Friday, March 29, 2013

Departure Prep

Pat & Janet come down from Seattle!
Well, even though all you folks tease us about the work we do on our boat, there was still a bunch of stuff we wanted to get done before departing for the South Pacific.  Spending approximately 21 days at sea gives you a whole new perspective on what things you need to change or fix – so our list was pretty long.  Since doing projects at anchor can be challenging (to say the least), we decided to stay at a local (but CHEAP!) marina in Nuevo Vallarta.  For about $20 US per day, we tied up to the dock and had the pure luxury of as much power as we could use and a calm boat!

Fishbowl Margaritas!
What did we do while at the dock you ask?  Well we worked a LOT!  But we played a little too – like spending some time crewing for our new friends on Cherokee Rose during the Banderas Bay Regatta, a nice visit with Pat and Janet (down from Seattle), some time with my prior coworker Nancy, and of course lots of awesome street tacos!  We also made some great new friends, many of which we will see again as they are crossing over to the South Pacific just like us! 

But back to that list – for those of you that care, here are some of the things we’ve accomplished in the last few weeks….

  • Service the water maker and rebuild the housing (thanks for the help Les!)
  • Re-caulked our windows (small leaks)
  • Re-caulked the V-berth hatch – big leak! 
  • Install switch for solar panels so we can turn them off when transmitting on the SSB (lowering radio interference)
  • Set up getting weather information via our sat phone
  • Change the oil on both outboards, genset and main engine
  • “Winterize” and stow the outboards
  • Defrost the fridge and freezer
  • Cook meals for at least ½ the passage
  • Package up our winter cloths for storage
  • Organize and catalog all charts and spare parts
  • Service and install new line on our furler
  • Fix our engine driven refrigeration (AGAIN)
  • Change out all fuel filters
  • Install a priming pump for the main engine
  • Swapp out the fuel filtering system for the main genset
Frankly there was a LOT more than that, but that should give you a good idea of the types of stuff one does before a huge trip like this.  

Thankfully no one was hurt...
Another part of preparation is buying all the food and supplies you will need for the passage.  Since we are on a pretty tight budget and the South Pacific is renowned for being really expensive, we decided to try to provision as much as possible for the next six months while still in Mexico where it’s cheap!  Buying and stowing all that is a BIG job and since a car would definitely be needed, we decided to join forces with Michael and Anita on Cherokee Rose (also going to the South Pacific).  En route to pick up the car Michael, Anita and Brett were all in a car accident when the “collectivo”  (small van type bus) they were in got hit by another car making an illegal merge – yikes!!!  Thankfully no one was hurt and they quickly boarded another bus to get the car.

Provisioning gone wild!
After multiple stops and a CRAZY amount of provisions, it was back to the boat to unload and start the fuel runs.  It took FOUR fuel runs (and more stories than I have time to write) to get both boats fueled up, not to mention we didn’t get to bed until about 1am and then were up again at 6am to finish more errands before we had to get the car back.  Can you say exhausted?  But we’ll have plenty of time to rest once we start our passage. 

Holding our official Zarpa - time to leave!
The last big thing was checking out of the country.  After a short visit to the Port Captain, we hosted Immigration and the Port Captain on the boat for a brief period, before receiving our official “Zarpe” – which is our big kick in the butt to get out of Mexico.  It’s also a very important document for getting INTO the next country to visit – so a must do when leaving Mexico.  Thankfully it was easy and the officials were very nice to work with.

So!  Now it’s time to make this huge journey of just over 2800 miles going approximately 6 miles per hour.  We are hoping it will take around 21 days to get there.  For me, it’s been a roller coaster of emotions these past few weeks.  Fear of the unknown and of being at sea for such a long time.  Excitement at the thought of doing something so BIG and getting to enjoy one of the most beautiful spots in the entire world from the comfort of my own home.  Sadness that I’ll soon be REALLY far away from all my family and friends (who are currently just a short plane ride away), but also looking forward to seeing all the new friends we’ve met that are also making the crossing.  But feeling all of these things is what lets me know I am alive and living my life to the fullest in this moment – so I welcome the good AND the bad days…..but I sure do prefer the good ones!
Here’s hoping for fair winds and following seas!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mainland Mexico

Enjoying Mojitos in Barra Navidad

Ever since we came across to the mainland we have been continually delighted with the small towns we have visited.  I cannot express how nice it has been to get to know the “real” Mexico compared to the touristy towns I have been to in the past.  Traveling by boat allows us to get to many areas that would have been a little more challenging to see by car.  While many of these places are still clearly dependent on tourist dollars – they are so far removed from what you see in Cabo, Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta that you might think yourself in a different country all together.  Following are some thoughts on some of the places we have visited on the mainland over the past month…

