen, cake. Our two kids increased the total number of kids in the marina by 50%, now there are six.
Windy and I stayed back, picking up the detritus from our first passage. From slip to slip it was about two-and-a-half hours, under power the whole way, moderate swells and rain. We were both sopping wet and chilled for the first time since arriving in Mexico.
Tonight we are at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz. We escaped Paradise when we visited La Cruz on the recommendation of Diane from Ceidylh. There is a gentle, small-wave beach nearby for the girls and if the lack of a pool proves a problem for the girls, we can buy a sprinkler for the dock. Windy and I like that we are not surrounded by high rises as we would be in Paradise or Marina Vallarta. Marina Riviera Nayarit extends out from the shore, surrounded only by breakwater. Too, the mountains here at the northern end of Banderas Bay meet the sea, without a valley or plateau in between. The perspective looking ashore or out to sea is refreshing.
For the two months we are here we have big boat projects on tap, including replacing seven port lights, fixing the refrigeration, replacing the standing rigging, fixing the leaking water tank, cleaning the non-leaking tank, installing another solar panel, and cleaning and bleeding the engine’s fuel system. Tomorrow I will start by taking the bus into Puerto Vallarta to retrieve the car we left behind, and stopping at the upholstery shop to pick up the rest of our main cabin cushions.
Maybe I’m as excited as Eleanor, because I may have trouble sleeping too. Going to sleep in a new home for the first time means that tomorrow I wake for the first time in a new home. Woo hoo!
Immediately after returning home from his visit with us in Puerto Vallarta, cousin Eoin (6)
reconstructed our memorable dinghy rides in Legos, and sent this picture.
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