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.

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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why are we buying water when we own a Spectra Watermaker, built by one of the leading (and most expensive) water maker companies? It's a good question. And I'll get to the answer after I talk a little about water and cruising in the Sea of Cortez.

When we set about outfitting Just a Minute in that crazy two weeks before we left, we knew for sure that we wanted a water maker for our cruise. It was one of the best decisions we made. We purchased the Spectra 15 gallon per hour model. Spectra is really great due to its low power usage. Our solar panels supply enough power to run it. I love being able to take solar power and make fresh drinking water out of sea water. And the water tastes so good. It is magic! An abundant source of fresh clean water makes life a joy.

There are lots of cruisers who either do not have water makers or they have water makers that do not produce many gallons per hour. These cruisers are constantly thinking about their fresh water usage and use salt water for taking baths, washing dishes/clothes, washing off their boat - then quickly rinsing in fresh. It's a lot of work. When one of these cruisers see us giving Rudy a thorough fresh water shower on the back steps after every swim (sometimes three or four times a day) they are flabbergasted. We have to do it for his health - it keeps him from breaking out in hot spots. And we do the same for ourselves - it keeps our boat interior from getting inundated with salt residue, which helps it last longer. We are water pigs, and happy to be that way. OINK!

If you were only cruising in America and Canada, you could easily get along by refilling your tanks at the marinas, but in Mexico that is not really an option. Most Mexican marinas do not offer potable water on their docks. Or if they do offer it, it often tastes bad. So if you don't have a good water maker, then you have to buy water and fill your tanks from five gallon jugs. Which is what we found ourselves doing just yesterday. It's a lot of work. Buying, loading, hauling, and filling tanks with 160 gallons of water is an effort, and expensive.

Which brings us to the answer of why we bought water. After two years of babying along our Spectra, it finally had a catastrophic failure two weeks ago. Thank God we were at anchor (not running the engines) and we heard the faint little "PHeewwt" sound that heralded the absolute cascade of water that came gushing into our boat under our bed. If we had been underway, we never would have heard it and the boat would have been filling up like a bathtub. (Once again we are incredibly lucky in our bad luck!)

During our two years with the Spectra we have had almost innumerable problems, even though we have faithfully followed the manufacturer's care instructions. It has only been making 1/2 of its advertised output for about one year; both feed pumps have failed seperately; a stainless steel pipe developed hi-pressure pin hole leaks; and now the membrane housing has cracked. One of the feed pumps was covered under warranty, but everything else has happened outside the warranty. We have been using it extensively for two years,
but I would expect more lasting power from a major purchase.

Would I recommend getting a large output water maker before starting a cruise - absolutely. Would I recommend Spectra brand - probably not. We are already thinking about replacing our Spectra with a CruiseRO water maker. It's a much cheaper, simpler, higher output water maker which needs a generator to operate. Interested? You can find them at http://www.cruiserrowater.com/

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Can't Go Home Again

I always thought that was a stupid saying. Now thanks to Washington State tax law, it is true for us. We've been researching the in and outs of coming home and have hit a nasty little roadblock called the WA State Use Tax. Let me explain.

We bought our boat in CA. Now two years later we want to return to US waters. We are legally WA state residents though we have not lived there or voted there for two years and we sold our primary residence, but we do still hold WA State Driver's Licenses. Since we are WA state residents, the moment we enter WA state waters we are liable to pay the WA State Use Tax on the "Blue Book" value of our boat. It is equivalent to the WA state sales tax so it is anywhere from 7.9 to 9.5%, depending on where you register your boat. That's a lot of money! If we had that kind of money to spend, we would be sailing in the Mediterranean!

On the other hand, Alaska charges a flat fee for registering a boat for use on their waters. It's $24.00. You have to pay it if you are planning to stay 90 days or longer. I think that is an annual fee, so look out folks, plan ahead.

So for all our family and friends, here's fair warning. We may be coming up to the PNW within the year, but you won't be seeing us in WA waters until we figure this out. We are interested in moving to Alaska and that could be one solution. Once we are non-residents, we can enter WA waters for 60 days. You can then apply for another sixty days, but after that time period is up you have to get your boat out of WA waters or you get nailed with the Use Tax again. OUCH! that is a lot of money to pay for the pleasure of exploring WA waterways.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Snapshots of Summer

There are so many great memories from this summer - old friends, new anchorages, new experiences, lots of fish, lots of breakdowns and lots of making due. We swam with whale sharks, beached our boat, speared large fish (just not as big as Ethan's!), made new friends, and read tons of good books. We saw thousands of dolphins, hundreds of whales, and more beautiful sunsets and shooting stars than I ever saw previously in my life. Here is just a recap of some of the highlights.

