Monday, March 26, 2012

The Puddle Jumpers
By Michael

Hugging goodbye in Marina de La Paz
A final hug, a minute before
Wondertime's departure from
Marina de La Paz.
Hours spent aboard a boat under sail can be mesmerizing. Idly watching water flow past the hull or the turbulence of the wake that emerges from beneath the transom, is like staring at a camp fire. Acquiring your sea legs means your limbs begin to move magically in concert with the pitch and roll of the vessel under way. As hours turn into days at sea, your entire body is completely in tune with the vessel. If there is even a slight change to any of the myriad harmonizing forces that propel the boat, you will sense it immediately—even in a dead sleep.

But what of longer periods of time spent at sea, under sail? Unfortunately, I can’t offer my perspective on what it is like to be underway for longer than eight days (that is the longest period Windy and I experienced).
But our friends are out there now, two families aboard two boats, near the start of journeys expected to last weeks. Wondertime and Convivia are at the same time crossing the largest body of water in the world, bound for a South Pacific island. In fact, for folks completing a circumnavigation of the world, the leg between the west coast of the Americas and the South Pacific is the largest body of water that must be crossed. These two families are sailing over 3,000 miles to their destination, a relatively uncommon feat in the world of cruising families.
The Convivia crew:
Ruby, Tucker, Miles, and
Victoria (left to right), as we
remember them from La Cruz.
Are you curious to know what it is like to be at sea for nearly a month? Never stopping, just moving along, all the forces in balance, hour after hour, day after day, week after week? People who don’t live like we do often marvel that a family of four can live happily in such a relatively small space. Of course, it's no great feat. But consider not leaving that space for a month, the Big Blue your only view.

It may be easier to imagine it if you follow along: Sara on Wondertime and Tucker on Convivia are each chronicling their crossings as they unfold, on their blogs (connecting to the Internet via their on board, single sideband radios). They departed within a day of one other, but from cities hundreds of miles apart; their trips are independent.

Wondertime and Convivia are both about a week into their voyages and I eagerly await each new post. So far, fresh fruit and vegetable stores are dwindling fast. Convivia is slowed significantly by the loss of their light-air sail on day two.

So while you sleep tonight, while you’re at work tomorrow, while you make that dentist appointment for two weeks from now, and after that appointment has passed, two families on two small boats continue moving across a vast, empty ocean, nonstop, day and night. Aboard each boat, the trade winds are pushing, keel ballast is resisting, and they are making steady progress across the Pacific Ocean—at about the speed of a marathon runner.

On the beach at San Gabriel anchorage on Espiritu Santo
Good times at the islands with Michael and Sara of Wondertime (gaggle of kids
not pictured). It is a strange and accepted aspect of the cruising life that you form
fast friendships and then separate. The only similar experience in land-based life is
befriending folks while on vacation. But this is our life, not a two-week period
after which we return to lives intertwined with friends close at hand and planning
to stay that way. We'll stay in touch with the Johnsons as they start their new
lives in New Zealand, but we'll likely not see them again for a few years.

Windy and the girls watch from the end of the dock as Wondertime departs.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Not Just Here, But There
By Michael

I enjoy writing this blog, for writing's sake. Putting words together so they express precisely what I want feels good, forcing a mental clarity and organizing my thoughts. Ninety percent of the time I spend writing I spend rewriting, moving words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs around as though the page were one of those sliding tile puzzles. In that way, writing puts me in the same zone I think people experience when they are noodling through a crossword puzzle or focused on driving a race car. It can leave me spent, but I'm always eager for more--especially when I know folks are reading.

And now more folks will be reading.

This week, Cruising World magazine began reproducing this blog on their website! I'm pretty excited about this. Better still, I get paid a small amount each month for my content, subject to increase if my content proves popular. For the next week or so, only older posts will be featured, a few from the past couple years I think best illustrate who we are as a family and how we came to do what we are doing. After this run, the Cruising World site will display posts as I write them. Check it out.

On a related note, I have long said I intend to stretch our cruising kitty by selling magazine articles. We were so caught up in the refit of Del Viento during the first several months of our time in Mexico, that I didn't spend any time writing for publication. But during the past couple months, I dedicated more time to this effort and I wrote a few articles now pending publication. The most eminent piece is slated for February 2013, a Cruising World article profiling cruising families out here now (though that timeline is subject to change, as they often do).

Please stay tuned. Our adventure has only just begun. And I aim to write all about it.


Eleanor spotted this seahorse swimming along by the Marina de La Paz
dinghy dock just after we landed one day. The little guy would move
along with his tail just keeping contact with the bottom, like the way
an unsteady person may use a handrail simply to orient themselves.
I helped him pose for this picture.

This picture on the La Paz malecon was taken a couple months ago. The light
fleece I am holding--and Frances is wearing--is no longer required. This malecon
is the main pedestrian thoroughfare in La Paz and we've now walked it a hundred times.

