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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Leaving La Paz, Take 2

Well it's been about five or six weeks since the last time we tried to leave La Paz. We are hoping the second attempt goes better. We're busy this morning scrubbing the boat, putting things away and tying things down. Our next posting should come from Loreto in about a week or two if things go well. Until then, we're keeping our fingers crossed that the sail drive repair was good, and that Jack's knee continues to improve.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's not all fun and games

Every life has its ups and downs. Yesterday was just one of those days when the downs all came at once! If the gods had been smiling on us, we would already be out in an anchorage, headed north on our annual migration into the non-hurricane zone. Instead we are still tied to the dock in La Paz being pushed around by a lovely south wind that could be blowing us north if only we were luckier.

The problem? It's not the boat. It's injuries. Three of our four crewmen are down with bum legs in the last 24 hours. Patrick's limping around in great pain right now just because he is old. So, light duty for Patrick, which means no provisioning the boat to leave. Rudy had the unfortunate accident of ripping his dew claw completely out of his paw when he was climbing back on the boat. (Out of all the injuries, his is the one that makes me grimace - Ouch!) So no walking on land for Rudy until it heals over a bit since infections are such a reality down in the tropics/sub-tropics. But the icing on the cake was when Jack came home from playing with a friend with half the skin on his knee missing, and deep gashes running down his leg.

What could they possibly be playing that would cause such an injury? Well, in the tradition of thirteen year olds everywhere (but especially boys) it really wasn't such a bad idea on the scale of 1 to 10. They weren't playing with gasoline or fireworks. They hadn't climbed to the top of the garage roof to jump their skateboards off the roof. They hadn't made a pipebomb from dismantled shotgun shells and copper piping. Instead Jack was simply out knee-boarding behind the dinghy with his friend driving. That's not dangerous, really. But then Jack started jumping his kneeboard off of a mooring ball so he could get some air. He did it successfully quite a few times. Unfortunately, there's always that time when it doesn't go quite right. And the fact remains, it's just not a good idea to hit solid objects on anything when you are going at a fast rate of speed. The unforeseen complication was that the mooring ball had lots of silver-dollar sized barnacles growing on the bottom of it. Jack can now tell you from experience that running into barnacles at a high speed is not a good thing. (I could have told you that without doing it, but then I am 44). We took one look at it and got the car keys out to take him to a clinic for a doctor to patch him up.

As mentioned, infections are something that you must diligently watch out for in the tropics. Deep skin injuries caused by nasty things like barnacles, sustained while swimming in the salt water off a harbor where people don't use their sewage holding tanks is just an infection waiting to happen. So Jack is on antibiotics and we are going to hang around in La Paz for a day or so until we are sure that his wound does not become infected. We would not want to be far from a doctor if any complications start up.

The picture was taken by his friend Al and posted on Facebook, so you know Jack going to be just fine. If it's really bad, I don't think they stop and take pictures! Even thriteen year old's have some sense.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wax On....Wax Off

I've been feeling great empathy for the Karate Kid in the last few days, except we had the electric buffer (Thank God). My arms still feel like lead lumps. Patrick has a deep-seated psychological aberration known as "wax envy". Every time we see an especially shiny boat, he gets very depressed. Finally we have gotten our boat to a point that he can feel proud. It looks pretty good for a ten year old boat. It should stay that way for maybe a month.

It's Monday morning and our work is finished. We have yet to complete the installation of the bilge pumps, but we don't have to be on the hard to finish that project, so we are calling it good. As long as the wind stays low today, we will splash back in the water. If it gets too windy, we won't do it since we are such a tight squeeze in the boat launch that we would probably get banged up and scratched if the wind caught us.

And Now for a Shameless Commercial Plug

I cannot say enough good about this miracle product. Along with Patrick's wax envy he is also acutely conscious of the greenish scum line along the water line of the boat, and rust stains on the fiberglass. Before we used a rubbing compound to get these tough stains out and it was a LOT of work and never really got clean. Then we found "MaryKate On and Off Gel". This gel took the stains away in less than a minute right before our very eyes. We de-scummed the water line in about 20 minutes of work. Simply brush it on, wait about a minute and then rinse it off. No scrubbing, no rubbing, no big mess. Even though I am not affiliated with the company I am tempted to offer a Money Back Guarantee if you buy this product. You will not be sorry!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Beatings Continue Until Morale Improves...

