Saturday, May 31, 2014

Project Bean
By Windy

Frances looks as downtrodden
as poor Bean here, but the truth
is that she couldn't be more
pleased that we're able care
for this little guy while we do
our time in the Guaymas
boatyard--more on that later.
A few days ago I found myself kneeling on a grimy sidewalk in downtown Guaymas. Pedestrian traffic flowed around me. I was frozen, contemplating my next move. I had pinned to the concrete a writhing, snapping, ball of filth. Do I release him? I don’t want a puppy. Mike certainly doesn’t. And clearly this puppy, its mouth agape, eyes rolling in terror, doesn’t want us. Yet releasing him meant he would die, either today—in a panicked getaway through the dense traffic—or tomorrow or the next. And so there I remained, kneeling on a Guaymas sidewalk.

About all the uncared for animals we come across, I have always told my girls, if a situation came up where we could truly help, we would. But misguided help can harm, and at the moment I was pretty sure the scales had tipped slightly toward harm. Not only was I frightening the little guy practically to death, I had created a situation in which his immediate risk was greater than if I’d just left him alone. The seconds passed and the puppy’s struggles weakened. My own internal struggle, both moral and practical, suspended me in thought. Then he gave up his fight and lay there limp, emaciated ribs heaving, resigned to his fate. That resignation is what did it. In that moment the scales in my mind tipped to help.

Now it was just a matter of carrying him. But how? He was light as a feather, but he was beyond dirty; even at arm’s length I could see fleas and ticks crawling all over him. A little furry vessel of potential disease. I pulled a sarong out of my pack and wrapped and wrapped until all but his head was covered. Then I picked up my parcel.

Eleanor and Frances were waiting for me a block away with our friends from Dawn Treader, everyone wondering what was taking me so long. As I neared the group I noted their astonishment and concern and I gave them a smile and wave. “Do you remember how I always say, if there is a time when we can truly help, we will? Well this is one of those times.”
The girls and I gave Bean multiple baths, removing
lots of fleas and ticks. Then we brought him to the
vet for de-worming and a check-up. The little wild
street dog is in fair shape for how he started out, but
does weigh only half what he should and is only
slowly learning to trust humans. Note his broken tail.

Here Frances plays with some normal, happy puppies
at one end of the yard. Note Bean in the
background. We plan to build his strength, get him
fixed, and then find him a home.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

By Michael

Eleanor with her Mexican Easter egg.
Later, we all kept saying how it was like a cartoon, Frances’s little body lifted straight up in the air—at least a foot—and then down, on her back. It was an awful thing to witness.

I ran from my spot in front of the goal to where my eight-year-old sprite lay sprawled on the grass. Windy was already at her side and I glanced across the field to note whether Jonathan, the on-site paramedic, saw the hit and was responding.

An accident like this was clear to foresee, but the grown-ups and kids of all ages had been playing together, every Wednesday, for a dozen weeks without incident. The good part of this mixed play was that we all had more fun, kids and adults alike. We adults, rowdy amongst ourselves, were always mindful of the smaller players, deferring to them when they had the ball and encouraging their play. Risk aside, it was hard to imagine a more idyllic soccer environment.

Windy felt as badly as anyone, she’d kicked the ball hard, aiming it all the way down the long field. It hit Frances instead, about ten feet away.

Right about the same time as Frances's
misfortune, Eleanor launched herself
off a playground climbing wall, only
to strike her tailbone halfway down. Here
she is in the hospital--all good though.
“What hurts Munchkin?”

“My eye, all around.”

“How old are you?”


“Who’s the president?”

“Of Mexico?”

Frances was soon up and standing, wanting to play and feeling sorry to be sidelined for the rest of the game. Even though she woke the next morning without the black eye we promised her would be there, we sidelined her for the rest of the week.

“The playground isn’t a good idea, you gotta take care not to hit your head again, especially not so soon after Momma nailed you with that soccer ball.”

Two days later, shopping at the segundos (thrift stores) on the outskirts of La Paz, Eleanor ran calling to find us.

“Frances is hurt! I swung the tennis racket and it accidentally hit her!”

We left quickly, grabbing some ice from the Tecate store just 200 yards away. The knot on Frances’s head was one for the ages, also cartoon like. The next morning she had the shiner we’d promised her days earlier.