The Great Race - our very first time actually trying to sail fast enough to beat someone else. I really didn't want to participate; I was scared to tell the truth. I still feel sometimes like we don't know how to sail, even though we've been sailing around two years now. But in the end, despite the broken camera and the pain of my felt-like-broken leg, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. What a riot! And next time I'm in a race, I'll make sure all the hatches are closed first.

Lots of fish - The new spear gun has earned it's purchase price in meals, that's for sure. And when you add in the entertainment value that Jack and Patrick had, then it's worth more than we paid. The Sea of Cortez is loaded with fish and we've enjoyed our fair share! We caught some of the fish the old fashioned way with a pole and hook, but the boys have had most of thier fun, snorkeling along with a spear in hand - selecting exactly the fish they wanted.

Careening!!! I still can't believe we did it! We have talked about doing it for about a year but had not seriously committed to it by picking a time or place. And then when we pulled into Puerto Don Juan and saw Java already up on the sand, it just seemed as easy as pie to follow suit. And it was surprisingly easy. But it just seems so WRONG to drive your boat up on the beach! All and all, it was a very cool experience and we will definately be repeating it as needed.

Great Anchorages, as always. We spent about ten weeks on the hook in the northern 1/2 of the Sea of Cortez. We re-visited our favorites from last year including Este Ton (pictured here) and Puerto Refugio. We also managed to explore some new anchorages including Alcatraz, Bahia de Hueso (Bay of Bones), Isla Salsipuedes, the Inner Harbor at San Francisquito, and checked out a few that weren't in any guide books. There are still plenty of others we haven't seen, and if we weren't so excited to explore the Inland Passage to Alaska, I'm sure we could spend another summer.... I say that now, but just don't remind me of the heat! Yikes, it gets hot down here.

Friends - the best part of cruising. Maybe it's because we all made the same choice to leave everything and come out here, or maybe I just have more time to get to know people, but either way I have to tell you - I have never met so many people that I have bonded so easily with. We have all made so many good friends out here, and many of them feel like family. What a blessing.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Story #4 You Can't Be More Generous Than A Mexican

In the two years we have lived here, I have been amazed time and again by the generosity and kindness we have received from Mexicans. For the most part, we have only been met with kindness and this story proves that in Mexico, it is hard to be more generous - the more you give, the more they give.

One morning in Refugio, Patrick and I were discussing how strange it was that this summer we had not once been approached by a "pangero" (a fisherman who lives for weeks at a time out in the islands in a 20' open boat). Many times last summer we were approached in remote anchorages by these fishermen, asking us to trade water/food/gas for lobster or some other delicacy they had caught.

In the usual way of life, not ten minutes later a panga pulled up with three men on board. Despite our lack of Spanish, we learned that they had run out of water five days ago. There was currently a strong wind blowing from the south and they were pinned there until the weather changed. They held up a five gallon container and asked for us to give them some water. Even though our water maker has been on the fritz and making far less than it usually does, we were happy to fill up their container. They seemed a little surprised when we filled the whole thing up. Since we were being so generous, they asked shyly if we could fill up another container, which we did.

Then the lead man asked if we liked scallops. Sure! Who doesn't? He asked us to wait just a little bit and he would be back. While he was gone, we decided to give him some new Cemex T-shirts that we had hanging around the boat (Patrick came down with bags of them to give away) so we dug those out.

About fifteen minutes later, they returned. They handed over a burlap rice bag that looked about 1/4 full. When Patrick opened it, he saw that it wasn't filled with scallops in the shell as he expected, it was filled with just the scallop meat and a couple lobster. The bag weighed about 30 lbs. I got out a Ziploc bag and we started putting some of the huge scallops into it. We asked the man, "How many?" and he replied, "Todos." All!!! "Es verdad?" Are you sure?

We couldn't believe it! We didn't want to take that many and started protesting. He went on to explain that they had been living at Refugio for the last month in a little fish camp and they were out of water, and their ice supply was getting thin. They had brought supplies to stay there about a month. We had told them earlier that the weather was forecasted to continue on for two more days and they didn't think that they would have enough ice to keep all of their catch fresh until they could get it to market. So in the manner of asking us to do a favor for them, they gave us about 30 lbs of fresh, beautiful, huge, ice-cold scallops and a couple lobster tails.

Scrambling to keep up with their generosity, we filled up another five gallon water jug for them and handed over the bag of three T-shirts. Our fifteen gallons of water and T-shirts seemed a paltry trade in comparison to our bag of treasure. That is a lot of scallops! Thankfully there were two other boats at anchor, so we shared the bounty and still ended up with two gallon Ziplocs stuffed with luscious scallops in our Engel freezer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Story #3 Why is Mexican Medical Care More Accessible Than the US of A's?