Still on the hard and it's getting harder to take. I don't know how people survive when they have a serious refit to do that keeps them on the hard for months. God bless the poor beggars. Meanwhile our work is progressing really well. The starboard sail drive is installed, the port sail drive has new seals, and the bottom is painted with two coats on all, three coats on the waterline. We were on line to be dropped back in the water tomorrow (Saturday) but decided to be kind to ourselves and slow the work level down and stay the weekend. Since the yard is closed Sunday, we get an extra day of work in a deserted yard - that should be a pleasure! Our last jobs include installing the automatic bilge pumps and cleaning and waxing the hulls. Oh Joy of Joys. Thankfully we have an electric buffer.

We ended up using twice as much paint as the last (crappy) paint job and so we found ourselves a can short since we weren't thinning it with thinner like the last boatyard did. We had brought down black bottom paint and had one can left which was not going to be enough to cover the two hulls for the second coat. So we scoured La Paz and found the exact same brand and type of paint - only in blue. But being desperate, we bought the blue paint and a big bucket and combined the two. It turned into a lovely deep charcoal-navy blue. It looks really good and I like it so much better than the black. It looks great with the navy blue boot stripe. Serendipity!

Marina Singlar yard in La Paz has been a great experience so far. The workers under Enrique Abaroa are very kind and professional. We are very happy so far with how this is turning out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Not Easy on the Hard

I haven't been posting much about our life while we were hanging out waiting in La Paz, trying to figure out how we were going to get repaired and moving again. It was just too depressing. We could have simply bought a brand new sail drive (our fourth) to replace the sail drive that had failed. We just weren't thrilled at that prospect since the $4,000 USD investment doesn't seems to last long before it begins to fail again and allow salt water into the engine. When we bought the boat the two brand new sail drives failed after two weeks of use and were replaced in early 2009 with another brand new one, and one was rebuilt. Things were fine until the starboard side began showing signs of saltwater intrusion again about six months ago and we nursed it along until April when the ball bearings began to go out. After all those failures, we are feeling very leery of trusting the wisdom of buying another brand new sail drive.

So we devised a new plan. When we first purchased our boat in 2008, a condition of the sale was to replace the sail drives since they were pitted and corroded from sitting in a marina 7 years. Instead of throwing them away, Patrick stored them in a storage locker in Everett, Washington just in case of a rainy day. Wise man. We have decided that it couldn't hurt to just refurbish one of them for a thousand dollars, and put that on. This way we save about $3000 USD and it will probably last as long as a new one anyway. Then we will take the one that is broken now and have it refurbished. We will find a place to carry it on board waiting for the one from Everett to fail. We plan to just keep switching them out and refurbing them as needed. That way, we will never have to be broken down waiting in some foreign port for months for parts to arrive. After our experience with our Yanmar sail drives, you can see how confident we are in them.

So on April 30th, Patrick flew "home" to Everett, picked up our car that had been in storage there and the sail drive, visited with friends and family and then hightailed it to California where List Marine in Sausalito refurbished the sail drive. He made it back to La Paz in about two weeks, arriving here May 12th. Jack, Rudy and I stayed on the boat, anchored out in the La Paz harbor during that time.

It took a few days to get reacquainted and rested and then we were hauled out of the water on May 16th at the Singlar Marina in La Paz. It really was a great experience and the crew did a professional job. Our boat is so wide that there was only about nine inches total to spare to squeeze between the concrete sides of the boat haul out slip. But everything went perfectly and we were hauled without a scratch. It was very impressive.

And now begins life on the hard. Some (smart) people simply rent a hotel room while their boat is on the hard, but we have decided to live on it while it is being worked on. We know that it will motivate us to get the job done quick, and we can keep a close eye on the work being done. Since we are parked over concrete in a boat yard, no water can go through the through-hulls which means no dishwashing, no handwashing, no toilet, and no shower on board. Also we are suspended fifteen feet in the air, above concrete in a crowded boat yard with boats all around - so no privacy, and no air. However, there is lots of noise, lots of toxic dust, and lots of heat reflected off the concrete.

We're taking advantage of this opportunity to get not only our starboard sail drive replaced (Patrick and a mechanic are working together on this), but we will also replace the seals on the port sail drive, and paint the bottom of our boat (we're doing it ourselves so we don't have to worry about getting a crappy paint job), and Patrick is going to install automatic bilge pumps, something that our boat did not come with. The automatic bilge pumps will probably never be used, but the day that you need them would be a disaster if you did not have them. The automatic bilge pump is wired in so that if there is ever standing water in the bilge, it automatically pumps it out. Right now our boat could be filling up with water and it is possible that we would only figure it out and manually start up the bilge pump when the water rose above the floor boards. So with all of this work to do, we are optomistically hoping to be out of the boat yard in a week. We shall see. Let the work begin.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Making Bagels

Every year in Mexico, more and more food products are becoming available to help keep the cravings for “a taste of home” at bay. But there are some things that just haven’t shown up yet - Thai food, good dill pickles, and bagels to name a few. There’s not much I can do about the pickles except schlepp them down from the US. Good Thai food is just something that we won’t be getting in Mexico for some time, I think. But I’m happy to say that I now can make my own bagels, thanks to Colin on Mamabird who passed this recipe along.

