Sunday, February 22, 2015

Frances and the Dispossessed
By Michael
LA PAZ, MEXICO

I've written several times on this blog over the years about my youngest daughter's unyielding compassion for animals. I've watched it shape her as she matures, from a small person taking it in and questioning to a girl on the cusp of nine who now asserts her compassion, and who is hard to say no to.

Her desire to be around dogs here in La Paz isn't a case of a young girl pining for the pet she doesn't have, it's her sincere want to help, however she can. Over months, I've watched her bond with three dogs we've fostered aboard. Both times I wondered how in the world we were going to be able to let someone take her "pet" away. My impulse was to remind Frances daily that this situation was temporary. Windy urged me not to worry. In both cases, when we found permanent homes and said goodbye, nobody was happier than Frances, overjoyed for the animal.

This cruising life, and the longer periods of time we've been able to spend in places like La Paz and Guaymas in Mexico, and Victoria in B.C., has afforded us the time to facilitate and support Frances. Now, four days away from her 9th birthday and completely unknown to her at this point, we are facilitating her compassion in the best way we know how.

Please help, by donating or spreading the word. Any amount raised beyond the minimum goal we set just increases the long-term good that will be done.



--MR

Friday, February 20, 2015

On the Cusp
By Michael
LA PAZ, MEXICO


Sun setting over the La Paz magote.
I’m starting to experience mild self-sufficiency anxiety related to our pending voyage across part of the vast Pacific Ocean. Along with a giddy eagerness I feel about the passage I’m experiencing a nagging, hopefully irrational sense that we’re on the cusp of major systems failures.

Over the past nearly four years that we’ve been cruising, we’ve dealt regularly with relatively minor breakdowns and maintenance, but it feels like we’ve gone a very long time with flawless service from our rigging and motor and autopilot and many other fundamental systems. Aren’t we due?

Shouldn’t the old Adler-Barbour compressor and corresponding tubes and circuits have failed to keep our beer cold by this time? The thing looked pretty old when we bought the boat, then it sat idle for a year, and it’s since run for 24 hours per day for forty-five months.

The condition of the raw water pump on our 1987 Yanmar was a mystery so I pulled it in Victoria and brought it to a rebuilding shop where they opened it up and suggested I do nothing. In San Diego, the story was the same for our stock 80-amp alternator. What would those same mechanics say today, roughly two years and maybe a 1,000 engine hours later?

I’ve proactively swapped out solenoids that still worked, just because they were corroded on the outside and because I wanted spares. I’ve done the same with toilet pumps and bilge pumps and fresh-water pumps and 12-volt wiring. I replaced the lower bearings on our 1980s headsail furling gear and the gypsy on our 37-year-old windlass—but what about the other key components of those important systems?

I know we’re not sailing to Mars and that mechanical failures are bound to happen and that we’ve no choice but to take what comes. But I also know that it’s prudent to pretend we are sailing to Mars and that mechanical failures should be simultaneously prevented and prepared for. And that’s where I’m at.

Following are the few passage-specific things we have to do:

·         provision and stow a boat load of food and supplies

·         install additional pad eyes in the cockpit for use as additional tether attachment points

·         configure installation of the water generator we plan to tow (wiring and perhaps fashioning a stern bracket)

·         come up with a good approach for securing our dinghy/life boat to the foredeck

·         make a comprehensive rigging inspection aloft and at deck level

But the fact that we’re planning to sail for 20+ days and then be away from ready availability of stores and parts for much longer, kind of results in a confluence of other, this-is-the-obvious-time-to-complete-them tasks. This particular list is very long, and nothing on it is essential or critical, but it seems imperative to knock off as many as we can before going. After all, we’ve gotten on fine with that broken spreader light, but with so many nights at sea coming up, now is really the time to fix it. And that delaminated section of the foredeck isn’t going to repair itself so why inflict 3,000 more ocean miles on that spot? Also, if there was ever a time to remove and re-stitch our aging dodger, this is it. I could go on and on. Boats are like that.

I’ll do what I can and then we’ll be off.

--MR

I guess that chair I set my camera on wasn't level after all.
We enjoyed the Bums' company when they passed
through after Christmas. Our paths have converged
over the years, but that's unlikely to happen again soon,
unfortunately. Down the proverbial road
I think they'll be on a boat again, but we'll
probably be in a motorhome by then.
I found this big beautiful guy a couple weeks ago on an
Espiritu Santo beach. The body under the shell and in the
head was completely gone, consumed by thousands of
beetles. Yet the corpse still stunk to high heaven.
Windy was off an a hike at the time and I spent
45 minutes selling the girls on my plan to harvest
this shell and polish it up to hang on our bulkhead.
I thought we had a pretty good case. He's still
on the beach as far as I know.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

From Another Place Entirely
By Michael
LA PAZ, MEXICO


One after another, through our travels and my writing and this blog, we continue to connect with people with whom we otherwise would not. I never know when the next encounter is coming. Sometimes I never even meet the person.

In July 2013, I took a picture of Del Viento in Alaska. Shortly afterward, Karen Larson, founder and editor of Good Old Boat magazine, bought my picture for the September 2014 cover. Then something else happened to the photo, something much cooler.