So, here my family is, foreigners living in a "Second World" country in which we enjoy the beauty but do not support by paying taxes. Our personal wealth is far above most of the inhabitants of this country, yet we really we are not even middle class by American terms anymore. I share this story with a sense of awe and shame that my "First World" country cannot offer the same kindness to the foreigners living on her soil.

On the last day we planned to stay in the LA Bay area, we chose to anchor at La Mona, which is in a corner of the giant bay area. La Mona boasts a beautiful rock hill, which almost looks like an ancient city since the rocks have very grand geometric shapes, and look like building blocks stacked on each other. Jack was throwing Rudy's last tennis ball against one of the rocks and it lodged way up on the cliff. Jack climbed up to get it, barefoot. Of course, he fell without good footing. He fell six feet onto a small ledge and only caught himself because his foot got jammed up on some rocks. One of his toes was the only thing that kept him from falling another twenty feet onto a pile of rocks. His toe looked like it had been pulled off and put on backwards. He was in a great deal of pain.

I looked at his toe and thought that he had dislocated it, but was not sure if instead it was broken. Like I said, it was obvious that it was not put on the right way. I knew that a dislocation could be snapped back into place, but a broken bone should not be manipulated so harshly. I wasn't sure what to do. Jack did not want to be my guinea pig. We consulted a fellow cruiser with a lot of medical experience and she just said, "Take him to the clinic in BLA." So we did.

We walked into the tiny clinic. We waited about ten minutes for someone to be able to see us. They then examined Jack, got the doctor and had her examine Jack. Then the doctor said in perfect English, "This will hurt." She pulled Jack's toe out and we all heard it snap back into place. Voila! They then gave us pain medication and told us how to care for his toe. When we asked how much we owed, we were told that we owed nothing! We were stunned. We asked if we could give a donation, and were refused.

Can you tell me, how in the world a child of a foreigner who does not pay taxes can die from an ear infection in America because the family can't affort to bring him in for care, and yet my family can walk into a Mexican clinic without an appointment, without giving our name, without signing one form, without waiting hours, and receive not only free medical care but also free medication? How is that possible? It makes me feel very ashamed and sad.

Story #2 Shopping at The Godfather's Food Mart - Remember the Horse Head in Bed?

Shopping for groceries in Bahia de Los Angeles is full of interesting contrasts. Since it is so close to America, the shelves of the five major (all tiny) food stores are stocked with American products not seen in other parts of Mexico - even the big places like Mazatlan. Here you can find molasses, brown sugar, David brand sunflower seeds and Kirkland brand everything. Yet, while you are happily snapping up G&H Dark Brown Sugar, you can find quite a few other items "not seen at Safeway" as Jack sarcastically states.

Take for instance this skinned cow head with attached horns. It first showed up in the tiny freezer section of Guillermo's tienda about a week or two into the summer. It was gently placed on the cement floor, on top of a piece of cardboard with a plastic bag filled with it's innards next to it. Since it was tucked into the corner, the first time I glimpsed it in the dark room, behind the 20# bag of carrots I was reaching into, I gasped. But then over the following seven weeks, each time I inadvertantly glimpsed it while heaving around and restacking the boxes of veggies, looking for oranges or celery, I would still be surprised. Even though I KNEW it was there. But that last shopping expedition, when I was grabbing up handfuls of fruits and vegetables for the last sailing expedition up to Refugio, I screamed. Its eyes had by now fallen into its head, the tongue was lolling out blackened. Truly a gruesome sight and one I will never forget. What meal do you cook with that as the main ingredient?

And that wasn't the only thing that was "not like Safeway." I still remember picking through a pile of apples in a refrigerator in one LA Bay store last year, and coming upon ones with fresh rat bites (were the rats in the freezer section with me????). Or walking through the aisles of another store and dodging four cockroaches busily moving around the bags of bread. And another cruiser had the fun of watching a street dog peeing on the box of fruit just unloaded from the delivery truck outside of one store. A decaying cow's head just inches from the carrots? Ok, as long as the carrots were from the TOP of the bag.

And that is the fun of traveling off the beaten path - it keeps you focused on the fact that this is a great big world and there are lots of ways of doing things. Is Safeway food safer? I doubt it. One thing is for sure - I now religiously wash every piece of fruit or vegetable that comes on the boat in an iodine bath - and I will when I am back in America, too.

