Welcome to our mid-life crisis! These are the chronicles of Laura and Patrick, their young son Jack, and their goofball Labrador Retriever named Evinrude (Rudy), as they travelled the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico in their catamaran. We went cruising in search of a change of pace, a closer knit family, and peace of mind. We found all three and more. The fun all started in October, 2008 and nearly four years later the Mexican adventure came to an end August 3rd, 2012. With our mid-life crisis cured in Mexico, we are excited to start a new adventure - life back in America.

Patrick has since joined the Sales Team of Marine Servicenter as a boat broker. Whether you are looking to make your dream of sailing away come true, or ready to sell your boat he can help. He can be reached at http://marinesc.com/about/crew/patrick-harrigan

Candeleros Chico

Candeleros Chico
Just another beautiful day at anchor on the Baja. 2010

Dolphins at play in the bow wake 2011

Dolphins at play in the bow wake  2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mexcaltitlan - Place of the Herons

Above is an aerial photo of the village called Mexcaltitlan. It's located on a tiny island in the middle of the mangrove wetlands of the Nayarit coast. A couple days ago, Lori and the kids of 3rd Day joined Patrick, Jack and me on an excursion to visit it. The round trip excursion involved a second-class bus trip, two fairly long taxi drives in tiny sedans crammed with seven people (us and the driver), a ride on a collectivo (small van), and pangas to and from the island. It was quite a journey, and though it didn't go as planned, it was one of those adventures that you can't think about without bursting into laughter.

Mexcaltitlan was worth the effot. This island town is believed to be the ancient homeland of the Aztecs. When the conquistador Cortez met with the Aztec Emporer Montezuma in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), Montezuma told Cortez that all the Aztecs were immigrants from a land called Aztlan (the place of the herons). The Aztecs had long ago forgotten where that was. All they knew was that Aztlan was a magical island with seven caves. Since then, the archeologists have pegged this town as the place they came from.

By the time we had navigated all the transportation hurdles, and had finally set foot on the island, we found that we had little time for much more than a lunch and a quick look round before we had to leave to catch the last collectivo home. The town was very attractive with narrow cobbled streets (no cars obviously), red tiled roof homes, and a lovely town square. Standing in the town center, looking down the main avenue in both directions, you could see the shores on either side. It is quite a tiny town with about 2000 inhabitants. Of course the museum of the Aztecs that I so wanted to see was closed despite the fact that the sign said it should be opened! Knowing Patrick, he probably called ahead and promised them money if they would close early - he hates museums.

Our lunch was quite the experience. It was one of the strangest meals we've eaten in Mexico. Only shrimp and fish were sold as you can imagine on an island in the middle of nowhere. The most unusual thing was the plate of deep fried, whole shrimp. I usually avoid eating things that still have their eyes on them, but they were pretty good.

As you would imagine, the town survives on fishing and tourism. We saw many vacationing Mexican families who had traveled out to Mexcaltitlan, but we were the only non-native tourists I saw.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Birds of San Blas

One recent morning, I took our kayak up the estuary on an incoming tide. The current pushed me along with it, past the masses of mangrove trees. I hardly had to paddle. Since I was drifting along not making a sound, I was able to get very close to the birds resting in the mangroves.

Most of the mangroves around the estuary in San Blas have been left untouched, and large sections are even protected so there are many birds, and many types of birds. San Blas is hip to ecotourism and there are several outfits that give guided birdwathcing tours. Accordingly, San Blas has become a mecca for birdwatchers, people like my Dad. In his honor, here are some pictures of the birds I saw - he could probably name them all, alas I cannot. ( 02/25/11 As I figured, my Dad was able to name the birds for me, so I added their names in today.)

Snowy Egret


Great Blue Heron

White Ibis


Tri-Colored Heron (his best guess since the photo isn't quite close enough to make out all identifying features.)

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Snowy Egret

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bad Bottom Rant

Port Pontoon

As mentioned earlier, we got a HORRIBLE paint job at Abarroa's rail yard in La Paz just a year ago in November 2009. Here are pictures of the deteriorated paint taken a few days ago. Our original bottom paint was that bright marine blue that is so common. That November, we chose to paint the bottom black so that we could keep track of how the paint job was holding up. Within just a few months, the first spots of blue began showing up under the black. (A bottom paint job is "expected" to last about two years in this climate.)

Over the last year, the blue spots just keep getting bigger and spreading over more and more of the boat. The paint job is essentially gone now for all intents and purposes and so the barnacle and seaweed growth is becoming harder and harder to control. We are planning to careen the boat this summer up in the far north of the Sea of Cortez where the tides are more extreme (which will give us more dry time to get the job done over several days) but I wonder if we can keep it going that long. I am a strong believer in the old phrase, "If you want something done right, do it yourself!"