If you already know how to make bread, then it’s not too difficult to add this recipe to your repetoire. To make about a dozen bagels, mix the following ingredients in a bowl:

3 cups flour
1 cup plus a couple tablespoons hot water (wetter dough makes for a crispier crust, but is more annoying to knead),
Couple tablespoons of gluten if you have it (I don‘t have this so I just omit this and it‘s fine.)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1-2 teaspoons Mexican instant dry yeast (more yeast = lighter bagels).

Knead the dough 5 to 10 minutes on a floured surface. Then let the dough rest in a warm place for 20-30 mins. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Pull off a piece of dough, roll into a snake shape and then form into a loop, add a dab of water where the ends overlap and press together.

When the water is boiling, drop the bagels in, cooking just a few at a time. At first they sink, but then rise to the surface. Boil 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the water and place on a greased baking sheet that has cornmeal sprinkled on it. (A little hint, I first pull them out of the water and put them on a plate with some paper toweling so they are not sopping wet when I put them on the cookie sheet.)

Brush a little beaten egg white over the top of the bagels to help them brown. You can jazz up your bagels by sprinkling some mix of fresh diced onion, fresh minced garlic, dried onion, grated cheese, Italian herb mix, sesame seeds, or whatever appeals to you over the top. Or you can leave them plain.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until lightly golden brown. My oven is not very constant or hot, so I can’t really tell how long they would cook in a good oven that has temperature control, so keep an eye on them when you are cooking them in your oven for the first time. I tend to very slightly under-cook so that the inside is still a tad doughy, then cut in half and toast.

They are so yummy and have a great texture. Philadelphia cream cheese is available everywhere in Mexico and costs around 17 pesos for an 8 oz bar ($1.40 USD?) so you won’t go broke enjoying your taste of home. Now if only I could find some lox.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Heaven on the Side of a Road

It's hard to believe. Patrick and I were nearly stunned. But we can't deny it, we have found The BEST EVER in All of Mexico shrimp tacos. There couldn't possibly be one better. Over the last years we've been evaluating the taco stands of different locations and rating them. We looked at everything - ease of seating, the number of condiments available for garnishing, the amount of filling, the freshness of the tortilla, the choice of stuffings. Shrimp tacos are our favorite and the ones we focused most on finding. We've covered a lot of ground in Mexico and eaten at a lot of taco stands and had come up with a couple shrimp taco stands that were superlative.

The Top Two BLP (before La Paz) were equals since each one had a little edge over the other for different reasons. Pepe's in Santa Rosalia was just really good and had some interesting garnishes (superb, spicy pickled onions, and corn relish in cream sauce) but no place to sit. The Fish Market in Mazatlan was just like a slice of California in a cute little store and offered a choice of octopus, scallops, or shrimp either grilled or deep-fried in batter but did not offer any extra garnishes to add to your taco. Eating at either establishment was a guaranteed good meal. Pepe's was cheaper at 13 pesos per shrimp taco, and the Fish Market was about 22 pesos per taco if I remember correctly.

And then in La Paz, we found Tacos Estadio. It is to die for and gets full star rating on ALL the criteria. It's a street taco stand on a wide sidewalk with lots of good seating in the shade. The shrimp and fish have the best tasting coating ever. The meat is perfectly cooked, crispy and not greasy. They have a separate cart loaded with mounds of freshly made condiments to pour over the top - shredded cabbage, limes, seven different sauces, guacamole, salsa fresca, pickled onions, roasted peppers, and on and on). They are absolutely the most GENEROUS stand and give every customer about 11 shrimp on each taco. If you order a fish taco you get nearly a WHOLE fillet on your taco. It's incredible. Each time you go there and take your first bite, you just can't help but sigh. It is incredible. Then you try to slow yourself down so you can enjoy the eating experience but before you know it, your two tacos are gone. There's no hope of ordering another because your stomach would split open from being too stuffed. All you can do is look forward to your next visit.