It was really black and blue underneath.
This is where we play soccer, note Windy in the
rust-colored shirt to the right, Frances in the pink
shirt to the right.
Eleanor heading in to her art class back in La Paz.
(courtesy m/v Anbar)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Leaving The Peace
By Michael

Del Viento ghosting along in
a light, late afternoon breeze
with her code zero flying.
(courtesy Nancy Jones, Eyoni)
Ahh, the Baja, a place unto itself. It’s Mexico, but it’s not like any other part of Mexico. Mexicans also refer to Baja as La Frontera, the frontier, the border, the 700-mile-long strip of land separated from the rest of the country by the 150-mile-wide Mar de Cortez. In La Frontera, many of the foods that informed the evolution of Mexican culture are missing. Beans and corn and cocoa and don’t grow here. Instead, in this desert place they harvest phosphorus, gypsum, copper, and salt. Caballos and caballeros are in short supply, but pangas and pescadores are the lifeblood of dry towns built on the edge of a wet, nutrient-rich sea.

Baja is geographically distinct, the second-longest peninsula on Earth. The adjacent, moat-like Sea of Cortez (or Gulf of California) that separates this land from the rest of Mexico is one of the most biologically rich marine environments in the world. The deep, cold waters of this Sea are the root meteorological influence that results in Baja’s arid landscape. Upwelling of nutrient-rich water from the depths causes phytoplankton to bloom. Cetaceans, pinnipeds, and marine animals of all types to congregate in the Sea. Blue, gray, killer, and humpback whales migrate here for the winter months. Fin whales and sperm whales live here year-round. Dolphins, rays, sharks, and sea turtles are everywhere. Pelicans and gulls and herons skim the shores. Several of the 900 islands in the Sea are home to endemic species of endangered plants and animals.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexico maintains a border zone, an area that extends 12-18 miles into the country. In this zone, over-land visitors staying less than 72 hours are exempt from tourist card and visa requirements. Visitors of any length of time are not required to obtain a vehicle import permit. The border zone is a sort of no-man’s-land, a necessary buffer. But this buffer is also an indication of how Mexico regards the Baja California states: the entire peninsula is included in the special border zone. Six-hundred miles south of the border, board a ferry in La Paz for a Mexican mainland port and you will be required to again clear customs when you arrive.

We saw this guy just about every
single day at the Marina de La Paz
dinghy dock.
(courtesy Nancy Jones, Eyoni)
And the distinctions between Baja and the rest of Mexico aren’t just geographical and political, they are also cultural. The people and communities and ways of Baja are influenced in part by the homeland, in part by the geographically proximate Californians, and by the hardscrabble, isolated communities that dot a landscape rich in rock and cactus.

There are three primary cities in all of Baja: Tijuana, La Paz, and Cabo San Lucas. The former is a border city and the latter is almost wholly devoted to appeasing tourists. That leaves La Paz.

In January, we dropped the hook in La Paz to get our boom fixed, to catch up with friends, and to provision. All of this was accomplished in fewer than three weeks—and then we did much more. Nearly four months passed before we lifted our barnacle-encrusted chain and pointed Del Viento’s bow north.

This is Windy’s and my third trip to this city by cruising boat (Jan-Feb 1997, Jan-April 2012, Jan-May 2014). Each visit we’ve ended up staying a bit longer and loving it a bit more. La Paz is the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. Over the years it’s swollen to more than a quarter million people—a sprawl that extends along one side of a bay and outward into the desert. There are many gringos living here, but relatively few gringo tourists.

Meri on Hotspur wrote here and here about the attributes of this cruising Mecca. I second her take and leave you with pictures from our recent stay. We plan to return to La Paz soon before heading north (into the Sea) again. In the fall, we plan to spend another month or so in La Paz before perhaps heading south to Southern Mexico and Central America. Of course, that’s all written in sand below the high tide line.

The entire Del Viento crew at Stellas--this one's
for you, Sara of Wondertime.
A last supper with dear friends. I got to know
Tim and Nancy 25 years ago because I knew
they'd someday own a home in La Paz.
There are resources in La Paz to get just about anything
done. Here Ethan from Eyoni watches the technician
test his Yanmar injectors.

Besides repairing the boom in La Paz, I painted
a lot of the interior, rebuilt the galley counter,
and replaced a faucet and thru hull valve.