There are lots of stories from cruisers about bottom paint jobs in Mexico. Some have excellent experiences, many don't. We had heard lots of the bad stories and had done everything we could to keep that from happening to us. There are all sorts of tricks to watch for from swapping out a cheaper paint for a more expensive one, to adding paint thinner, or not putting on all the coats of paint they are paid for. One of the best ways to stop this from happening is to monitor the workers constantly. Patrick oversaw the workers, working alongside them, from the paint prep through the painting. When Patrick saw the workers bring out a can of paint thinner, (they like to add it since it makes the paint cover more surface, is easier to work with, but it comprimises the integrity of the paint) he told them not to put it in. They agreed that they would not use it and they set that can aside and did not touch it again. However the next day Patrick found them sneaking paint thinner into the the paint using a different can! We think too much paint thinner is the cause of our problem. The areas that Patrick painted himself with unthinned paint are doing fine. You can see in the pictures the difference. Patrick did the first foot or so of the bows and the three inches around the waterline of the boat.

Not only did Abarroa's do a horrendous job painting, but they also managed to damage our boat with big chunks taken out of our keels, and deep scratches marring both a stainless steel stanchion and a section of fiberglass on the starboard side. It is just too long of a story of ineptitude to repeat here, so I will give the curious a link to our earlier blog post here that documented all of the inept things that happened on that haul out. I know that sometimes you can just get bad service from a good store, but the string of ineptitude along with the horrible outcome is just too much to wish away. If you are thinking of using Abarroa's rail yard in La Paz all I can say is "Buyer beware!"

Below is a close up of Port pontoon - you can follow the tracks of the paint roller the worker was using on the side, and the three inches of paint Patrick painted around the waterline.

Starboard Pontoon

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Careening Pictures from San Blas

Oh the glamorous life of cruising! Scrambling around in the mud, covered in bottom paint, aching arms straining to keep scraping off the mutant barnacles that have taken hold with only a plastic spackle knife as a tool, wading out into potentially crocodile-ridden waters to retrieve the truck brush that was floating away! Oh the good times! Actually it was a lot of fun. The careening went very well. Any day that you can put your boat up on the beach without damaging it is a successful day. And we had Lori and Amy from 3rd Day around to help us have some fun. While we were waiting for the tide to recede enough to get to work, we all played a rousing game of Parcheesi. Then Lori and Amy went off to our favorite taco stand and brought back a hearty lunch we shared on the beach. Good friends are at the heart of the fun of cruising.Cruising is a lot fun, but my God it is not a life for the lazy. There is always another project waiting, and lots of them require a lot of effort. As hard as we worked this day to clean the bottom, it was still a lot easier than it would have been if we had tried to do it while snorkeling around the anchored boat. Our barnacle situation is getting out of control since we got such a crappy bottom paint job in La Paz last year. But that is another blog post soon to be coming to a computer near you..

Friday, February 18, 2011

Careening and the Old Fort

We've been busy in San Blas. Two days ago, we careened the boat on a sandbar in the estuary and spent hours scraping off the barnacles. Once again, the careening was as easy as pie, though this was a harder spot than Don Juan since the beach was steeper, the sand mushier, and the tide created a strong side current. Jack and Patrick scoped out the best spot on the previous days' low tides and then marked the spot we wanted to be sitting on with a four foot stick. A few hours after the high tide, we simply drove the boat up next to the stick, dropped a stern anchor to the side to hold us still again the current, and dropped the main anchor off the front. Then we turned off the engines and waited for the tide to drop. Since we had not gone in at the highest part of the tide, we were able to easily back off the sandbar that evening and re-anchor out in the estuary. Very cool, but we worked so hard that we didn't do much of anything yesterday. Unfortunately I can't post pictures today of the careening, but will do so as soon as I can.

Then today, Lori and Amy from Third Day took Jack and me on an excursion to the old fort of San Blas. We walked there and so had plenty of time to look at all the homes, the cemetary, the stores and finally the fort and abandoned church. The highlight of the day for Jack was swinging from the vines hanging off an enormous old tree up at the fort. My favorite thing was a tidy little home we passed with a beautiful old Virgin of Guadalupe picture hanging on the wall by the door, beautiful flowering bouganvilla and a banana tree (with bananas!) at the gate, and a pot of something smelling good on the outside fire pit. The old church was pretty cool too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

San Blas

It was very hard to leave El Cid this time around. Each time we go there, we get a little further enmeshed in life there. What a great place to retire - unfortunately, that won't be us for a long time. So with great reluctance, we cast off the dock lines and headed out to Stone Island to get ready for our trip to San Blas. We tried cleaning the bottom free of the barnacles and seaweed growing there, but we just couldn't stay in the water long enough to get the job done. Therefore, we had a very slow ride down to San Blas - all the growth dropped our speed down in to the 4 - 5 knot range. Ouch! The winds were light and of little help, so we had a gentle, slow motor sail down the coast. Surprisingly, we only saw one pod of dolphins, one mom and baby whale, and no sea turtles. We also saw very little boat traffic and no fishing nets - yeah!