Fishing Pangas in La Cruz

La Cruz

La Cruz is located in Banderas Bay, about a 45 minute drive northwest of Puerto Vallarta.  It’s a very popular destination for cruisers as it has a large anchorage, a very nice marina, good access to boat parts, an excellent fresh fish market and a wonderful little town where you can get most things you need with a little searching. 
What I think makes La Cruz so fantastic is the cornucopia of restaurants that you can find, offering a large variety of dishes.  Along with great food, many of them also showcase live music!  One of our favorite stops was a restaurant called Tacos on the Street.  While the name brings to mind a cart on the road, it’s actually a real restaurant.  They have just three items on the menu – beef tacos, beef quesadillas, or beef tostadas – and while they like to keep it simple, any one of those options is delicious and CHEAP!  A taco “con todo” (“with everything”, which is the ONLY way to order it) is just 20 pesos (about $1.75 US).  How great is that? 

La Cruz Sunday Market

The music you can see in La Cruz is diverse and interesting.  Imagine yourself walking through an arched doorway into an open courtyard with tile floors.  Near the center is a small raised stage, with a semi- open kitchen at the back, where you can watch the meals being prepared.  You sit down at a classic Mexican table (a plastic table covered with some sort of colorful cloth) and in front of you sits a lone man on an old wooden chair, under a huge tree, holding what is clearly a well-loved guitar.  The night is warm with a light breeze and the music this man produces is incredible.  His name is Lobo and he’s an amazing flamenco guitarist that has been a regular in the area for many years.  Watching his fingers race along the neck of his guitar while his right hand strummed and patted and shook over the guitar strings was an experience that I will likely never forget.  It’s times like this that remind us of why we are on this trip.   
House in Melaque
Barra Navidad & Melaque
About a 140 miles south down the coast is a wonderful town called Barra Navidad.  The town is set along the beach with a large lagoon running along the backside.  There is a HUGE resort located here that is absolutely beautiful – with water taxis running between it, the lagoon and town.  

Hotel in Barra Navidad

On our first morning here we heard a light knock on our hull.  We emerged to find a classic Mexican panga (small boat) that had been converted to a traveling bakery with a French pastry chef!  Yes, he’s an enterprising local imported from France that actually brings the goodies to you!  We were delighted to purchase some of his wonderful little quiches, croissants and baguettes and I could see him becoming a VERY bad habit if you were to stay for any length of time.

On the Streets of Barra Navidad

The town of Barra is filled with great restaurants and stores where you can find any kind of knickknack along with some very good artwork.  There is a beautiful white sand beach that runs the length of the town and connects it to the next town to the north called Melaque.  We walked the beach (about 2.5 miles one way) to visit Melaque and it was well worth the trip – lots of great places to wonder through and the people in both towns were incredibly friendly and helpful.  While there, we found this amazing little store where one family has been weaving rugs for many generations.  Grandpa raises the sheep, grandma takes the wool and hand dies it using traditional methods and the “kids” (now WELL into being adults) do the weaving.  The result is pure, vivid colors made from all natural products – beautiful!  We had been searching for our “Mexico keepsake” and we couldn’t imagine a better spot to get it.
Mexican "Keepsake" Hand Woven Rug

Artist in Bucerias
This town is just a few miles southeast of La Cruz and is kind of an eclectic mix of old town Mexico and a modern day city – battling it out block by block.  You can get almost anything you need here, along with lots of stuff you didn’t even know you wanted!  There are all the normal tourist items and shops, along with some less expected items. 

Les & Diane in Bucerias

We went here with our friends Les and Diane on Gemini – who have been cruising for over 10 years now in Mexico and South America.  They introduced us to Abalito, the coolest little seed and spice store I’ve ever seen.  This place had rows and rows and rows of every spice, seed or grain you could ever want – all sold by the kilo (or gram).  It was a little slice of heaven!    Bucerias is an easy bus ride from La Paz or Puerto Vallarta and shouldn’t be missed.  

Lunch Stop in Bucerias
These are just a couple of our favorite spots and I wish that we had planned more time here in Mexico as it has FAR exceeded our expectations.  The people are amazing – warm, friendly and inviting – willing to lend a helping hand in any way they can.  The beaches are beautiful, the air is warm and the food is incredible.  I am VERY happy to report that neither Brett nor I have experienced any issues with “Montezuma’s Revenge” – not even at the many spots that most would consider pretty dicey. 