Rock climbers in training

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Let There Be Light
By Michael

Not a bad view from the worksite
Seventeen months ago, we bought new New Found Metals portlights for our Fuji 40 at the Annapolis sailboat show. Of course, given that time span, new is now a misnomer, but only this week I finished installing and bedding the last one. These beautiful, solid, heavy portlights allow more air and light inside the boat than ever before. Because the plastic lenses of the old deadlights were completely opaque, we are able to see through our cabin sides for the first time.

But new portlights come at a cost. And I’m not writing about the cost of the portlights, I’m writing about the cost of returning to life aboard a construction zone: cutting through the solid fiberglass cabin side in our living space wasn’t pleasant. Doing it nine times (seven new portlights and I reinstalled two existing portlights) really sucked. Attempts to make it tolerable involved lots of duct tape securing a plastic trash can or cardboard to the inside of the boat, lots of Dremel grinding, lots of vacuuming, inevitable seal failures, and more tape and vacuuming. Butyl rubber, anti-seize, and caulk were in heavy use. I consumed eight jigsaw blades, a couple sheets of sandpaper, and almost a liter of acetone.

We took a slip in Marina de La Paz 30 days ago to get this and other work completed. A marina is like a parking lot for boats. While we generally pay nothing to anchor our boat someplace, it always costs money to park our boat in a marina. But alas, it is usually easier to complete serious boat work in a marina where profligate use of water and electricity is not a problem. A month at Marina de La Paz cost us $535.
I think there is an assumption among some cruisers and non-cruisers that if money were no object, everyone would park their boat in a marina wherever and whenever possible. After all, loading stores and hauling laundry are made easier by dock carts, showers don’t require a dinghy ride, and there is a perception that sleep will be sounder without a concern that the anchor may drag.

This isn’t the case for us (and many folks we know). Marinas have a place in our cruising life, and we appreciate all they have to offer when we need them, but we are seeking to minimize their role—and not because of the cost.
Here I am using the Dremel to
cut excess length off the bolts
pressed into the rebuilt

Windy and I still marvel aloud about the capable little vessel we have made a home, about where we live today, about how rich our lives feel. To a large extent, I attribute these feelings to the relative austerity of our cruising life lived on the hook.
But a cruising life spent in a marina means we no longer have to transport the water we need for use aboard, in 5-gallon jugs from shore. Marina life means making toast without respect to the number of amps we already consumed today using the drill. Marina life means showering as often as we like, without a long, potentially wet dinghy ride ashore to do so.

Time spent in a marina sounds much less austere than time at anchor. Thus marina life is preferable?

Not really. The relative hardships of our cruising life at anchor make it inevitable that we take much less for granted than ever before. They make it inevitable that we live more slowly and more fundamentally. We appreciate things more.

Whereas at anchor we are too far removed from a life ashore to make any comparisons of the relative comforts, marinas lie at the intersection of a life ashore and a life afloat, highlighting the disparities. Give me a hose bib, power cord, and a key to the showers and everything suddenly seems…harder. Case in point:
When the air temperature is hot in an anchorage, we jump over the side and remind the girls we have the biggest swimming pool in the world. When the air temperature is hot in a marina, we don’t dare jump in because marina water is filthy, and the girls are reminded our boat doesn’t have air conditioning.
Furthermore, life at anchor allows me to see all of the familiar things around us that comprise our home, in changing settings. In the same way I may see something familiar in a different way because I see it in the company of another person, my boat, my home, my personal space are constantly redefined for me by their setting. Even in the same anchorage, my home swings, offering changing vistas in different light. In a marina, our boat is doesn’t move, tied up at four corners like it’s ready to be branded. My personal space is never redefined, it’s jostled and jerked in place by dock lines.

This is the snazzy new deck/anchor wash fitting
I installed at the bow. The hose is integrated and
stows in the watertight recess.
And life at anchor promotes transience, either because time is restricted, or because we can see the horizon. And transience increases our exposure to new, and novel things. Marinas are anathema to transience; the sirens of permanence are sometimes hard to ignore. Marina cost structures are such that rates are cheaper the longer we commit to staying. Every slip includes a box the size of a large closet to store our stuff. Before we know it, days begin to fall prey to pattern. Fewer things seem novel.
In case I wasn’t clear, I wrote a poem to illustrate my thoughts:

I dream of life at anchor
An island unto ourselves
The sun sets unobscured
Peace, quiet
Damn the docklines!
Damn the docklines!

In addition to the portlights, I replaced the corroded-beyond-repair wash down fitting at the bow, removed and sent our turbocharger to Mazatlan for a rebuild, removed our injectors for cleaning and testing, ordered and measured for a new mainsail and code zero on a foil-less furler, reinstalled the rebuilt turbocharger, installed the new diesel injectors I ordered, arranged to have stainless bales welded to our anchor rollers and a structural eye welded in place to support the code zero furler, arranged to have a UV cover sewn on to our spare (now primary) headsail, arranged to have chaffing protection added to our dodger and to scallop the leading edge to provide additional handholds, arranged to have new eyes glued inside the front tube of our dinghy, and completed a bunch of minor projects.