We joined our friends on Third Day at their favorite anchorage, the San Blas Estuary. The waters are so calm, it feels like the boat is on the hard. San Blas is a great traditional Mexican town with a large bustling town square that is the heart of the action, day and night. We have all sorts of trips lined up to see the local sights and surrounding towns, so stay tuned for more pictures and stories coming in the next week or two.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE ----- Leaving El Cid

Just preparing to leave the dock and head to Stone Island

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

About Money

We recently received a comment stating "I have a curiosity about how all you boaters fund the extended lifestyle of traveling. Could you enlighten me on how your family survives and buys things?" The comment was posted under the blog entry titled "A New Level of Luxury" about our week in a condo unit here at Marina El Cid. I could certainly see how that posting might mislead people and I have to confess that we got a SCREAMING deal through a friend of a friend - the entire week in the condo cost us $50 US! It was truly a gift from the universe and we took it and reveled in it. Honestly it was a real treat and we have done nothing like it in the two years down here.

So with that misconception aside, the question remains. How do we fund this? Well, we are extremely fortunate. But we got that way with a lot of hard work. My husband worked a very good job for 18 years, during which time we always lived under our means, investing and saving the excess. Our only debt was a mortgage, and that was at much less than the value of the house. Then we were extremely fortunate to sell our house right before the market nose-dived in 2008. Ever since then we have been living off the proceeds from the sale, the money we had saved in the bank, and investments. We did not win the lotto. As we tell our son, "We are spending your inheritance now."

Obviously, the families out cruising tend to have a much tighter budget than the retired people. For one thing, most families don't have money coming in every month, since they don't tend to have pensions and no Social Security. Also, we have not had as long a time working to amass money. For another, we are feeding more hungry mouths, and we have the costs of education materials and clothing for growing kids. The good news is that since we have kids and no real babysitters around, we rarely spend money out at night on a date. I can think of several families that are making ends meet because the father is still working while the family is cruising.

But basically everyone is trying to make their money last as long as they can. During the summer months up in the Sea of Cortez, we spend about $700 US for the entire month (and over half of the 700$ is the money that goes out every month for boat insurance and major medical insurance). During the winter, we come to Marina El Cid in Mazatlan as a "break" and spend about $3,000 US for the month. That is only because we spoil ourselves here. Our time in El Cid is limited - we can't afford to live like this for longer than a month or two. We spend a lot less in the other months.

Mexico is pretty cheap in a few ways, and that definitely helps the money last. Great food can be had for very little money, both in the markets, and in little taco stands. Marinas do not charge as much as those in the States - especially catamarans which get charged double at home for being so wide. There are tons of great anchorages that you can spend months of time at. If you own your boat outright and stay out of marinas, your housing expenses are basically nil. You can have a very good life here, for very little money compared to what it would cost in the States to feed, clothe, and house a family, and get medical help when needed.

The budgets of boaters range greatly, but the bottom line for the families stays the same. We all took a huge gamble to bring ourselves out here. We took a "time out" in our careers at the height of our earning potential. Patrick and I joke about it, but it's true - we "retired young" so we could work when we are old. We know we will never be as wealthy as we could have been if we had just kept on working. We know our money will be running out and we will have to go back and work. However, the gamble was an easy decision for us. Right now, we are spending all of our time (and money) with our son - when it matters. In just a few years he will be off on his own adventures, but we will always have a lifetime of great memories to keep us warm while we work in old age.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside

You know there is something to this La Nina thing when the morning temperature in Mazatlan (41 degrees) is colder than the morning temperature in Seattle (45 degrees). Hard to believe but those are the actual temps in both cities this morning. We are freezing! Thank God s/v Evergreen graciously donated a space heater appropriate for use on a boat to us before they left Mazatlan. And, thankfully the subtropical sun helps warm the afternoon temps a bit higher than Seattle, but still we only reach 64 degrees to Seattle's 51 degrees. Not enough of a difference in my opinion. It's 4 pm and the heater is still running to keep us warm.

Just a Minute has no source of heat beyond the donated heater, so it is not a comfortable boat for cold weather. This cold snap in Mazatlan is just reinforcing the fact that staying another year in Mexico is a good idea. Can you imagine how cold we would be in Alaska with no heat? Even in the summer? We thought we could survive in the northern waters long enough to get a heating system installed in the States, but now I realize that is not a reasonable option. I am glad we found this out in Mexico.