A couple weeks ago, I received here in Mexico a holiday card-sized envelope from Good Old Boat. I opened it up. A note from Karen fell out.

“Michael—you just had to have this…painted by one of our subscribers who is incarcerated.”

I removed the carefully packed painting from the envelope and my jaw dropped open. Before me, on cardstock that measures about 8-inches by 5-inches, was a stunning, extremely detailed watercolor rendering of the photo. I was touched and amazed to receive this image of our boat and family in a magical Alaskan anchorage, from my eye to my camera to a magazine and into a prison where it was rendered and then emerged as a work of art from behind those walls to finally reach our boat near the bottom of the Baja peninsula.

According to a story Karen wrote about the artist even before the photo was published, he is a former U.S. Coast Guardsman who began painting in prison, using the covers of the Good Old Boat issues he received in his subscription. He sends her paintings each month as he works through back issues.

I got his contact info and sent a thank you note.

--MR
 

This photo doesn't do the painting justice.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Los Ticos
By Michael
LA PAZ, MEXICO


Mariah and Windy. (courtesy Jorge Blanco)
Windy’s sister Mariah and brother-in-law, Jorge, arrived the beginning of this month from San Jose, Costa Rica for a 10-day visit. They’re both architects by training, live in the interior of the country, and make extraordinary (really extraordinary) cakes (many topped with sugar flowers that are works of art) for a living. It was fun and illuminating to see our world through their eyes. The weather for their stay couldn’t have been nicer and we took advantage of it to get them out to the nearby islands. They adapted surprisingly well to our rolling, pitching, close-quarters accommodations and our less-frequently-than-daily shower schedule.

But as near-perfect as their visit was, and as closely as we were able to represent the reality of our lives, we just can’t get all the way there. Windy was the first to make that observation, several guests ago.

Beyond the fact that we deliberately don’t spend our guests’ vacations tending to boat maintenance and school work and writing and laundry and shopping, there’s a Heisenberg-like distortion of the reality they experience. It’s the difference between the movie clip they get and the unfolding saga that’s happening for our family.

Accordingly, one of the tangential joys we get from having visitors—and separate from the pleasure and importance of re-connecting with people we love—is the reminder we take away from each one: that we four, living and growing daily together aboard this floating home, are bonded tightly by our common, fundamentally un-shareable voyage afloat.

--MR

Del Viento anchored at Candeleros, one of  several pretty
spots on the west side of Isla Espiritu Santo.

Jorge, Mariah, and me.

Uncle Jorge and Auntie Mariah learning what it means to be crew.
I'm in the dinghy.

Frances and Eleanor at the apex of a hike from the
Caleta Lobos anchorage (on the Baja mainland)
overlooking the Balandra anchorage. That's
Isla Espiritu Santo in the distance.
Eleanor will soon be taller than her mom, her Auntie Mariah,
and most of the adult women on that side of her family.

 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Skipping Town
By Michael
LA PAZ, MEXICO


The girls snorkeling on the northwestern
side of Isla Angel de la Guarda just
days before this summer's hurricane.
We plan to cross part of the Pacific Ocean this year. We’re gonna sail from the tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula and not stop until we reach Hiva Oa, Marquesas in French Polynesia. It sounds exotic to my ear and it’s exciting simply to type it, but thousands of other cruising boats have sailed to the South Pacific islands over the years and nearly as many have written about it.

At this point, a couple months before departure, we’re simply learning about what we need to know, finally addressing some deferred boat maintenance items, and making sure we have what we need. Though we’re not leaving from one of the big departure hubs (Panama and Puerto Vallarta) where there are seminars and parties this time of year for the outbound yachts, we feel sated by the amount of information we’ve found online.

I’m eager for the long sail. The lengthiest passage Windy and I have made to date is 8 days, aboard the previous Del Viento, from Columbia to Cuba. Aboard this Del Viento and with the girls, I don’t think we’ve gone longer than 3 nights/4 days. But from Mexico to French Polynesia, we’ll be at sea, underway at the speed of a jogger, day and night, for about three weeks. That will be an experience like few others.

I’m eager to cross the equator. I’ve spent my entire life in the northern hemisphere and though it’s only a difference in degrees of latitude, I’ve become familiar with the northern night sky over these past few years of cruising. It will be interesting to look up on a warm, tropical night and see something new.

I’m eager for more and more snorkeling. This past summer in the Sea of Cortez was snorkeling heaven, but the Sea is cold again and I miss jumping in and being amazed.

I’m eager to begin learning French (though I can’t be that eager because I’ve not started). I think I did okay in Paris a few years ago and feel I have an aptitude. I want to go deeper.

So that’s where I’m at. We plan to leave sometime around the beginning of April. Stay tuned.

--MR

This is a shrine or monument like we see on many of
the deserted Baja island beaches where fishermen
set up camp. Often they'll feature a Virgin de
Guadalupe figurine (same as the Virgin Mary).
This is a close-up of a portion of the same rock pile above.
I'll note that Windy relocated the small cross from a dark
rock to the light-colored shell for the picture.
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