Mexican Scaffolding
Mexico is a wonderful place to visit.  I know a lot of people are concerned with visiting here due to the drug war, but I can honestly say we have personally seen zero violence and have felt extremely safe everywhere we have been.  If you make the effort to get a little off the beaten track and avoid the larger cities on the boarder and inland, you will see the “real” Mexico that we have come to love.  

A Typical Scene in Melaque

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moving on Board

This month’s Raft-Up is about moving aboard – the good, the bad and the ugly!  Brett and I moved aboard about 3 years before we departed to go cruising – mostly to save money, but also to make sure our relationship could stand living together in a tight space.  For us, the process was sort of a 3-part thing – kind of the good/bad/ugly but in the exact reverse.
Since entering my adult life I have moved over 13 times in 25 years – so I am no stranger to packing up my life and moving to a new location.  But obviously this move was going to be little different than the others.  Let’s just refer to it as “the ugly phase”.
I was a little worried how the transition would go – so one day (after discussing square footage specs of the house we were putting up for sale with our realtor) I decided it would be fun to figure out what the actual living space on the boat is……..245 square feet!  Did I really need to know that number?  NO, I did NOT and it’s now burned into my brain!!!  I can honestly say that the selling and packing up of our house and moving onto the boat was easily one of the most STRESSFUL things I have EVER DONE. 
What made it so hard?  Well in our case we knew we didn’t want to sell everything, so we bought a container (yes – just like the ones you see on container ships!) to fill with all of the items we hoped to come back to someday.  It soon became obvious that we also would have more items than the boat could take in – so we would need a short-term storage space for transitioning between seasonal needs and such.  This meant that for every single little item we owned, we had to decide if the item was container worthy?  Or, was it something we may actually want/need on the boat?  If so, would it go to the boat or to short-term storage?  Or was the item unnecessary crap and thus a garage sale item?  Add to that we had to somehow organize which boxes were which so they all went to the right end location.  Being classic Americans we had accumulated an overwhelming amount of stuff over the years, so there were WAY too many decisions to make.  It was absolutely exhausting.
After slogging our way through that, we then entered “the bad phase” – the actual transition to living on the boat.  As part of this process we had to give up our cat (thankfully to the best home an owner could ask for), so saying goodbye to Cosmo was a tough part of the move.  In addition, the packing of the container (AKA the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle) took forever as you have to make sure things are secure so that when it travels, nothing gets destroyed.  Finally, we ended up being nomads for about 2 months while we completed some big projects on the boat – moving from place to place every couple weeks – which meant hauling all of our stuff to each location and living out of boxes.  While staying at my parents place the alarm went off while we were gone and the police thought they might have actually been robbed because we had all of our possessions in their main living areas and it looked like total chaos!  Crazy.
Not having a permanent place to lay your head is pretty stressful – but finally we wrap up the big projects and move onto the boat in August of 2009.  There was definitely a lot to learn.  The first couple of weeks Brett and I like to refer to as “learning the dance”.  Invariably, you always want to be exactly on the other side of where your partner is standing.  Because our boat is fairly narrow, we are left with two choices – either squeeze by (in a HIGHLY familiar manner) or to simply wait for your spouse to move out of the way.  We soon learned that having a sort of unspoken schedule of events in the morning helped keep the peace onboard.
Another big adjustment was the moisture issue.  You can’t meet another live-aboard in the northwest without eventually landing on the topic of how they keep their boat dry.  Two people living in a small space produce a LOT of moisture – we are composed of almost 60% water after all! We quickly learned that if we didn’t want it to rain inside, we were going to have to make a few changes until we got to the warmer climates.   Running a dehumidifier and insulating the entire boat above the water line made the biggest difference to cutting down moisture. 
So over time we finally entered “the good phase” – where you’ve figured out what items you REALLY need on board (and gotten rid of the stuff you were wrong about), where you’ve made the boat a home and have figured out how to live together peacefully within it.  That last bit is pretty important as we are now together 24 hours a day 7 days a week and I’m not sure how many marriages could handle that without a little practice! 
Most importantly, we worked through all the tough stuff so that we could get to the good part – the actual cruising!  And while the cruising life is mostly great there are still some pretty tough days.  But by building a strong foundation and knowing our boat as well as we know ourselves, we’re managing to stay in the “good phase” the majority of time.