Story #1 Thar She Blows! - Encounters of the Whale Kind

We are finally back in civilization - okay it's just Santa Rosalia, but we are tied to a dock, we have all the hot running water on the boat we need, all the electricity we can use, cell phone service, and INTERNET on the boat! We are in heaven. Internet was so spotty up in LA Bay and beyond that I never got a chance to share some of the pictures and stories of the summer. So over the next week while we are enjoying civilization again, I'll be posting some of the better stories, and this one was an amazing experience.

On our way south from LA Bay, we decided to visit Isla Salsipuedes (Leave if You Can Island). Who wouldn't want to visit a place by that name? We had to see it. It is said to have very jagged, detached, submerged, pinnacle rocks around the shore; very strong currents; and an extensive reef. The island was lovely and we had no trouble leaving, but getting there was a different story!

You have to cross a very deep channel to get to the island which is about 14 miles off shore. As we were crossing, directly in our path to the island we could see the blow spouts of dozens of whales, covering about a mile. In the distance, a few whales were breaching completely out of the water, and all around in front of us we could see their tails lifting up out of the water as they dove. We angled our boat off to the side, to avoid them, but it didn't work. The pod was too big, the area they covered was too large. Soon we found ourselves encompassed in a vast pod of sperm whales - about 100 or so.

Sperm whales are a very different looking whale. They look a little like a rectangular-headed submarine - they have very dark, sleek and shiny skin, and a sort of knobby knuckle on their back instead of a dorsal fin. They have tiny eyes that are hard to distinguish and very thick, stubby tails. They average about 50 feet long, so they are pretty big. Sperm whales are known to be aggressive toward boats that get too close, especially during mating season. Not being a whale, I don't know when mating season is - I just know sperm whales have rammed boats.

The whales would come up from feeding with an explosive breath of air and then stay on the surface for up to 20 minutes or so just breathing and then dive again, lifting their stubby tails straight in the air. We slowed our boat down to 3 knots by letting most of the wind dump out of our mainsail, we rolled up the jib, and then we turned on an engine and left it in idle just to make noise so we wouldn't sneak up on anyone. The wind was blowing pretty good, so the waves were worked up and the white caps and swell were making it hard to see the whales as they lollygagged on the surface. We all got on deck, scanning the water. For an hour, we threaded our way slowly though the huge pod, turning left and then right by 30 or 40 degrees - always trying to get to the outside of the herd, but then more whales would surface and we would be surrounded again.

At one point we found ourselves with a mom and a baby about 70 feet to starboard and a big bull about 70 feet to port. We turned hard to port, trying to bring our boat around the back of the bull in order to give the mom and baby more room. This, of course, brought us closer to the big one. We were within 40 feet of him and moving parallel alongside him. Still the whale was showing no sign of noticing us, or moving. We continued slowly along, trying to get behind him.

Suddenly, dolphins showed up out of nowhere. We hadn't seen them before this. They came up to our boat and instantly we had a phalanx of about 10 dolphins around us. At the same time, the whale started and came to life in an agitated manner. He lifted his massive head up out of the water to fix us with his eye. Then two of the dolphins did a very brave thing. They swam over to the head of the bull and got within feet of his snout. The whale reared his head higher, and then gave a mighty lunge toward the dolphins and away from our boat. With a huge splash, he dove.

That is the second time in Mexico that I have seen dolphins come from out of nowhere to help us when we were in potential danger. There is something very special about dolphins, and I will be forever grateful.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Our First Step in the Journey Home....

We celebrated a two momentous occasions just a few days ago. It all started when we went north once again to celebrate Jack's birthday in his favorite place, Puerto Refugio on Isla Angel de La Guarda. Our good friends on Adios 3 decided to come along too, to help us celebrate and to enjoy the wild beauty of the anchorage. All the blocks were in place for a memorable 13th birthday, but it turned out differently than planned. Jack became violently ill with the 'flu on his birthday eve and most of our time at Refugio was spent watching movies and recovering. Still memorable, but not what was planned!

And then another momentous event happened. After waiting out a wind storm, we made our first step on the journey home. Refugio was the farthest north place we reached this summer and when we left it, we were headed home. From now on we are working south. We have decided that our next step is to sail to Hawaii in spring and from there to the PNW. In the following six months, we will be traveling south to the tip of the Baja and preparing our boat for the ocean crossing. We have much to do, but our focus now is leaving Mexico instead of enjoying it.

We no longer have a "home" waiting for us, but in our hearts the PNW is our home. It is exciting and sad to be leaving such a beautiful country. We have found everything that we were looking for when we first decided to start this journey - greater family bonds, personal growth, and peace of mind.