Clearly Ethan and I are gringos. I'm walking the
small poodle mix, Millie, that we fostered and
eventually found an excellent home for. Ethan's
walking Mancha, the stray they adopted from
the Guaymas boat yard almost a couple years ago.
Mancha's since been to remote parts of Panama's Darien that few have ever visited.

At age 8, Frances is enamored with the knowledge and confidence
that she has the power to do good things. She was the impetus
behind a recent bake sale to raise money for SHLP. It was a
success. Here she is with Eleanor and their cruising kid friends,
three of the four kids from Lumbaz and Zada from Eyoni.
(courtesy Nancy Jones, Eyoni)

Here are the girls and Zada in front of their bake sale table.
(courtesy Nancy Jones, Eyoni)

The girls and Zada tending to the animals, post-op,
at a second SHLP spay/neuter clinic we volunteered at.
(courtesy Nancy Jones, Eyoni)

This is how we roll through Marina de La Paz when the battery
to the electric outboard is out of juice.
(courtesy Nancy Jones, Eyoni)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

They Don't Like Us
By Michael

Eleanor standing watch over the sunset
in our La Paz anchorage.
I think it’s finally passed, the 15 minutes of attention brought to the cruising community by the Rebel Heart misadventure. In the end, the American public came to learn we exist and we came to learn they don’t like us.

I would love to try to answer and educate all the critics of this event, but it would require addressing too many misconceptions and trying to shift the perspectives of too many people—and really, I’m not that dogmatic, I think it’s healthy to continually question ourselves. So normalizing the decision to take children offshore, to normalize this way of living for the uninitiated, is an impossible task. And I don’t have the platform for that anyway; here I preach to the choir. Diana Selkirk did answer them, eloquently, on a conventional media outlet reaching a large, lay audience. Reading her article, I cheered—they will understand now.

And what happened?

In response to her article, Slate readers posted over 900 comments. The majority are as negative and misinformed as those I read earlier, elsewhere. The nicest of the worst assert that parents like Windy and I are irresponsible and unnecessarily putting our children’s lives at risk.

We had dinner the other night with the Spanish family aboard Lumbaz (Mom, Dad, and four kids). Though they’ve lived the past decade or so in Barcelona, he is from Germany and she is from France. Given their extensive European cultural ties, I asked how the Rebel Heart story was playing back home. They said interest was tepid; they couldn’t imagine the same negative responses in their home countries. (But of course, as a sport and a pastime, sailing and ocean voyaging are much more familiar to the folks across the pond.)

Our diminutive dinghy, the Portland Pudgy
always astounds us with her ability to fit
everything. Here is Windy (top right)
ferrying a family of five (our good friends,
the Bleimehls, who visited us from
our former D.C. hood)
Think about how under-the-radar we are to most Americans. My grandmother’s been learning about the world around her for the past 92 years, and even with us being her window to this world (she doesn’t have access to the blog) she still has little context for imagining what my family’s life is like out here or why we choose to live on a boat with our kids. I get that.

But what of her neighbors, young and old, the people without a cruiser in their lives, what context do they have for interpreting this rescue as reported on the Today show? They hear that American parents took their kids out to sea on an impossibly small boat in a self-serving bid to reach French Polynesia.

If you have knowledge of sailboat voyaging, there’s nothing wrong with reviewing and critiquing the actions and decisions of this particular family (after all, that’s how we increase our own knowledge base—thought it seems only scant definitive information is yet known at this time). But the blanket admonitions I’ve read, censuring all families cruising with their kids, make as much sense as admonishing surgery and surgeons following the failure of one operation, without both a knowledge of medicine and a of the single failure.

This isn’t the first family to lose their boat and be rescued, not even the first family to abandon ship in the same ocean this year. But Rebel Heart sure garnered the lion’s share of attention. Not everyone has to like we families afloat, but hopefully a few folks have learned enough to spark an awareness, perhaps one that will grow.

The Robertson and Bleimehl girls bounce on the
beachside trampoline at Stella's (from left: Leah,
Ally, Eleanor, Frances, and Sylvia)
Jana and the girls in the plaza de La Paz.

Shawn, Jana, Windy and I hung out, watching the
trampoline and sunset. 
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