And it's hard to believe that heaven can be had for sixteen pesos. Tacos Estadio is across the street from Allende Books and on the corner. It's a walk from the marina but it help work up the appetite.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The SSB and Me

We are still stuck awaiting repairs and there’s nothing of much interest going on, so I’ll take this opportunity to do a blog or two that could be helpful to all those potential cruisers at home who are either dreaming or actively working on getting out here.

One of the things I have been most surprised at over the last two and half years has been the evolution of my relationship with our SSB (single side band radio). In my land-based life I didn’t even know there was such a thing or what it would be used for. Now it is an integral part of our daily life and I cannot imagine cruising without one. It plays several vital roles - it’s one of the major pieces of safety equipment on board; helps us keep track of friends who are spread out over hundreds of miles; it provides great entertainment; it’s our primary weather source; and it sends and receives emails from what some of you guys on land like to call “The Real World”. All in one piece of equipment and we haven’t even been using all its functions. We can also receive weather fax GRIB files, broadcast on Ham radio frequencies, and listen to AM radio. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out there are other uses that I don’t even know about.

When we were still on land trying to figure out what we needed to cruise, we debated the SSB issue for some time. Not everyone has one, or they have cheaper units that can receive signals, but not transmit. It’s pretty expensive at a thousand or two, to buy and install one that transmits and receives. We finally decided that it would be good from a safety standpoint to have one so that we would have a chance to contact the outside world in a true emergency. Though that is still an important function, our SSB is used for so much more.

Every day when we are out in the anchorages, we listen to at least one of three SSB radio nets that run seven days a week - the Amigo Net and Sonrisa Net in the morning and the Southbound Net at night. Each of those nets provides weather and check-ins for boats in the Mexico area so you can find out who is where, what weather conditions are like there, and hear about any big fish caught or other news-worthy announcements (breakdowns, thefts, good restaurants). All in all, it’s pretty entertaining (and educational!) to listen to the nets and they have come to take the place of TV shows in our life. It’s Days Of Our Lives without the visuals. Except in this soap opera/comedy-drama, you can take a part, ad-lib your own lines and participate. Even better, you get to meet the show’s characters out in the anchorages.

When we first started, we were only “lurkers” on the marine radio nets - the silent multitude who abstain from participating but who listen. In a few weeks, Patrick was comfortable enough to do our ship’s first check-in on a marine radio net. I felt brave enough to grab the mike and check-in JaM after about six months. By then, Patrick had volunteered to be a Net Controller for the Southbound net once a week. It was another six months or so before I became a Net Controller for the Amigo Net once per week. Think of the net controller like the TV Game Show Host; they set the tempo of the Net and keep it rolling smoothly along, making sure everyone who wants gets a chance to check-in and they contact the weather man and take the weather. Somewhere along the way we began listening to nets (like Sonrisa) run on the Ham radio frequencies, but since neither of us had ham licenses we were unable to speak, just listen.

The email function of the SSB has been one of the only ways we’re able to keep in contact with our family and friends when we were out in anchorages far from internet or phone access. I still don’t know how it works but you can type up an email on your computer, hook your computer to your SSB and then send your written words out over the radio waves to someone’s internet email account. I think it’s magic so I don’t question it, I just do it. It’s brilliant.

But now, I’ve just completed the steps to access another feature of our SSB - the ham radio. Last month I took the ham radio test in La Paz. I’ve been waiting months to be in the right place at the right time to take the ham test. To broadcast on ham frequencies, you need a ham license which means you have to pass some tests. I haven’t crammed for a test in a long time and was very happy to find out that my brain still works pretty much like it used to, despite being sun-baked in a beer sauce for a couple years. You have to assimilate a lot of information about radio frequencies, propagation, radio equipment, and electricity - things which I have never had a clue about. But happily I crammed for a week, and managed to pass both the Technician class test and the General class test, making me eligible to participate in the Sonrisa net and a lot of other nets (but not Patrick - hee hee hee). The Ham radio nets open the door to an even bigger and cooler network of people. The hamsters tend to be a little more serious, long-term, and experienced cruisers. All things I would like to be.

Though I had no idea how important the SSB would become in my life back then, I can honestly tell you that buying one was one of the best decisions we made in that frantic two weeks of outfitting the boat. We chose an ICOM IC-M700PRO. It’s a larger unit than many, but we had the room for it at our Navigation Station and the larger size just means that it’s cheaper to buy since everyone wants the sleek little ones. I’m sure there are even more choices on the market now. So in conclusion, when you’re getting ready for your cruise, investigate getting an SSB. The longer you are planning to be out, and the more remote places you are going, the more useful it would be. If you decide to get one, then while you’re at - get your ham license now. It’s hard to find a test out here!