Whew! It has been another expensive and demanding month (five weeks). Except for the portlights, these boat improvements/repairs stem from our shakedown cruise up from Puerto Vallarta. This boat is now ready to cross oceans (or as soon as our new sails arrive).
And that makes it more than worth it, marinas and all.


It was their time.


After a couple days bringing carrots and kind words to a horse they found
 in an empty lot a few blocks from the marina, Windy and the girls
happened upon the owner, a gringa, who set a date for them to learn to
groom the horse and ride him. They were thrilled.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Mexico Double Take
By Michael

Does this look familiar? A street corner in
La Paz, Mexico. This is just one store of
a chain.
Mexico and the U.S. are cultural and geographic cousins, if not siblings.* And with U.S. brands everywhere in Mexico, I think this relationship is much more apparent to the average Jose than to the average Joe. But where U.S. brands aren't, their influence is nonetheless pervasive.

The following pictures illustrate why.


* Having spent the past dozen years living on the East Coast of the U.S., and having spent the previous three decades living on the West Coast, it's clear to me that this relationship is much more apparent to a West Coaster.

Familiar labels:


Similar labels:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dog Days Of February
By Michael

Frances and Eleanor visiting the
Baja Dogs La Paz site.
The stray dogs grabbed her attention. Some avoided her, some followed her, all appeared skinny and dirty. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she learned that a dog seen without an owner was a reason to stop, a reason to try and see if said dog could be reunited with its person. Now in La Paz, we were telling her to ignore the strays. This prompted the questions:

“Who do these dogs belong to?”
“Where do they live?”

Our answers didn’t satisfy Frances.
Eleanor quickly and matter-of-factly repeated our answers, embellishing in a bid to demonstrate her worldliness. “Frances, these dogs don’t have a home, they live on the street—and you don’t touch them because they might have a disease or bite you, or they might think you’re gonna give them food—that’s teasing.”

Frances was not settled:
“Who feeds them?”

“What do they eat?”
“Who pets them?”

She got it right away, but she wasn’t content with the reality. She told us she wanted to help all of the dogs without a home, to take them back to the boat and feed them and love them. We explained why this wasn’t feasible. Eleanor made sure it was clear, “Frances, you can’t do that. We don’t have room on the boat for a bunch of dogs.”
The explanation didn’t satisfy Frances. “I want to help the dogs,” she begged. Windy and I nodded, expecting this desire to fade, to be replaced by the next urgent thing on her five-year-old mind.
Zada from Eyoni visiting
on trip #2. All the girls
took turns holding puppies.
It is a wonder all of the
respective boats are
still dog free.

But her interest and concern persisted. It was the first thing she thought about in the morning and the last thing she asked about at night. Helping the dogs became an obsession that eclipsed her usual interests and diversions.
I was impressed by her dedication and tenacity. I finally suggested she help the people who were already helping the dogs, an organization called Baja Dogs La Paz. Frances liked the idea. Windy suggested she visit the Baja Dogs La Paz location to learn more about what they were doing for the dogs and to learn how she could help. Frances, Windy, and Eleanor took a trip out to El Centenario—on the outskirts of La Paz—to visit and learn.

After seeing this shelter, Frances’s desire to help grew. She suggested that she organize a bake sale, to raise money for Baja Dogs La Paz. It didn’t take any encouragement from us for her to take this idea and run with it. She spent her time thinking of what she could make to sell, how much she should charge, how big her sign should be. She thought about all of the facets and became our 5-year-old project manager. She asked Windy to teach her to make dog biscuits and brownies to sell. She enrolled Eleanor and her friends on Wondertime and Eyoni to help. She set a date to sell baked goods at Club Cruceros in Marina de La Paz.
On Saturday, February 18, Frances and Eleanor (8) from Del Viento, Zada (6) from Eyoni, and Leah (6) and Holly (3) from Wondertime got up early and with their parents’ help, hauled their goods and signs up to the marina parking lot to accept donations. They called their effort, Pesos for Pets.

The dozens of brownies, dog biscuits, pumpkin muffins, and doughnuts were snatched up quickly by hungry sailors and passersby. The girls promoted their effort with Baja Dogs La Paz fliers and answered questions from curious adults. They watched excitedly as the coins and bills in their donation jar multiplied.
In just a couple hours, their goods were gone and they’d raised over 1,500 pesos. Frances was overjoyed. A couple days later, she and her friends piled into a pick-up and headed out to Baja Dogs La Paz and presented the funds they’d raised.

She wants to do it all again soon, to raise more money.

Frances posing on the day of the bake sale she spearheaded. Her Pesos
for Pets sign is the green one. Zada contributed the Doughnuts for
Donations sign.
Eleanor, Zada, Frances, and Leah pose with Dhorea and Mario, the folks who run
Baja Dogs La Paz. Here Zada and Frances clutch the 1,500
pesos the girls raised and are about to present.

Frances also celebrated her sixth birthday
this month. Fortunately, the cake I made her
tasted better than it appeared.

Zada and Frances share a birthday (Zada a year older). Here aboard
Eyoni, Zada graciously shared her celebration with Frances.

Happy Birthday my kind-hearted little
organizer. You're a neat little person.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...